Smith River

Beginning in the Little Belt Mountains, the Smith River in Montana flows through a spectacular canyon before meeting with the Missouri River near Great Falls. The Smith is one of Montana’s most unbelievably scenic rivers with it’s grandiose canyon walls, wildlife and just the river itself.  Due to the fact that there is only one put-in and one take-out and the limited number of camping areas, you must obtain a permit from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks to float it. Private launch permits for those that are floating the river on their own are difficult to get and are issued via a lottery drawing system. A great way to be able to experience this spectacular river and it’s fishing is by going on a Smith River Guided trip! CrossCurrents Fly Shop works with a special permitted Smith River Outfitter (Mike Geary, #1574) and can either arrange everything for you to go on a Guided trip on the Smith or go on one of Chris Strainer’s hosted trip, where Chris will be your Guide sharing with you his passion, experience and knowledge of the Smith for the most memorable float possible.

On a Guided Smith River Trip you will enjoy:

  • Fantastic fishing Guides and Camp/Cook Crew with years of experience on this river
  • Large, stand-up-in tents for each two guests
  • Comfortable, heavy-duty Roll-A-Cots with Therm-A-Rest sleeping pads
  • Use of dry bags for your clothes and gear
  • All the leaders, tippet and flies you will use on the river
  • Use of top-of-the line fly rods and reels (you are also more than welcome to bring your own)
  • Professional camp Chefs serving fresh, home cooked, healthful, gourmet meals (breakfast, lunch and dinner)
  • Refreshing libations that include: wine, beer and non-alcoholic beverages (You may bring your own spirits!)
  • Transportation to and from the river (including an airport shuttle)

The Camp Crew (aka –Freighters or Gear Boaters) move the entire camp and all gear downstream ahead of the Guide boats each day ensuring everything is set up with hour’s devours and drinks ready and waiting, welcoming you to camp each afternoon.  Every campsite has sturdy, clean, outdoor latrines set up in private locations by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks and the U.S. Forest Service.  You will not find better views or have more elbow room from any loo any where else!  We provide the paper and a hand washing station. This is as cushy as camping in the wild gets!

The Smith River needs your help -again!  Smith Mine Proposal -Please inform yourself.

  1. Guided Trip Cost
    2024 Rates are  $5,500 per person Book a trip on the Smith River through CrossCurrents Fly Shop and receive a $200 Gift Card for FREE! Good for anything we sell in both our shops or in the Orvis catalogs!   Join Chris Strainer, CrossCurrents Fly Shop owner and Guide for Lewis & Clark Expeditions, on a Guided Smith Trip. Give us a call  or  send us an e-mail and we will by happy to arrange your trip of a lifetime on the spectacular Smith!
  2. What to Bring?
    We get many question on what to bring on a guided trip. To help you better plan and pack, CrossCurrents has developed a Smith River Guided Trip Checklist. Just Download and Print!
  3. Other Info & Policies
    Reservation/Deposit/Cancellation/Refund Policy for Smith River Guided Trips:  Smith River Guided Trips require a 50% deposit and dates will not be confirmed until the deposit is received.  The remaining balance is due by April 1st of the year of your trip.  The deposit and full payments are non-refundable.  We operate in all safe weather and water conditions, therefore inclement weather or water or non-desirable fishing conditions are not reasons to cancel or receive a refund.  Often times “bad weather” is the best fishing weather!  Please keep this in mind.  Failure to show or failure to cancel in a timely manner will result in your being liable for the entire cost of the reservation and our resultant collection of that amount from you.  All reservations are secured with a valid credit card.  If our Smith River Outfitter is unable to provide guide service on the Smith due to unforeseen events (mainly low, unfloatable water), your deposit may be applied toward a future launch date or other fishing alternatives may be performed.  Our Outfitter will discuss the options with you.

     TRAVEL INSURANCE IS HIGHLY RECOMMENDED on Smith River Trips!  Some examples:  Signature Travel Insurance by IMG/Global Rescue,   Allianz Travel Insurance, CPO Sportsmans Travel Insurance, Travel Guard.  CrossCurrents Fly Shop has no affiliation to any of these companies, though, we are a member of MOGA (Guide/Outfitter Trade Association) and they have a pretty good partnership with Global Rescue, so that’s the one we would recommend considering first.  We are providing these names and links for your convenience. We have no affiliation with any of the insurance companies, nor do we endorse any of these companies but we highly recommend travel insurance on bigger trips (like the Smith or groups sizes larger than 8).

