Missoula Fly Fishing Report

Missoula Fishing Report 4/3

Fly Fishing Report Brought To You By Our Missoula Fly Fishing Guides And Fly Shop Staff.

Enjoy and Good Luck!

Bitterroot River

The Bitterroot river fly fishing has been hot over the last week, the skwala dry has been the name of the game, March browns and BWOs have been good in the cloudy weather. Anglers are having success with nymphs and streamers early morning, and then switching to the Skwala dry later in the morning and throughout the day. The river flow is on an upward trend, and with rain forecasted, we might see the bump in flows continue depending on how much moisture we receive over the next few days

Our favorite patterns are as follows:
Skwala – Gray/Olive Plan B, Water Walker, Rogue, Mill Creek and the True Skwala.
March Browns – Parachute Pheasant Tail, Brindlechute and the Carnage March Brown.
BWO – Tiltwing, Thorax, Parachute Hare’s Ear Olive and Film Critic.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips for each hatch

Blackfoot River

Fishing on the Blackfoot river is decent, particularly with streamers and nymphs, while the dry fly fishing is spotty at best. Effective strategies include fishing deep nymph rigs on inside seams and slowly retrieved streamers in deeper runs.

While the Blackfoot river may not be the best option for anglers at this point, the traffic is low and this is a great time of year to test out your streamer skills with some big fish being caught up here over the last few weeks.

Deep nymph rigs with stoneflies and worms are pretty hard to beat on the Blackfoot river now. For streamers, our favorites are the Double Fuego, Sparkle Minnow, Mongrel Meat and the Gonga.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

Clark Fork River

The Clark Fork river mirrors the Bitterroot in terms of hatches. The skwala’s have been out in the sun, while the BWO’s and March Brown dries have been good in the clouds.

Like the Bitterroot, the Clark Fork’s flows are creeping up as of this morning. The forecast is calling for a lot of moisture over the next 24 hours.

Our favorite patterns for the Skwala has been the Mill Creek Skwala, Gray/Olive Plan B and the True Skwala. The Parachute Pheasant Tail and Carnage March Brown has been our most effective March Brown Patterns. For BWO’s, try the Film Critit, Split Flag and the Thorax.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

Rock Creek

Rock Creek is in excellent fishing conditions. The Skwala adults have started to show up along with BWO’s and March Browns. The dry fly fishing in the morning has been a little slow, but by midday the dries have been effective. Nymphing and streamer fishing has been good in the morning while you wait for the dries to come into play.

Like the rest of the rivers, Rock creek is currently seeing a rising trend in water flows as of this morning and might continue its rise if the weather forecast holds true. Rock creek is one stream around missoula that still fishes decent in rising water.

Scroll to the bottom of this page for additional fly patterns and tips!

Spring Hatches

Click any photo below to find out more information on each individual hatch. Includes life cycle, best fly patterns, helpful tips and where to find these hatches in your Western Montana fly fishing adventure.

Blackfoot Salmonfly Hatching

5 Best Hatches on the Blackfoot River

The Big Blackfoot River is where A River Runs Through It takes place. Home of the Big Fish, and it was taken on a big fly! The Blackfoot River hatches are prolific and is a perfect habitat for stoneflies and Caddis. We’re going to start big!

Here is a list of our favorite Blackfoot River Hatches

Golden Stone

Golden Stone Hatching On The Blackfoot River

The Golden Stones, comprised of many stonefly species all imitated by the same flies, are the premiere hatch on the Blackfoot River. Not by size, but consistency. The Blackfoot River is the highest altitude and northernmost river in the Missoula area. It’s often the last river to heat up after run-off and usually the first to shut down in the fall. While the Salmon Flies can be epic on the Blackfoot, the Golden Stones are a guarantee year in and year out.

