Your stay at Bar Z Riverside Ranch includes professionally guided Montana fly fishing trips with exclusive access to over miles and miles of Sheep Creek, the North Fork of the Smith River, the famed Upper Smith River, and 2 private lakes. Experience world-class Montana fly-fishing without having to leave the ranch, although we do recommend taking one of our full-day float trips on the Yellowstone River, Madison River, or Missouri River. With the variety of fishing combined with the beautiful scenery, privacy, and multitude of wild trout, Bar Z Riverside Ranch is sure to please any angler.
David Thompson, Brown Trout
Over on the main historical family homestead, Riverside Ranch is the Smith River, which is actually just slightly bigger than Sheep Creek. If you’ve heard about the famous Smith River Canyon float trips, this stretch is far upstream, and too small to float. That means you’ll have private fishing on this incredible 5 mile stretch. It winds through pasture, and is fed by several small springs, which results in spring creek-like conditions. Deep cut-banks, smooth pools, shallow gravel riffles, and oxbows are the main features. Deer and the occasional moose hang out with the cows that browse along its banks.
Wet wading here is easy throughout most of the Montana fishing season, although the grass and brush can be a little tough on bare legs, we suggest bringing your waders. A 4 to 6 weight rod, 8 feet or longer, is probably best. Nine foot leaders tapering to 4x will work in most cases, but you should bring 5x-6x just in case there is the need to cast small delicate dries.
Like Sheep Creek the Smith boasts three species of trout, but there are few if any cutthroat. Instead, you’ll find beautiful brook trout, thanks to the cold flows from the spring creeks. Brookies up to 18″ have been caught, which is a notable size for that species in the West. Brown trout are the most populous, with a good number of rainbows as well. This stretch has produced some very big fish for small water – browns up to 30″ live here, and there are good numbers in the 18-26″ class as well. This river tends to require more technical skill than Sheep Creek, so plan to stalk your fish quietly, try to move through the pools with a minimum of disturbance, and use light leaders. And be ready – you never know when that cut bank holds a hungry brown just waiting for your fly.
Out the front door of the Sheep Creek Cabin, over 2 miles of Sheep Creek wind through the meadow below and endless miles downstream into the canyon. The creek is just what a small trout stream should look like – pocket water with deeper pools, fast runs, and more rocks and cliff pools as you head upstream and downstream.
Wet-wading is easy here, although the water can be chilly until well into July, and felt soles are recommended. The best fishing is from July through the end of September, and a light rod balanced for 3 to 4 weight line, and 8.5-9 feet is recommended. Leaders 7 to 9 feet, tapered to a 4x or 5x are a good choice for any time of year.
Behind just about every rock in the stream you’ll find a feisty trout looking for a quick meal. All the fish are stream-bred and vividly colored. Most are rainbows, and the average size is about 11”. However, there are good numbers of fish in the 16-24” range, and rainbows up to 19” have been caught. There are a handful of browns up to an astonishing 26”. Finally, there are some cutthroat, Montana’s only native trout, up to about 16”. Look for a bright red slash mark under their jaw, and please make sure to release them carefully.
Sheep Creek is a good option for beginners due to the aggressive nature of these trout, but can challenge more advanced anglers as well.
Kelsy Cooper, Brown Trout
The North Fork is very similar to the main Smith although it has swifter water much like Sheep Creek, as it flows down from the mountains as a spring creek. It’s mainly a Brook Trout stream but boasts of some large Rainbow Trout due to the reservoir it feeds into at the edge of the property. The water temperature is always cool, and the average fish is 10-14 inches, with Rainbows exceeding 20 inches. Due to the occasional brush cover and tight spots a 3-4 weight 7-8.5 foot rod is best to use as casts are more challenging here. One of the best feature of the North Fork is the wildlife. Elk and deer are seen here abundantly, and if your lucky you’ll see the famous Albino Moose. There is about 4 miles of private , exciting and very active fishing.
To really experience the Montana Fishing Season, you have to spend a day drifting a river in a Hyde or Clacka drift boat. We offer full-day float trips off of the ranch on the Yellowstone River, Madison River or the Missouri River for yet another terrific fishing option. The boats can accommodate 1 or 2 anglers, and Dave Hanson or one of our Professional Guides will be manning the oars. Wildlife and great scenery are benefits to this very effective and entertaining fishing method. Mid-day, you’ll enjoy a stream side lunch, and cold drinks are served all day long. The best floating to fish Montana is summer and fall, and a 9 foot rod for 5 or 6 weight line is recommended. Try a day out on the big water during your stay at Riverside Ranch. We ask for 24 hour notice prior to the requested day, but pending upon availability we can accommodate on the same day of request. We look forward to seeing here at our Montana Fly Fishing Ranch.