Introduction to Montana Walk & Wade Fishing Trips

Montana walk & wade fly fishing trips are a new focus for Yellowstone Country Fly Fishing. We’ve run occasional guided Montana wade fishing trips since we started in the fly fishing industry back in 2001, but most anglers fishing Montana prefer to fish big name waters from a boat. Most anglers who prefer to walk sticking to Yellowstone Park due to the abundant access and wealth of waters there.

There’s a world of small streams and hard-to-reach areas on large rivers such thinking leaves out. That’s where our Montana walk & wade fishing trips come in.

Fisheries we target on Montana wade trips often feature limited access, but they also feature limited crowds and quite a few beautiful fish. At the right times of year on the right waters, these can be big beautiful fish. In addition, it’s possible to run wade trips on “big name” rivers when it’s impossible or at least a bad idea to float, for example in the dead of winter on the Yellowstone or on small rivers like the Boulder in late summer.

Montana small stream for fly fishing

Small streams like this one are abundant in Montana, though access is often limited. The difficult access often means the short public sections of these creeks are often overlooked. I caught about 15 cutthroat trout in this section of creek in two hours of fishing, 2/3 of them over 12 inches long.

Montana wade trips are available all year except during the spring runoff, the timing for which varies by river to river, though it’s always tough to run a Montana wade trip from mid-May through mid-June. Peak timing for wade trips is from late January (really) through April and from mid-July through the middle of November.

Destinations include the Yellowstone River (from late fall through early spring especially), portions of the Missouri River, the Boulder River, the upper Smith River, the Gallatin River, and many public small streams I won’t mention online.

While some hike-in fishing is possible on Montana rivers and streams, most Montana guided wade fishing trips take place near the road, though of course “the road” is often just a gravel or dirt county track.

Because there’s less hiking involved, some Montana walk & wade fisheries are more suitable to anglers who would rather walk than float but don’t wish to or can’t hike very far, as we usually do on our Yellowstone Park hike & wade trips. If you’re interested in combining wading and floating, you might also be interested in our walk-float combo trips, while if you’re willing to pay a premium to fish private water, you might be interested in fishing the Paradise Valley spring creeks on a private water trip.

Montana small stream cutthroat trout

This is one of the fish I caught from the above stream.

2022 Montana Walk & Wade Trips Rates

We offer full-day and half-day Montana walk & wade trips year-round except during the spring runoff, as well as short winter special trips that take place during the warmest part of the day.

Both full-day and half-day trips make a lot of sense. On half-days we’ll usually aim to fish the most productive part of the day for a given body of water, while on a full-day trip we’ll fish several stretches of a stream or river or even visit multiple fisheries, for example the Yellowstone River in the morning and a tributary creek in the afternoon.

2022 Montana Wade Trip Rates

Spring/fall discounts apply from March 15 through April and October 15 through November. Winter trips (2.5-3 hours) are available from November through April.

Montana Walk & Wade Trips: Season by Season

early spring walk wade fishing on the Yellowstone RiverLate Winter and Early Spring Walk-Wades: Excellent fishing for rainbow trout occurs on the Yellowstone River at this time, and the Lower Madison and Gallatin can also fish well. Some of the largest rainbows of the season are caught in March and April. We usually float for these fish, but if you’re strapped for time hitting a few good pools on foot makes a lot of sense. Our winter special trips are specifically intended for this situation and are basically the only wade trips we run at this time. This is nymph and streamer fishing and isn’t beginner-friendly, but it can be very good. The Paradise Valley spring creeks are also good bets at this time.

large late spring rainbow-cutthroat hybridLate Spring Walk-Wades: For the two or three weeks before runoff hits, many smaller rivers and large streams join the big rivers that fish well early in the spring. This is hard fishing to plan for, but can produce both good dry fly fishing and larger fish if the stars line up, without the crowds that can be seen on such waters later in the season. If you really get lucky, you’ll encounter the massive Mother’s Day caddisfly hatch. Floatable stretches of river are usually crowded for this hatch, but wade-only stretches are not. Half-day trips remain the best bet in late spring. The Paradise Valley spring creeks are also good bets at this time.

Runoff Season Walk-Wades: Runoff season begins between April 25 and May 15, depending on a river’s elevation and north vs south aspect as well as short-term weather, and continues for a month to six weeks. During this period, walk-wade trips are a tough proposition. Even when rivers and streams are clear enough to fish, they’re usually bank-full and difficult to wade on foot. Our various boat trips are better options than wading at this time, while from the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend hike & wade trips on the geothermally-heated waters in Yellowstone Park become available.

Young woman fishing a small Montana creekEarly Summer Walk-Wades: More and more Montana walk-wade options become available after waters begin dropping out of runoff sometime in mid-late June. Small rivers and creeks at low elevation offer their best fishing of the season, while fit anglers eager to scramble through boulders may wish to fish the mighty Yellowstone, Gallatin, or Boulder. By mid-July, some of the small low-elevation waters begin getting too warm and low, but mountain streams take their place and large rivers are easier to handle. Both full-day and half-day trips make sense at this time. This is also prime time for many hike-in waters in Yellowstone Park, and the Paradise Valley spring creeks enjoy their finest hatches of the year in this period.

late summer small stream brown troutLate Summer and Early Fall Walk-Wades: Late summer and early fall bring excellent conditions to most mountain streams as well as steep and fast-flowing small rivers like the Boulder, though low-elevation waters can be too low and warm if the weather’s hot and dry. Rough portions of the Yellowstone also remain good choices, especially if we time half-day trips to get on good sections of river before drift anglers arrive on a given river segment. Both full and half-day trips make sense. Many small streams in Yellowstone Park begin to get too low to fish well at this time, but larger waters remain good.

large late fall brown troutLate Fall Walk-Wades: Late fall (October and early November) is all about two things: matching BWO hatches and hunting large trout. The fishing tactics and even locations to meet these goals diverge widely, so it’s important to think about what’s more important to you: a bunch of average-sized trout on dry flies, or fishing streamers and large nymphs for shots at a couple large trout. Top destinations are the Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers. Half-day trips make more sense than full-days, especially if you’d rather chase numbers of fish rather than grinding it out all day in search of a giant. Before the Yellowstone Park season closes, this is also a good time to hunt large fish in Yellowstone Park, though crowds can be surprisingly heavy on the most famous waters.

winter brings ice to area riversDead of Winter Walk-Wades: Should you come to Montana to fish in the dead of winter? NO WAY! That said, if you’re coming to ski or tour Yellowstone Park, there’s some fishing to be done. Our best options at this time of year are warm sections of larger rivers, such as the Yellowstone River through the town of Gardiner or the Lower Madison River near Hot Springs Creek. Winter Special trips are the only options that make sense after Thanksgiving. The Paradise Valley spring creeks are also good bets at this time, especially for anglers who want to fish longer hours.