From world-class "blue ribbon" trout streams in the mountains to monster paddlefish on the eastern plains rivers, Montana is renowned for its fishing opportunities. The Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks website lists 15 primary species in Montana with most of them having multiple sub-species of fish. Catfish, bluegill, trout, kokanee, carp, bass, ling, muskies, walleye, and whitefish are some of the more common fish you might find on the end of your line. Some are good to eat, all of them are fun to catch and some of them are best when you catch-and-release.

Fishing is a great hobby/sport but I will be the first to admit that it can be frustrating fishing with kids. If you are fishing with children, here are some reminders:

  • Kids like to catch fish. Obviously, we all do. But the attention span of a child is pretty short. Waiting for hours to get a nibble will drive them to boredom in no time flat. I don't mind sitting all day on the river with no bites, but kids won't do it.
  • Keep it simple. The age of your young fishermen(women), will affect rigging, bait and lures. Fishing on moving water with a sinking spinner, where a constant retrieve is necessary may be too difficult for a 3 to 6-year-old. When they stop reeling for a second you'll be dealing with a snag, lost lures and bait, and additional time to re-tie everything after you break the line from a snag. Stick with bobbers on calm water or a sinker on the bottom and you'll prevent a lot of headaches.
  • Don't plan on catching any fish yourself. Keeping more than one kid untangled, baited and--hopefully--catching fish is basically a full-time job. Don't plan on spending much time tending your own rig because you'll just end up frustrated. If you are fishing with kids, you gotta' make it about the kids. There's plenty of time to go catch fish with your buddies or solo some other time. Teach the kids fishing etiquette, be patient, have fun, and you'll be doing the right thing.

With rivers raging high this time of year from spring runoff, most Montana rivers and streams are currently pretty dangerous and un-fishable. Here are some of the most popular (and safe) kid-friendly fishing spots around the Billings area you can check out right now:

  • Lake Elmo. People may make fun of you for fishing Lake Elmo, but it's a great spot to check out even if you don't have kids. It's stocked annually and is full of all kinds of different fish (seriously, it's like a fishing grab bag). The water is fairly shallow near the banks should a kid decide to take an unintentional swim, and it's conveniently located. Nobody likes a two-hour drive home with a car full of tired, sunburned, crabby kids after a day of fishing. If you hit up Lake Elmo, you can be home in minutes.
  • Wild Bill Lake. This small mountain lake southwest of Red Lodge is great for kids. It's a very short walk from the parking lot to the fishing areas and I believe it's handicap accessible. Most of the trout in Wild Bill are tiny but will bite on everything. Canned corn or bits of Velveeta cheese seem to work pretty well. We've even had them bite on bare hooks before.
  • Laurel Pond. On the western edge of Laurel you'll find Laurel Pond. When I get skunked on the river, sometimes I'll stop at Laurel Pond on the way home just to catch a redemption fish. This pond is also stocked and fish are fairly easy to catch. Most of the trout are footlong sized +/- and I've had good luck on silver spoon style lures. Worms, powerbait and fly fishing are other methods that seem to have good results. Calm, relatively shallow shore water also makes it fairly safe for kids.
  • Scheels Pond(s). I haven't had a chance to fish the pond directly behind Scheels or the one across Shiloh Road to the west. I've heard they are both stocked. One giant bonus about these locations is that if you need gear, well... Scheels is right there.

If you are a complete newbie to fishing, Montana FW&P's offers this Guide to Fishing for Parents Who Don't Have a Clue, which is full of great advice. Kids 12 and under don't require a fishing license. Have fun and remember to teach your rugrats that littering isn't cool.