Fish Rising On Clark Fork River

5 Best Hatches on the Clark Fork

The Clark Fork River covers lots of miles in western Montana, with many hatches along its length. The upper stretch is smaller and bit faster, making it prime water for stoneflies and caddis. The middle and lower stretches, especially below the Bitterroot River, are slower and broader, perfect for blanket mayfly hatches, stoneflies and caddis. It’s difficult to nail down the 5 best Clark Fork River Hatches, but we’ve done it! They’re listed in our preference.

Pale Morning Duns

Pale Morning Dun Hatch

This is the quintessential western mayfly hatch, and the Clark Fork River is covered with PMD’s from the 3rd week of June through the 3rd week of July and sometimes later. PMD’s hatch between noon and 3:00, depending on weather, and consistently provide about 2 hours of steady, excellent technical dry fly fishing. Be prepared, because when PMD’s come off, they come off in sheets. The fish will definitely focus on very specific stages of the hatch, and can be insanely fussy. Which is part of the fun!

The Clark Fork trout, especially in the lower sections, pod up to take these flies. Characteristic of the Clark Fork, the pods tend to hold fish of relatively the same size. If you come across a pod of fish, and the first nose up is about 2” across, slow down! Most of the fish in that pod are going to be big, and you need to be very stealthy on approach. If the rises are a bit smaller, most of the fish in that pod will be smaller as well. Don’t know why, but know it’s so. You can do some serious head hunting on the Lower Clark Fork River.

The PMD’s love the soft insides of bends in the river. It’s easy to miss these trout as you go by, as the rises in the diamond chop have to be spotted carefully. It’s well worth checking out the inside seam at every bend in the river for rising fish. They also hatch in the long glides below riffles, and along the edges in the rock gardens. The Clark Fork River is fertile and large in the middle and lower sections, and like every river, has its own secrets.

The PMD’s can test the width of your fly box. To effectively meet this hatch on the Clark Fork River, you’ll need cripples, emergers, duns, unweighted nymphs and klinkhamer style flies, like the PMD Sprout. Special mention needs to be made of the Rusty Spinner. All adult PMD’s (as well as adult Pale Evening Duns) return to the river as Rusty Spinners. Our favorite fly for this stage is the Hi Viz Rusty Spinner, so you can see this low riding fly. The spinners can fall at any time, though are most often seen at dawn and dusk. Be ready for this stage, as the fish will move for spinners whenever they’re on the water.  

Golden Stones

Golden Stone Hatching On The Blackfoot River

The Clark Fork River is a sneaky good stonefly river, especially the middle and lower sections. The upper Clark Fork, with its more rapid descent and faster water is an obvious choice for stoneflies, but the slower middle and lower sections don’t look very stonefly-y. The Golden Stones will show you how good the Clark Fork is for stoneflies!

Throughout the middle and lower Clark Fork are rock gardens. That’s the second time we’ve said this, and it’s time for a definition. A rock garden is found next to the shore, in water 1.5 to 4 feet deep. Cinder block size rocks sit next to larger rocks, providing excellent cover for trout and habitat for Goldens. The Clark Fork is so big and fast that the water looks quite still over these sizable rocks. Wade the edges for a while and you’ll see exactly what we’re talking about. A wading angler is tempted to go waist deep and cast to the likely water in the middle. Mistake! 75% of all fish are found within 15 feet of the bank, and the Clark Fork is no exception. Work the edges, over these rock gardens, and watch your fish count rise on Missoula’s largest river.

The Goldens hatch heavily from late June through July, and bring strikes all across the river. Our favorite flies include the Rastaman Golden and PK Golden. If the surface action slows down, drop a Pat’s Rubberlegs in Tan/Brown off a long dropper. On the lower Clark Fork, a 7-foot dropper is often exactly what’s needed during this hatch. Interesting casting, but the catching will make it worth it. If you’re an early bird, the Clark Fork has some excellent dawn fishing with a Golden, and then expect to nymph or streamer till the day heats up and they begin to fly in earnest. Keep in mind the Golden Stone is not a single species, but a variety of species all imitated by the same flies. The Golden hatch can be anywhere from a size 6 to a 12. Be ready for size variations throughout the day.

