Copyright 2017 James Marsh
Fly Fishing On The Smith River In
The North and South Forks of the Smith River flow
together near the little town of White Sulfur Springs,
Montana, forming the main river. From there, it flows
well over a hundred miles before its confluence with
the Missouri River.
The Smith River lies between the Little and Big Belt
mountain ranges and flows mostly through open
The first forty miles of the river can be accessed at the
Smith River public fishing access. It is located about
nine miles upstream from the main put-in
point at Camp Baker that begins the sixty mile float
section. The river is rather small and shallow in its
upper section. It can be waded up or downstream from
the Smith River access but most all of it flows through
privately owned land.
The only way you can fish very much of the Smith
River is to float it. You have to draw a permit to fish the
river. It is the only river in Montana that has this
requirement. This website provides the details. The
section of the river that falls under this rule is sixty
There are remote campsites along the river, but it has
no access via a public road throughout the entire sixty
miles. It has one public put-in and one public take-out.
This can mean a four or five day float trip.
The boats that are used by the outfitters are rubber
rafts. The reason for this, we are told, is that the
curves and boulders in the canyon sections of the
river would destroy a wooden drift boat.
The Smith is not a fast water river as such. Its flows
are rather moderately at normal water levels.
Never-the-less, we are told the canyon sections can
be tricky to maneuver. The flows vary greatly
depending on the amount of rainfall.
Smith River Montana
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Smith River Montana Fly Fishing Guide:
The best way to fish the river is to get lucky and
obtain a permit and drift it. I really don't know the
details that lead up to the state permitted lottery
system. I understand the river was very crowded
before that system existed. From discussing this with
several people that are familiar with the Smith River,
before and after the system existed, it seems that the
permitted system came about as a result of the
outfitters wanting it. It seems totally ridiculous to me. I
won't be filling out an application for the drawing.
Although Montana has the best trout fishing in the
United States, the Smith River permit deal is a bad
deal for everyone but the outfitters as far as I am
Fly fishing the Smith River depends on
the water levels more than anything else.
Springtime fishing is purely at the mercy
of Mother Nature. Heavy snowpacks
mean the river may stay high from runoff
well into June.
From the rivers start near White Sulphur
Springs, downstream for forty miles to the
only a very few access points. Most of the
property along the river is privately owned.
This is mostly agricultural country and
fields surround the river most of the way.
The Smith River Fishing Access is one of,
if not the best place to access the stream
in this forty mile section. It is located
roughly 31 miles downstream from the
river's beginning or about 9 miles above
the Camp Baker Fishing Access which is
the beginning of the 60 miles permit only
section of the river.
In addition to the rainbow and brown trout,
you will find a few brook trout in this area.
Most all of the fish average a small size.
According to the few anglers we have
talked to, the fishing is very good in the
sixty mile permit only section of the river.
The fish average a larger size with browns
representing the highest percentage of the
There are several campsites along the
way that were created for the overnight
stays of the drift boat parties. There are a
few canyon sections but none that are
extremely dangerous or the serious white
water types. This 60 mile section ends at
The short distance from Eden Bridge down
to the river's confluence with the Missouri
River flows slowly and isn't recommended
although it is supposed to have some
This river is a freestone stream subject to
the forces of Mother Nature. When there is
little rain, the flows can become low and
the river slows down. After heavy rains, it
can be come high and tricky depending on
the amount of rain. Irrigation demands of
the farmers also affect the flows.
This area of Montana is so huge, we
thought we were lost one day and stopped
to ask a rancher exiting a gate just off the
road for directions. He was extremely nice
and noticing all of the fly fishing gear in
our vehicle, invited us to fish on his
property. He even insisted we take keys to
the particular gate that he directed us to.
He owned a few thousand acres and a
great deal of the river.
My point here is that it is possible to obtain
permission to fish from the local farmers
and ranchers provided you ask or get
lucky like we did. Just make absolutely
certain that you don't damage or misuse
their property in any way. I would advise
against that in a big way.
Smith River Montana Hatches and
Our information on aquatic insects is
based on our stream samples of larvae
and nymphs, not guess work. We base fly
suggestions on imitating the most plentiful
and most available insects and other
foods at the particular time you are fishing.
Unlike the generic fly shop trout flies, we
have specific imitations of all the insects in
Smith River and in all stages of life that
are applicable to fishing. If you want to fish
better, more realistic trout flies, have a
much higher degree of success, give us a
call. We not only will help you with
selections, you will learn why, after trying
Perfect Flies, 92% of the thousands of our
customers will use nothing else.
