Fishing in Montana has been on my bucket list for years; after all, it is one of the world’s best fly fishing destinations. The idea of casting my fly line from high mountain lakes to huge prairie rivers while looking for my next huge catch has intrigued me for years. I love the peace and tranquility that comes with fishing. Montana has some of the best fishing spots on the planet. So, I thought I’d add some of this state’s best, like Madison River and Yellowstone River, to my bucket list.
But before you even book your flight to Montana for a relaxing fishing trip, you should first learn more about the rules and regulations of fishing in Montana. And the first thing that came to my mind when I planned my first trip to Montana with some of my pals was to find out more about the price of fishing licenses in Montana. After thorough research, here is what I found out:
- Annual Montana resident: $21
- Annual senior resident: $10.50
- Annual non-resident: $100
- 1-day non-resident: $14
To learn more, click the following link to the Montana website.
Unlike most states with a single free fishing day, Montana has four free fishing days. During these days, anglers can enjoy what their waters offer without a license. And in Montana, you’re allowed to fish without a license during mother’s day and father’s day weekends. (source) Mother’s and Father’s days are pretty special, and one of the few days we get to have fun with our families. And Montana ensures that we do that every year; after all, most of us were taught to fish by our parents.
But you still have to follow the state’s fishing rules and regulations; therefore, you should catch and take the required number of fish and avoid prohibited species. Make sure you use the proper fishing methods in these Montana lakes and rivers, even on free fishing days.
According to the Montana code of 2021, anyone can fish for free during the weekends of Mother’s Day and Father’s Day. Therefore, if you happen to be visiting Montana during these two weekends, you should carry your fishing gear. During these weekends, non-residents and Montana residents can fish on the state-owned waters without a license. Still, they must abide by the bag limits and restrictions.
But you may have to purchase a conservation license if you plan on fishing Bull trout and Paddlefish. You will need a catch card for Bull trout and a paddlefish tag for your catch. (6) But to get these special fishing licenses, you must first get a conservation license. Therefore, if you’re working with a tight budget and only need the practice, you should avoid Paddlefish and bull trout.
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills – These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout – Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish – Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon – Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
To fish in Montana, you need two licenses and an AISPP (Angler Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Pass).
The conservation license is a must-have for non-resident and resident anglers. It features the State Lands Recreational Use Permit, which can come in handy when trapping, fishing, and hunting. You need a valid driver’s license or ID and your social security number to apply for this license. (source) The prices for the conservation license are as follows:
- Resident cost: $8
- Non-resident cost: $10
- Senior over 62-year resident: $4
- Youth residents 10-17 years cost: $4
Every angler requires an AIS prevention pass to fish in this state. The AAISPP is a unique program that Montana initiated in 2017 to help prevent the growth of invasive species in their waters. The AAISPP goes for $7.50 for non-residents and $2 for residents, and everyone must get it when purchasing their fishing license. Fortunately, it is free for anyone below the age of 15. (source)
On top of the Conservation license, every angler must also get the Base fishing license. It allows you to fish in Montana’s beautiful lakes for an entire season or a specific duration.
|Montana Annual Fishing License||$21||$100|
|Montana Annual Youth Fishing License (12-17)||$10.50|
|Montana Annual Senior 62+ Fishing License||$10.50|
|2-Days fishing license adult||$5|
|2-Days Youth (12-17) Fishing License||$5|
|2-Days Senior 62+ Fishing License||$5|
|1-day Fishing License||$14|
|5-Day Fishing License (5 consecutive days)||$56|
The state protects a few species, including bull trout and Paddlefish. Therefore, you need a license to fish the protected species. Some of the special licenses you will need to fish these species include the following:
Bull trout are predatory and aggressive fish that can make fly fishing fun. Therefore, if you need the challenge, you should try Bull trout fishing in Montana. Fortunately, several destinations, including Lake Koocanusa and Hungry Horse Reservoir, are usually open to regulated bull trout fishing. Therefore, you must get a license to fish these trout, and you may be penalized without a license.
If you plan on going after the largest Paddlefish in Montana, then make sure you purchase the Paddlefish tag. The paddlefish tag goes for $15 for non-residents and $6.50 for residents. But you must have a fishing license, AISPP, and a conservation license to be allowed to apply for a fish paddlefish tag.
The Fish and Game Department of Montana has allowed anglers to get their license on time by allowing several vendors to sell them. Therefore, you can visit any of their License provider locations or the FWP offices for your license. But if you love online shopping, you should try their online license services through the following link: https://ols.fwp.mt.gov/.
