Boulder River

The Boulder river starts on the northern edge of Yellowstone Park, high in the Absaroka-Beartooth mountains.   The river makes a rapid run down it’s 62 mile course before dumping into the Yellowstone river near Big Timber Montana.   There is probably not another river that is more aptly named.  The river starts high in the mountains and empties into a very fertile valley where sheep and cattle ranchers can irrigate their hay fields while the stock ranges in the high country during the summer.   As the great glaciers pushed out of the mountains they left huge boulders throughout the valley, which the river cut through.  These large boulders are strewn throughout the river bed, which lends the name to this magnificent stream.

Headwaters of the Boulder on Horse Back

Fishing the Boulder is not for the weak, wade fishing is tough and floating the river is only an option for a month or so each year.  Those who do float the river better be on their game, the river flows extremely fast and all the rocks create plenty of obstacles that must be avoided.   Floating the river is fast paced fishing and by the end of the day you will feel the toll it takes on your body.   Access to the river is limited on the lower 20 miles of river with three public fishing access sites and a couple of bridges that anglers can access due to the Montana Stream Access laws.   For wading anglers a wading staff and good boots are a must.   The small rocks are the size of bowling balls and there is very few areas where small pea gravel exist.  About 20 miles upstream of Big Timber the river enters into a very deep canyon that has plenty of Forest Service access via about 30 miles of a bumpy gravel road.  One of the scenic highlights of the Boulder river is the Natural Bridge.  At the mouth of the canyon the river passes over and through a 100 foot high limestone cliff band.  During high water the river flows over the top of the cliff band making a very dramatic waterfall, that has gained the attention of extreme Kayakers who have taken the ride over the edge.  Our local kayak Master Evan Garcia was one of the first people to descend over the falls and at the time it was a world record drop in a kayak.  During low water the river disappears into the earth and comes spouting out of the middle of the cliff band.  The water has eroded the limestone to create the natural land bridge that is a very impressive site to see.   Above the falls the river flows through some private land and lots of forest service access.  Access above the falls is great once you get above a private ranch that follows the river for about 4 miles above the falls.

A very aptly named River!

Above the falls the fishing can be great for small to medium sized Rainbows, Browns and Cutthroats.  Hatch activity is the standard fare with Caddis, Stoneflies and mayflies hatching throughout the summer months.  The terrestrial fishing later in summer is fair due to the mountain environment which does not provide much grass for hoppers.   The main terrestrial insect of note in the canyon is the Spruce Moths which have been preying on the spruce and pines that inhabit the canyon.   The spruce moths generally arrive in late August of September, but with heavier snows during the winter and more moisture in the summer the moths have been less prevalent.

Rafts are highly recommended

Below the falls has all the standard hatches plus better terrestrial fishing due to the flood irrigated hay fields that line the lower 20 miles of the river.   The limited access to the river below the falls make floating the ideal method to fish the river.  The float season is fairly short as the water drops quickly making it difficult get down, even in a rubber raft.   This is not a river for a drift boat, rafts are pretty much mandatory due to the fact that you will run into rocks as you float the river.  The person on the oars must also be very experienced because the float is pretty much a whitewater experience.  Fishing from the boat is productive but pulling over and wade fishing some the deeper runs typically is the best approach.   I personally usually only take one other angler in the raft with me because of the fast moving water and the amount of rowing that it takes to navigate down the river.   High floating dry flies with a bead head dropper is my preferred method for fishing the boulder.

Happy guest with a Boulder River Rainbow

A float down the Boulder is a unique experience,  fast paced fishing at it’s finest.


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