The hatches on the Smith River are as
varied as the fishing conditions and
diversity of the water in its hundred mile
plus course. As with almost any western
trout stream, the Blue-winged Olives are
important and hatch twice a year. These
little mayflies start hatching in the later
part of March and last through the month
of May. They hatch again starting around
the middle of September and last through
One of the most praised hatches on the
Smith River are the Salmonflies. These
large stoneflies start hatching around the
middle of May. They last until about the
middle of June but can string out to near
the first of July depending on the weather
and the part of the river you are fishing.
About the first of June you will also find
hatches of Golden Stoneflies. They can
last to near the end of June. Remember,
both of these stoneflies are more common
in the riffles or run sections of the river.
There are also hatches of Little Yellow
Stoneflies. These take place from about
the middle of June until the end of July
depending on the section of the river you
Pale Morning Duns are another important
aquatic insect. These little mayflies can
hatch from about the first of June through
the month of August, depending on the
section of water.
Brown Drakes inhibit the pools and the
more moderate sections of the stream.
They can hatch from about the first of
June for most of the month.
There are Tricos hatches that occur in the
slower parts of the river from about the
first of August through September and into
the first of October.
Caddisflies are very plentiful on the Smith
River. There are several species of them
but the most prevalent are the Spotted
Sedges. Different species of these
caddisflies hatch from May through
There are isolated hatches of Little Black
Caddis, or Brachycentrus caddisflies, that
occur in late April and early May,
depending on the weather. Little
Short-horned Sedges are plentiful during
June and July.
Green Sedges hatch during June and July
and into August. These are mostly found
in the fast water sections of the river.
Make sure you have some Rock Worms.
The large October Caddis hatch from
about the middle of September through
the middle of October depending on the
section of the river.
Streamers are very important flies to have
with you any time on the Smith River. They
work best early in the morning and late in
the day near dark but also, anytime the
water is high or slightly off color. The river
has plenty of sculpin and minnows for the
trout to eat.
Terrestrials may be the most important of
all insects. They start showing up in large
quantities around the first of July and last
until the end of September. Grasshoppers
are very plentiful due to the large ranches
and farms surrounding the river
throughout its length. Imitations of ants
and beetles are also plentiful. You may
encounter some flying ants but predicting
when, is next to impossible. August would
be the best chance to find the water
covered with them but you should carry
some flies anytime during the summer.
The very best trout flies you can purchase
are our own "Perfect Flies". They are not
only the most realistic, they are the most
effective. If you haven't done so, please
give them a try. You will be glad you did.
The latter part of June can be good, July is
normally good and low water conditions
normally affect August in a bad way.
Early fall can also be affected by low water.
If the water levels are suitable, fishing can
Thumbnails: Click to enlarge
Thumbnails: Click to enlarge
|Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.
2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.
3. Email us (email@example.com)
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.
All orders are shipped free in the
U. S. Orders over $50 are shipped via
Headlines: The river is one of a
few in the state that is flowing near
normal levels. The warm weather is
going to make it a little difficult to
pinpoint the hatches this year, but
it will mostly depend on what
happens for the next two or three
months. We stay busy helping
anglers who drew permits get
ready for their trips. The only
problem I have with it, is wanted to
go on everyone of them myself.
We don't guess at what is needed,
we know. We have taken samples
of the food over the years using
10/13/15 All but the State Park will close at the end of October, so you better get it while the
gettin's good. Brown trout are spawning. The State park section is open year-round by permit
only. We can help you plan your next trip. Just give us a call or send us an email. The numbers
and email address in on your right under options for selecting flies.
10/20/15 Brown trout are in the pre-spawn and in some cases, the spawning stage. The pre-
spawners are very territorial and aggressive and will take streams like our Brown Sculpin and
White Belly Sculpin flies. Blue-winged olives have started hatching in good numbers. Trout can
still be taken on the dry fly. October Caddis are at the peak of their hatch.
10/27/15 Right now the stream levels are low and good for the waders but there is rain in the
forecast from Thursday through next Tuesday. What the stream levels. Blue-winged olives are
hatching good and in two sizes, 20 and 16. October Caddis are still hatching in some sections.
Brown trout are still preparing to spawn (some actually spawning).
11/03/15 A winter storm warning is taking place as I write this. It is about time it is turning colder
than it has been for months. Blue-winged olives will hatch and other than that, midges will be
about it. Our Brown Sculpin is still catching some big brown trout. The stream levels are fine
now but keep a close check on them.
