Flathead Valley Montana Fishing and Fly Fishing

Noel Massey



Flathead Valley Montana Fishing and Fly Fishing guide

Hey folks! I’m here to spill the beans on my favorite pastime in the great outdoors of Flathead Valley, Montana. I absolutely love casting a line and fly fishing, and there’s nothing quite like the thrill of the catch against the backdrop of this stunning mountain scenery.

Join me as I will share the ins and outs of fishing in this angler’s paradise. The rivers are teeming, and the fish are plenty here, so there is a lot to talk about.

Key Highlights

  • Flathead Valley in Montana offers plenty of fishing opportunities with a wide range of fish species, including lake trout, cutthroat trout, and rainbow trout.
  • Follow the fishing seasons and regulations since different times of the year are ideal for targeting specific fish species. A valid fishing license is required.
  • Essential gear varies by fishing type, with deep trolling for lake fish and specialized fly fishing equipment for river and stream angling.

What Are the Best Spots?

Anyone with a little bit of experience knows that finding the right spot is crucial for fishing.

  • Southern Shoreline: The southern part of Flathead Lake is renowned for its deep waters and abundant fish populations, making it a hotspot for catching lake trout and bull trout. The area around Polson, with its easy access to deeper waters, is particularly favored by anglers.
  • West Shore: Near the towns of Lakeside and Somers, the west shore of Flathead Lake offers excellent opportunities for rainbow trout and yellow perch. The docks and piers here provide perfect spots for a relaxed day of fishing.
  • East Shore: The east shore, especially around Bigfork, is known for its clear waters and is a prime location for fly fishing. Anglers here often catch kokanee salmon and whitefish.
  • Wild Horse Island: Accessible by boat, this island in Flathead Lake is a unique fishing destination. It’s not only a place to catch fish but also to enjoy the sight of wild horses. The waters around the island are good for catching large lake trout.
  • Middle of the Lake: For those with access to a boat and the right equipment, the deeper waters in the middle of Flathead Lake are where some of the largest fish are found, including trophy-sized lake trout.

What About Different Seasons?

Learning more about the conditions over a year will help you make the right decision on the type of game. For example, fly fishing is very popular during winter.

Some areas may be difficult to reach due to snow and ice, especially in more remote sections of the valley. It’s essential to research current conditions and potentially focus on areas with easier winter access.

And for the rest of the year:

  • Early Spring: As soon as the mayfly hatches begin in March, good trout fishing opportunities emerge. Key hatches include pale morning duns and blue-winged olives, which are crucial for spring fishing.
  • Summer: This season is the prime time for fishing in the Flathead, especially in the upper portions of the river where rainbow trout populations are dense. Caddis flies became particularly effective during this period. The clear, glacier-fed waters remain cool, offering a refuge for trout even in the hottest months.
  • Through September: The river continues to produce good fly fishing results into early fall. While rainbows, cutthroats, and some browns are common catches, it’s also known for northern pike. If targeting trout, it may be beneficial to avoid peak pike fishing times.


Always remember to check local regulations before you head out, as some species may have seasonal restrictions or catch limits.

Here are the key regulations you need to know:


  • All anglers over the age of 12 must hold a valid fishing license.
  • You can purchase licenses online or from local retailers.
  • Options include two-day licenses for short visits and season licenses for residents and non-residents alike.


  • Yellow Perch and Lake Whitefish: Harvesting these non-native species is encouraged. They have liberal bag limits and can benefit native trout populations.
  • Native Trout: If you catch native trout, follow proper release techniques.
  • You can check the official guidelines for more details.

Flathead Indian Reservation:

There Are So Many Species to Catch

Cutthroat Trout

As I said before, Flathead Valley houses plenty of fish species that thrive in its waters. Flathead Lake is particularly well known for its lake trout, but you can also find yellow perch, whitefish, and bull trout. In the valley’s rivers and streams, expect to find cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, and even the occasional northern pike.

  • Lake Trout: Lake trout are the prize catch in Flathead Lake, with some specimens reaching impressive sizes. These fish prefer colder water and are usually found near the bottom. Fish between 30 to 100 feet deep for smaller lake trout (2-5 lbs) and over 100 feet deep for larger ones. Look for areas with bait fish concentrations, such as points, rubble slopes, or flats near drop-offs. Dawn to mid-morning is the best time for fishing.
  • Cutthroat Trout: The native Westslope Cutthroat Trout is a favorite among fly fishermen. These fish, found in the colder waters of the valley’s rivers and streams, are known for their striking coloration and spirited fight. Very cool catch if you are persistent enough.

Essential Gear and Tackle

Essential Gear and Tackle

Your gear will be determined by the type of fishing you intend to do. For lake fishing, I suggest a sturdy rod and reel capable of deep trolling, along with a selection of lures to attract the lake’s trout. For fly fishing, I recommend more specialized equipment, including a fly rod, flies, waders, and often a vest.

  • Deep-trolling gear: Downriggers, flashers, and spoons are popular for targeting lake trout in the depths of Flathead Lake.
  • Tackle: Consider bringing a selection of dry flies, nymphs, and streamers to match the local hatch. Keep an eye on local fishing reports for advice on what’s working.

You Might Consider Hiring a Guide

Flathead Valley hiring a guide

Hiring a local guide can significantly improve your fishing experience in Flathead Valley. Guides offer tons of good advice, from the best spots and techniques to the details of local regulations.

They’ll also provide gear and tackle, which will ease the whole process, especially for first-time visitors.

Final Words

Every time I explore the Flathead Valley in Montana, I find new reasons to appreciate it. The clear, cold waters and the stunning backdrop of Glacier National Park only add to the experience, making it a paradise for anglers like myself. It’s never just about the catch but about connecting with nature and enjoying the pure, unspoiled beauty of Montana. I can’t wait to return and cast my line into these waters again.