The Goldens begin to hatch in the last week of June, and as soon as they establish themselves, Missoula’s most experienced fly fishing guides tie on a Golden. They’re smaller, running from size 6-12, which makes them more accurate in the high water found at the beginning of the hatch. The high gradient Blackfoot River will push fish up to the banks in high water, and often the difference between success and rejection is 6 inches. The smaller fly goes where it’s aimed, and moves fish in the water they’re comfortable in.

It’s easy to talk all day about the dry fly fishing provided by the Blackfoot River Goldens, but anglers do themselves a serious disservice by ignoring the subsurface Golden activity. Take one look at the Blackfoot River, crashing through boulders and cascading against bluffs and rock walls, and the water just screams nymph. You know big trout are hanging behind boulders and rocks, and those trout haven’t been to the surface in 4 years. Drop a Brown/Black Pats RubberLegs paired with a Peacock Double Bead Stone. Don’t be afraid to run the point fly 6 feet deep and the dropper 8 feet deep! It’s a big, roiling river, and the fish get deep and stay there. You’re going to get a lot more done if you get to the fish on their level, not make them come to yours!

Which isn’t saying the dry fly fishing is no good! The Golden Stones on the Blackfoot River can provide the best dry fly fishing in Missoula for the season. It’s that good. Early in the hatch, go with big and foamie, like Clook’s Floater In The Pool or an El Camino Golden. These will also hold up a dropper if that’s needed. As the season progresses, and the fish start to move away from the banks into summer water, think a bit smaller and lower floating. A Demoe’s Mill Creek Golden or Morningwood Golden are top producers when the fish start to slip away from the banks. If the dry fly action slows for some reason, throw on the Chubby Chernobyl Golden and run a dropper. The Chubby may be the best indicator fly in your arsenal, with its high floating, easy to see wing and foam body.

Word to the wise for the Goldens. The Blackfoot is a tricky river to row in early to mid-July. All the teeth are sticking up, and there’s a lot of push from the high flow. Be vigilant on the sticks- no one wants a yardsale!

Salmon Fly

Salmon Fly Hatch In Montana

We know there’s a lot of blowback here. Why isn’t the Salmon Fly the number one of the Blackfoot River Hatches? Because while its big, and when it’s on every fish in the river is up and eating, it can be inconsistent in a cold spring/Early Summer. But when it finally comes on, it is ON! The Salmon Fly will start on the lower sections first, but it moves much more rapidly along the length of the river. The Salmon Fly can establish from Weigh Station to Ovando in about a week. We like to start the season with the biggest, highest floating Salmon Flies we can find. Super Gee, Damien’s SUV Salmon Fly and other gi-normous foamies! Don’t worry about them floating too high, the big roiling river will keep them in the film. If you can do it, these flies will take a dropper as well, doubling your chances of a hook up on the bank.

Don’t be afraid to run a 6 or 7 weight rod during the salmon fly hatch on the Blackfoot River. Running 1-2X tippet, you have the ability to apply the wood to the fish once they’re hooked. And you’re going to need it! Get a slab-side brownie sideways in that current, and you’ll know why Brad Pitt decided it was easier to float with the fish than fight the current. Be ready with a big stick for the Salmon Flies.

The big stick is also useful at the end of the Salmon Fly hatch, as the Goldens are starting to make their presence known. How often do you get to run a size 6 dry fly on point with a size 10 dropper? The Blackfoot River hatches offers the perfect venue for the big double dry rig. Can’t decide what to throw? Let the trout decide. The Blackfoot River is also a great river for a “tweener” fly. That’s a fly like a size 6 Rogue Golden or Morningwood Special that COULD be a darker Salmon Fly, or it could be a Golden. Let those flies do double duty. You don’t care why they took it, just that they did!

Go back and refer to the nymphing paragraph in the Goldens. Same thing for Salmon Flies, just substitute a Black Pat’s Rubberlegs or a Black Double Bead Stone. ‘Nuff said about subsurface.

