James Marsh Fly fishing Clarke Fork River Montana
Clarke Fork River Montana
Copyright 2016 James Marsh
Fly Fishing On The Clark Fork River In
Montana
This 327 mile long river starts in the Highlands (Silver
Bow) Mountains near Anaconda. Silver Bow and Warm
Springs creeks form the river. Most of the river is
bordered by Interstate 90. Its headwaters are bordered
by the Garnet Mountain Range and the Flint Creek
Mountain Range, and flows through the Deer Lodge
Valley. The river is small until it picks up the water from
the Blackfoot River.

Mining has taken its toll on the river and for its first
many miles, the river has few trees and little vegetation
along its banks. This helps control muddy runoff from
surrounding land. During the past several years, there
has been a tremendous improvement in the quality of
the water and the fishing. Many areas of the river has
good populations of trout.

Downstream of the Little Blackfoot River confluence,
the river flows through a narrow canyon bordered
mostly by Interstate 90 and a railroad. Below that
section, the river has some streamside cover of trees
and bushes.  

There is another 25 mile long canyon section called
the Bearmouth Canyon. From the canyon exit, the river
slows down for a ways, picks up water from the
Blackfoot River and flows into Milltown Reservoir. The
river flows through the town of Missoula where fishing
is good, especially from a drift boat.

On the west side of Missoula, it picks up more water
from the Bitterroot River and becomes a big river.
Fishing continues to be good down to the next
reservoir. Below the Flathead River confluence, the
water mostly supports only brown trout and the fishing
becomes less productive.
Type of Stream
Freestone/Tailwater

Species
Brown Trout
Rainbow Trout
Cutthroat Trout
Bull Trout (Few)
(Wild Trout)

Size
Large

Location
Southwestern Montana

Nearest Towns
Missoula

Season
3rd Sat. May - Nov 30th (Open
year-round some areas)

Special Regulations
Clark Fork Special Regulations

Access:
Fair

Non-Resident License
State of Montana

Weather
National Weather Service Link

Fly Fishing Gear and Trout Flies

Stream Flow Data:
Real Time USGS Data (Deer Lodge)
Real Time USGS Data (Bonner)
Real Time USGS Data (below
Missoula)
Clark Fork River,
Montana
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Seasons:                 
Fly fishing the Clark Fork River is good
from March through November.
Spring:
Springtime is the best time to fish the river
except when runoff from its many tributary
streams affects the clarity.
Summer:
The water can get warm in some areas but
it is cooled by many of the streams that
flow into it.
Clark Fork River Fly Fishing Guide:
The Clark Fork is more of a streamer and nymph
stream than it is a dry fly river. Of course trout can be
caught on dry flies, especially during a hatch, but the
most effective way to fish is usually with a nymph.
There are plenty of sculpin and baitfish of several
types and streamer fishing is usually very good.

The river can be very deceptive. In many areas it
looks more like a large drainage ditch than it does a
trout stream. You may not see the typical runs, riffles
and pools you would normally see in a trout stream.
The Clark Fork has many sections of water that are
difficult to read or determine where the trout may be
holding or feeding. Some sections look rather ugly,
with little vegetation along the banks and few objects,
rocks, boulders, etc., in the water to create pockets.
Finding trout in these sections can be difficult and
often requires the trail and error approach. Just don't
let that type of water fool you. What looks like fishless
water may hold some large rainbow and brown trout.
This river has some very nice size trout.
Some sections of the river has brown trout
that have been caught approaching thirty
inches. Rainbows exceeding twenty inches
are not uncommon. Often these trout are
found in locations in the river that are almost
featureless.

You can wade the upper parts of the Clark
Fork above the confluence of the Blackfoot
River fairly easy in most places. That isn't
necessarily true below the Blackfoot River
confluence. There are many places the river
is too deep to wade. Strong currents can also
be a problem.

The biggest thing you must pay attention to is
the streams that feed the river. Any one of
them can drastically affect its water clarity
and flow. For example, heavy thunderstorms
in the headwaters of Rock Creek can create
a lot of muddy water below its confluence with
the Clark Fork. This is true of any of the
other major streams that feed the river
including Flint Creek, the Little Blackfoot,
Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River, the Flat
Head River and other smaller streams.
Guide, continued:
Getting good information on the flows and
right direction. Each of the dams can also
greatly influence the flow of the river.

