If you’re here to find secret Missoula fishing spots, you can stop reading! Not that we won’t be talking about plenty of different spots to fish near Missoula. Don’t get us wrong, we are more than happy to share some of our favorite spots in person, but the internet is not the place to do that. We’ve seen it happen. Publish a spot, and 30 anglers descend on it. When you visit our Missoula Fly shop, we can spread the love around the area, not send every angler to the same rock in the Bitterroot River.
Here’s the thing about finding fly fishing spots in Missoula- there are 340 floatable miles of river within an hour’s drive of Missoula. If you’re a wading angler, there’s a lot more! Of course, some spots are more popular than others, but with very little work you can separate yourself from other fishermen. Because of the massive amounts of river mileage, anglers spread out and often you’ll have a section of river or stream completely to yourself.
An absolutely amazing thing about Missoula area fishing, and throughout Montana, is our river access laws. We feel they are the best in the country. Simply stated, if you access a river legally, and stay below the established high water mark, you may travel up or downstream as far as you would like. Unlike other states, where the water is public but the streambed is owned by the landowner, below the high water mark is public land in Montana. Legal accesses are from other public lands, including bridge abutments or highway crossings. When you see the T-Shirts all over Missoula that say Public Land Owner, this is one of the reasons! Private water? Not really in this state.
Before we get into some of the best fly fishing near Missoula, MT, let’s take a minute to talk about places you might not want to wade. First is the lower Clark Fork River, which we classify as below Missoula where the Bitterroot River enters. While there are some wading opportunities west on the Clark Fork, much of it is too big to effectively wade fish. The banks are steep, the water fast and deep six feet from shore. On foot, you can get into a lot of trouble in a hurry on the lower Clark Fork River. If you have a boat, that’s a whole different story!
The Blackfoot River is another one that has some very tricky wading situations. I know, I know, Brad Pitt waded it in the River Runs Through It. It’s a movie, not a documentary! It’s wonderfully dramatic to float down the river while fighting a fish, but truthfully, it might not be your best move. Don’t be a hero like Brad! While the Blackfoot is one of our favorite rivers in the Missoula area and Western Montana to float, wading is tough sledding. The banks are steep, the river deepens rapidly, high gradient means it’s quite fast and if you’re not paying attention, you can make one step and go from knee deep to over your head. When you do find a place to access and wade, it’s often very limited. Just like the Clark Fork River, there are spots where you can wade but they are few and far between.
Now that we’ve saved you a bit of time on places that may be less productive to explore as a wade fisherman, let’s touch on a few Missoula fishing spots to get you started catching trout. Again, these places that we are about to mention are no secrets and more often than not, you will have some company. But all of these streams we talk about have plenty of room to spread out and you shouldn’t have a problem finding a spot all to yourself.
Our most popular blue ribbon stream in Montana for wade fishing is Rock Creek. If you know anything about Missoula area fishing, then you’ve probably heard of Rock Creek. There’s good reason, as Rock Creek is a wade fishing paradise filled with naive Cutthroats, big Brown Trout and feisty Rainbows. While there is a short season for boats during higher water, the wade fisherman has Rock Creek to themselves for most of the season. We usually tell people that the first of many streams you should explore in Missoula is Rock Creek. Rock Creek Road parallels the Creek for over 50 miles, with multiple access points along the length. With 3,000 fish per mile, it doesn’t really matter what access point you choose. Figuring out where to fish on Rock Creek is as simple as driving up the road and picking a spot that makes you happy. It’s the smallest river in the Missoula area, which means wading opportunities abound. Honestly, the whole stream fishes great during all seasons from the bottom all the way to the top. The lower 11 miles is a paved road and after that it turns into a dirt road (sometimes it feels more like on continuous pothole!) with access points along the whole way. With Moose, Deer, Bighorn Sheep and thousands of trout per mile, there’s no wonder why Rock Creek in Montana is a destination for fisherman all over the world.
Another river to explore is the upper Bitterroot River. The main stem of the Bitterroot can be heavily used (at least by Montana standards) by boats, and can be a less than spectacular wade fishing experience. You can make your main stem wading experience better with this simple trick. When you get to an access point in the morning, head upstream. All the boats are going downstream, and the boats from the next access point above haven’t gotten that far. About lunch time, head back to the access point and go downstream. Most of the boats have passed, and you’ll miss the boats coming downstream. If you have a raft, there are many stretches of the Bitterrroot River you can get to with very few anglers. While there are wade fishing spots throughout the main stem that fish very well for the angler on foot, it is the upper stretches, into the East and Westfork of the Bitterroot River. Typically the West Fork of the Bitterroot holds bigger fish and takes a little more pressure, while the East Fork of the Bitterroot holds smaller fish with a bit less pressure. If neither of these are your jam, then explore one of the many great tributaries that drain into the mainstem as you drive toward the East and West Forks.
Clark Fork River Through Town
Some of the best fly fishing near Missoula, Mt is found in downtown Missoula. Urban fishing is often ignored when talking about fly fishing spots in Missoula. Many of our guides float this stretch to get away from other boats, and are often rewarded with some of the best fly fishing in Missoula. From East Missoula all the way down to Kona Bridge, the town section of the Clark Fork can offer some great fishing for the angler with a time budget, and College students without a car and fishing between classes. With plenty of breweries and restaurants nearby, it’s easy to take a break and catch a quick meal or beverage, and then get right back at it! Some of the biggest trout we’ve seen come out of the Clark Fork in Missoula. Just because the surroundings are more urban than expected, the fishing in town can be absolutely exceptional.
Many of our Missoula fly shop staff have fished these streams their whole lives, and know Missoula rivers like the back of their hand. Ron, our longest tenured employee, has worked in the shop since the late 80’s and has fished Montana for over 40 years. He spent many summers when he made it a point to fish a new stream every week, and he is the most knowledgeable person you will find on the local waters. He’s a walking encyclopedia of Western Montana fly fishing. We encourage you to explore in the same manner. Grab a map, pick a stream around Missoula and go. You would be hard pressed to find a strem in Western Montana that doesn’t hold trout and you may just find your own secret spot, where you never see another angler, or even footprints.
We said we weren’t going to get specific on a lot of streams on the internet. That being said, we love sharing some of our favorite fishing spots when you stop by our fly shop in Missoula . We’re more than happy to help you find a great fishing spot, even if you don’t need to purchase anything. Advice is always free at the Missoulian Angler and we love meeting new people who have the passion to explore Missoula fishing spots.
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