Their online license service portal has several options.
It has an option for residents, non-residents, active military, and native Montanan. Therefore, you should pick the right option and initiate the transaction. After concluding your transaction, you will receive an email with your licenses which you can print, and finally, start fishing without worrying about the officials disrupting your trip.
You can pick up a fishing license at Walmart; after all, they have everything you need, including basic fishing gear. Their rates for Montana fishing licenses are:
- Resident annual (18 to 61 years old): $21
- Non-resident (18-61): $86
- Youth annual: $10.50
- Two days resident license: $5
- 2 days non-resident license: $25
- 10-day non-resident license: $56
Just like with all the other American states, there exist some rules and regulations set by the state government that every angler must follow. These rules are there to protect the environment while helping maintain the population of the fish species. And breaking any of the rules can result in some penalties, and in some cases, you may even lose your license.
To access Montana’s fishing regulations, visit their official website and look for the updated Montana fishing regulation PDF. Their fishing regulations stipulate which types of bait you must use and the list of the forbidden species you can’t fish without permission. Remember, some fishing destinations also have rules and regulations that every angler must follow.
Dreaming of Montana Rivers and Mountains?
- Check out my guide with over 20 places to fly fish in Montana. Best Places to Fly Fish in Montana
- Are you looking for where to go on the Madison? I’ve got you covered. -> Where to Fish on the Madison River (Maps Included)
- The mighty Yellowstone has so many places, let me narrow it down for you. Places to Fly Fish on the Yellowstone River
- The Big Hole river is in a beautiful valley with meadows, woods and trophy trout. Best Places to Fly Fish on the Big Hole
In Montana, fishing is open to everyone, irrespective of age. Still, anyone below 11 doesn’t require a base fishing license to fish in this state. On the other hand, kids between the ages of 10 and 11 will need a conservation license. Anyone between the ages of 12 and 17 is considered a youth, and they can apply for the youth resident license.
The senior resident license applies to folks over 62 years old. Still, for non-residents, Montana has only one license, which doesn’t dictate the age limit.
Unlike Colorado fishing licenses, which last for 13 months, Montana fishing licenses last for 12 months. Montana fishing licenses enable anglers to start fishing from the beginning of March and expire at the end of February of the following year. Fortunately, the state also has short-term fishing licenses that last two consecutive days. You can even get a one-day license for non-residents.
Yes, adults and youths can fish for free during the free fishing days, which are usually the weekends of Father’s Day and Mother’s Day. After all, anyone over 12 years old will require a license to fish in state waters. You can fish and even possess some aquatic invertebrates or fish species with a license. Kids below 12 years old can fish for free in Montana.
Yes, you don’t need a fishing license to fish on a licensed privately stocked fish pond, but you will have to get permission from the owner. Remember, privately owned ponds are not operated and managed by the state government; therefore, the Game and Fish Department has little to no jurisdiction over private land.
Plus, the owner did have to get a permit when setting up their ponds and even paid some licenses to own certain types of fish.
Generally, game and fishing violations are usually considered misdemeanors, and you can never be jailed for over six months or fined over $1,000. In worst-case scenarios, the court may decide to cancel your fishing licenses and even ban you from ever using the state land and water for recreational purposes. Breaking the other regulations, like carrying more fish, also attract a fine. (source)
For instance, you may have to pay an extra $500 per fish if caught with Bull Trout. The fine for illegally fishing Paddlefish and White Sturgeon is $300 per fish. Fishing without special permits also can result in a hefty fine. For more details on the penalty for fishing without, please click the following link. (7)
Generally, Montana divides into three main districts (Central, Western and Eastern districts), each with its unique rules. Remember, these districts have hundreds of amazing fishing spots protected by the state. Unfortunately, some lakes and streams are not open to fishing all year round, while others are partially open. For more details on the fishing seasons in Montana, please read on:
Generally, this district includes all the waters on the eastern parts of the Continental Divide, like the St. Mary River and Belly drainages. The waters in the Central District are open for an entire calendar, but a few are partially closed. A great example is Antelope Butte Lake which is only available to anglers from May 15 to November 30.
Beaver Creek has several restrictions, including only catching and releasing Brown trout. However, did you know it’s been closed to anglers for over six months? Parts of this creek are usually to the public from June 15 to September 30. On the other hand, the Clark Canyon Dam is open to the public from the third weekend of May to the end of October. (source)
The Big Hole River is another destination that favors catch and release for several species, including Rainbow Trout. Unfortunately, it’s only open from April 1 to September 30. During this duration, you can only catch and release Brown Trout from Brownes Bridge FAS to the BLM Maiden Rock.