Except for the fast water in the canyon
sections, the Clark Fork River is made up
of long, slow runs, and what the locals call
scum lines. Scum lines are a lines or
streaks of foam and bubbles that are
common where there are current seams.
These current seams carry most of the
food the trout eat downstream on the
surface and is where most dry fly action is
going to take place. It is also where you
can catch trout on streamers worked
beneath the scum lines. The eddies are
always good places to fish.

Undercut banks are another likely location
for brown trout. You will also find an
occasional deadfall that will hold the
browns.
Clark Fork River Hatches and Trout
Flies:
Our information on aquatic insects is based
on our stream samples of larvae and nymphs,
not guess work. We base fly suggestions on
imitating the most plentiful and most available
insects and other foods at the particular time
you are fishing. Unlike the generic fly shop
trout flies, we have specific imitations of all
the insects in the Clarke Fork River and in all
stages of life that are applicable to fishing. If
you want to fish better, more realistic trout
flies, have a much higher degree of success,
give us a call.  We not only will help you with
selections, you will learn why, after trying
Perfect Flies, 92% of the thousands of our
customers will use nothing else.
1-800-594-4726

The hatches on the Clark Fork River varies
with the different sections of the river. Some
of the insects are only found in certain types
of water, so keep that in mind. You want find
Trico mayflies in the fast water of the
headwater sections, for example.

The Blue-winged Olives are among the most
important hatches. The BWOs start hatching
about the middle of March. It can last until the
end of April. A second hatch takes place
starting about near the end of September. It
can last until the first of November,
depending on the weather.

Another important mayfly is the Pale Morning
Dun. They hatch starting about the middle of
June and lasting until as late as the first of
August. There is a March Brown hatch that
takes place about the last week of March and
through the month of April but only in the fast
water areas. The only other substantial hatch
of mayflies are the Tricos. These hatch on
the slower, smoother sections of water during
August and September.

Caddisflies can be the most important insects
at times. Spotted Sedges are the most
plentiful species. They start hatching around
the first of July and can last through the
month of August.  There is a Little Black
Caddis hatch, called the Mother's Day Hatch,
that starts in mid April and last through the
month of May, depending on the section.
Hatches, continued:
The big October Caddis hatch from about
the middle of September through
October. There are several other species
of caddisflies in the Clarke Fork River but
they usually don't exist in plentiful
quantities.

Stoneflies are plentiful in most sections of
the Clark Fork. About the first of March
you will find two species of stoneflies on
the Clark Fork River. The Winter
Stoneflies hatch until about the middle of
April. Skwala Stoneflies start abut the
middle of March and last through the
middle of April. The Salmonflies usually
start about the first of June and last
through July, depending on the section of
the river. About the first of June the
Golden Stoneflies start hatching. They
hatch through the month of July,
depending on the section of the river.
Yellow Sallies, or Little Yellow Stoneflies,
hatch from the middle of May all the way
through the middle of August, again,
depending on the section of the river.

Make sure you have a good selection of
streamer flies. The river has plenty of
minnows, baitfish species and sculpin.
Streamers work great early and late in
the day, and when the water is stained
from heavy rains.

Terrestrials become very important
during the months of July, August and
September. Imitations of ants, beetles,
and grasshoppers work great at times.

Midges hatch throughout the year but are
most important during the months of
March and October.

