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.
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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
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|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 $100 are shipped via
Be sure to click the link above for
the Smith River fishing report.
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.
03/29/17 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.
04/04/17 There is a lot of rain and snow in the forecast, but for now, the stream levels are all in
good shape. We are getting several calls and lots of email from those lucky enough to draw a
04/19/17 The State park water is in good shape, still a little cold but midges and Sculpin
streamers will catch trout. There is a chance of rain everyday but one this coming week, so the
levels could change. We set several most guys who drew permits up with flies this past week.
04/26/17 The weather forecast has a winter storm warning in effect for the next two days. The
water temperature in the State Park is still in the mid forties. We set five different groups of
anglers up for their permit float trip this past week.
05/03/17 The weather is really going to be warm this coming week. The State Park should
produce some trout for the locals that give in a shot. The warm weather will set off some new
05/10/10 The State Park section is still in good shape with good stream levels and clear water.
We didn't receive any report s from the past week. Most anglers fishing it are local.
05/17/17 The season opens this weekend. There are several lucky guys and gals who will be
doing the float through the Smith very soon. That is a trip of a lifetime for some of them who
were lucky enough to draw a permit. We have been helping anglers get set up with the right
flies and gear for s a few years now.
05/24/17 The stream levels are in good shape and the cold spell over. It will be getting warmer
and more insects will be hatching very soon. The season opened this past weekend. We
haven't received any reports yet, but we will very soon. It won't be long before the big
salmonflies begin to hatch.
05/31/17 The river is in good shape with good stream levels and clear water. There are a lot of
hatches taking place but keep in mind that they will vary with the section of the river you are
fishing. Generally, they start in the lower elevations and gradually move upstream.
06/07/17 The stream levels are up some from last weeks rain but the river is in good shape.
There is rain forecast most days this coming week. We have several customers floating it this
week and should have some reports from the soon. There are lots of insects hatching and they
should be doing good.
06/14/17 Good conditions exist on the Smith, especially if you consider most everything else in
the state of Montana is blown out from runoff. Stream levels are good and we are getting some
good reports lately. There are a lot of insects hatching and trout being caught on the surface.
06/22/17 Conditions are still good on the Smith. Anglers fishing the State Park and those doing
the sixty mile drift boat trip are catching good numbers of trout. We keep receiving good
reports. Green Drakes are hatching good along with the stoneflies and caddis. If you have a
permit, shoot us an email and let us help you. We don't guess at what is needed, we know.
06/29/17 The stream is getting low but boats are still navigating it fine. They are also catching
lots of trout, according to our customers who sent in reports from this past week. There is little
chance of rain in the forecast, so it will likely remain low. It require better flies, like our Perfect
flies, and better presentations, but you can catch plenty of trout. There are still a lot of insects
07/05/17 The weather is turning warmer and the water getting a little warm on the lower end of
the river. The stream levels are low but it is raining now, and hopefully, this will help. There are
lots of hatches still taking place but we have added terrestrial insects to the fly list. Fish early
and late for the best results.
07/12/17 The river is up a little from last week thanks to some rain showers. There is a chance
again the first of next week. The lower part of the river is getting a little too warm up in the
middle of the afternoons. Higher water levels will help that. There are still plenty of insects
hatching and terrestrials are working as well. We didn't receive any reports from anyone fishing
this past week.
07/26/17 The river is under Hoot Owl restrictions from the confluence of the North and South
Forks downstream to Great Falls. There is no fishing allowed between 2:00 Pm and midnight.
This is due to the water and its affect of trout being caught. Fish the early mornings in the
08/02/17 Hoot owl restrictions are still underway. We didn't receive any reports from anyone
fishing this past week. The stream level is up a little but still very low. Fish the State Park
section early and late in the day. Tricos have started to hatch.
08/09/17 The river is still too warm to fish anywhere but the uppermost sections. Fish early and
late in the day for the best opportunity. There are lots of Tricos, Little Yellow stoneflies and
Caddisflies. Terrestrial imitations are working good.
