Fly Fishing Georgetown Lake

For years before we moved to Montana, our friends, John and Kurt Herzer, would rave about the huge rainbows to be caught in Georgetown Lake near Philipsburg. “If you guys come out in the summer, you’ve got to try fishing Georgetown.”

Fast forward to 2013, our first summer as Montanans, and we found ourselves on Georgetown Lake fishing Stuart Mill Bay at the beginning of July. The damsel fly hatch was in full swing. We caught huge rainbows on damsels and hoppers – we were ‘hooked’.

Sight Fishing to Big Rainbow Trout

Early morning calm, the surface of the lake is still, and then you see it. A wake created by a huge rainbow trout cruising for a meal. You stop breathing. You try and anticipate its direction as the water becomes still once more. Your eyes patrol the water in search of movement or a shadow. And then you see it, nearly 2 feet long and thick; a Georgetown Lake bruiser rainbow trout.

False casts can scare them, plunking a flies on their head send them swimming for cover, so you need a plan. Land your fly in the monster trout’s path and wait. Try not to breathe. The big trout sips a bug off the surface just three feet from your fly. Do. Not. Move.

A  small wake appears just as the predator’s mouth opens and closes on your fly. Set the hook and hold on. This is going to be fun.

Georgetown Lake Rainbow Trout

Traveling Sedge Eater

Fat Rainbow Trout in Georgetown Lake

Fat Rainbow Trout in Georgetown Lake

Georgetown Lake

Georgetown Lake lies in the shadows of the towering Pintler Mountains; part of the Anaconda Range. Here winter comes early and is decidedly stubborn about leaving.

Easy to get to on Montana Route 1, the lake is enjoyed by families, anglers, and boating enthusiasts. This would not be a place to come if you are looking for a solitude wildernes experience. Spring and fall see less traffic on the lake, but in mid-summer, there are many folks enjoying this lovely body of water.


Georgetown Lake Hatches

Damselfly Hatch

Georgetown is famous for its damsel fly hatch. Hatching in early July, delicate bright blue and black barred damsel flies are the target of the lake’s big rainbows.  Stuart Mill Bay, located in the southeast corner of the lake, is a shallow cove rimmed with low bushes and wetlands; perfect damselfly habitat. A feeder stream brings fresh, Stuart Mill Creek, cool water water in nearby.

Use a damselfly pattern or a hopper to imitate the adult damsel. Add some action to the fly to draw attention and then hang on!

Traveling Sedge

These large caddis or sedge, hatch about 20 feet offshore in late June and early July on Georgetown Lake. Opening their new wings and and scrambling for shore, these big bugs (size 10) cause quite the ruckus as they struggle in the surface film. As you can imagine, the big rainbows watch this scene unfold and then, sip them off the surface.

Fishing a Goddard Caddis is a great way to imitate the traveling sedge. Smack it on the surface and give it a little action, and wham – fish on.


In summer you’ll see caddis, midges, hoppers and ants, and callibaetis. Buggers, leeches, and egg patterns work as do small nymphs such as a flashback pheasant tail stripped very slowly.

If You Go

There are many campgrounds, picnic areas, and boat launches on the lake. The public areas offer good access to the lake. The wind can bring whitecaps to the lake quickly and summer afternoon thunderstorms can end fun on the water quickly. Keep an eye to the sky and never be too far from shore. The better dry fly fishing is not in the middle of the lake but rather 30′ from shore or less.

There is cell reception on much of the lake. If you are not camping, Philipsburg and Anaconda offer lodging and RV hook-ups.

Piney Point Campground Sign

Piney Point 

Stuart Mill Bay on Georgetown Lake

Stuart Mill Bay

Georgetown Lake Videos

Special Regulations

The lake has special regulations which protect spawning areas. Stuart Mill Bay and the East and South shorelines are closed to fishing April 1 to June 30. The tributaries are closed December 1 to June 30. These regs support spawning and the growth of the bruiser trout.