    Gratuity for your Smith River Guides and Crew:   We get a lot of questions about tipping the Guides and Crew (aka- Gear Boaters). The Guides and Crew work as a team to make your experience on the water and in camp match the spectacular river and canyon!  They typically receive gratuities for their hard work on the water, in camp -and in preparation & clean-up on either end of the trip, and they do depend on tips as part of their income.  Typical gratuity for Guides and Crew for a Smith trip runs between $200 to $400 per day per Client (which would be $1000 to $2000 per Client for the 5 days which is about 20% to 35%).  All the tip money is pooled together and split evenly amongst the the entire team (Guides, Gearboaters and Pre & Post Trip Packers).  However, the decision is yours, and you should tip what you feel is appropriate.  (FYI- There are no 401k plans, company cars or medical benefits packages for independent Guides and Crew.  We guide anglers because we are passionate about this activity/sport/hobby. Guides and the Crew truly appreciate your generosity.)

Noted for its spectacular scenery and blue-ribbon trout fishery, the Smith River is unique in that it has only one public put-in and one public take-out for the entire 59-mile (95 km) segment of river.  Boat camps located along the remote river canyon help preserve the unique quality of this area.  The Smith River between Camp Baker and Eden Bridge is the only river corridor managed by Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks as a permitted river.  Permits for private floats on the Smith River are allocated to the public via a lottery system prior to the Peak Season of May 15th-July 15th.  Permit applications are typically available the first week of January each year, with an application deadline of mid-February.  NOTE:  Odds for scoring a permit during the Peak Season are 7 to 1!

A great way to experience the Smith and to ensure the best opportunity for fishing, floating and camping success is to book a trip through CrossCurrents. Please plan early, (August through January before the year you want to go) because there are only a limited number of Outfitted launches and they do fill up quickly.  CrossCurrents makes planning a Smith River Guide Trip very easy.   Give us a call  or  send us an e-mail  and we will by happy to arrange your trip of a lifetime on the spectacular Smith!

Got a Permit?  If you are planning a Self-Guided Smith River Trip, CrossCurrents Fly Shop has developed a check list to help ensure you have everything you’ll need for 4-5 days in the wilderness. Download CrossCurrents Smith River Check List.

Want more information on floating the Smith River?  Read our 3-part blog post on floating the Smith River.

Need to Rent a Raft or a Bear-Proof Yeti Cooler or an Portable Electric Bear Fence or other river and camping gear?  We’ve got you covered. We have all the gear you need to have a memorable trip down the Smith River.

The Smith River needs your help -again!  Smith Mine Proposal -Please inform yourself.

CrossCurrents Fly Shop has several Smith River experts on Staff to help with your trip. Something we do for lots of floaters is put together a custom assortment of Flies for their specific trip. We take into account the launch date and current river and weather conditions. Click here to order online a customer assortment of Smith River Flies for your trip. You can also purchase a detailed, waterproof Smith River Map for helping you plan your trip.

The Smith River in Montana usually has a short float season, usually from late April through mid July.  This can vary a few weeks either way depending on snow pack, rain, irrigation and the timing of runoff.  A classic western freestone stream, this is a big fly river.  We fish lots of stoneflies and big attractor patterns like PMX’s, Stimulators, Jacklin’s Giant Stones & Hoppers.  There are good caddis and mayfly hatches as well and we will “match the hatch” during those times, but a #8 Royal PMX is tough to beat.  Large streamers like Bead-head Woolly Buggers and Flash-Fry Zonkers will pull the bigger Browns and Rainbows from the deeper pools and undercut banks.

Plan on losing or using up 10 to 20 flies every day to the Smith River’s rocky bottom, and brushy shoreline!  As Smith River specialists, CrossCurrent Fly Shop can help you select the best flies to use.  Come visit us in Helena or Craig, or lets us select flies for you and send them to you prior to your trip!  We have many of these patterns as recipes and instructions or videos in our resources page.

(We have lots of patterns listed in the headings below but they may not all be appropriate for your trip because of time of year or water conditions. We make it easy if you want to just let our expert staff custom pick the proper Smith River fly selection for you, for your trip. Click here and order online, or just give us call, tell us your budget and we’ll put together a great selection so you’ll have exactly what you need.)

  1. Dry Flies for Smith River
    Dries:  Early to mid May you usually only get a couple of hours of dry fly fishing in the warmer afternoon.  In June and July you can expect to fish dry flies most of the day starting in late morning on cool days and very early on hot days.  (We highly recommend using Jet Fuel Floatant on all your dry flies.)

    • #8-#12 Chubby Chernobyl (Purple, Royal, Golden, Orange, Black, Tan.  What a great freestone fly!!!)
    • #6-#12 Stimulators (Orange, Royal, Yellow)
    • #4-#12 Parachute Madam-X’s (aka. PMX or Bugmeister in Peacock, Royal, Foam)
    • #12-#16 Parachute Adams
    • #12-#16 Purple Haze
    • #12-#16 Para-Wulff (Adams, Purple)
    • #14-#16 Micro Chubby
    • #10-#16 Elk Hair Caddis (Tan, Olive, Brown)
    • #14-#16 Corn-Fed CDC Caddis
    • #2-#6 Salmonfly Patterns (usually mid-May through early June!) like Jacklin’s Giant Salmonfly!, Rogue Foam, Stalcup’s
    • #6-#10 Golden Stonefly Patterns (usually in mid-June through July!) like Jacklin’s Giant Golden (doubles as a hopper too!), Rogue Foam
    • #8-#14 Royal Wulff
    • #10-#14 Humpies in Yellow, Red
    • #6-#10 Hopper Patterns like Club Sandwich & Stalcup’s
    • #12-#18 Ants & Beetles (Great to drop behind a PMX or Stimi!)
    • #8-#12 Cicada patterns
  2. Nymph Flies for Smith River

