Spring is here, and with the longer days and nicer weather comes better opportunities for trout fishing.
Especially on sunny days, I have a hard time sitting in class knowing that I could be out on the riverbank. Sometimes, I’m only able to go out for an hour or two, but in the end I’m always glad that I did.
If you’re willing to drive a little, there are some great spots to fish in the area surrounding Billings.
Students at Rocky Mountain College can check fishing gear out from the outdoor rec. department. Both spin-casters and fly poles are available.
A Montana fishing license costs $18.50 for residents and $86 for non-residents, and can be purchased at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) headquarters on Lake Elmo Drive or at vendors around Billings. There is also an option for non-residents to purchase a two day permit that costs $25. A $10 conservation license must also be purchased in order to legally fish public waters in Montana.
Lake Elmo offers an excellent opportunity for beginning anglers to get their lines wet. FWP stocks the lake regularly with rainbow trout, and it seems that more often than not you can hook into a fish or two. Anglers can fish from the docks at the FWP headquarters, or walk the shoreline at the State Park across the lake. A smaller size hook rigged with a nightcrawler, either sunk up from the bottom or near the surface with a bobber, is always a good stand-by. A Panther Martin or Fox-Tail lure can also bring success on a sunny day.
The Stillwater River is an excellent option for those who would like to try their hand at fly fishing, although spin casting is also an option. The river begins in the Beartooth Mountains and runs down past Absarokee to Columbus where it joins the Yellowstone River. Multiple public fishing access sites can be found off of State Highway 78. I like the Swinging Bridge public fishing access, which can be found about seven miles southwest of Columbus. There are plenty of spots to fish from the bank, but a pair of waders can help provide access to areas that may have been fished less.
Richard Romersa, owner of the East Rosebud fly shop in West Billings, made several recommendations for fishing the Stillwater. “The Stillwater is an excellent spring fishery, both as far as nymphing, as well as dry fly fishing,” said Romera. “I’m a streamer angler, so that’s my preference right now. As far as recommended nymph patterns a lot of standard bead heads will fish just fine (Beadhead Hare’s Ear, Flashback Pheasant Tail, Copper John).”
The Bighorn River is widely known as a world-class fishery. The Bighorn can be found south of Hardin off of State Highway 313. Many anglers choose to float the Bighorn and guided trips are offered by local outfitters. I typically wade the Three Mile public fishing access. If you can beat the crowds, Three Mile offers a multitude of fishing opportunities on a great stretch of the river.
Romersa said that this year higher flows could make fishing a little more challenging on the Bighorn. “What I’ve heard on The Bighorn right now is it’s going to be up. That means lots of flows like 9000 cfs,” said Romersa. “Whether or not that whacks all the dry fly fishing, I don’t know. It’s definitely nymphing good, especially for somebody who knows how to put the necessary amount of split shot on and sink in high flows. That’s really important up there when it’s 9000 cfs.”
Romersa went on to note that the smaller creeks around the area can be a good place to start for less experienced anglers. “I would focus on small creeks; Rock Creek, East or West Rosebud, or small creeks out by the Fishtail and Roscoe areas. Small creeks are easier to wade in a lot of cases, and the fish are easier to target. Stick to smaller streams as you start out, and then graduate to bigger waters.”
Romersa said that now is the time to get out fishing. “I love the fact that the streams are coming alive. It will just get better, and better, and better until it blows out because of hot weather.”