The Clark Fork River, located in Western Montana, is a beautiful fishery for rainbow, brown, cutthroat, and endangered bull trout. Although mining has had detrimental effects in the past, this large river has recovered and remains a quality fishery with the help of the surrounding communities.
Thirty years ago, fish populations were almost nonexistent but are now over a thousand fish per mile in many areas. The trout average around 15 inches, but fish to twenty inches are fairly common with the occasional over that “trophy” mark. Check the Special Fishing Regulations before venturing to the river.
Starting at the confluence of Warm Springs Creek and Silver Bow Creek near Anaconda, the Clark Fork makes its way for approximately 275 miles northwest before entering Idaho and eventually feeding Pend Oreille Lake (Idaho’s largest lake).
It might seem like I’m giving away some of the secrets of Montana, but I truly believe in sharing the best opportunities with other fly fishers. I’m going to point out some of the best spots starting closer to the headwaters and moving down stream
Kohrs Bend – Meadows and Meandering
Access is somewhat limited in the headwater’s areas. A unique spot is just north of Deer Lodge is Kohrs Bend. This spot can provide a couple hours of fishing. I park at the bend and then walk-up stream to the gate and fish back. As always be respectful of private property. The river here is warmer due to the slow water and limited spring water. Think Bass!
Bearmouth BLM Access – A Day of Wading
As the Clark Fork picks up more water it tends to cool. This spot allows for more than a couple hours of fishing. Pack a lunch along with a variety of flies. The river is easily wadable so try to read the fishiest spots LINK and wade for the best cast and presentation LINK
With later in the year this area of the river gets those flowing grasses that are great for scud patterns and san juan worms.
You’ll get a mix of warm and cold-water species here depending on air temperatures and season.
Guide Pro Tip: One of the major cold-water creeks that flows into the Clarks Fork is Rock Creek. I’m going highly recommend taking a little road trip south on 102 from I90. About 9 miles south from I90 you’ll get to Dalles Campground, this is the start of many pull-offs that provide access to this creek.
If Montana small stream wading in an area surrounded with mountains and the chance of seeing moose, bighorn and bear is what you love, Rock Creek is the place.
Favorite flies for Rock Creek include caddis, PMDs and Golden Stones.
Kona Bridge Access
Below Milltown Dam the river flows through the large city of Missoula on its way to the Idaho border. The best fishing in this stretch is found from the dam to Thompson Falls. Within this beautiful stretch of landscape, you will find less pockets and “sweet” water then in the upper stretch of river.
Don’t be fooled because there is a good number of trout to be found in this stretch although the makeup of the river may depict otherwise. This is big water here and finding feeding fish can at times be difficult without a boat. The small number of riffles, runs, and pockets makes reading the water more difficult. Quality rainbow trout are found in good numbers, however.
Hiring a guide is a great choice although wade fishing is possible in much of this stretch. An area of heavy rapids is found below Alberton which can be dangerous for rafts and drift boats.
Harper Bridge and Petty Creek Road Boat Launch
A poplars takeout spots for drift boats and rafts. Both of these spots can provide an hour or so of quick fishing. Plus, if you time your visit correct, you can get some “insider intel” from the guides floating these stretches.
Natural Pier Access
One of the unique fishing spots is Natural Pier. Caution is required if you’re stepping into the water, this spot is deep and strong. The rapids provide a holding spot for fish traveling up river.
Hike downstream along highway 90 for 200 yards and you’ll find boulders with riffles. This spot works for streamers and dries.
Favorite Flies for the Clark Fork
Dry fly fishing is usually exceptional from Spring to Fall. June through October is the peak for dry fly fishing. Salmon flies, Golden Stones, and Olive Stones make up the population of stoneflies.
The most prolific mayfly hatches include Olives, Pale Morning Duns, Gray Drakes, Green Drakes, Mahogany Duns, and Tricos. Caddis are extremely important throughout the season along with terrestrials during the late summer and early fall.
Streamers and nymphs are extremely productive and can produce at any time of year. Matukas, Woolly Buggers and Bitch Creeks are among some of the favorites.
Ventures Fly Co. 40 Fly Assortment Has a Great Selection of Flies
This assortment has most of the flies needed lay the foundation for an effective fly box. the most common dries, nymphs and streamers. Check out the on water video review on YouTube – HERE
Hatch Chart for the Clark Fork
|Fly Name||Size||Start Date||End Date|
|Midge||22||All Year||All Year|
|Caddis||16||March 15||September 15|
|BWO||18||April and May||September and October|
|Salmon Fly||6||May 15||July 1|
|Yellow Sally||14||June 15||August 15|
|PMD||16||June 15||August 15|
|Terrestrials||6||July 15||September 1|
|Trico||22||August 15||September 1|
Annual Stream Flow for Clark Fork
It’s always best to check the average stream flows against the current flow. Obviously, you want to avoid extremes whether high of low. Click on the Image below for a REAL TIME FLOW DATA.
Best Fly Rod Setup for the Clark Fork
Montana winds and big water mean using a slightly heavier fly rod setup. You should be thinking about a 6 to 7 weight fly rod. This size is going to allow you to cast some bigger flies and a heavier fly line to combat the wind.
You can also nymph fish effectively with this setup. With the varying depths and current speeds don’t forget to vary your depths and weight. If you’re looking for a recommendation -> get the Sage Foundation Combo. It’s a combo that just works.
Looking for the perfect fly rod combo for the Clark Fork?
The Sage Foundation Fly Rod Combo comes with everything minus flies. The rod in made in the U.S.A. and comes with the typically lifetime warranty. The fast action allows you to cast in the windy conditions found along the Colorado. Even better – when your buddies see you casting a Sage you’ll get the jealousy looks.
Guides and Fly Shops for the Clark Fork
- Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop in Missoula is a full-service shop. With the Clark Fork approximately 300 yards from the shop you could say the Clark Fork is their “Home Water” Providing everything from flies, gear, guides and even lodging. Check out the multi-day packages. Missoula has a lot of water beyond the Clark Fork to fish.
- Missoulian Fly Shop is the oldest fly shop in Missoula. Speaking from experience fly shops that have survived the ups and downs of the last 15 years have a solid reputation. Dedicated to guiding the local rivers including the Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Missouri.
One More Cast
The Clark Fork is a diverse river with great fishing opportunities. There are also many other first-class fisheries in the area to create options and diversity. If you are coming to the Clark Fork River the nearest commercial airports are in Missoula and Butte. The Clark Fork is a beautiful river and can be rewarding for anglers of all skill levels.
Montana is a paradise for the fly fisher. If you want more check out my HUGE guide -> Where to Fly Fish in Montana
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