Spruce Moth

Spruce Moth Hatch

While not a true hatch, when the Spruce Moths are on, the Blackfoot River can look like it’s raining on a clear August day! The Blackfoot runs through a corridor that is surrounded by pine trees, especially along the recreational corridor. While the bird watchers and forestry people are watching the tops of the trees whither and go brown, the angler is firmly focused on the adult Spruce Moths returning to the water. Why they return to the water is up in the air, but they come down like a bee to honey, and the trout take advantage of this unexpected August food bonus.

Our best Spruce Moth pattern is Ron Beck’s MAngler Moth. It’s spun deer hair body perfectly mimics the moth’s variegated body coloration, and it floats like a cork. If you’re looking to run a different bug from the back of the boat, try a Spruce Almighty or size 10 Tan Caddis. Both these flies will move fish when the Spruce Moths are out. Don’t worry about a Spruce Moth larva dropper. While we’re sure a few find their way to the river, the immature Spruce Moth is not really a thing, making the Spruce Moth a Dry Or Die favorite!


Grasshopper Hatch

Again, this isn’t truly a hatch, but the hoppers come right on the heels of the salmon Flies and Golden Stones. The trout are looking up for big flies- why would they stop when the hoppers come out to play! The Big Blackfoot is a wide river as it heads into Missoula, and hoppers aren’t very good flyers. Many find their way to the surface, where the trout are looking for the unlikely meal. The natural forestation that surrounds so much of the Blackfoot is great hopper habitat, and the hoppers are in play up here from late July until the end of the season.

We like to start with a natural colored hopper early in the hatch, like a Morrish Tan Hopper or Parachute Hopper. Though many of Missoula’s most experienced guides will use a Gold Morrish Hopper or a Peach Fat Frank. They do this to jar the memory of the trout back to Golden Stones and Salmon Flies, giving the trout one more reason to come to the surface for food. As the season progresses, get some big hoppers and make use of those as well. Size 6-8 can really produce along the recreational corridor. A great dropper off the hopper is a Solitude Pheasant Tail Jig or FireStarter. Both have proven themselves in the hot summer days on the Blackfoot River.

October Caddis

October Caddis Hatch

The October Caddis can start as early as mid-September on the Blackfoot River, so be ready. They’re tough to miss when they’re on the water, and the trout will look for them from the moment they first hatch. Not sure if the October caddis are out yet? Drop an October Bird Of Prey off the back of a big hopper, and let the trout tell you if the October Caddis are out and about.

Our favorite October Caddis dry on the Blackfoot is the simple Orange Elk Hair Caddis or Orange Stimulator. Both are high floating flies- very useful in the fast, roily water found along the Blackfoot River. Both will float a dropper, to a point, and are very effective when the October caddis are flying. If you want to throw a change-up to the trout, run a Brindle Chute. The orange body is a perfect copy of the October Caddis coloration,  and the parachute post is easily seen.

Honorable Mention

We’re stretching the honorable mention “hatch” on the Blackfoot River, and going with streamers. While not technically one of the Blackfoot River hatches, streamer fishing is an important tactic for this river. The nature of the Blackfoot River, with deep pockets and steep banks, make it the perfect river to throw streamers at any time. The old adage of big fish eat little fish is never wrong on the Blackfoot, where the turbulent water will muffle the biggest streamers entrance even in the lowest water conditions. If you’ve decided that for today’s angling, size matters, then take a fistful of streamers to the Blackfoot River. Go deep or go home!

Additional Resources For The Blackfoot River Hatches

Floating The Blackfoot River

Best Guides In The Business

Sure, we’re completely prejudiced- what did you expect! But we feel Missoula fly fishing guides are the best guides in Montana, and we can back that up. On June 30, every guide in town has a huge decision to make before they even start their day on the water.  From the Missoulian Angler, they can head 80 miles west, east, south, northwest or southwest, choosing to fish on the Bitterroot River, Upper or Lower Clark Fork River, the Big Blackfoot River or Rock Creek. There are over 300 miles- yes, 300 miles!- of floatable river in about an hour’s drive from Missoula. That’s a lot of water to know and cover! Not trying to pick on our good friends on the Missouri, Bighorn and other tailwaters, but those rivers have limited areas to fish. Those guides know the fishable sections like they know their own face, but it’s not as much water to learn, not as many flies and not as many techniques to master.

