You can’t talk about fly fishing in Montana without mentioning Smith River. This legendary river runs through 60 miles of gorgeous wilderness. Though much of the river’s banks are on private land, there are a few public access points along its length. The lack of access points makes wade fishing difficult, but boat fishing is a great option. Note that you’ll need to have a permit to float fish the Smith River. The river is so popular that they hold a drawing every February for float permits. There’s a strict nine-float-party limit each day. The floating and fishing generally occur in May, June, early July, and September. Due to the permit limitations, the fishing here doesn’t get very crowded. You’ll find plenty of rainbows and browns, many of which are more than 20 inches long.
Each season on the Smith offers something different and exciting for fly-fishers.
During pre-runoff, from April until mid-May, surface and subsurface fly-fishing can be very productive. Skwala stoneflies and caddis hatches bring trout to the surface, especially in the afternoon. During mornings, nymphing with prince nymphs and stoneflies works very well, as does streamer fishing. Streamers are ideal for targeting large hungry Brown trout. If the river water conditions are correct, the salmonfly hatch can be highly productive.
In post-runoff, around mid June, you’ll find golden stone or salmon flies drawing fish to the surface. When the river drops and clears, try streamer fishing, especially around falling water. Use stonefly and caddis imitations for best results. As the season progresses, smaller attractor patterns are effective. You won’t need to fish subsurface unless you’re out early in the morning.
Fall for Smith River begins as August comes to close and extends through September and into October. In the Fall, the water will be low and clear, so we recommend using lighter tippets and smaller flies. Use those small attractor patterns or mayfly types like Purple Haze and Parachute Adams. Nymph fishing throughout fall will continue to yield catches. Small stonefly patterns are also effective in the Fall. If you want to increase your chances of catching large Brown Trout, streamer fishing works well during later fall as trout prepare to spawn. (Note: streamers are most effective on cloudy days.)