Mahoganies

Mahogany Dun Hatch

This big brown mayfly is a staple for the Clark Fork River hatches from the first Fall rains in September through the last frigid days of October. Mahoganies hatch in the heat of the day, usually from 1-3:00, and once established, hatch in sun or clouds. The Mahoganies can be a blizzard hatch on the Clark Fork, and again the width of your fly box may be stretched when the Mahogany is out in numbers.

Mahoganies are most active below riffles. Look for fish rising in slower water below riffles, and if the glide is short enough, in the tail out as well. As a slow water bug, additional preparations may be needed to effectively fish the Mahogany hatch. Add some fine tippet to your leader, 4.5X or 5X, and make sure to leave enough distance between you and the fish. The late season water is low and clear, and nowhere is the term fine and far off more apt than the Clark Fork River. The fish pod up just as they do for the PMD, and a bad cast can move a lot of fish, negatively! You can have an epic day with Mahoganies on the Clark Fork. 

Salmon Fly

Salmon Fly Hatch In Montana

The Salmon Fly is really a thing to see, this giant insect flopping back on the water as it lays its eggs for the next generation! Coming in at 54mm long, the Salmon Fly is a dry fly you can see on the water, and the fish rarely miss it as well. When fishing the Salmon Fly on the Clark Fork River, don’t expect the numbers found on the Blackfoot River or Rock Creek.

Surprisingly, this is a distinct advantage when fishing the Salmon Fly. If you see one, tie one on and start prospecting. The fish aren’t gorged on this fly, and take them opportunistically. The lack of crazy numbers means the fish are looking for them all the time, a real advantage to the angler. If you’re looking for a photo op of Salmon Flies crawling everywhere, the Clark Fork isn’t your first bet. But if steady fishing with giant dry flies sounds appealing, the Clark Fork is a good answer!

Big Salmon flies, like the Super Gee or El Camino Grillo are good flies on the Clark Fork. They also do double duty if you need to drop a dark Pat’s RubberLegs off the back. Those big foamies do a great job as an indicator as well. The Salmon Flies start hatching mid to late June, and post run-off the Clark Fork can be a very big river at this time of year. Eyes on the river whether rowing or wading.

Hoppers

Hopper Hatch

The Clark Fork can offer up some spectacular hopper fishing from mid-August right through mid-October. While we don’t like to mention it out loud, it’s due to the wind. There, we whispered it! Everyone who rows in Missoula has a horror story of the wind blowing up the Clark Fork River so hard in the summer that the boat can’t be controlled. It’s not normal, but it can happen. And when it does, it’s hopper time!

Hoppers are ungainly flyers at best, and the middle and lower sections of the Clark Fork River are WIDE! When hoppers fly over the middle of the river, with a little breeze activity, you’ve got a recipe for hoppers on the water. You don’t often hear us say this, but don’t be afraid to shorten up your leader, and go with 2-3X tippet. Big flies in the breeze can create interesting situations for the rower and others close to the action, so a short, stout leader can be very useful on the Clark Fork.

Don’t be afraid to let the hopper land with a splat to alert the fish. Also, if you’re getting hits just as you start your back cast, that’s a sign the fish are looking for a hopper with a little movement. Not a 3-foot strip, but enough jiggle to let the trout know it’s struggling. Switch to Pav’s Yellowstone Hopper or any rubber-legged hopper to accentuate the struggle on the surface. Other strong Clark Fork hoppers include the Henneberry Hopper and Morrish Hopper. Later in the season, the less traditional colors really start to work on the Clark Fork.

Honorable Mention

Clark Fork River hatches honorable mentions include the Tan Caddis. There are nights the Tan Caddis are so thick you can barely breathe, but the fish don’t seem to care. The occasional rise is more often to a PED than a Tan Caddis. WHERE DO YOU THINK THE ADULTS COME FROM? The Tan Deep Sparkle Pupa is one of the most effective flies on the Clark Fork from dawn to dusk. We say it all the time- we don’t sell enough of these flies! Go deep with a Tan Deep Sparkle Pupa on the Clark Fork River and your fish count will quickly rise.