09/03/17 The river is too warm to fish in all sections but the uppermost part in the State Park.
We haven't received any reports from anyone fishing the past two weeks.
09/17/17 The stream level is finally back up to a normal level for this time of the year. The
much cooler weather and rain and snow, is really helping. You should be able to catch some
trout in the State Park. Hatches are down to midges, little Blue-winged olives and a few Spotted
09/26/17 The river is in good shape level wise. We didn't receive any reports from anyone
fishing. The State park section is open. The water is cooler after last week's cold spell and
Blue-winged olives and October caddis are should be starting to hatch.
10/20/17 We didn't receive any reports from anyone fishing this past week, but conditions were
and still are good. Let us hear from you.
11/02/17 The river is in good shape in all respects. There are good hatches of Blue-winged
olives and Cream Midges. We had one good report from a customer fishing this past week. He
caught good numbers and a couple of very large trout. Sculpin streamers caught most of the
11/16/17 The State Park is open. We usually only get reports during the late fall and winter
months from locals living nearby. There is usually ice where the water is moving slow. Midges
are currently the only insects hatching. BWOs may hatch on the warmer, cloudy days. Fish the
cream or red midges with the larva and pupa imitations rigged in tandem for the best results.
12/31/17 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.
01/19/18 The state park is open to fishing at this time. Midges hatch throughout the winter
02/14/18 Conditions remain the same. The river is very cold with lots of slush ice and shelf ice
anywhere the water is a little slow. It is extremely cold. The deadline for float applications in
nearing. Applications for the Smith River Private Float Permit lottery will be available January 2
– February 15, 2018.
03/09/18 Conditions have improved a little with less ice but the water is still barely above
freezing in the State Park.
03/30/18 The stream levels are down in good shape at a normal level.. Midges and Skwala
stoneflies are hatching. March Browns should start hatching if not already.
04/13/18 The stream levels are up high and the water stained. The State Park is the only
04/20/18 Stream levels are up some and the water stained. The lowest section of the river will
be the warmest. Midges, Skwala stoneflies, Blue-winged olives and March Browns are hatching
depending on the section you are fishing.
04/27/18 The river is running high and stained. The floats are underway and the anglers are
probably having to fish heavy weighted nymphs and streamers most of the time. The stream
levels are very high and it is likely to continue to be high for the next few days.
05/05/18 The stream levels are still high. There is rain forecast everyday this coming week but
one. There are people making the float trip and we hope they are catching some trout. The
high water problem seems to be as much rain and snow runoff.
05/12/18 Stream levels are still very high and likely to continue high for the coming week.
There is a big snow pack this year. Hopefully, this will end soon as normally, runoff isn't a big
problem for the Smith.
05/19/18 The river is still flowing high and stained. There are hatches of Salmonflies and some
Golden stoneflies taking place in the middle and lower sections of the river. Spotted sedges
and BWOs and some PMDs are also hatching.
05/25/18 The stream levels remain high. In additions to runoff there has been a lot of rain.
Normally, the runoff isn't that bad but there is a 133% snow pack. Hopefully, it will be ending
6/02/18 The river is still high, about the same levels as last week. At least the rain is going to
let us some and that may help. This river just doesn't have a big runoff like most Montana
streams due to the lower elevation of the headwaters. Hopefully, it will start falling down soon.
06/09/18 The river is down and clearing. It is in much better shape and trout are being caught
in good numbers for a change. Hopefully, it will continue to get better but is in good shape now.
There are lots of hatches including the big Salmonflies.
06/17/18 The stream levels were way down to normal levels and the river in good shape. Rain
has it back up some and it is likely to rise some more with heavy rain in the forecast. There are
lots of insects hatching.
