Introduction to Our Montana Float Fishing Trips
Guided fly fishing float trips on rivers near Livingston, Montana are the core of our Montana fly fishing guide service. They’re the trips we run the most and the trips for which we develop the majority of our custom fly patterns.
While Yellowstone River fishing trips are our most popular floats (we float over 120 miles of the Yellowstone), we also fish the Stillwater, Lower Madison, Boulder, and occasionally other Montana rivers. With increasing crowds on “big name” rivers like the Madison and gentle sections of the Yellowstone, small whitewater rivers like the Boulder and Stillwater as well as difficult-to-access portions of big rivers are fast becoming our favorite places to run Montana float trips – and they flat out produce fish.
On our Montana float fishing trips we utilize both specialized fly fishing drift boats and whitewater rafts set up with fly fishing frames, depending on where we’re fishing. On deeper, gentler stretches of river with developed accesses, we use drift boats. Where the water is shallow or rough or where the boat ramps are just bare spots in the bank down which we slide the boat, we use rafts.
Because we use both types of boats on our Montana float trips, we are able to float a wider range of rivers, big to small, than most guides, and also access specific sections of rivers many others cannot. While no river in Montana suitable for day trips is ever devoid of other guides during the core season, we often run water where we go hours rather than minutes without seeing other guides. Even when we do see others, odds are the other boats aren’t using flies like ours.
Guided drift fishing trips are available from March through November, for anglers of all skill levels, fitness levels, and preferred techniques. Certain rivers and even certain stretches of river are better at different times of year than others, and are best-suited to anglers with different skill levels and interests. Visit our Our Fisheries pages to learn more about what each of the rivers we float have to offer, or just drop us a line or give us a call to talk things over.
2022 Float Trip Rates and Options
We offer full-day, half-day, and “double half-day” options on river floats. Not all options are available on all waters or at all times of year. In early spring and late fall it only makes sense to float for a half-day during the warmest part of the day, for example.
Curious about what a “double half-day” trip could be? On double half-days, we fish two very different five or six-mile sections of river rather than one continuous ten or twelve-mile section like we do on normal full-day floats. These trips offer our guests the opportunity to experience a wide range of fishing conditions in a single day of fishing. We are the only outfitter to offer such trips as a regular part of our business. These trips are only available from late June or early July through August, when river flows are high enough and days are long enough to allow for the long days these trips entail.
Please note that it is not uncommon for several of our float trip rivers to suddenly get muddy and unfishable for a day or two at a time several times per season due to summer thunderstorms. If this happens, we may need to switch destinations on short notice.
The following table shows our float trip rates:
Spring and fall discounted rates apply from mid-March through April and from October 15 through November. Please note that float trip availability in early spring and late fall is highly variable due to the potential for ice and inclement weather. Float trips are not available from sometime in mid-late November through sometime in March due to ice and poor fishing.
Montana Float Fishing Trips: Season by Season
We run floats whenever it’s warm enough to do so. Each season has its top fisheries and its pluses and minuses. The bold-face links in the list below may help you decide when to come if you haven’t already. The links at the end of each short introduction are good alternative boat trips at a given time of year.
Early Spring Float Trips: Mid-March through early May is a sleeper season for Montana float fishing trips. Big fish are on the prowl after a long, cold winter, and there are seldom large numbers of other guided float fishing trips out on the water. It can be awfully cold, though, and the fishing isn’t as consistent as it is during summer and fall. Top fisheries at this time are the Yellowstone and sometimes the Boulder and Lower Madison Rivers. This is also a good time for private lake trips.
Late Spring Float Trips: Early May through sometime in late June or early July is runoff season, when the spring melt brings high, muddy water that’s impossible to fish to most local rivers. But not all local rivers. The Lower Madison River sees its best fishing of the season at this time. On the Yellowstone and especially the Boulder, short clear water windows even in the middle of the melt can bring spectacular fishing. This is also a great time for private lake trips.
Early Summer Float Trips: The month or so following the end of the runoff offers comfortable weather, the largest number of Montana float rivers in good shape, eager trout, and excellent hatches that produce good dry fly fishing. It also offers high crowds of other anglers, but that’s understandable given that early summer typically offers our most consistent fishing of the season. Our top destinations for Montana float fishing trips at this time are the Yellowstone, the Boulder, and the Stillwater. Private lake trips can remain good in early summer, but for most anglers who want a boat trip, float trips are top dog in early summer.
Late Summer Float Trips: In August and sometimes early September, float rivers are getting low and clear and aquatic insects are at their low ebb, but this means the fish love to eat grasshoppers and ants. Fishing is slower-paced than it is earlier in the summer and crowds are usually a bit lower, but the fish can be a bit spookier. While we don’t catch as many big fish overall in late summer as we do in early summer, we catch more of them on dry flies in late summer, and for many anglers one big fish on a dry beats two or three on a nymph. Our favorite float rivers at this time are the Yellowstone and the Stillwater. In late summer we suggest float trips for all anglers interested in a boat trip.
Early Autumn Float Trips: September on into early October is transition time. On warm, sunny days the fish often still prefer grasshoppers to anything else, while when it’s cold and wet the fall aquatic insect hatches are heavy and the riffles and pools fill with trout eating Blue-winged Olives and Drake Mackerals. Crowds begin to disappear as the weather cools, and we can often meet a bit later in the morning, because the trout start keeping banker’s hours. We love floating the Yellowstone River in early autumn, as well as the Stillwater River in years when it’s still high enough for the raft to scrape down over the rocks. Early fall is typically the most beginner-friendly period to float, though the eager mountain whitefish often eat beginners’ flies before the trout do. Still want to get out early? This is prime time for our walk-float combo trips. It’s also a great time for private lake trips.
Late Autumn Float Trips: Late autumn float trips from are for die-hard anglers. While dry fly fishing is still good for a few hours in early afternoon, the focus shifts to pursuing large trout with nymphs and streamers. These can be either brown trout on their spawning runs or rainbow and cutthroat trout fattening up for winter. The fishing can be tough, with both the weather and the fish refusing to cooperate, but the rewards are worth it: the biggest trout of the year usually get caught in late fall. The same holds true on private lake trips as well. Our top float trip destinations in late autumn are the Yellowstone and Lower Madison Rivers every year and the Stillwater River when it remains high enough to float this late in the season, most commonly in wet years, but we sometimes hit up a few “shoot for the moon” fisheries that we don’t fish much earlier in the year, like the Jefferson and Missouri near Canyon Ferry Reservoir.