11/10/15 The Smith is in very good shape and few people are there to take advantage of it.
The stream levels are fine for wading and the water still warm enough for the trout to be active.
Hatches are reduced to mostly Blue-winged olives and Midges. The Brown sculpin streamer
has been the top producing fly.
11/17/15 The water and weather are getting cold. That if of course, normal for this time of the
year. Snow is in the forecast through Friday but clear for the weekend. If you fish, we
recommend Midges. We prefer to fish a larva imitation as the bottom fly and a pupa imitation
about a foot up the tippet.
11/24/15 We didn't receive any reports this past week, even from our reliable locals. It is colder
and most anglers are spending the Thanksgiving holidays with the family instead of on the
water. River levels are fine but the weather is cold. There's a winter storm warning in effect as I
am writing this.
12/02/15 It was cold in Smith River country this past week but warming back up for those who
want to get off the couch and hook a trout. Of course, the State park is the only section open.
You can catch trout on midges. The Brown Sculpin streamer was producing some big ones for
one of our local customers until last week's deep freeze. Stream levels should be fine.
12/08/15 The weather may offer a good day or two of fly fishing opportunity for the locals on
the Smith River this week. There are some big changes taking place. The stream levels are
fine right now but there will be some stain in some sections. We added Winter stoneflies to the
list because they are hatching in the fast water sections.
12/15/15 The water is much colder this week but maybe it will warm up some by Saturday. You
may want to fish the closest tailwater because the Smith State park water is going to have a lot
of ice around the banks. Winter Stoneflies and Midges is about your only fly options.
12/22/15 The water has gotten very cold, the warmest being just above freezing. There is a lot
of ice along the banks of the warmest part of the river. Catching trout isn't impossible but it will
be very tough. The trout will be just fine but you may not. If you dare brave the elements, be
careful. Let us hear from you if you catch a fish. You may be king or Queen of Montana for a
12/29/15 We posted the information to apply for a permit. It is now open, so get your
03/02/16 The river is in very good shape for this time of the year. Recent warm weather melted
a lot of snow along the banks but it is clear now. The weather is returning to a more normal
pattern for this time of the year. There is snow forecast for the next two days and then clearing.
Midges, both red and cream, are hatching. They are still the most important insect to imitate.
03/22/16 The State park is open but tough fishing conditions exist most days. Midges are the
key insect to imitate. There is snow in the forecast about every day and the cloud cover helps
keep the hatches taking place at the warmest part of the day.
03/29/16 We didn't receive any reports from anyone fishing this past week but we do know
conditions are such that you could catch some trout in the park at this time. Fish the slower
current, not fast water, with midge larva and pupa in tandem and you stand a good chance of
hooking up. Cream and Red midges are best at this time.
04/12/19 The smith is in good shape in the park with good stream levels and warming water. It
is still cold but in the low forties where you can have a decent opportunity to catch trout.
Midges and little Blue-winged olives are hatching. With the cloud cover the next two days, the
White Belly Sculpin streamer would be a good fly choice.
04/19/16 The river is a little high and stained in the section open to fishing at this time. It is
likely to get higher and vey dingy this week with the warm weather expected. Sculpin streamers
would be our first choice of flies to use at this time. We expect this trend to continue for at least
several more days.
04/26/16 The Smith is high and dirty right now. There was a lot of melting snow this past week
and now rain or wet snow in the forecast every day for the next week. It is likely to be high for a
few more days. If you fish, streamers would be the best fly option.
05/03/16 The stream is getting into good shape, with lower, clearer water that is warming up
some. The Mother's day hatch is not far away. The water needs to get to about 50 degrees.
Meantime, little Blue-winged olives are hatching good.
05/10/16 Much cooler weather has put a halt to the Mother's day caddis hatch. The water
levels are up and it is stained. There isn't much fly fishing opportunity right now and it will
probably be that way for at least the next week. Check out the latest conditions by clicking the
fishing report link above.
05/17/16 The Smith is back down to decent levels and the weather warming back up some.
Last week's cold weather delayed the little Black Caddis and other insect hatches but things
should be back to normal soon. There is more rain in the forecast for the coming week.
05/24/16 The stream levels are up and the water mostly stained from the beginning of Spring
runoff and rain. There is rain in the forecast every day for the next week. It is possible to fish
the upper section of the river but not really worth it, except streamer fishing from the banks.
