Montana Trip

I'm planning on taking a guys only (a buddy and I) trip to montana leaving here September 15 and returning a week later. I'd like to do the driving in two days, one day there and one day back so that would give us 6 days of fishing.

I've been looking at the Madison river, the big hole, the beaverhead and rock creek. I'm thinking the Madison is as far as I'd like to drive coming from Salem Oregon. I have a drift boat and am thinking of taking it, would it be worth it? Also is it better to try and make it to all those places or maybe only pick two places and spend a few days there? We will be tent camping. I'm kind of leaning towards doing a few days on the Madison and a few days at rock creek. Does anyone have any advice for floats on the Madison? Are they difficult floats? This is my first year on the sticks. Any advice would be welcome. Thanks!



not your average member
I would for sure take a boat. Its Montana eobyou can just hitchhike back to the car instead of shuttling. I'll be in Montana also for that week. I don't know that river.... I plan on doing Clark fork, Missouri and rock creek for a week and a week on my home river, the Flathead


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You can't fish out of a boat or raft on Rock Creek after July 1. In most years you'd destroy a drift boat on The Creek in September. Also, the Rock Creek road closely resembles the lunar surface with trees on each side, so if your vehicle doesn't have decent ground clearance it won't be a pleasant journey.

The Madison, Big Hole, and Beaverhead are in the same general vicinity, so you should be ok in managing your fishing time vs windshield time. Many anglers coming here for the first time try to hit every big name river and they spend more time driving than fishing.

I guided one group of guys on the Missouri River one year. We had a great day and got off the river around 8 PM. They invited me and the other guide for a couple of beers and at 930 PM we were sitting in Issacs in Craig. They told me they were fishing the Bighorn the next day and planned to eat dinner in Billings.

I looked at the other guide and we both busted out laughing.

They all turned and looked at me.

I said, "Billings will be closed up for the night. I'm not sure you could even get a Big Mac at 3 in the morning."

Their looks turned in to forced smile grimaces.

I then explained, "If you leave right now, drive 5 miles over the speed limit, don't stop for anything but gas, you won't be at your motel in Fort Smith until nearly 5 AM. The trip ahead of you is very close to the same as driving from LA to San Francisco."

I guess they didn't consult google maps.

Most people plan their trips better and figure out just what huge distances are in Montana, but many still try to cram a summer's worth of rivers into a week. That's a mistake unless you're just determined to mark certain rivers off your bucket list instead of really fishing them.


Craig Pablo

Active Member
Fishing is stellar on Rock Creek in September, you could spend a week wading it and not hit all the good runs. Pressure is usually lower in September as many guys trade fly rods for archery equipment. I would definitely bring a boat. I would concentrate on either the Missoula or Dillon area, not both. If you concentrate on the Missoula area there are four rivers in close proximity, Clark Fork, Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Rock Creek. You should be fine floating the Clark Fork and the Blackfoot but you would have to wade Rock Creek for sure (no fishing from a boat after June 30, the creek is so skinny then you wouldn't want to take a hard boat) you would probably want to wade the Bitterroot as well as it's pretty skinny that time of year. If you wanted to concentrate on the Dillon area the Big Hole and Beaverhead are real close and the Madison is not that much of a drive. You could float the Madison and Big Hole fairly easily and wade the Beaverhead.

Rick Sharp

Active Member
Take the boat and float the MO below Holter Dam for big bows and browns, you won't regret it

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Both the Beaverhead and the Bighole both have restrictions for non-residents floating the river. Check the regs before you go. I cant quote them here. Its certain days of the week that are off limits or they only allow certain numbers of floaters out. Also, These are the only two rivers in your list that are close to each other.

The Big Hole is one rocky SOB. Be prepared to ding your chine. I found lots of public access on the upper river. I only drove past the lower river. Public access for wading seems more limited in that section. However, the big fish tend to be in the lower river.

The Beaverhead is a tailwater. Big Fish. Very small stream for a tailwater. Good public access for wading a bout a mile past the dam. After that I think its more limited as it passes through a lot of farms.

As mentioned before, Rock Creek is closed to floating after July 1st. However, you dont need to float it as public wading access is pretty good.