The Western District features all the waters on the Continental Divide’s western part. Fortunately, most of these waters are open for 12 months yearly, except for a few. For instance, fishing within 50 yards of Bear Creek’s mouth is usually closed between June and the end of September.
A considerable percentage of the Bitterroot River is usually closed to the public between the third weekend of May and November 30. But some ponds with a catch and release policy, like the Eureka Pond, allow kids below 14 years to take one trout home. Another lake with a shorter fishing season open between May and March 31 is Cho Lake, situated near Anaconda.
Some unique waters like Emily Creek, a branch of Georgetown Lake, and Elk Creek, a branch of Swan River, have no fishing season. (source)
Last but not least is the eastern district which features waters in the eastern parts of Montana. The Eastern District is home to some of the best fishing spots in Montana. One of the few destinations that stand out is the Home Run Pond, open to kids below 14 years, and every child is allowed to use one rod.
Part of the Missouri River from Fort Peck Dam is usually closed to wading and fishing between March 1 and July 31. On the other hand, the Ross Reservoir is generally open to fishing from May to November 30. The Yellowstone River is open to fishing all year round. Still, there are several restrictions, especially regarding the fish you can carry home at the end of the day. (source)
Even if the fishing license lasts for an entire year, the different fishing districts in Montana have a fishing season. Therefore, before leaving your home, you should find out which fishing district you will visit and learn more about their regulations.
But to maintain the fish population, the number of fish species you can carry to your tent or home is usually limited. Plus, there are particular seasons to fish specific species in Montana. For more details, please read on.
|Fish species||Opening date||Closed date|
|General fishing||January 1||December 31|
|Bass||May 21||November 30|
|Trout||January 1||December 31|
|Salmon||March 1||November 30|
|Northern Pike||March 1||November 30|
Montana is home to some of the world’s best fly fishing spots that can guarantee you a relaxing and fulfilling trip. Plus, it’s one of the few places where anyone over 12 years old will require a license; therefore, you can bring your children along for the trip. Some of Montana’s best fishing places include Clark Fork, Yellowstone, Hebgen Lake, Big Hole, Madison, and Gallatin.
If you love RV fishing, you should visit the Missouri River, the longest in the United States. If your goal is catch-and-release, then you should try Hyalite Reservoir. Hyalite reservoir provides a perfect camping site at the Chisholm Campgrounds. For a weekend, you can also visit the Bighorn River, one of Montana’s famous tailwater waterways.
For more details on the best places to fish in Montana, click here:
You can fish at night in Montana, and in fact, bass fishing is actually the most popular type of night fishing that’s practiced at night. In fact, most of the fishing spots let you camp overnight while fishing. Therefore, you can travel with your RV and fish at night without paying for more licenses. But you may have to pay more for a boat if you have one.
In Montana, there is no limitation to how many fly rods you can use; in fact, the license doesn’t stipulate the number of rods anglers can use. Therefore, it is legal to fish with 2 rods in Montana.
Montana residents over 62 years old will require a senior’s fishing license. But you may not need to get a Conservation Stamp to fish in Montana.
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- Montana Code Annotated 2021, https://leg.mt.gov/bills/mca/title_0870/chapter_0020/part_0030/section_0110/0870-0020-0030-0110.html/ accessed September 29, 2022
- Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks staff, Fishing Licenses & Permits, https://fwp.mt.gov/buyandapply/fishinglicenses/ accessed September 29, 2022
- Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks staff, Conservation Licenses, https://fwp.mt.gov/buyandapply/conservation-license/ accessed September 29, 2022
- Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks staff, Aquatic Invasive Species Prevention Passes, https://fwp.mt.gov/buyandapply/aquatic-invasive-species-prevention-pass/ accessed September 29, 2022
- Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks staff, 2022 fishing, FWP: Montana Fishing Regulations, https://fwp.mt.gov/binaries/content/assets/fwp/fish/regulations/2022-fishing-regulations-final-for-web.pdf/ accessed September 29, 2022
- What Do I need to find fish in Montana? Https://www.google.com/url?sa=t&rct=j&q=&esrc=s&source=web&cd=&cad=rja&uact=8&ved=2ahUKEwjmj82lycH6AhWDQPEDHaEyDxIQFnoECAMQAw&url=https%3A%2F%2Fmyfwp.mt.gov%2FgetRepositoryFile%3FobjectID%3D95533&usg=AOvVaw1Gy_fdXXsdnHXMXUM8XLNj/ accessed September 29, 2022