The Blackfoot River

Blackfoot River Fly Fishing  – A River Runs Through It

Montana’s Blackfoot River starts deep in the Bob Marshall wilderness with the clear cold North Fork spilling over the Ovando Montana Plain to mix with the warmer Mainstem River coming out of the North near Lincoln Montana.  When those rivers meet at the River Junction boat ramp they make the water that drove Norman Maclain to write the Novel “A River Runs Through it.” From that powerful cauldron the Blackfoot River runs to the southwest for 60 miles until it meets the Clark Fork River near Missoula Montana and creates the Lower Clark Fork River.

The Blackfoot River is a gin clear cold river that like the Upper Bitterroot River is a native West Slope Cutthroat factory. It is also home of the endangered Lake Ponderay bull trout. These Bulls are the largest fish, not a trout but actually a char, in the state of Montana. The top end of the species are pushing 40 inches and weigh well over 15 lbs. They are extremely rare with an estimated population of adults over 30 inches at only 350 in our area. We are restricted from targeting them, but many a fly fishing angler has had his streamer rod ripped out of his hand fly fishing for brown trout by a massive bull or jarred by hooked west slop cutthroat sucked off the end of his line by a Blackfoot gator. Bull Trout are important not because of the random fly fishing angler’s hookup, rather they represent old Montana before rainbows and browns were introduced in the early 20th century. Before white settlers came it was the Cutthroat and Bull Trout on the Blackfoot River playing out their eternal struggle. That we still have that undertow playing out under our fly fishing guide boats is valuable beyond description. The Blackfoot River is old time Montana fly fishing spilling over immoveable granite shelves and deep blue pools. Not much has changed here over the centuries.

Blackfoot River Fly Fishing – The Upper 12 miles

The Box Canyon on the Blackfoot is the Hallmark card float trip and holds the biggest density of the largest browns, rainbows, and cutthroats in the system. As good as the fishing is in the “Canyon” as we call it, the scenery is without peer. Beginning in July we like this trip as a Dawn Patrol itinerary with the start times earlier than our other rivers and chasing the sunrise. I would tell you we do this to take advantage of the top end predator fish that feed the best when the light is off the water, but half of the truth is the sunrise in the Canyon is worth more than a 20 inch rainbow. I recommend any day you can put a wading boot in the Blackfoot River on a guided fly fishing float trip you first pack your camera and then fishing gear.

blackfoot-river-fly-fishing

Blackfoot River Fly Fishing – The Lower 48

The Lower River oscillates between Pondersoa Pine lined banks and true Whitewater chutes near Round Up rapids. The canyon walls of the upper Blackfoot fall back and giant granite promontories take over between long willow lined banks. The fishing is rooted in attractor dry/dropper style angling focused on riffle lines, large back eddies, and boulder lined pocket water.

A Missoula Montana Fly Fishing Guide’s Perspective on Blackfoot River Hatches – Big Flies, Big Trout, Big Smiles

June on Blackfoot River– Salmonflies, Golden Stones, Green Drakes

Some of the Biggest trout that will come to the dry fly will happen in June on the Blackfoot River in June. Salmonflies hatch sometime in June depending on flows and temperature. It is closely watched by the Missoula Fly fishing guide community, because we all know that hitting the hatch will give us one of the top guided Montana fly fishing days of the season. June fly fishing on the Blackfoot river is also blessed with great hatches of Golden Stones and Green Drakes. June has plentiful big bug options for the fly angler looking to combine scenery with deep in the Rocky Mountains scenery.

 

Blackfoot River Montana

July – August on Blackfoot River- Attractors, Mayflies, Dawn Fly Fishing Patrol

For so many reasons we love to start our guided Blackfoot River fly fishing trips earlier in the Mid Summer. While the light is off the water the big fish on the Blackfoot are more confident in taking the streamer or dry fly. That angling success coupled with sunrises streaking through the pines and canyon walls make mornings on the Blackfoot River special. The Blackfoot River’s strength is its dry fly action. We can count on each day fish coming to the fly regardless of angling skill set. We love to start beginning fly fishing anglers on a guided trip on the Blackfoot River. We know they are going to have plenty of opportunities to learn and catch Montana trout. Mainly the fly fishing here is with attractor/dropper rigs prospecting style, but for the advanced fly fishing angler the streamer fishing can be a highlight of a guided Missoula fly fishing trip. We also have a great push of PMDs and Caddis lasting all summer and on the right day the angler with the smallest fly catches the biggest fish.

Montana Weather – Highs in the 70s, Lows in the 40s

September – October on Blackfoot River– Streamers, Olives, October Caddis

The Blackfoot River continues into the Fall as a prospector style fishery. As we head into October Blue Wing Olives start to play a important roles and can produce reliable pods of rising trout. The emergence of October Caddis starts to get our fall fish locked into a plentiful food item and keeps the big dry fly bite going. The Blackfoot River has an outstanding forage base for our top end predator trout so the streamer angler is always in the game.

Montana Weather – Highs in the 60s, Lows in the 30s

Blackfoot River Fly Fishing Brown Trout

Missoula Montana Fly Fishing Guide on Blackfoot River Conclusion – Old Time Montana Fly Fishing

For me as a Missoula Fly Fishing guide the Blackfoot has always been quirky. It produces well for beginner anglers that need the action to learn and succeed. Generally rivers that do the smaller trout action game struggle to keep the advanced angler interested, but the Blackfoot has the undercurrent of streamer fishing to true trophies. Plus, the upper 12 miles is as a good as big fish section as we have in the Montana Fly Fishing arena. There are a great deal of layers to the Blackfoot River, but at its heart is its deep to connection to Old time Montana Fly Fishing. I think Norman Maclean would write another novel if he fished it today.