Every river in Missoula has it’s own unique characteristics. When you’re floating on Rock Creek, you’re moving fast! Covering 20-25 river miles is not uncommon on that river in the last weeks of June. It’s narrow and popular, which means the guides need to be on the lookout for wading fishermen (of which there are many), sweepers, and all the other hazards that come with any river. Add tying on flies and providing drinks, and a guide has his hands full when floating Rock Creek.

The Bitterroot is almost the polar opposite of Rock Creek. Rock Creek flows along the base of a canyon for much of its length. It rarely changes its channels, so where you floated last year will be the way to go this year as well. Not so on the Bitterroot. Every June, Missoula fly fishing guides need to relearn the Bitterroot. Channels change, so you need to make the right choices when floating. That spot that was so good this spring? It’s gone. Post run-off, the best Missoula guides are scouting the Bitterroot, trying to locate where the fish have relocated to. Sure, the 10-14” fish are where they always are, but the big boys are a different story. They have to be relocated every year. Our guides definitely pool their resources on the Bitterroot, finding out what channels are open, and where it’s best to float.  As the river drops into summertime, new challenges pop up- finding the channels with enough water to float, and finding the trout that have become skittish in the bright sun and warm temperatures. It’s what makes the Bitterroot such a challenging, demanding river. It’s a changing, and every year it takes a knowledgeable, skilled guide to find the fish and get them into the net.

The Blackfoot can be one of the trickiest rivers to row in the state. Those magnificent boulders and deep shelves that give this river character are also definite navigational challenges. Late June can be a very exacting time on the river, with the boulders, crags and sweepers getting up near the surface where they can some damage, but with so much push from the high water that a guide has to get his rowing line through some stretches perfectly, or you’re going to find yourself in a bit of mischief. And like the Bitterroot, as the Blackfoot drops, the guides again have to find the sun shy fish and navigate a river that may be 1/8 the size it was 5 weeks ago! It takes a guide with the skill of a white water rafter to navigate the Blackfoot, and Missoula can fill any two local taprooms (day off) with guides who can row like fury, fish with passion and instruct with grace and elegance.

When it comes to the Clark Fork, it’s a tale of two rivers. The Upper Clark Fork River is narrow, tricky to row and fish from a boat, and can be a bit stingy. But when it’s on, it’s fire, and no one is there. It can provide an amazing experience on a smaller river. As the Clark Fork transitions from a smaller river to the largest in the state, the water varies wildly, from huge logjams to the urban town float, where you can fish a great river and stop at 3-4 riverside bars in Missoula and enjoy a cold beverage or a hot lunch! Better know which town channel to take, or you’ll miss the take out by 4 miles! Once the Bitterroot enters, the Clark Fork gets big and slow. You can find some amazing technical dry fly fishing to the largest rising fish in Missoula. The nymphing can be spectacular, and streamers can move a Brownie fatter than an average trout is long on almost any cast!

Let’s toss this in. We’re a two hour run to the Missouri river or the upper Bighole river. Three to the Beaverhead river or the headwaters of the Missouri. Don’t think Missoula guides aren’t familiar with these waters as well.

It’s 7:30 am and Missoula’s best fly fishing guides are texting, talking and planning their day. What’s hot, what’s not. They’ll be meeting their guests, and having a conversation with them. What are they expecting fom their day? (Missoula’s Best Guides) Lots of fish, dries, scenery, technical? This all goes into the mix as the guides ponder their four distinct options, the four distinct personalities that make Missoula such an eclectic fly fishing destination.