We recommend Perfect Flies. You can
get specific imitations of every aquatic
insect that hatches in the Clark Fork
River. If you haven't done so already, we
hope you will give the flies a chance to
work for you. We feel confident that you
will be more than satisfied with them.
Fall:
This is a good season and the best time
for the brown trout.
Winter:
Although it is possible to catch fish during
the winter in some areas, it isn't usually
very productive. .
Clark Fork River Fly Fishing Report:
11/30/13 Local customer catching a few
trout on our Perfect Fly Cream midge larve
and pupa imitations, size 20. He is fishing
the lower section of the river
mid-afternoons. He hasn't tried the dry
midge pattern yet and called to order
some.  
Clarke Fork River Montana
Clarke Fork River sign
Clarke Fork river Montana
Thumbnails: Click on image to enlarge
Thumbnails: Click on image to enlarge
01/01/13 Stream levels are normal at
2040 cfs at 1.40 ft. The weather is rather
mild for this time of the year: however, we
don't have any reports of fish being
caught.
Fishing Report Updated 12/06/16
(bottom of page)
01/08/13 Still no reports of catches. The
weather conditions should improve some
this coming week.
01/15/14 No reports during the past
week. Stream levels are in good shape
and the weather forecast for the coming
week is very good with no rain or snow.
01/22/14 One customer ordering our
little
winter stonefly nymph reporting he
has spotted some hatching, but he only
fished an hour with no good results.
Conditions should be good for
wintertime fishing this coming week.
01/29/14 We did not receive any reports
this past week. There is some snow in
the forecast but not bad conditions for
mid wintertime fishing.
02/05/14 Very cold weather is in the
forecast for the coming week. We suggest
you wait for better conditions.
02/12/14 Much warmer weather is in the
forecast for the next week with rain and
snow, so conditions will improve.
02/19/14 Our local contact reported that
he fished two days a couple hours each
day but didn't score. The water
temperature is still in the mid thirties.
03/05/14 Much warmer weather this
coming week could provide some fishing
opportunities. There's also some rain and
rain/snow in the forecast.
03/12/14 Our local contact reporting the
water is still very cold and fishing very
slow. The weather has been much warmer.
03/19/14 Still no reports from the Clarke
Fork. The weather is going to be colder
this next week and I guess we will have to
wait a little longer.
03/26/14 Finally, a customer ordering flies
reported he has been fishing the Clark
Fork a day or two a week this past month.
Some days were void of fish and some
days he was rewarded with some larger
size trout. He fishes mostly midges but
ordered
BWO nymphs, emerger, duns and
spinners.
04/09/14 The river is running high and
we have no reports from the past week.
Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (sales@perfectflystore.com)
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.

2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.

3.
Email us (sales@perfectflystore.com)
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them
to you in time for your fly fishing trip.

