The Best Lakes in Northwestern Montana for Fly Fishing (My TOP Spots)

These are the best fly fishing spots in North Western Montana I had to limit it to Western Montana. Because Northern Montana left a way to many lakes to list on this post.

Don’t worry there will be more to follow.

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Whitefish Lake in Montana
Source: By Schmiebel

Whitefish Lake

Whitefish Lake is located in the community of Whitefish and is one of the most popular lakes in Montana. The lake is large; it measures about a mile wide and seven miles long and is 3300 acres in size.

The lake itself is surrounded by large, exotic homes and condominiums. The tall forested mountains tower over the lake.

Most of the use on Whitefish Lake consists of pleasure boating, sailing, and waterskiing. However, Whitefish Lake has lake trout that rival that of nearby Flathead Lake, with fish often exceeding twenty pounds.

The lake also has numbers of large mountain whitefish. The other fish species include bull trout, cutthroat trout, brown trout, rainbow trout, yellow perch, and northern pike.

Like all lake trout, they are best fished trolling the deeper parts of the lake by using spinning gear. Although some streamers on sinking fly lines can occasionally pull in some fish.

Lake trout can also occasionally be caught near the inlets to the lake, which are located on the northern end of the lake.

Check Out The Resorts:

Whitefish Lake is very scenic, lit lies at the base of Big Mountain. The Whitefish Mountain Resort hovers over the lake. Use of the lake is very heavy in the summer, especially on the weekends. To get away from the people, you will need to head down to the north end of the lake. This receives somewhat less use due to its distance away from the public boat launch.

Access to Whitefish Lake is good; it has a public boat ramp located at the City Beach near downtown Whitefish. The bank fisherman can access much of the western side of Whitefish Lake by risking the wrath of the railroad and walking down the tracks.

These tracks go along the west side of the lake for its entire length. The west side of the lake is the least developed, with only a few homes being located along the lakeshore.

You’ll see every type of inflatable boat near the boat ramp. For fishing or general exploration of the lake, a more dedicated inflatable flatwater kayak or motorized inflatable raft works well if you don’t have a powerboat.

Whitefish Lake is the source of the Whitefish River. Adventurous anglers can float down the Whitefish River to the many access points in the Flathead Valley. Some go all the way down to the confluence with the Flathead River. (You need to be prepared to portage around downstream).

Tally Lake

Tally Lake is a scenic, clear, low elevation mountain lake Tally Lake is large at more than 1200 acres. Although it is not a huge lake, Tally Lake has the distinction of being one of the deepest natural lakes in Montana, with a depth of 492 feet.

This lake lies in the heavily forested, lower mountains to the west of Whitefish. Tally Lake offers very limited fishing in a very nice environment. Tally Lake is home to small cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, and whitefish. The lake also has pike, lake trout, and yellow perch.

The fishing pressure on the lake is very low most of the use on Tally Lake is from recreational boating. The lakes attractive setting and its moderate size, clear water and usually calm winds.

This is what makes the lake a perfect spot for paddling whether by canoe, inflatable canoe or inflatable fishing kayak. The lake is popular for waterskiing and other recreational boating.

Tally Lake has a very nice campground and a large day-use area for picnicking and other day uses.

Ashley Lake

Ashley Lake is not far from Kalispell, just go up a thirteen-mile bumpy gravel road. Even though it is lying in a national forest, many homes are scattered around the lake. It is far from a typical summer hideaway lake. It is a popular lake both for fly fishing and pleasure boating as well. There are some very large rainbow trout are often pulled from the lake.

Ashley Lake is more than a mile in width and 5 miles in length and is very deep in spots. The whole area around Ashley Lake is heavily forested and it is logged. The wildlife around the lake is very diverse. There are Moose, Deer and even some Bears call this area home.

Rainbow and cutthroat trout are the main fish species found in Ashley Lake. Some of the rainbows, especially the hybrids rainbow that are planted, can get huge. Five-pound fish are fairly common and there are rainbow trout exceeding ten pounds.

You Might Need A Boat!

The best fly fishing for these large trout is along the shoreline. The best times are the morning and evening hours, near the inlets of the various feeder creeks and streams.

Ashley Lake gets a bit of use, particularly during the summer and especially on weekends. Lots of anglers visit the lake to chase the large trout.

Due to the large size of the lake and lots of private property scattered along the lake. Boats are generally needed to successfully fish this lake. Other than motorboats, most boats with good paddling characteristics, such as canoes, inflatable canoes, pontoon boats, and inflatable kayaks, all work well. The winds are occasionally strong, the lake itself is not an excessively windy place.