That’s not all that goes into a float trip, not by a longshot. Gas, clean boat and rig, delicious lunch and a positive attitude are a given. The guides need to know the water they’re going to take you to. It doesn’t work to see the take out 2 hours after putting in, or still see the put in 9 hours into the day. Missoula guides can manage a day on the water to perfection, having you home for dinner or squeezing the most out of the day. They know every shuttle driver in 100 miles from the shop. They’re prepared to fish any river at any time. While all the rivers have much of the same hatches, each river has its favorite flies and best angling practices. The guides need to be tricked out with the best flies for wherever their fancy takes them.

The Missoulian Angler has the largest fly selection in town, and over the course of the year, we see just about every guide in Missoula. Matt Robb, Russell Parks, Damon Cox, Tony Reinhardt, Chase Harrison, Dustin Stenson, Joe Boone, Greg Inglis and Scott Stanko– we see them all. And it’s the same thing every day, where am I going to fish. Decades of experience walk through our shop daily, and we watch the wheels spinning. We hear the slyly crafted questions and the tell-tale hints that might lead to the mother-lode.  Or it could be as simple as calling Tommy at Four Rivers Shuttle or Pat Bond and ask where they have the fewest boats! So many strategies employed to find our guests the best fly fishing in Montana.

But it all boils down to one thing. Once you’ve committed, once the best fishing guides in Missoula have decided on, that 6 mile float, 9 mile float or 13 mile float, you know there’s still 290 MILES of river you’re not fishing that day.  Was it the best call? Was it an average call. Did you float lockjaw territory? When you’re as diverse as Missoula, when you can basically dial up about any type of fishing you’re looking for, from blanket hatches to technical Euronymphing, Missoula, Montana always has that mystery about it. You’ll know about how your day is going to go tomorrow morning, when todays fishing is grist for the mill! And once again, the choice is there.  That’s the face every guide wears in the morning, what is he missing. But here’s a fact, and you can take it to the bank (Haha!), whatever water you’re fishing, Missoula’s guides will fish the ever-loving crap out of it.

Missoula’s best guides have a skill set that is rivalled by few. They can row. The best guides in Missoula row the trickiest and rockiest rivers in Montana on a daily basis, adjusting as the rivers change from day to day. Imagine the skill set needed to work in 4 separate buildings, separated into multiple offices, that can change on a daily basis. That’s a guide’s life in Missoula. It takes a while to get familiar with all the water around Missoula, knowing the best flies and techniques for each river. Luckily, the city and the rivers are a magnet, attracting and keeping guides for decades. When we say Missoula guides are amongst the best in the state, we can back that up with diversity, skills and preparation.

It’s a passion, but it’s a business as well. Missoula fly fishing guides approach each day as craftsmen, knowing each day will be different, and confident they will rise to the challenge. They have the option of fishing over 300 miles of river, know what’s fishing, finding out what their guests want, balance that against where the best fishing is, and make the call. With fly boxes stuffed to the gills (Haha) with the best flies for every river, they have a full tank of gas, and their sunglasses are on! These guides are ready for their clients, ready for the rivers, and ready to make your day the best fly fishing Missoula has to offer!

Streamer Green

You wont find it at Ace, or Sherwin-Williams. It’s not a recognized color on a mixing wheel, and it varies from angler to angler. But it’s a color, all right. When the water isn’t brown, but it isn’t clear, it’s Streamer Green

Trout have an IQ of 4. Don’t tell anyone, we can look foolish enough on our own without that info getting out! It means trout can’t do two things at once. The rivers are full of food right now, and the fish are out feeding like crazy. Get so focused on your food, and the next thing you know, you’re dinner! Big fish eat little fish. Lots of food makes little fish get bigger. It’s a risk/reward type of thing, and sometimes the risk is substantial. Add the dropping water, which is moving the fish from place to place in search of new homes. The fish are displaced, vulnerable and trying to feed. All this screams streamers to the angler.