All orders are shipped free in the
U. S. Orders over $50 are shipped via
Priority Mail.  
04/16/14 The river is down some but
more rain is forecast along with the
warmer weather and levels will probably
remain high.
04/23/14 One customer reported
catching a few trout in the lower section
but the river is currently high and rising.
04/30/14 The stream levels are much
better with warmer weather in the
forecast but with that, more rain and
probably high water levels.
05/07/14 High water levels have
prevented anglers from fishing most
days this past week.
05/14/14 No reports from last week but
the water levels are back near normal
and decent weather is in the forecast.
Let us hear from you.
05/21/14 High water is currently
hampering any efforts to fish the river.
05/28/14 Stream levels are still very high
and will be that way for a few more days.
06/04/14 Stream levels have fell down
to just a little above normal. The water
is much warmer and insects are
hatching. Let us hear from you.
06/11/14 There is still high water with quite
a bit of stain. We did not receive any
reports from anyone fishing this past week.
06/18/14 The river is warming up some
and clearing with just barely fishable
conditions. Levels are in good shape but
no reports from any anglers catching trout.
07/10/14 The water levels are finally down
in the lower sections but still high in others.
Keep a check on them. Otherwise, the
river is getting into great shape with lots of
insects hatching.
07/23/14 The river has really come into
good shape the last two weeks and trout
are being caught from the headwaters to
the lower sections.
07/30/14 One customer that lives near the
river reported catching several nice
rainbows this past week. Lot of hatches are
taking place.
08/13/14 The Clarke Fork got off to a slow
start this year but is full stream ahead at this
time. Stream levels are okay, but rain is in
the forecast.
09/03/14 Fishing was great until the stream
levels rose recently. Hopefully, they will be
back down soon.
09/24/14 This is the best shape the river has
been in all year. Lots of trout are being
caught, mostly by local anglers.
10/08/14 One customer reported catching
several large brown trout using our
Brown
Sculpin.
10/15/14 More good report cam in this past
week. The tailwater is fishing good as well as
the upper sections of the river.
10/22/14 No reports came in from last week
but conditions remain good.
10/29/14 A customer reported catching
some nice brown trout in the lower end
of the river on our Sculpin flies.
11/05/14 No reports from last week but
a decent forecast ahead.
11/30/14 Fishing season closed in some
areas but open for catch and release,
year-round in others. See Montana fishing
regulations.
12/04/14 No reports but conditions are back
in decent shape with good winter weather.
Let us hear from you.
12/12/14 One good report of browns being
caught on our
Brown Sculpin. Two were over
18 inches. Wouldn't give exact location but a
far downstream section.
12/24/14 No reports from the past week.
Colder weather for the coming week.
12/31/14 Happy new year. No reports.
01/14/15 We have only received one report
for the past two weeks or more. Let us hear
from you. Some areas are open to catch and
release.
01/21/15 No reports from the past week
but conditions are pretty good.
01/28/15 Still no reports but stream levels
and the weather outlook is as good as it
gets in the winter months.
02/02/15 Finally, a report from a loyal local
customer. He reports good stream levels,
decent weather and catching six trout in
three hours.
02/09/15 Same customer as above is
continuing to catch trout. He is using our
Brown Sculpin streamer and Midges - Red or
Blood larva and pupa.
02/17/15 We didn't receive any reports
from anyone fishing but conditions remain
fairly good for wintertime fishing.
03/03/15 Two good reports from the past
week. Good stream levels and warmer
weather.
Midges, cream larva and pupa
were the tickets.
03/10/15 Much better conditions this coming
week. Good stream levels and much warmer
weather are expected. Let us hear from you.
03/17/15 One good report from a regular
customer who caught several trout on
our White Belly Sculpin.
03/24/15 Stream levels have been running
high and the water off color.
03/31/15 High water levels and no reports
04/26/15 The river is high and dingy. No
reports for the past two weeks.
05/19/15 BWOs, March Browns and Little
Black caddis are hatching but stream levels
are currently high.
05/26/15 Stream levels vary from the
headwaters to below Missoula but are
mostly still high. No reports from anyone
this past week.
06/09/15 Still in runoff but falling.
07/07/15 Runoff is over and the river back
in good shape. There are lots of hatches
taking place, so email or call us for an fly list.
08/04/15 For the first time in a long time,
trout are being caught from the headwaters
to the Flathead River confluence.
08/11/15 You can catch trout just about
anywhere you choose to fish the many miles
of the Clark Fork. This week will be warmer.
08/18/15 Lower water levels and hot weather
has slowed the "catching" in some areas but
much cooler weather is going to help.
08/25/15 The middle to upper sections are in
better shape. Low water levels and warming
up some but still good conditions.
09/01/15 The weather is cooling off and that
will help the warm water and week growth.
The section near the Bitterroot confluence
is fishing best right now.
09/08/15 The cooler weather didn't last long,
Stream levels are fine and some hatches still
taking place with lots of terrestrials.
09/15/15 The river is in good shape now but
could be high in the next day or two. It is
raining and will continue through Friday.
Map of Clark Fork River
09/29/15 All in all, the Clark Fork is producing
some nice trout, especially the pre-spawn
brown trout. October Caddis are hatching.
10/13/15 The river is in as good of shape as it
has been all year. BWOs, and October caddis
are hatching. Brown trout are spawning. Now is
a great time to catch a trophy.
10/20/15 Good stream levels exist throughout
the river's length. Some big browns are being
caught on our Brown sculpin streamers.
11/03/15 Lots of big brown trout were being
caught but the weather is changing big time.
Blue-winged olives and midges will be the key
insects to imitate for the next few weeks.
