Intro to Fly Rods for Montana
Fly rods for Montana are discussed in the list below. They’re listed in order of increasing length and line weight. The four rods marked with three asterisks *** are the most generally useful in the region. There’s nothing you can’t do efficiently and enjoyably if you come prepared with all four of these suggested rods.
If you can’t bring as many as four rods, we do suggest bringing two. These are:
- An 8’6″ or 9′ 4-5 weight rod for smaller streams and more delicate situations
- A 9′ or longer 6 weight rod for larger rivers, nymph and streamer fishing, and fishing in the wind or when you expect large fish.
Don’t worry about brand names. Just choose rods that suit your casting stroke. Most of our guides carry spare rods that retail for $120 to $200 for client use when clients don’t have their own tackle. This price point doesn’t get you all the bells and whistles, but it does get you rods that perform perfectly well and seldom have any manufacturing defects.
Details on Specific Types of Fly Rods for Montana
For what it’s worth, our outfitter Walter owns 20+ fly rods but does almost all his own trout fishing in the area with one of the following rods:
- 7’6″ Two-Weight: This is Walter’s choice for tiny creeks with tiny fish.
- 8’4″ Three-Weight: This is Walter’s choice for somewhat larger small streams that aren’t likely to hold trout over twelve or fourteen inches.
- 7’9″ Four-Weight: We have a few small streams that are brushy but hold larger fish. Walter uses this rod on such creeks.
- 11’6″ Four-Weight Euro-Nymphing Rod: Walter is starting to Euro-nymph rough pocket water areas, especially for fall-run brown trout and the resident trout that eat their eggs. This is the rod he uses in such situations.
- 9′ Five-Weight: This is Walter’s do-everything rod on gentle meadow streams with larger trout, and it’s also important on bigger, rougher rivers when the trout can be expected to eat smaller dry flies in late summer, fall, and during the Mother’s Day caddis hatch.
- 9′ Six-Weight: 9′ six-weights are as close as you can get to a do-everything rod. They’re the most important rods overall when wade-fishing larger, faster rivers like the Yellowstone, and are by far the most important rods for drift boat and raft fishing all season long.
- 10′ Six-Weight: For long-range nymphing, for example at “Land of the Giants,” the extra reach of a ten-foot rod over a nine-footer is helpful.
- 9′ Seven-Weight: Nine-foot seven-weight rods make ideal streamer sticks.
0 to 3-Weight Rods Under Eight Feet Long
Such rods are popular elsewhere in the United States with anglers used to fishing the tiniest mountain creeks for the tiniest trout. Such locations are the only places such rods make any sense around here, as well.
3 to 5-Weight Rods Under Eight Feet Long
Rods in this category are useful in fishing a much wider range of rough mountain streams lined with trees and brush than lighter rods in the same short lengths, since these rods are heavy enough to cast medium-sized dry flies, fight larger fish, and power at least short casts through a little wind. They’re still special-purpose rods that most visitors won’t need. There are better fly rods for Montana, especially in terms of being multi-purpose tools.
3 to 5-Weight Rods Between Eight and Ten Feet Long***
Rods in this category are very useful on larger meadow streams, smaller rivers, and spring creeks where anglers can expect to fish relatively small flies and tippets for spooky trout, yet will need to cast into wind from time to time, mend and otherwise manipulate the line at medium to long range, and deal with an occasional large trout.
Most spring creeks, the Lamar River and its major tributaries Slough and Soda Butte Creek, the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers, and portions of the Madison all fall into this category. Four and five-weights are generally more useful than threes, and nine-foot rods are the best length for rods in this “slot.” A nine-foot five weight can serve as an all-around dry fly rod for Montana on all area waters provided you are a solid caster, but it is too small to serve as a good nymph/streamer rod on large rivers.
Nine-Foot 6-Weight Rods***
Nine-foot six-weights are as close to a “do it all” fly rod for Montana as you can bring. They are a bit long and especially a bit heavy for dry fly fishing for small trout on small streams and a bit light for fishing giant streamers, but otherwise they can do everything without holding you back.
They are particularly suited to large rivers like the Yellowstone, Madison, and Missouri, regardless of whether you’re fishing from a boat or on foot, on days when you can expect to use a variety of tactics and sizes of flies. They are particularly good for fishing the large, wind-resistant dry flies so effective and important in the region. Overall, we use (and have clients use) nine-foot six-weights more than all other rods combined.
6-Weight Rods Between Nine and Ten Feet Long***
Six weights over nine feet in length are superior to nine-footers for only two things, but they are BY FAR the best rods for these purposes. We suggest having a rod in this slot if you expect to find yourself in one of the following situations:
- First, the long reach (providing good line control) and strong backbone (helping you to fight big fish and cast awkward nymph/weight/indicator rigs) of long six-weights make them ideal are nymph-fishing larger rivers and rough streams where large trout are present. The Yellowstone, Madison, Missouri, and Gallatin all fall into this category, as do the lower Gardner, Firehole, and Gibbon in the fall. This is true whether you’re fishing on foot or from a boat.
- Second, they are the best rods you can choose if you’re fishing from a float tube, because the long reach helps you’re casting when you are low to the water.
Ten-foot 7-Weight Rods
Some guides prefer seven-weights for the same job as the six-weights discussed in the previous entry. Our guides do not. That said, if you have a long seven-weight and not a long six-weight, by all means use the seven-weight instead.
7 to 8-Weight Single-Handed Rods Shorter Than Ten Feet***
Nine-foot rods heavier than six-weights are required only using the largest, heaviest nymphs and streamers for the largest trout on the largest rivers and lakes, basically the Missouri, Yellowstone, and Madison River, in that order of importance, as well as Yellowstone, Hebgen, and other lakes larger than 1,000 acres in size. If you won’t be doing any of these things, there’s no reason to bring such a rod.
If you do like fishing giant articulated streamers and similar flies, no lighter rod will do the job as well as a nine-foot seven-weight, or even an eight-weight if you don’t have a seven. Seven-weights can also be used when fishing large, buoyant dry flies on large rivers. For practical purposes this means Salmonflies and giant grasshoppers on the Yellowstone and Madison. Nine-foot six-weights are more pleasant to use for this purpose, however.
3 to 6-Weight Switch and Spey Fly Rods for Montana
Switch and spey rods are useful for nymph and streamer fishing large rivers like the Yellowstone, Madison, and Missouri while on foot, primarily in spring and fall when the trout may be far off the banks and challenging to reach with standard rods. There’s no reason to buy such a rod for just these purposes, but if you already have one, by all means bring it along.
Tenkara Fly Rods for Montana
Tenkara rods are becoming more and more popular, though they are definitely special-purpose tools. Longer and heavier Tenkara rods are definitely suggested, to deal with wind, rough water, larger fish, and larger flies.
The smallest streams are actually harder to fish Tenkara-style than are medium-sized streams and rough rivers, since the little creeks are often very brushy and require extreme short range casts (as in a matter of a handful of feet).
Believe it or not, fishing with a Tenkara rod from a drift boat or raft makes sense in certain situations. If the fish are tight to the rocks in fast, turbulent water where short casts are the order of the day, fishing dry-dropper can work extremely well on Tenkara gear.