If you have a dedicated 7 or 8 weight streamer rod, you already know what to do! Bang the banks with a big fly, like the Beastmaster or Hop Scotch Sculpin. The big heads push a lot of water, so the fish can find your fly more easily. Work the shoreline, work the structure. Use a short leader on your sink tip, so the fly gets deep and stays there. Use the big stuff, 15lb Maxima. These fish aren’t leader shy, and heavy tippet has saved many a $6 fly from dangling in a tree branch. If you really have to reef on the fly to get it free, check the hook and make sure it’s not bent out. Then cast it out again! You know the drill.

If you don’t have a dedicated streamer rod, there are ways to handle the bigger, green water with a streamer. Use the heaviest line weight rod you have- it helps to control the bigger, heavier flies A long leader and a well weighted fly will help you attain some depth. We often recommend a Bonefish leader 12’ long with a 12-16lb test. The big, stiff leader helps turn that heavy fly over, and again, trout eating streamers aren’t leader shy. The trout doesn’t have a lot of time to make up its mind to eat or not, so leader thickness is not an issue.

There are two schools of thought on fly size. One says to use the largest fly you can throw, and get it close to your target. The other school says use a smaller fly, and be more accurate. Big fish are where big fish are. If you land a 5 inch fly 2 feet away from a trout, it might eat because the fly is big enough to risk coming out from cover and expending the energy to eat. If you drop a 2.5 inch fly 6” from the trout, it might be an easier choice. Both methods work, and both have their adherents. It’s good to know about both!

If you don’t think you’re getting deep enough with a long leader and weighted fly, you can purchase sinking leaders. They come in different lengths and sink rates. You can get a few and experiment, but we often find the longest and fastest sink rate you can handle is best. We stress that you can handle. Use a short leader (2-3’) off the end, as the mono leader doesn’t sink as fast and if it’s too long, the leader is way deeper than the fly. Keep in mind you’ve added a lot of additional weight to your fly line when you add the sinking leader. It’s like casting a 7-8 wt line on a 5-6 wt rod. Make sure you bring the fly close to you before starting your backcast, or the cast may fail. Worst case scenario, the rod fails! Depending on how deep the fly and leader is, you may need to roll cast the fly to the surface, and then pick it up. Sink tips work a little differently than a floating line, so be ready for some changes to your casting stroke.

With the rivers so big, you’re going to want to work the banks. 80% of all trout are found within 10’ of the shore, so let your cast swing all the way out if you’re wading. Work the soft water and any structure you find. If you’re using a bigger fly, make a couple few casts and then move on. If the fish was going to eat, it would have already. Streamer fishing isn’t like nymphing. Continuous presentations aren’t always what is needed. If you’ve gotten good casts to a likely spot, and seen nothing, move on and find a new spot. Plenty of fish in the river! If you’re floating the river, this is all built in. Bang the banks, and be ready for a fish off every shelf and behind every log.

On general principles, the more off color the water is, the darker a fly you should use. A dark fly creates a better silhouette than a light colored fly, and in murky water that’s a big plus. If the water is light green, you can start with a lighter color. Vary your retrieve. Let the trout tell you if they want the fly subtly moved, or violently stripped. Always keep in mind you can’t move your fly fast enough to keep it away from a big trout bent on eating, so if the slow strip isn’t working, start to move the fly with some speed. Vary the flies entry into the water, and use aerial or water mends to give the fly line some slack, which will allow the fly to sink. Be ready for a fish on the flies first movement, as many large fish will take a dead drifting streamer as an extremely easy meal.

Streamer can be boom or bust. When you’re throwing a big fly, a lot of fish aren’t capable or willing to attack something that large. But the fish you do take on a streamer can be significant. Streamer fishing isn’t for everyone. It takes a lot of effort to throw the big rod and sink tip all day, especially if the fish aren’t cooperating as you think they should! But if you love streamer fishing, or are ready to check out what all the fuss is about, take advantage of the off color clarity that is Streamer Green, and get the big bug in the water!

Fly Fishing Montana

Missoula Fishing Spots

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.

Rock Creek Salmonflies

Rock Creek

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.

Bitterroot River

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.

