The Clark Fork River

Montana Fly Fishing on the Clark Fork River – Healing Montana’s Big River, Voracious Brown Trout, Big Wild Rainbow Trout

All conversations about the Clark Fork River start in the early 20th century when the copper mines in Anaconda Montana and Butte Montana used the Upper Clark Fork River as a dumping ground for toxic mining waste . In 1910 the largest flood in history displaced tons upon tons of toxic heavy metal sediment throughout the Clark Fork River ushering in a dark time.

Montana started to take the environmental high ground and began source cleanup in the 1980s with the work in Warm Springs Montana, but the sweeping paradigm change gained momentum with a 150 million dollar removal of the Milltown down and currently carries the inertia further in recovery of the Clark Fork River’s spawning and rearing tributaries. This is man’s environmental rebirth at its finest and while this Montana river has always fished well due to its incredible durability the explosion of populations of wild Clark Fork River trout and insects has been nothing short of awe inspiring.

The Clark Fork River’s Path

One hundred and sixty miles of Montana Trout Water. 160 Miles of Wild Montana Trout! The Headwaters of the Clark Fork River start where Warm Springs Creek meets Silverbow Creek near Anaconda Montana 90 miles upstream from Missoula Montana. It flows to the West and gathers the rich waters of the Rock Creek, Blackfoot River, and Bitterroot River. It begins as a wade fly fishing only size river in the upper reaches but quickly turns into a meandering brown trout fishery that presents a tight arena of willows, meadows, and deep undercut banks floated primarily by our rafts on guided float trips. By the time it gets to Missoula Montana it has gathered all its water and becomes a large western river with slow gliding currents populated by primarily adult rainbows. It is an intimate classic brown trout stream with all its quirks of loving the streamer and the hopper in its upper reaches . At her full breadth downstream of Missoula Montana she becomes a glossy wide rainbow trout fishery that lives on Mayflies, Caddis, and Hoppers.

Clark Fork River Dry Fly Hatches – A Missoula Fly Fishing Guide’s Perspective

April – May : Skwalas, March Browns, Blue Wing Olives

The Lower Clark fork has the most dense Spring hatch population in our area, but it doesn’t turn on until early in April. If our water sits right this will be some of the easiest guided dry fly fishing of the whole season.

Weather : Highs in the 50-60s, lows in the 30s

May and June – Mother’s Day Caddis and Early Summer Caddis

The heart of this river’s hatch cycle is Caddis of all species. We see more tertiary caddis hatches here than any of our water. It is the last river to drop into shape and warm, so some Missoula fly fishing guide seasons we constantly put float trips on the Clark Fork river in early summer, and other Missoula fly fishing guide seasons we wait until after the 4th of July.

Weather :Highs 60s-70s, lows in the 40s

July – Golden Stones, Pale Morning Duns, Caddis

Giant Golden Stones are strongest in the Lower Clark Fork River but now we will get the right water conditions for Pale Morning Duns and Caddis in the mornings and evenings. This change to mid sized hatches produces more true rising fish pods and rewards the longer caster that likes to stalk big fish on rhythm to dries.

Weather: Highs 70s-80s, lows in the 50s

August – Tricos, Hoppers, Streamers

Montana’s Clark Fork river is rich in windswept grass banks so Hopper fishing is incredibly reliable in both the Upper and Lower River. Since water mitigation was completed with Milltown Dam coming out in 2008 the Trico hatch has charged back to cloud like proportions and will get even the most shy high sun brown trout to sip in the mornings. August in Montana also marks the beginning of the pre-spawn brown trout bite for the in the Upper River. It can be a tough choice on a Missoula guided fly fishing trip morning – Brown Trout on Streamers and Hoppers in the Upper River or Adult Rainbow trout sipping tricos in the lower river. But our fly fishing guides and guests bare the strain well.

Weather: Highs 70s-80s, lows in the 50s

September – October – Mahoganies, Blue Wing Olives, Streamers

The Daytime Mayflies pile back in across the drainage providing afternoon pods up on Mid Sized dries in the Lower River. We also enjoy the peak of the Streamer bite as the fever pitch of the Brown Trout spawn kicks in. The Clark Fork River could be the best float trip in Montana in Fall – Peak Autumn paintbrushes, active brown trout, elk bugling on the River bottoms, and rainbows on the rise.

Weather: Highs 60s-70s, lows in the 40s

Clark Fork River Fly Fishing Guide Conclusion – Return to Fly Fishing Greatness

The Clark Fork has always been great despite its checkered history. We have turned the corner as a society to caring about it enough to invest in its rebirth. Our Montana Fly Fishing Lodge is on the banks of the Lower Clark Fork because it is here we see man and river at their best together. The trajectory is only on upward on this Montana river as she heals from past abuse. She is still a sleeping giant in the annals of fly fishing, but that is rapidly changing as the trout and insect populations return to lost fly fishing glory. The pods in home pool at our Montana Fly Fishing Lodge have returned to rise just 50 yards from out back deck over the Clark Fork. The Clark Fork Rivers’s rise continues to amaze us.

Some of my finest moments as a fishing guide have happened on the Clark ForkRiver. It is a quiet wildlife ridden fly fishing arena that constantly calls to the angler with the throbs of rebirth.

– Joe Cummings, Montana Outfitter, Missoula River Lodge