Fishing is a surprisingly touchy subject. Like a religion, there are people who assert that their way of fishing is the best and that all other methods are inferior. If you’ve spent enough time around any Montana waterway, you’ve undoubtedly come across a fly fisherman who thumbs his nose at bait fishermen or a bait fisherman who regards fly fishers as snobs and dandies. It’s a bit odd for there to be animosity between these two groups of anglers considering there is so much water to be fished across the state, and a lot of it seems to stem from the way certain fishing regulations favor one type of fishing more than another at any particular location.

But that’s another story.

This article isn’t about the legalities of Montana fishing or whether fly fishing or bait fishing is better. Instead, I interviewed two professional fishing guides – one who fishes with bait, the other with flies – to ask them about the sport of fishing and why they believe it to be good for Montana.
First let’s start with the facts. There are over 3,000 named lakes and reservoirs in Montana, and well over 100 named rivers, streams, and creeks. Have
you heard of Willow Creek? Probably – twenty-eight counties in the state have at least one stream by this name, which is indicative of both Montana’s immense size and the great number of waterways contained within it.

Each year, these waterways draw in hundreds of thousands of fishermen, strengthening the state’s economy. In 2011 alone, fishing-related expenditures in Montana totaled $339 million. And that was during an economic crisis. The economic impact of fishing in Montana is one of the many reasons why
it is important to the state, and why there is such a large market to support it.

“It’s mind-boggling how much fishing influences the economy,” says Dale Gilbert, one of the many individuals that keeps the Montana fishing market afloat. As a professional bait-fishing guide and ex-tournament fisherman, Gilbert makes a living teaching others the techniques that have made him successful over the years. Season and time of day highly impact the success of any given waterway, which is why Gilbert travels the state throughout the year to fish on multiple lakes and rivers. “In summer, I like to fish Tiber and Fort Peck, whereas in spring and fall I tend to fish Valier and the Missouri River System near Loma and Fort Benton,” says Gilbert.

“I fish from boat but there are plenty of places that people can fish from shore and have high success too, such as the Marias River and Holter.”
It’s hard to get someone interested in fishing if they’re having a great deal of difficulty catching anything, and that’s where Gilbert believes Montana has an advantage over other states. “I’ve fished all over the country and I have had the best fishing of my life right here in Montana. We have a lot of great places to fish and people know that.”

Mark Elliott would agree. “I spend over 100 days a year guiding people down the river – people from all over the world. They keep coming back to Montana so clearly, this is a special place.” Elliott works as a professional fly-fishing guide for Blackfoot River Outfitters in Missoula. Besides the Blackfoot, some of his favorite rivers to fly-fish are the Clark Fork, Smith, Bitterroot, and Missouri.

Elliott did not grow up a fly fisherman and found that the challenge of it was part of the fun. He especially enjoys the art of the fly cast, which is central to fly fishing. “If you want to catch a lot of fish, there are more practical methods; there’s more to fly fishing than catching fish,” Elliott explains. “It’s just as much about perfecting your cast; it’s an art form and that’s what makes it so cool.”

While Elliott and Gilbert have different methods and motives for catching fish, both believe that Montana is an amazing state for fishing. Both agreed the state’s scenic beauty is a large part of its appeal and both cited the sport’s positive impact on the economy as a bonus. Ultimately, they made it clear that our state offers some first-rate fishing opportunities that any Montanan can take advantage of. As for choosing what type of fishing to do – well, that’s a matter of opinion.

For more on Dale Gilbert’s guided bait-fishing trips, visit MontanaWalleye.com or call 406-866-3304.

For more on fly fishing with Blackfoot River Outfitters, visit blackfootriver.com or call 406-542-7411.