    Nymphs:  Nymphs can be very productive on this river.  (We highly recommend using one of the CCFS Airlock Nymph Rig Leaders)

    • #4-#12 Rubber Leg Nymph (aka- Pat’s Rubber Legs, aka- The Turd.:  Brown/Black, Orange/Brown, Cheater Belly)
    • #6-#12 San Juan Worms!  (Can be a “trip saver” bug when the river swells from rain or run-off. Never go on the Smith without them – lots of them! Wire Worms, Beadhead San Juan Worms, Chenille Worms, Squirmy Worms. If someone asks on the river, you better be able to say, “I got worms!”)
    • #2-#10 Stonefly Nymphs in Brown, Black, Golden (There are a lot of stoneflies on this river and the nymphs are very abundant and active in May through July)
    • #6-#10 Tungsten Trout Retriever in Black Lab, Chocolate Lab, Golden Retriever
    • #4-#10 Bitch Creek Nymphs (Smith fish love the rubber legs!)
    • #10-#14 Bead-Head Prince Nymphs
    • #12-#16 Fly Formerly Known As Prince (Great fly but you might have to wear a raspberry beret)
    • #10-#14 Bead-Head Hare’s Ear (regular and flashback, brass or tungsten bead)
    • #16-#18 Little Green Machine (PT, Black)
    • #16-#18 Mirage Nymphs
    • #14-#16 Lightning Bugs (Silver, Gold, Purple)
    • #12-#18 Bead-Head Pheasant Tail (regular and flashback)
    • #12-#14 Copper Johns (Red, Copper, Black)
  3. Streamer Flies for Smith River

    Streamers:  If you want to catch the bigger fish on the Smith or if the water is off color use big streamers!  (It’s super helpful to use a RIO VersiLeader with your streamers.)

Got a Permit?  If you are planning a Self-Guided Smith River Trip CrossCurrents has developed a check list to help ensure you have everything you’ll need for 4-5 days in the wilderness.   Download the CrossCurrents Smith River Check List.

Never floated the Smith River?  You can read our 3-part blog post on floating the Smith River.

  1. Smith River Raft & Equipment Rentals
    For the more self-reliant floater/camper/angler, CrossCurrents rents and sells top-of-the-line AIRE, Outcast and NRS rafts, inflatable kayaks and pontoon boats for the Smith, and other rivers as well.  We also rent Dry Bags, Roll-A-Tables, Roll-A-Chairs, Roll-A-Cots, Coolers, Waders, ORVIS Rods and Reels, etc.  Our fleet of rafts quickly book up during the Smith’s short season.  If you need to rent a boat or equipment for your Smith River trip  give us a call  or  send us an e-mail  ASAP after you receive your permit.
  2. Smith River Shuttles

    Charlie’s Think Wild Shuttle Service
    Charles Meeks
    P.O. Box 282
    White Sulphur Springs, MT 59645
    (406) 547-6338

    (FYI- We do not recommend Smith River Shuttle at this time.  We’ve had some major problems with their service in early 2024 and cannot in good conscientious recommend them anymore. We are disappointed in this situation but this problem is significant enough that we will now tell you to use someone else until they resolve this issue.)

    NOTE: DO NOT do your own shuttle for your Smith River trip! Unless you have nearly two full-days to drive -one before you float and one after you float. It takes a few hours on each end of your float to run the shuttle along the Smith! Believe us, buying a shuttle is well worth the investment.

    Also, we have no affiliation with these shuttle services. We just like the folks, think they do a great job and use them personally when we float the Smith or when we host a Guided Trip on the Smith.

  3. Smith River Campsites
    What are the best Campsites A limit of nine float parties are allowed to put in on the river on any given day.  Before launching at Camp Baker you must choose developed campsites to camp at with the Ranger’s Station.  Sites are selected on a first come first serve basis.  It’s highly suggested to camp the night before your launch at Camp Baker so that you can be one of the first in line to register for your campsites. When planning, it’s important to know how far your group will be able to go in a day.  Once you leave Camp Baker, there’s no other place to stop the trip until you take out!  It’s best to travel 9-12 miles on days 1-4, then push out on the 5th day.   View a Smith River Map online here or purchase a waterproof Smith River map here. Read our 3-part blog post on floating the Smith River to find more information on campsites.
  4. Smith River River USGS Resources
    • For Smith River Stream flow resources click here
    • For Live Weather click here.