Additional Resources For Clark Fork 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

Spring Fly Fishing Pre Game Tips

Spring is almost here. We see it in the longer days and slightly warmer temps. We start dreaming about the fishing…. will it be awesome? How’s the snowpack, and when’s run-off coming? Will spring be warm or cold? Will 2018’s high water translate into more fish recruitment? How has the Bitterroot river changed over the winter? We can spend hours pondering these questions.

Questions we can’t answer and won’t know the answers to till April 30. 

Here’s a suggestion. While wondering about the weather, the hatches and the river, take care of business where you can. Pull out your tackle bag, vest, etc, and take a look. Take some time to do some preseason chores so that your first spring fly fishing trip of the year is enjoyable.

Remember that submerged fence post on the Clark Fork river you wrapped your line around late last fall? It might be time to check the first 30 feet of your fly line for chips, abrasion and just plain wear. While you’re at it, check the welded loop. If the loop is fraying, you might want to replace it. If you don’t want to tie the nail knot, bring it to the Missoulian Angler Fly Shop and we’ll put a leader butt on your line. At a bare minimum, wash the last 30 feet of fly line in soapy water. It will float, mend and shoot so much better.

Take a look at your leaders and tippet. Don’t just check to make sure you still have 3-4-5X, but pull the little elastic aside, and make sure you’re not down to three wraps. If the tippet spools you’re using have different packaging than what’s on display now, it might be time to replace that nylon. Manufacturers change packaging every 5-6 years. That will help you date your tippet! If you’re using fluorocarbon, that doesn’t apply, as it doesn’t degrade. You still have to check under the elastic with fluorocarbon!

Check the laces on your boots. Try and remember if you had a leak in your waders last time you wore them. If you think you did, then check. The easiest way to check for a leak is with a hair dryer and some soapy water. Fill the waders with air using the hair dryer, and then paint the suspect areas with soapy water. If bubbles form in the soapy water, you have a leak. Better to patch now than leak in March.

Open up your reel. If you dunked it last year, it has dirt and scree in it. Get some Q-Tips, and swipe around inside the spindle receiver of the spool. Try to stay away from WD-40, as it gums up in reels. Once you’ve got it cleaned, check manufacturers instructions for lubrication, and do it. A clean reel is a smooth, functional reel, and that pays dividends for the rest of the season. Rattle the handle. If it’s loose, get some Loc-Tite and screw it back on. Make sure the handle rotates before the Loc-Tite sets!

Clean your cooler!! If you have a raft and trailer, do the maintenance there as well.

Take a look at your flies. Take out the shredded streamers and the hackleless dries! If you store your standard dries in foam, pull them out and steam the hackle straight. Use a teakettle and a pair of forceps to accomplish this. Then let the flies dry and put them in a compartment box. Foam and standard hackle don’t mix.

Go through your vest and determine if you really need a third flashlight, or 4 almost empty bottles of Gink. If you want to transfer Gink from one bottle to another, run it under hot water for a minute, it pours better. Look at your net. Check the bag for cracks or torn attachment points. If it’s a Rising Net, drink what’s left in the handle. We have a feeling the rubber stopper doesn’t add to the flavor. Start the year fresh with a new fill, and let the old stuff motivate you through spring maintenance!

Or if your a dedicated angler like shop staff Bryce Hasquet, you fish all winter long!

When rods were made of cane and lines made of silk, this off-season maintenance was critical. But with the ease of care and durability of modern equipment, it’s easy to skip this step. We can’t tell you how many reels come into our Missoula fly shop that squeak when you wind them. Or how often we have to tell people their waders need to be completely dry, and then the Aquaseal takes 24 hours to cure. An ounce of prevention will make your first days on the water enjoyable, dry and effective, instead of damp, annoying and frustrating. It won’t take anywhere near as long as you think it will, and hey, while you’re playing with your tackle, you’ll REALLY be focused on your Spring fly fishing!


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.