Fishing near Columbia Falls, Montana

Columbia Falls is surrounded by great fishing locations for you to enjoy. In this article, we discuss a few of our favorite fishing spots and what you can expect to find at those locations.

Upper Flathead River

  • Distance from us: 0.5 miles
  • Best bets: rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, bull trout

The upper Flathead River (above Flathead Lake) is relatively wide and deep for a Montana river, with lots of braided channels. It has a decent population of rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, and bull trout. The river is fed by glacier water and the upper portion stays cold year-round. Good trout fishing starts in early spring and runs through September, with summer being especially productive.

In general, the upper Flathead River between Columbia Falls and Kalispell is a good place to fish for rainbow trout and cutthroat trout. Concentrate on areas where the river forks and areas with cover along the river banks.

As for bull trout, they spawn in small streams in the fall and, in the summer, move up the river from Flathead Lake to get to those streams. You might have luck fishing for bull trout, then. Note that bull-trout fishing is heavily regulated. Check with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks for details.

Flathead Lake

  • Distance from us: 26 miles
  • Best bets: lake trout, lake whitefish

Flathead Lake is a great location for trout fishing, especially lake-trout fishing. You'll also find lake whitefish, yellow perch, rainbow trout, bull trout, northern pike, and largemouth bass in the lake.

Most successful fishing in Flathead Lake is by boat. In particular, large lake trout are found in the deeper parts of the lake. (Shore fishing for lake trout can also be productive in early summer and late fall, when the water is cool.) Fishing for lake whitefish by boat is also a good bet. They are most commonly found at depths of 30-150 feet. In shallower water, you come across yellow perch. Look for them in water less than 30-feet deep around weed beds and over sandy-bottom areas.

There are catch and release restrictions for fishing on Flathead Lake, in particular for lake trout, bull trout, and cutthroat trout. For details, check with Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks for details. 

Lake McDonald

  • Distance from us: 24 miles
  • Best bets: trout, kokanee salmon

While Lake McDonald isn't known as a premier fishing location, you can definitely have some success fishing there. Expect to find rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, lake trout, and kokanee salmon at the lake.

Fishing from shore is a breeze at Lake McDonald since the lake has miles and miles of easily-accessible shoreline. In some areas, you'll be able to wade out on gravel bars as well. A good bet is to try fishing for trout in the mornings and evenings when there's less chance of windy conditions. Fishing by boat is also an option if you're interested in fishing for lake trout or if you're going to fish the lake's north shore.

Whitefish Lake

  • Distance from us: 13 miles
  • Best bets: mountain whitefish, lake trout

Whitefish Lake is a great place to fish, especially in the summer months. The lake has large populations of lake trout and mountain whitefish. You'll also find yellow perch, northern pike, and, of course, trout (rainbow trout, cutthroat trout, bull trout, and brown trout). Note that Whitefish Lake is very popular and can be crowded in the summer. To avoid the crowds, try the north end of the lake (away from the public boat launch) or the west side of the lake (the least developed part of the lake).

Access to Whitefish lake is easy, with a public boat ramp available at City Beach in the city of Whitefish. You can also enjoy fishing from shore at a variety of locations. Fishing for lake trout is typically most successful by boat in the deep parts of the lake. You can also find lake trout at inlets around the north end of the lake.