Clark Fork Rainbow Trout Downtown Missoula
Missoulian Angler Fly Shop owner Taylor Scott with a big Rainbow Trout in downtown Missoula

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.

Missoula Montana Guided Fly Fishing Trip

Come enjoy a day on the river with Missoula’s best fly fishing guides. We float the Bitterroot River, Blackfoot River and the Clark Fork River. All gear, lunch and transportation provided.

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Montana Guided Fly Fishing Float Trip
Rock Creek Cuttthroat

The Perdigon Nymph

When first shown a Perdigon nymph, you ask yourself what’s up with this fly? It has an extremely sparse tail, very thin body often made of thread, and coated with a hard shell. The colors are mostly neutral, sometimes with a hot spot, and are the exact opposite of a classic nymph. There’s not much to a Perdigon, and it’s not what you expect in a fly pattern.

But Perdigons are amongst the most effective flies the Missoulian Angler Fly Shop sells. They work on all Missoula river, The Clark Fork River, Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River and Rock Creek, as well as all the tributaries and lakes! They work because they do exactly what a nymph needs to do to be effective.

Polly Rosborough self-published his classic book, Tying and Fishing The Fuzzy Nymph, in 1965. His theory was motion in a fly provided life-like action, separating the fly from inanimate objects and attracted fish. This was conventional wisdom in the U.S. for a long time, and for many still is. Hackled nymphs, fuzzy nymphs and spiky dubbed nymphs all utilize fibers extending from the body to give action to the fly.

We all know that nymphs live on the bottom of the river and the trout are on the bottom as well for easy access to the nymphs. We all know that a sky diver, to slow their descent, will spread their arms and legs wide to slow down their drop rate.

A fuzzy nymph, by definition, has extending fibers. These fibers act as the arms and legs of the sky divers do, slowing the descent of the fly. A slower descent delays the fly from getting to where the fish are. The slower the sink rate of the fly, the longer the controlled cast must be to give the fly time to sink to the correct level. There is no denying classic (fuzzy) nymphs work, we see proof of that every time we go fly fishing!

The Perdigon is more effective than the standard nymph. The slim design and clear, smooth coating allow this fly to sink at maximum sink rate. With no extending fibers, nothing impedes its descent. Additionally, the smooth UV resin coating also removes friction, also adding speed to the Perdigon’s sink rate. The Perdigon gets to the bottom in a hurry, and it stays there. You can use a shorter cast to reach your depth or use a longer cast and be in the zone for a longer time, showing your fly to more trout.

The business axiom of Location, Location, Location is the reason the Perdigon works. It may go against conventional fly fishing wisdom with its lack of life giving fibers. But the tail is mobile, and it gets down to where the fish are. If you show a standard nymph to 3 fish due to its sink rate, you have 3 chances a trout makes a mistake and eats the artificial. If your Perdigon is seen by 10 fish, you have 10 chances to have your fly eaten. Trout are comfortable on the bottom, and rarely selective in their daily feeding patterns. The Perdigon comes at feeding fish in an expected way, making them almost a no brainer for trout to eat.

From a fly fisherman’s standpoint, the Perdigon gets where it needs to be and stays there. From a fly tyers standpoint, the Perdigon is one of the simplest flies to tie. Depending on the Perdigon size and pattern, it may take just as long to get that pesky 3/32” bead on your jig hook than it takes to tie the thread body! Fly tyers will have a lot of Perdigons and won’t worry about losing a couple. Now you’re fishing those tight, tricky spots because you’re not worried about leaving 20 minutes of tying time in a submerged snag. You’re taking bigger fish from the better holding water, because replacement is so simple.

The Perdigon is a newer concept in nymph imitation in the U.S., stemming from Euro nymphing. But we’re finding these nymphs work just as well in a dry/dropper set up as well. You don’t have to Euro nymph to make use of a Euro nymph!

Here is some of our favorite Perdigon Nymphs for fishing in Montana and across the country.