Stillwater River Montana Fly Fishing, Camping, Boating

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Stillwater River

With its swift and rocky waters, the Stillwater River is likely misnamed. This tributary of the Yellowstone River flows through south central Montana, offering amazing floating, fishing, and camping opportunities.

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  • Stillwater River MT flows from the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness near Nye, into the Yellowstone River at Columbus.
  • Access the Stillwater from Stillwater River Road and Highway 78.
  • Explore the waters via raft or kayak, or spend the day fly or lure fishing.
  • Riverside campgrounds at Woodbine, Cliff Swallow, Whitebird, and Fireman’s Point.

Overview

A tributary of the Yellowstone River, the Stillwater River in Montana begins its flow high in the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness. Throughout its run, the “Stillwater” name is a misnomer, as this river is rocky and swift. When it spills out of the mountains and into the rolling plains of the Stillwater Valley, the Stillwater River becomes a paradise for fisherman and outdoorsman. This river offers some of the most breathtaking scenery and recreational opportunities.

Location & Information

The Stillwater River begins south of Nye, Montana near Woodbine. The river flows down the Stillwater River Valley, passing through Absarokee. From there, the Stillwater River drains into the Yellowstone River in Columbus. Between Nye and Absarokee, access the river via the Stillwater River Rd, off the Nye Road. From Absarokee to Columbus, the Stillwater River parallels and is accessible via MT Highway 78.

Activities

Fish
The Stillwater River Montana offers great fly and lure fishing opportunities for cutthroat, brown, and rainbow trout. Although the upper section offers consistent fishing, the best area to fish is the upper Stillwater, above Absarokee. This section of the river has less pressure from fisherman and is known to have some brookies. This area can be accessed from the Old Nye Fishing Access and Johnson’s Bridge Fishing Access, just south of Nye on the Nye Road. Whitebird, Swinging Bridge, and Fireman’s Point Fishing Accesses are located along Highway 78 north of Absarokee, and offer access to the lower Stillwater River.

  • Summer is when Stillwater delivers most consistently. About 4 miles downstream of Nye, anglers can set up and will get multiple strikes with both lures and flies, in spite of Stillwater generally being known as a dry fly river, and for a frequently successful two-fly style rig -- a “hopper/dropper.”
  • In the Fall, anglers should watch for shallow gravel bars as brown trout migrate out of Yellowstone River and try hooking these sizeable trout using Marabou Muddlers, an egg-sucking leech, Black Woolly Bugger, or Single Bunny streamer with a red throat.

Float
The lower section’s class III waters make for a great whitewater rafting experience. Between Absarokee and Columbus, several guides offer scenic raft trips, allowing visitors to enjoy a safe, fun ride down the Stillwater River. Usually included on these guided raft trips is “cliff jumping”. Near Columbus, a rock wall along the river creates a perfect place for visitors to take the thrilling jump from around 10 feet above the water. Several whitewater enthusiasts also enjoy kayaking the river from Nye on; the upper section’s falls and rapids make for an exciting experience.

Camp
There are several amazing campgrounds along the Stillwater River. Woodbine Campground, located south of Nye, offers great hiking and camping. Woodbine Falls, an amazing 100 foot cascade, is only a ¾ mile hike from the trailhead located in the campground. Other campgrounds include Cliff Swallow (Stillwater River Road out of Absarokee), Whitebird (off Highway 78 north of Absarokee), and Fireman’s Point (off Highway 78 south of Columbus). These campgrounds offer vaulted toilets and fire rings, amongst other amenities.

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