Copyright 2013 James Marsh
Fly Fishing Guide to Smith River
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 want 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 concerned.
From the rivers start near White Sulphur Springs, downstream for forty miles to the Camp
Baker Fishing Access, there are 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 trout. 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 Eden
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 brown trout.
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
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Smith River Montana