For those people with motorboats, a boat ramp is available on the north side of the lake. The forest service maintains two campgrounds which are mostly full during busy summer weekends.

Thompson Lakes

The Thompson Lakes consists of three separate and distinct lakes. These lie just off Highway 2 mid-way between Kalispell and Libby in northwest Montana. All the lakes offer good fishing and get fairly heavy fishing pressure from the locals. Both spin fishing, as well as fly fishing, work well on the Thompson Lakes.

The lakes are small, that makes these lakes ideal spots to fish from shore. But a small boat, inflatable fishing raft, inflatable fishing kayak or pontoon boat will work. A float tube can also work when the winds are relatively calm, which they usually are.

All three of the lakes (Upper, Middle, and Lower) offer excellent fishing for largemouth bass. Since the lakes are small, they will warm quickly, allowing excellent topwater fly fishing during July-September.

Large streamers that are skipped along the bottom in shallow water and along the weed line also work well for catching the larger bass. As the bass in these lakes averages between 1 and 3 pounds, some stout gear and leaders should be used, especially when fishing for largemouth bass in the weeds.

Middle Thompson Lake

Middle Thompson Lake is a short hop from the other two lakes and receives the heaviest fishing pressure. The lake is only 560 acres in size.

A very nice fishing access site runs right along the highway. Unlike the other two Thompson Lakes, the Middle Thompson Lake has decent populations of rainbow and brown trout.

With rainbow trout stocked most years by the Montana FW. The rainbow and brown trout should be fished around the various creek inlets on the lake with small dry flies.

Middle Thompson Lake includes brook trout, cutthroat trout, pike, perch and, of course, largemouth bass.

Overall, the Thompson Lakes are excellent spots for an angler in search of quality fly fishing for finicky trout bass. This is even for largemouth bass or just tired of battling finicky trout and want to try their luck against the aggressive nature of a bass. Access is good on all three lakes and several fishing access sites provide easy camping.

Lake Koocanusa

Lake Koocanusa, created by Libby Dam on the Kootenai River, is a 29,000-acre lake, stretching all the way back into Canada. Because of its location in the far northwest of Montana, and the nearby proximity to Whitefish Lake and Flathead Lake. This lake only gets a fair amount of use for fishing and recreational boating.

Drawdowns of the reservoir for power production in late summer during the low water years can leave Lake Koocanusa very low. In the years that this happens it can limit boat landing opportunities.

Lake Koocanusa has a wide variety of fish. Rainbow trout, brook trout, whitefish, kokanee salmon, cutthroat trout and bull trout all are found in the lake. The Montana FWP usually stocks the lake with rainbow trout as well.

Additionally, bass, pike, pumpkinseed and yellow perch are also found in the lake.

Some shore fishing is possible in the spring and early summer, before the drawdown, for small cutthroat trout and kokanee salmon. However, due to the lakes large size, a motorboat is usually needed to reach the best fishing spots.

The access to Lake Koocanusa is pretty good. Highway 37 runs along the lake on the east side for most of its distance. On the west side, a bumpy dirt road more or less does the same thing. A number of boat landings, some are private and some are public are located on both sides of the lake and near Libby Dam.

Lake Koocanusa isn’t known to be the next destination spot for Montana fly fishing. This is because the Kootenai River just below Libby Dam is such a fine fishery. However, the lake is in a scenic setting and its low usage allows a person to find some solitude. That is what makes Lake Koocanusa a fine place to spend an early summer day.

Flathead Lake

Flathead Lake is known as the largest body of natural water found west of the Continental Divide. It is a beautiful lake, surrounded by the impressive Mission Mountains on the east and the smaller Salish Mountains to the west.

The Flathead Valley stretches off on the north and south sides of the lake. The town of Polson is on the south shore of the lake, while the popular and artsy town of Bigfork lies on the northeast corner.

Flathead Lake is popular for pleasure boaters. Due to the size and beauty of the lake, there are lots of sailboats on the lake, along with pleasure boats of all kinds.

The lake itself is surrounded by vacation homes of increasing size and elegance. This is because more and more individuals from outside Montana build exotic homes on the lake.

The lake offers excellent fishing, but not necessarily for fly fishing. The fish species in the lake are whitefish, lake trout, yellow perch, and lake trout. Some rainbow trout, bass, kokanee salmon and bull trout can also be found.

The lake trout in Flathead Lake can reach very large sizes, commonly over twenty-pounds. An average lake trout is around the three to the eight-pound range and are caught frequently.

