Holter Lake was without a doubt the most scenic spot we’ve ever dropped a line. When we imagined fishing in Montana we thought it would be scenic, but this lake blew us away. Holter Lake is a reservoir in the Missouri River that was created by a dam built in 1908. However, the history of this area goes back much further, before Lewis and Clark first documented the river in 1805. Early explorers gave the opening in front of today’s Holter Lake the name “Gates of the Mountains”.
When we drove to Upper Holter Lake for the first time, we were greeted by two imposing rock faces that gave way to a wide body of water. What we couldn’t see from the bank was that these massive canyon walls meandered for miles downriver to the gates of the mountains. After recording our surroundings and taking a few pictures, we met our guide for the day and headed into the water.
We started our day with fly rods in hand looking for Montana rainbow trout. It wasn’t long before the first got on the boat. Hannah got the first honorary catch of the day – a colorful rainbow trout! We took a short break for the mandatory pictures before sending him back into the lake. We spent the early morning trolling around the main part of the lake bringing in lots of beautiful rainbow trout. Just before lunch we went looking for perch through the gates of the mountain.
We traded our flies for leeches and threw our lines as we let the current take us away. The perch turned out to be a little less hungry than the trout earlier in the day, but we still managed to get a handful of them onto our lines. Maybe it was our fishing skills, or maybe it was because we were distracted by the stunning canyon we were in. Towering white limestone surrounded us, creating a dramatic V-shaped canyon with lots of interesting rock formations. From the boat, our guide pointed out some distinctive “faces” in the rocks, and we even spotted a handful of stone arches.
For lunch we moored at a picnic area in the Helena National Forest, which was equipped with picnic tables by the water. 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.
Then we made our way back into the boat and reached the lake further up, which most people refer to as Lower Holter Lake on the other side of the limestone canyon. At the end of the canyon we turned on the trolling motors and slowly made our way back to the main part of Upper Holter Lake. We threw our lines out and threw all the way back until we re-rated the beautiful gates of the mountains. Our guide took us further downstream for a leisurely tour before dropping us back to the dock.
Our fishing and boat trip adventure
We spent the day water fishing in various styles from a flat bottom boat where we managed to catch various species with both fly rods and open spinning reels. The rainbow trout loved the little flies in the main part of the lake where it was about 6-10 feet. While the perch hung around in the narrow gorge of the lake and nibbled on our leeches. Overall, the action was fast enough to keep us busy, but it was still a challenge.
Holter Lake consists of dams on the Missouri River and it is possible to continue your fishing trip on the river. Part of the Missouri is accessible by boat, which is most preferred, but it is still possible to fish successfully from the shore or pier at 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. However, other types of boats can also be used in the deeper sections of the lake. When fishing from a boat, be aware that the lake may be occupied by other recreational boaters.
Types of fish that you can catch
• Rainbow trout
• Kokanee Salmon
• Brown trout
• White fish in the mountains
Nice scenic boat trips
If you’d rather just spend a lazy day on the boat and ditch your fishing rod for the day, you can also take a scenic boat ride around Holter Lake and the canyons. As well as being a great fishing hole, Holter Lake is easy on the eyes. The Missouri’s steep canyon walls are perfect. You can sail through the canyons looking for all the faces in the rock formations and even check the arches if you can spot them.
Holter Lake Stone Arches
As you throw, watch out for the stone arches visible from the canyon’s water level. There are at least two that can be seen directly from your boat. The largest stone arch in Lake Holter is located high above the waterline halfway through the canyon towards the Mann Gulch fire station. To spot this, look for the tall limestone tower just in front of the great arch.
Gates of the mountain on Lake Holter
The first people to document what is now known as Holter Lake were the famous discovery duo Lewis & Clark. While traveling upriver on the Missouri, they paddled through the 1,200 foot canyon to a point where the river appeared to have come to an abrupt halt. As they got closer, it actually looked like a massive mountain, between which the river continued. The way the opening appeared, the explorers wrote in their diaries that it looked like huge gates and the name was stuck.
Fishing in Montana?
You can 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. There are also a few select days during the primary fishing season when visitors outside of the state do not require a license called Free Fishing Days.