The high water conditions are likely to continue for the next month.
05/31/16 The situation looks pretty good right now in the state park. It may be the calm before5
the Spring runoff though. We will be updating the insect and flies in the report linked below
06/07/16 The stream levels are high but not too high to fish in the State park. We didn't
receive any reports from this past week. Lots of insects are hatching. The Smith begins at a
little lower elevation than many Montana streams and usually gets down earlier than most
06/21/16 We have been getting a good number of emails from anglers that have drawn
permits. We can help you with the fly selection you will need if you let us know the dates you
will be fishing the river. The stream level is down and the river in pretty good shape. The water
is still stained some. It is likely to go back up. We don't think the runoff is completely over.
06/28/16 We had several people that drew permits call or email us this past week for flies and
fly recommendations. The water levels are down and the water mostly all clear and in good
shape. It should continue to get better the next week. There are a lot of insects already
hatching and more to come within the next few days. The season is off to a very good start.
06/28/16 The Smith is off to a another good summer season with multiple hatches taking place.
We didn't receive any reports from customers this past week, but I'm sure we will be hearing
from some soon. The stream levels are down in good shape and trout are being caught on the
surface in good numbers according to our local contact.
07/05/16 The Smith is in good shape in all sections. The water level is getting a little low but
there is rain in the forecast everyday for the next week, so that shouldn't be a problem. There
are a lot of insects hatching but keep in mind, it varies from section to section. Not all of them
are hatching in one place at one time. We received two good reports from this past week.
07/12/16 The Smith is probably in the best shape it has been this season. The water levels are
down but not to low for most drift boats to get through. We are still getting mixed reports from
angles. We didn't hear from any of our customers this past week. The weather forecast looks
good for the coming week. There is a lot of Pale Morning duns, Green drakes and caddis.
07/26/16 The Smith is very low and very warm. Most of it is marginal. There is rain in the
forecast through Thursday and maybe it will get a good dose of water. It needs it. The hatches
have fell off fast due to the warmer water. Pale Morning duns and Spotted Sedges are still
hatching good. Tricos have started to hatch good.
08/02/16 Hoot Owl restrictions are in place. This means you cannot fish after 2:00 PM. The
water is getting too warm in the afternoons. We recommend choosing another destination such
as one of the many tailwaters.
08/09/16 The Smith River is under Hoot Owl restrictions from the confluence of the North and
South forks of the Smith River to Eden Bridge. You cannot fish after 2:00 PM. Fish streamers
in the early mornings like our Matuka sculpin patterns. Pale Morning duns spinners fall in the
morning and Tricos are also present in the mornings.
08/16/16 The Smith is still under Hoot Owl restrictions. The water is also very low. You may try
streamers in the early mornings. Sculpin patterns like our Black or Olive Matuka sculpin would
be good ones to use. There are Trico spinner falls taking place in the mornings. You should
choose a nearby tailwater if your out of town on a fishing trip.
08/23/16 The Hoot Owl restrictions on Smith River have been removed. The river is deemed
cool enough to continue fishing. There are still some hatches taking place. Tricos are hatching
good. Spotted Sedges and Green sedge caddisflies are hatching good. It is still best to fish
early and late in the day. Matuka sculpin streamers are working good in the early mornings.
09/06/16 It is currently raining and will continue through tonight. The stream levels is up just a
little above normal level and the water in excellent shape for a change. The weather and water
temperature is much cooler and the conditions for catching trout good. There are still a lot of
caddisflies hatching and terrestrial insects along the banks are plentiful.
09/13/16 The river is flowing at about a normal level for this time of the year. We didn't receive
any reports from anyone fishing this past week, but conditions were good. Terrestrials are
plentiful along the banks of the river - ants, beetles and grass hoppers. Imitations should work
good. There are still plenty of caddisflies hatching and some small BWOs.
09/20/16 It is raining and the river needs some water. It is a little low right now. There are
chances through the entire week, so it is likely to come up. October Caddis and Mahogany
duns are added to the fly list and hatching. Baetis species of Blue-winged olives are hatching
as well. Terrestrials are still working good according to our customers.
09/27/16 The stream levels are still running just a little low but there is rain forecast from
Saturday through next Tuesday. There are still some good hatches of Blue-winged olives,
Mahogany duns and a few October Caddis taking place. Brown sculpin streamers will work
good as the brown trout are getting into the pre-spawn mode.