The more popular sections of the Madison are closed to fishing from boats. However, there is a ton of public wade fishing and long stretches that are open to floating. Its also a tailwater.

The big problem that you are going to have is that this is a low snow year. Its doubtful that most of the rivers will be floatable by a hard sided boat in September. Most guides and Montana residents have rafts for this time of year. That way they can easily get out and drag the raft through the shallow water. There will be plenty of that this year.

Check for closures before you go. Sometimes they will close rivers if the water temp gets too high. That will probably happen a bunch this September.

I wouldn't take the hard sided boat unless you specifically know that the section of the river you are planning to fish is floatable with a hard sided boat at what ever water level the river happens to be at that week. Plenty of local fly shops that should be able to help out with that info.

Wade fishing is probably your best option unless you have a raft. I would probably stick with one of the tailwaters if you want to be sure the river will not be closed due to high temps. You could even ditch the big name rivers and do some blue-lining. Plenty of that in MT.



The Madison and the Big Hole can be technical rivers to row depending on the section as both are pretty rocky. Of course, consulting local fly shops before you go is the way to avoid any serious problems.

The Beaverhead wasnt all that hard to row for me. However, given its size and floating restrictions, I doubt you would want to stay there all week.

If you really wanted to float a river, given that its your first year on the oars, I recommend the Missouri at Craig. There is probably 60 miles of easily floatable trout water below Holter dam. All of it contains massive amounts of hungry trout.



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I recommend the Missouri at Craig. There is probably 60 miles of easily floatable trout water below Holter dam.
Not to nit pick, but . . .

Realistically, the town of Cascade (34 river miles from Holter Dam) is the end of line for trout fishing on this section of the Mo. The river warms and slows after that. A motorless drift boat or raft is not a good option downstream of Cascade.

Great advice about the Beaverhead/Big Hole and Madison. I forgot about the non-res restrictions. And you are right on the money about Montana snowpack this year and the probable boney water conditions in September.

Like everybody else said, Fish the Missouri and fish mulitple sections in the time your there. Don't stick to just the Dam to Craig float. Branch out and find what you like. The floats are different from one another and all good.

I could literally spend a life time on the river.
I like the MO idea until I found it on the map, that's a long f$#%ing way from salem. I was thinking the Madison was far, I'm guessing 16+ hours from salem. Tougher to do in a day.

I'm worried about the water being to warm at the time i'm going this year, I was thinking I would be in the clear going mid September.

By the way the floating restrictions on the big hole, beaverhead and Madison end on Labor Day so I can float any day I want, already checked the regs, also I spent a week on rock creek so I know the floating situation.

I like the MO idea until I found it on the map, that's a long f$#%ing way from salem. I was thinking the Madison was far, I'm guessing 16+ hours from salem. Tougher to do in a day.

I'm worried about the water being to warm at the time i'm going this year, I was thinking I would be in the clear going mid September.


16 hour drive is alot in one go. Sleeping in your car will fix that. Plus you get Trout Bum Points for the one man automobile slumber party. If your concerned about the water, that makes the Mo' an even better idea since its a tail water and gets more consistent water flow and temperature then freestones. My contacts in Montana say there should be plenty of water all summer (speaking of Western Montana that is)


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I like the MO idea until I found it on the map, that's a long f$#%ing way from salem.
Not that I care where you fish, and while I've never actually checked the miles from Salem to say, Ennis vs Salem to Craig, I would think they'd be about the same.

It's never been easy to predict Montana weather or water conditions 3 or 4 months out. Since ~ 1998, it's been a complete crapshoot. But previous winter snowpack, as mentioned here, is a huge factor. Low snowpack, even with decent spring rains, mostly translate to early and long fire seasons, low and warm stream flows. Tailwaters often can moderate the effects, but they can't erase them.

My best advice is this -- #1 - If you want to fish out of your drift boat this September in western Montana, head for the Mo or the Clark Fork. #2 - If you want to explore the Madison, Beaverhead/Big Hole, leave you drift boat at home and wade fish those rivers. #3 - Closely monitor stream flows and water temps on your target river(s) as you get closer to your date. #4 - Closely monitor the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks site for river closures or restrictions. #5 - Closely monitor the wild fire situation.