Fishing for lake trout most of the year requires a boat with trolling gear since the fish inhabit deep waters. The exception is in September, when the trout come near the shoreline, providing enticing fly fishing opportunities.

If you use heavy gear and large streamers, fished just off the shoreline, in shallow bays you can catch some nice fish. Then if you fish in up to 10 feet of water, you can grab some very large trout in unlikely places. While a fisherman could wade fish during this time, a boat is really still needed to reach these fly fishing spots.

Fishing For Whitefish!

Fishing for whitefish in the lake is also very popular. The whitefish can also be very sizable, topping 10 pounds. There is an abundance of both whitefish and lake trout in Flathead Lake. So do not feel guilty about keeping some at the end of the day. Just make sure to release any bull trout that are accidentally caught.

Kerr Dam, which is located in Polson, manages the water levels of Flathead Lake. The dam did not create Flathead Lake, but it does regulate the lakes water level, which receives most of its water from the Flathead River and the Swan River.

This has created in low water years later in the summer; parts of the shoreline of Flathead Lake become exposed. This started leading to some headaches for boaters at some of the boat ramps.

Anyone who plans to fish on Flathead Lake should have a powerboat. The large size of the lake, along with the often windy conditions, require a powerboat if the angler wants to fish large areas of water.

The use of hard-shell and inflatable kayaks, inflatable fishing paddleboards, and other inflatable boats are popular near the shore. Sea kayakers often venture across the lake.

Overall, Flathead Lake is one of the most premier and recreational and fishing lakes in Montana. It is not really a great fly fishing but it’s popular for both fishing and pleasure boating. This beautiful setting makes any day spent on the lake a rewarding one.

Hungry Horse Dam

Hungry Horse Dam, it is located on the South Fork of the Flathead River. The Hungry Horse Reservoir is a 23,500-acre reservoir that lies in beautiful and remote terrain.

The fishing at Hungry Horse Reservoir comes up lacking. The reservoir is managed for the production of power. When the water is low, just reaching the lake is a challenge.

The lake is also not stocked, like most other reservoirs in Montana. For those who want to try to fish Hungry Horse Reservoir, the best places are near inlets and bays, particularly where the South Fork Flathead River enters the reservoir.

Primary fish species in the reservoir include cutthroat trout and whitefish, along with some scattered bull trout that make their way down from the South Fork.

Not being a prime fishing destination, Hungry Horse Reservoir is a popular tourist destination. The dam has a nice visitor area and provides excellent views. Camping, both using tents and RVs, is also very popular farther down some of the roads that travel along the reservoir.

Access to the head of the Hungry Horse Reservoir is excellent. A very scenic good condition gravel road it is paved for a few miles near the dam encircles the reservoir. Along the road, there are numerous campgrounds and boat launches. Note, this road is long—so give yourself around 3 to 4 hours if you plan to do the complete circle.

Holland Lake

Holland Lake is a very beautiful, 413-acre lake lying on the western edge of the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. Besides offering excellent fly fishing in a scenic environment, the lake has a day use area. It has a large campground and serves as a trailhead for entry into the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area.

Holland Lake is anything but a wilderness lake. Numerous homes ring the lake, although it is a far cry from a typical summer getaway lake.

The lake is popular for recreational boating and waterskiing, especially on summer weekend days. If you are looking for solitude, keep away from Holland Lake on the weekend during the summer.

Go During The Off Season

During the off-season, as well as on summer weekdays, Holland Lake is not overused. If you plan on fishing the lake, try to do it during the weekdays or the fall or spring. The fishing pressure is quite low—most use on the lake is of pleasure boating, not fishing.

Holland Lake has very good fishing for rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and whitefish. You can also find Kokanee salmon and bull trout in Holland Lake. Montana FWP regularly stocks the lake with kokanee and west slope cutthroat trout.

Because of the large size of the lake and all the private property around it, shore fishing really can’t be done successfully. So, a boat of one variety or another must be used. Fishing canoes, motorboats, float tubes, inflatable kayaks, pontoon boats, and inflatable canoes are used successfully to fish the lake. The best trout fishing is along the shoreline, especially in the morning and evening hours.

Holland Lake has very easy access. It is just a short drive up a gravel road from Highway 83. The Town of Seeley Lake is about twenty miles south of the lake and provides most things that a visiting angler could want. The town of Condon is also nearby and offers a few services as well even though it is small.

Bob Hoffmann

The author of this post is Bob Hoffmann. Bob has spend most of his childhood fishing with his father and now share all his knowledge with other anglers. Feel free to leave a comment below.

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