10/06/16 The river is still a little low but rising and should be normal within a day or two. There
are lots of Blue-winged olives starting to hatch. The brown trout are entering the pre-spawn
stage and aggressive. Sculpin streamers are a sure way to get their attention. They don't like
them at all. Maybe it is because they eat their eggs.
10/12/16 The stream levels are in good shape but keep in mind there is a lot of rain in the
forecast for the coming week. The cloud cover is helping anglers catch trout and the Blue-
winged olive hatches are huge. There are Mahogany duns as well. The State Park is turning
out some nice trout. If the levels remain in good shape, this coming week will be a good one.
10/19/16 The stream levels continue to be in good shape flowing just a little below normal.
There is only a slight amount of rain in the forecast, so the levels will probably continue to
drop. You can wade most places now. Few anglers are fishing. We didn't receive any reports
this past week. The conditions did remain good..
11/26/16 The upper sections of the river are in good shape with pre-spawn brown trout being
caught. Blue-winged olives are taking place daily, thanks to heavy cloud cover. It is a good
time to fish the park and few anglers are doing it. Fish the BWO nymphs in the morning until
you see them emerging and switch to the duns.
11/02/16 Stream levels are good and there are some nice trout being caught in the State Park
section of the river. Brown and White Belly sculpin streamers are working good for the larger
brown trout. Blue-winged olives are hatching.
11/09/16 The river is in very good shape with good stream levels. The State Park does
produce trout for the few that fish it during this time of the year. Few out of town anglers visit
the area. Blue-winged olives and Cream midges are hatching. We didn't receive any reports
from anyone fishing this past week.
11/16/16 The weather is turning much cooler and the hatches will be confined to being mostly
midges and small Blue-winged olives. The sculpin streamers like the Matuka and Brown sculpin
should continue to work good. The stream levels are in good shape.
11/23/16 The river is in good shape with good levels but much colder. The water is just a tad
above forty degrees. Streamers like the Brown sculpin should still work. Midges, mostly reds or
blood midges, are hatching.
11/30/16 The water temperature is now only in the high thirties. You would be much better off
fishing any bottom release tailwater. Sculpin streamers worked slowly along the bottom will still
catch the larger trout. Otherwise, midges and Winter stoneflies would be the best options.
12/07/16 The river levels are in good shape but the water temperature is in the mid to low
forties. There is a lot of ice in the water in the upper section in the park. We do not recommend
fishing under these conditions. It can be dangerous. Midges would be the best choice of flies if
you do fish. You would be much better off choosing a tailwater.
12/14/16 The weather is going to be extremely cold this coming week. The high temperature
will not exceed freezing all week and there will be a lot of ice in the water. We do not
recommend fishing under these extreme conditions. You would do much better choosing a
12/21/16 The water is still too cold to offer any real opportunity to catch trout. It isn't
impossible, just very tough. You can catch them on midge imitations.
12/28/16 Conditions remain about the same. The temperature won't exceed freezing this
coming week, so the water will remain extremely cold with lots of slush ice and frozen near the
banks and slow water areas.
01/04/17 We don't recommend fishing the Smith this coming week, but we do want to point out
to those who question it, that it is possible to catch trout on midges under these conditions.
They will hatch and trout will feed on them. It is just that it will be slow at best.
01/11/17 Remember, applications for the Smith River Private Float Permit lottery will be
available January 3 – February 16, 2017.Currently, the water temperature is about 33 degrees
at the very highest. There is a lot of ice in the water. Midges are hatching, and although it is
possible to catch trout, we don't think it would be productive.
01/15/17 The lottery has ended. If you are going to receive a permit, please contact us and we
will help you with fly selections. It isn't going to be very long before trout will be taking dry flies
from the surface of the Smith. There is a link on your right just below here in the center
column - This website..
03/08/17 The water level is down in the State park and the weather a little warmer but there is
still a lot of slush, shelf and bank ice to deal with. I hope everyone that applied got a permit to
float the river this season.
03/15/17 The weather is going to be warm this coming week and that is going to melt a lot of
snow and ice and raise the water levels. It is already starting to stain it up good. You may catch
some trout in the park on streamers this coming week.
03/22/17 For the first time in a long time, the USGS gauge we use for the levels is working
again. The stream levels are just a little below normal levels. The weather is going to continue
to be warm with a chance of rain most days for the coming week. Please remember that If you
got a permit, be sure to let us help you with the fly and gear selection. We outfit a lot of
customers each year for the Smith.