06/23/18 The stream levels are back up and a little high. I think this is mostly all from recent
rainfall as opposed to runoff and think they will be falling down fast if the rain gives everyone a
06/30/18 The river is in much better shape. The stream levels are down and in okay shape
and the water mostly clear. There are still plenty of good hatches taking place. The weather
forecast looks good for the coming week.
07/07/18 We are getting some very good reports from customers. The stream levels are down
and in good shape. There are lots of hatches taking place and lots of trout being caught.
07/14/18 The stream levels continue to fall and are down near normal levels for this time of the
season. We continue to get some good reports. There are a lot of hatches still taking place but
vary some throughout the drift section.
07/21/18 The stream levels are down to a normal level for this time of the season. There are
lots of trout being caught in the park and on the floats. Conditions are excellent right now.
Send us an email if you drew a permit.
08/04/18 The stream levels are down a good bit below normal. Large drift boats will probably
have trouble floating the river in some sections. Smaller ones would be preferred. There are
still a lot of hatches that vary with the section some.
08/18/18 Conditions are better. The water is up a little but still below normal levels. There is
rain in the forecast most days this coming week. The air temperature is cooler and the cloud
cover will also be a big help this coming week. There are still some good hatches taking place.
Give us the dates you will fish and we can send you a fly and gear list.
08/25/18 The river is in good shape in all respects. The weather is going to be much cooler
this coming week. That should help the overall situation. There are still some good hatches
taking place. Streamers are catching some of the larger trout.
09/01/18 Conditions remain good. Larger drift boats can get into a little trouble in places but
otherwise, conditions are good. There are still a lot of hatches taking place and terrestrials are
also working very good.
09/15/18 The stream levels is up a little from this past week but still a low. There is some rain in
the forecast for Wednesday and Thursday and that may help. Large drift boats could get into
trouble in some places.
09/22/18 The stream is up a little. We still received a couple of good reports from the past
week. There are still some good hatches taking place. October Caddis should be starting any
10/01/18 The weather is turning a little chilly with some snow in the forecast this coming week.
The stream levels are up some and in good shape for drift boats again. There are still hatches
of October caddis and BWOs.
11/27/18 The weather and water is much colder and Midges and BWOs are the main insects to
be imittaing. The river is in good shape from a stream level standpoint. There are still some
good hatches taking place and trout are still being caught in good numbers. The water is
colder, averaging about 45 degrees.
12/18/19 The river is in good shape. The State Park is all that is open but it is all that you
need. Trout can be caught most days throughout the Winter. Midges, creams and reds, and
Winter stoneflies are hatching. Rig the midge larva and pupa imitations in tandem.
01/31/19 Applications for the Smith River Private Float Permit lottery will be available January 2
– February 15, 2018. As you can see the deadline is approaching fast, so I hope you get
your's in on time. The State park is open to fishing now, but the weather has been extremely
cold and we didn't receive any reports recently.
02/15/19 Today is the day the chance to draw a permit to float the Smith ends. Names will be
drown very soon. if you get a permit, please send us an email with the dates and we will send
you a list of the gear and flies you need to fish at that time.
02/22/19 The river is in good shape except the water is cold. As of today, we have reports that
the water in the State park has lots of ice, so we don't recommend you fish.
03/17/19 It is going to be much warmer this coming week with no chances of snow or rain. This
should get rid of a lot of ice.
03/31/19 Most all of the slush ice in the state park area is gone. The water is in the high thirties
to low forties. Skwala stoneflies are hatching in addition to the BWOs and midges. Sculpin
streamers should work.
04/14/19 The water is getting much wamrer and most all the ice in the water is melted. There is
still plenty of snow and ice on the banks but far less that last week. We didn't receove any
reports from anyone fishing the park section.
04/28/19 The weather and water is turning colder but should start warming back up before the
week is over. We didn't receive any reports from anyone fishing this past week. The stream
levels are also a little high right now but should drop. If you happen to draw a permit for a float
trip, let us know and we will help you plan the trip.
05/07/19 Stream levels are high and the water stained.
Copyright 2019 James Marsh