11/10/15 Stream levels are good most areas.
The weather still has rain and snow but less
and fishing should be good this coming week.
11/17/15 Conditions are not bad on the lower
end of the river. Yes, it will be snowing until the
weekend, then clear. BWOs and Midges.
11/24/15 You should be able to catch trout in
the tailwater section of the river. The storm
should clear out by Thanksgiving day.
12/01/15 All the winter storm warnings are over
and it is clear and colder. Good weather and
good stream levels. Fish midges in tandem with
the larva the bottom fly and the pupa up a foot.
12/08/15 This is a big river and a lot depends
on where you fish. The lowest sections offer
the best opportunity. We added Winter
Stoneflies to the list, but midges are still king.
12/22/15 The tailwater is about the only place
we can recommend you fish at this time. The
bottom discharge is warmer than any other
water. Snow through Friday, then clearing.
12/29/15 The water temperature in the
freestone sections ranges from near freezing
to 37 degrees. Fish the tailwater. It has 40
degree water from the bottom discharge.
01/05/15 There were some trout caught in the
tailwater this past week. Winter stonefly nymphs
and midges are what you need to imitate.
01/13/15 We get few report at this time of year
and only locals fish. They are reluctant to
report good catches. They rather have the
water to themselves.
01/19/16 We are told trout are being caught
on midges in the tailwater. The discharges are
fine now, but be sure to check them.
02/02/16 The tailwater near Missoula is the
only section warm enough to fish. Fish near
the dam as it is legal for the warmest water.
02/23/15 The nice warm weather has melted a
lot of snow in the watershed and has the
water stained and very cold in most sections.
The tailwater is still the best option.
03/01/16 The weather is unseasonably warm
and with that comes rain and melting snow.
The water is stained most places. Again, the
tailwater near Missoula is the best option.
03/15/16 Two good reports from customers
fishing the tailwater near Missoula came in this
past week. Red (blood) midges were used with
the larva and pupa in tandem.
03/29/16 The tailwater is continuing to
produce some nice trout for the locals. The
discharges are low and the weather nice and
warm. Midges and little BWOs are hatching.
04/05/16 The discharges and stream levels at
the tailwater are in good shape and anglers are
catching some nice trout on midges.
04/26/16 You can expect high discharges at
the tailwaters and high levels in all the
freestone sections, with dingy water all week.
05/17/16 The tailwater below Missoula is in
good shape and the freestone a little high in
most places but okay to fish. Lots of hatches
are taking place and customers catching trout.
05/24/16 The tailwater discharges at Missoula
are high and the upper freestone sections
mostly all blown out from Spring runoff.
06/14/16 The stream levels are down and
most sections can be fished. Many areas are
still highly stained. The runoff isn't over, just
slowed down. Lets hope it ends early though.
06/21/16 The stream levels are down in all
sections of the river and the water really
clearing up. Lots of hatches are starting up.
06/28/16 Most all the river is cleared up and
down with wading possible in many sections.
Lots of insects are hatching. Good conditiions.
07/05/16 Customers are reporting good fishing
conditions in two of the sections. The entire
river is down and in good shape with lots of
insects hatching.
07/12/16 The headwater and middle section
are in good shape flowing at a normal level.
The lower tailwaters currently have good levels.
Anglers are catching trout in all sections.
07/26/16 The tailwaters are fine. The upper
and some parts of the middle freestone are
low, but okay. The lower freestone river is
too warm. There is some rain on the way.
08/02/16 Most of the freestone section of the
river is under Hoot Owl restrictions. This
means no fishing after 2:00 PM.
08/09/16 Hoot Owl restrictions are from from
the mouth of Warm Springs Creek near
Warm Springs to Rock Creek.
08/16/16 Hoot Owl restrictions are still in
place. Fish Sculpin streamers in the early
mornings.
08/23/16 Hoot Owl restrictions exist from Flint
Creek to the mouth of Warm Springs Creek
near Warm Springs. Fish streamers in the
morning. Rock Creek to Flint creek is open.
The tailwater at Missoula is in good shape.
09/13/16 All restrictions have been removed
and conditions are back good in all sections
of the river.
09/20/16 The stream is a little low now, but
should start rising soon. It is raining and will
continue off and on through Saturday. October
caddis and Mahogany duns are hatching.
09/27/16 The river is a little low in most
sections but good condition otherwise. There
are October Caddis most sections and lots of
BWOs and Mahogany duns.
10/04/16 The river is getting near normal
level for this time of the season. It is also
getting much cooler and water temperatures
are dropping. Good conditions exist.
10/12/16 The river is in good shape
throughout. BWOs are hatching very good.
Some October Caddis and Mahogany duns
are in the lower river. Lots of big browns are
being caught on our Sculpin streamers.
10/18/16 Stream levels vary depending on
the section. Most can be waded and
otherwise good shape. It is falling. Great
BWO hatches are taking place.
10/25/16 Some sections are on the rise and
some low. There are some big brown
pre-spawn trout being caught.
11/01/16 Excellent conditions exist in all
sections of the freestone and tailwaters.
Blue-winged olives are hatching.
11/08/16 Stream levels are down some but still
high and falling with clear weather ahead. Good
conditions exist with Blue-winged olives hatching
11/15/16 Stream levels are back up and much
colder. The tailwater is the best option
provided the discharges are suitable.
11/22/16 The upper section of the river is
getting very cold. The middle and lower
sections and tailwaters are in good shape.
11/29/16 Discharges at the two taiilwaters
should be a good destination. The freestone
section is going to have very low water
temperatures and in our opinion, not worth the
effort to fish.
12/06/16 Fish cream or red (blood) midges in
tandem or winter stonefly nymphs in the
tailwaters. All the freestone section is too cold.