MONTANA FLY FISHING - RIVERS NEAR MISSOULA
These are the rivers around Missoula, Montana that offer the some of the finest dry fly fishing annually every year. My home water is the Bitterroot River, south of Missoula.
THE CLARK FORK RIVER
There's a different critter that lives in the Clark Fork River. If you managed to tie a 16-inch Clark Fork rainbow to the tail of an 18-inch trout from another piece of water, the Clarkie would drag it around, no contest. This is a big, flat Montana Fly Fishing River that is dominated by hot rainbows. The insect population is so strong here that trout constantly feed on top. The Clark Fork is Missoula's purest dry-fly fishery that is punctuated by the massive back eddy fishing combined with long flats of single and double gulpers moving through the clockwork hatches.
You won't see all the nook-and-cranny fishing of the Bitterroot here - the sheer size of the water allows you to see those fish from way off. A day on the Clark Fork is full of sipping heads and screaming runs. It's the breakoffs and jumps survived that make her special.
Lobotomy Hatches: There are many other hatches that move all kinds of fish, but these three seem to make the trout go brain dead and drunk on bugs on the Clark Fork:
- Caddis (June-July): Millions of these size 14-18 bugs literally cloud the water, the air, your nose, and trout bellies.
- Tricos (August-September): Another blanket hatch of size 18-22 black mayflies. When the spinner fall happens pods of 20-50 show up to eat.
- Mahoganies (September-October): This is the last big bug of the year and the fish know it. It's tough for them to resist an easy meal when the bleak winter season is coming soon.
THE BITTERROOT RIVER
Lewis and Clark once fished in the Bitterroot River. This is the water I grew up on. Some call her moody, others dynamic. I call her classically enchanting. A western freestone river that seems to meander through all of the water clichés that fill our sport. The fish on the Bitterroot are exactly where they're supposed to be: rising off the back of a fallen log, hiding under deep cut banks, or moving from the dark holes into the skinny riffles in a hatch. The Bitterroot is also one of the greatest places in the world for stalking tough trout in the 21"-25" range. The river can give you her guts and tie you in knots on the very same afternoon.
Lobotomy Hatches: These are the three principal hatches you'll find on the Bitterroot River:
- Skwalas (March-April): This is the first big bug hatch of the year. The fish are coming off the winter fast and are looking for meat.
- Green Drakes (June-July): The fish have been treading the heavy water and dirt of runoff, and are on the feed. A size 10 monster mayfly is too much to resist.
- Hoppers (August-September): No fish can resist a size 6 hopper slapped down tight to the bank.
THE BLACKFOOT RIVER
The Blackfoot River is a powerful western Montana river. She cuts through canyons and pours over massive rock shelves into the nothingness of bottomless pools. The fish here are opportunistic feeders that hide in the rock gardens and the darkness of the deep. On the 'Foot, you feel tapped into the Montana of old. One of the the reasons you come to the Blackfoot is to cement a size-4 dry fly to a bathtub of water just long enough for a trout to come out of the melee and eat. As the boat screams down the chute so does your reel, and you pray he'll stay on long enough so you can eddy up and land him. Montana fly fishing on the Blackfoot River is very much a time warp that reminds us of what fishing was like many years ago.
Lobotomy Hatches: The big three hatches on the Blackfoot River:
- Salmonfly (June-July): No other hatch gets them going like this one. Fish you only see once a year show up to feed on top. A size-4 orange cigar butt is too much to resist when the real thing is crashing all over the water.
- Golden Stones (July): Another big meal. Doesn't have quite the same power as salmonflies, but still pretty impressive for numbers of fish.
- Fall Streamer Fishing: The feeding time is getting short and winter is closing in; a size-2 double bunny would go a long way in a big brownie's diet.
Located in the Lolo National Forest, Rock Creek flows north to where it joins the Clark Fork River about 20 miles east of Missoula. If you could wrap up all the ideal ingredients of a freestone stream into one Montana fly fishing trip - diversity of hatches, pristine water, dense trout populations, and old time Montana scenery - you would end up creating Rock Creek. The whole Rock Creek Valley is laden with life from the Moose and Bighorn Sheep to the Salmonflies and the trout that eat them. This is a trip that an angler should do at least once in their lifetime. This is a special fishery that just three outfitters in the world have permits to float. We have only 50 launches a year on the Creek so if you are interested please let us know early.
Lobotomy Hatches: These are the hatches that cause trout to go nuts out at Rock Creek:
- Skwalas and Grey Drakes (April - May): This is a sneaky hatch that only a few anglers chase on the Creek. You'll have the river to yourself along with a bunch of very hungry Montana trout searching for those olive stoneflies and the smoky wings of big mayflies.
- Salmonflies and Goldens (May - June): This is it - Primetime! Rock Creek is a stonefly making machine, and when they come it is mini helicopters crashing the water and forcing trout to a feast on top. There is really no experience like this in the West that we know of.
THE MISSOURI RIVER
The Missouri River is basically the world's biggest spring creek with all the great quirks that come in that package. It is an absolute bug factory and if you are into headhunting Trico and Olive sippers this river is the undisputed king. Mayflies and Caddis are the two staples here, and their numbers are shocking when they hatch. The Missouri is a river unto its own and is distinct from the Freestone rivers of Missoula. It is bracketed by sheer canyon walls that open up and wind through wide hayfields (HOPPERS!). The lower river breaks out of the remnants of the Rocky Mountain front to spill out into the Eastern Montana plains. Here the experienced angler can test his mettle with dry flies in the skinny flats on trophy fish and the beginner is treated to a river that is populated with almost 4000 fish per mile. The heart of the Missouri is rooted in the excitement of every cast not knowing what may come out of a skinny spilling weed patch to inhale a fly.
Lobotomy Hatches: There are many hatches that move all kinds of fish, but these three seem to make the trout go brain dead and drunk on bugs.
- PMDs/Caddis/Tricos (Mid June - July): This is bug soup and the weeds are in perfect shape. There is no shortage of catching opportunities and the PMD pods are up during the day with the caddis peak at dark shocking. If you have never seen the spinning spires of the Trico hatch on this river from the HIGHWAY, then mid and late July is the ticket.
- Hoppers (July - Mid September): At no other time will you be around as many 20 inch fish looking for a Hopper, than on the Missouri during primetime. Our favorite times are the last two weeks of July and the first week of August - really a world class timeframe!
- Blue Wing Olives and Streamers (September - October): They are smart by now, but the Blue Wing Olive hatch load is shocking and on clockwork. This is the pinnacle of the little fly game, plus if you like to rip the big junk a two foot brown trout looking to get ready for the winter is a distinct possibility every day.
Due to our Riverside Lodging being almost booked out - CJO is now offering offering two great non-riverside lodging packages. Here's the deal - Fishing is with the Classic Journey Outfitters staff guides, lodging is with our overflow partner hotel. They do a nice job of rooms, breakfasts, and free shuttles to airport. No rental car needed. These packages are easy, economical, and fishing focused.
3 nights/2 days guided fly Fishing – ONLY $565 per angler
4 nights/3 days guided fly Fishing - ONLY $825 per angler
We have great water for the summer, so grab your wading sandals, a fly rod, and come with us to feed wild Montana Trout 2010’s summer dry flies!
2011 Booking News
2011 Bookings Dates are now available.