Georgetown Lake Fishing Regulations

Georgetown Lake Fishing Regulations

Fishing the Lake

Fish the lake with watercraft to be able to reach fish. A boat is great but certainly kayaks, canoes, and kickboats are a great option. We fish the lake in our Clackacraft driftboat. It’s comfortable, there are room for the pups, and Tim has us set up with an electric motor to scoot around faster than rowing. It also comes in handy should the lake fetch up.

Wading can be an option. I had some action while wading the lake. Try the boat launches and picnic area such as Rainbow Point and Piney Point, to find find a sand/gravel bottom.

Bronze rainbow trout caught in Georgetown Lake

A Flashback Pheasant Did The Trick

Piney Point Campground on Georgetown Lake

View of Piney Point

Local Experts

Flint Creek Outdoors, located in downtown Philipsburg, is your best spot to pick up some local knowledge of the lake. Stop in for flies, tackle, or watercraft rental.

Nearby Fly Fishing Waters

There are several smaller mountain lakes nearby as well as world-class rivers.

Flies That Worked For Us

It’s always wise to check in with the local experts. Here’s what we used during our trip from July 2-5, 2019.

  • Goddard Caddis #10-12
  • Flashback Pheasant Tail
  • Damsel Fly
  • Foam Hopper
  • Chironomids

The Wake

The first evening we arrived, we set up camp at Piney Point, and I took a stroll down to the lake to watch for rising fish. Here the lake has a sandy gravel bottom. I saw a few rises so I grabbed my rod, waded out thigh deep, and starting casting into the lake. I did this for a while with not much luck. I kept hearing rises behind me.

I stopped casting for a while and just watched. Sure enough, fish were sipping bugs off the surface very close to shore. Maybe they were just dinks? I had to get a closer look.

I quietly slipped back to shore, walked several back from the shoreline, and stealthy arrived at water’s edge just above the rings near shore. I waited and watched. Nothing happened for a long time. But then, close to shore, a wake appeared. It pushed out from the shore and disappeared as the water deepened. Could it be that a 20″ rainbow was just sitting on shore?

Minutes passed, the lake was flat calm. The wake appeared again just a foot off the shore; this time it was headed my direction. I remained motionless. And there it was. A monster rainbow cruising the shallows on the hunt. I waited until he passed and swam into deeper waters before preparing my flyrod to cast.

Line ready, I put a cast out there, but not to far. I let it sit. I was waiting for the wake.

The lake is clear and clean. I could easily see into the water several feet out. I scanned the shallows for movement. After a while, the wake became active again. My fly has laid in wait. Time to put it to work.

Twitch, twitch, rest. Twitch twitch, rest. The movement hadn’t gone unnoticed. The wake sped away from shore, slid into the depths only to come up and take my fly. The calm has turned into an eruption. In shallow water, fight is intense. The big rainbow heads for deep water, I pull it back. It rockets toward the sky and lands with a great splash. I take more line onto my reel; the fish is coming closer to my net.

One more propultion skyward, body twisting, and the collapse into the water. The hook is dislodged, the fight is over, and I stand shaking. Did that just happen? I love it here….

The Necessities

Our picks for fishing information, food, and places to camp.

The Area

The area around Georgetown Lake is heaven for people that love outdoor recereation. Located less than two hours from Missoula, and about an hour from Butte, the area gets lots of visitors who come to ride ATVs, jet ski, waterski, fish, and just relax. A marina on the lake offers boat rentals.

The Discovery Ski Area is very close by where there is a bike park in summer. Hiking trails, views of big mountains, and the mining town of Philipsburg, there is lots to do!

Side Trips

Lake fishing is fun, but so is exploring this part of the state. Here are some ideas.

Fishing Guidebooks

Go with knowledge! We keep guidebooks in the camper and the state atlas in all of our rigs. If you’re serious about fishing, here’s our recommended reading for this water.

*The link takes you to Amazon where you can read more about the titles and purchase the guidebooks if you choose. We do receive a small portion of the sale for providing the link which helps to support this site. We appreciate your support!

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