River: The Smith River in Montana – remote backcountry fly fishing

Apr 26, 2019

If your idea of a great fishing trip is a remote river full of unpressured fish in gorgeous Big Sky scenery, you’ve struck gold. While access is difficult due to private land ownership, float fishing has managed to prevail. If you think the 9-boats-per-day permit limit is strict, think about it this way: that means less fishing pressure and a more enjoyable trip for you! Alternately surrounded by high rock walls and open rolling Montana meadows you can’t ask for more beauty.



Slowly starting its journey near White Sulphur Springs, Montana, the Smith picks up speed as it gurgles through meadows towards the sheer cliffs further downstream. Over the course of its flow, this river meanders 100 lazy miles to eventually join the Missouri River.

Much of the upstream land is difficult to access due to private ownership considerations but wading is recommended where available. Most anglers will concede that the Camp Baker Fishing Access Site makes the best put-in location where 4-5 day float trips are popular and by permit only.

Downstream, the Smith slices through canyons for several miles with mostly flat, gentle water. Eventually, the scenery transitions to prairie land, at which point the fishing noticeably declines until the river reluctantly slips into the Missouri.


Aquatic Species

  • Brown Trout
  • Rainbow Trout
  • Brook Trout


Food by Season:

Bug – Dave’s Hopper
Season – July through August
Sizes – 8 – 12

Bug – Elk Hair Caddis
Season – April through September
Sizes – 10 – 14

Bug – Prince Nymph
Season – April through May
Sizes – 10 – 14

Bug – Stimulator
Season – May through June
Sizes – 8 – 10

Bug – Kaufmann’s Stone
Season – May through June
Sizes – 8

Bug – Bitch Creek Nymph
Season – May through June
Sizes – 6 – 8

Bug – X-Caddis
Season – June through September
Sizes – 8 – 10

Bug – Woolly Bugger
Season – May through September
Sizes – 4 – 10


Fishing Techniques

Wading: Unlike some waters, heading out early in the spring can be a great way to take advantage of the few wading stretches on the Smith. Use the stonefly hatch in spring to your advantage with some of the bugs on our list. Both dry bug and subsurface bugs will produce if you’re patient and willing to handle the temperamental weather.

Salmonfly Hatch: During early summer you can most likely land fish on the salmonfly imitations like the Kaufmann’s Stone we mentioned above. These, of course, are bugs best fished dry and usually in larger sizes.

Caddis Hatches: Once the season matures into summer and early Fall, you’ll be leaning on caddisfly bugs. These hatches are easy to predict as most early mornings and late evenings will be productive so just get out there and use your bug of choice.

Fishing Deep: If it’s time to change things up you can sink a bug into the deeper recesses and pools of the Smith and wait for a surprise! Down below is where you’ll find the larger Browns.

Pro Tip: Fish mid to late Fall to take advantage of increased feeding patterns and cooler water temps bringing out the bigger trout!

Gear: It’s time to take some midweight gear on this trip. Rods in the 6-8 wt range are probably best. Be prepared to throw surface and subsurface bugs so you may want a sinking fly line in your arsenal just to change things up if the bite gets tough.



Before you start daydreaming too hard, you’ll want to check into booking a trip. This river is a destination sought after for its five-day float trips which are highly competitive. You may need to plan ahead a year or two in order to get the logistics lined up!

Once you’re out there, the Smith River offers 50 miles of remote wilderness fishing. Whether you want to tackle the trip yourself (eight private permits are issued per day) or join a guide (only one commercial permit is issued per day) there is solitude awaiting.

Maybe the best time of year to hit this river is mid-Fall when temperatures begin to decline. Not only are the leaves changing color, some say the biggest trout get hungry right before the winter…

Sign up for a FREE bonus starter kit box from BugClub and get a jump start on planning your Smith River trip! We’ll also send you four seasonal boxes with a little bit of everything you could possibly need to entice those lurking Montana trout. Click here to learn more.


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