Holter Lake was without a doubt the most scenic place we have ever dropped a line. When we envisioned fishing in Montana we figured it would be picturesque, but this lake blew us away. Holter Lake is a reservoir in the Missouri River created by a dam built in 1908. The history of this area, however, goes back much further, even before the time of Lewis and Clark, the first to document the river in 1805. Early explorers gave the name “Gates of the Mountains” to the opening that sits in front of what’s now known as Holter Lake.
When we first pulled up to Upper Holter Lake we were greeted by two imposing rock walls that gave way to a wide body of water. What we couldn’t see from the shore was that these massive canyon walls snaked their way miles downriver to the Gates of the Mountains. After taking in our surroundings and snapping a few pictures, we met our guide for the day and hit the water.
We started our day with fly rods in hand, casting for some Montana rainbow trout. It didn’t take very long for the first one to make it into the boat. Hannah got the honorary #firstcatch of the day – a colorful rainbow trout! We made a quick pause for the obligatory pictures before sending him back into the lake. We spent the early morning trolling around the main portion of the lake bringing in lots of beautiful rainbow trout and just before lunch we made our way through the Gates of the Mountain in search of perch.
We traded our flies for leeches and casted our lines as we let the current take us. The perch proved to be a little less hungry than the trout were earlier in the day, but we still managed to get a handful of them on our lines. Maybe it was our fishing skills or maybe it was because we were distracted by the stunning canyon we found ourselves in. Towering white limestone surrounded us forming a dramatic “V” shaped canyon with many interesting rock formations. From the boat, our guide pointed out several prominent “faces” in the rocks and we even spotted a handful of stone arches.
For lunch, we docked at a picnic site in the Helena National Forest outfitted with waterside picnic tables. It was a great location, close to wildlife with perfect views. From here we were able to safely launch the drone to get a bird’s eye view of the lake and some of the beautiful stone arches.
Afterward, we made our way back into the boat and further up the lake reach what most refer to as Lower Holter Lake on the other side of the limestone canyon. From the end of the canyon, we turned on the trolling motors and slowly made our way back to the main body of Upper Holter Lake. We threw out our lines, casting the whole way back until we once again rated the beautiful Gates of the Mountains. Our guide took us further down river for a leisurely tour before returning us to the dock.
Our Fishing and Boating Trip Adventure
We spent the day on the water fishing in a variety of styles from a flat bottom boat, where we managed to hook a several different species using both fly rods and open-faced spinning reels. The rainbow trout were loving the small flies in the main body of the lake where it was around 6-10 feet. While the perch hung out in the narrow canyon portion of the lake snacking on our leeches. Overall the action was fast-paced enough to keep us busy but was still a challenge.
Holter Lake is formed by dams placed on the Missouri River and it’s possible to continue your fishing trip on the river. A portion of the Missouri river is accessible by boat, which most prefer, but it’s still possible to have some success fishing from shore or from the pier in Holter Lake. In this area, a flat bottom boat is the preferred boat of most guides due to the structure of the lake and surrounding river, but other boat types can be used in the deeper lake portions. When fishing from a boat be aware that the Lake can be busy with other recreational boaters.
Types of Fish you Can Catch
• Rainbow trout
• Kokanee salmon
• Brown trout
• Mountain whitefish
Beautiful Scenic Boat Rides
If you’d rather just enjoy a relaxing day on the boat and put the fishing pole down for the day you can also take a scenic boat ride around Holter Lake and the canyons. Besides being a great fishing hole, Holter Lake is easy on the eyes too. The steep canyon walls carved by the Missouri river are picture perfect. You can sail down the canyons and look for all the faces in the rock formations, and even check out the arches if you can spot them.
Holter Lake Stone Arches
While casting, keep an eye out for the stone arches that can be seen from the water level of the canyon. There are at least two that can be seen right from your boat. The largest stone arch in Holter lake is high above the water line around halfway through the canyon toward the Mann Gulch fire fighters’ monument. To spot this one, look for the tall limestone spire directly in front of the large arch.
Gates of the Mountain at Holter Lake
The first people to document what is now known as Holter Lake were the famous exploring duo Lewis & Clark. While making their way upriver on the Missouri they paddled their way through the 1200 ft. tall canyon to a point where it appeared that the river came to an abrupt stop. As they got closer, what looked like one massive mountain was actually two with the river continuing between it. The way the opening appeared the explorers wrote in their journals that it looked like giant gates, and the name stuck.
Fishing in Montana?
It is possible to fish in Montana’s many rivers, streams, and lakes with a permit. You can purchase a fishing license online or at gas stations, grocery stores, and sporting goods outfitters. There are also a select few days during the primary fishing season when out of state visitors don’t need a license called “Free Fishing Days”.