The Year of the Big Blackfoot


There are few times in your life when you get to see a 16-inch rainbow eat a rubberlegs nymph while it is simply dragging behind the boat. Well, it is rare unless you have fished the Blackfoot over the last two months.

Simply put, it has been incredible.

While all of the other rivers were being used for irrigation and getting way too warm, the Blackfoot stayed cool. The fishing has certainly reflected that.

The most amazing part is that it has fished well throughout the entire river. You don’t have to drive all the way up to Ovando to catch big fish. You can fish around Johnsrud and get some really good fish, and you can get a lot of them.

The recipe for success has been simple.

All you need is a gold, peach, red, UV, or purple chubby chernobyl with a size 10 or 12 rubberlegs in black dropped about three or four feet below it. Don’t make it complicated, because it certainly does not need to be. If they don’t eat the rubberlegs then throw on a red or pink san juan worm as your dropper.

The other day during a conversation with a couple of other guides I asked the question, “How many different types of flies have you all thrown over the past two months?” Nobody could name more than three or four, and nobody named anything different than the few we just named.

They're hungry on the Big Blackfoot.

I’ve always thought that a person could get away with only having five different flies in their box for an entire summer of fishing around Missoula, and this season has led me to believe in this theory even stronger than ever before.

The fish just keep eating the same bugs over and over again as though they have no memory whatsoever. It’s as close to a perfect world as you can ask for in fly fishing and it poses the question, why has the fishing been so good?

I personally believe it is a result of the removal of the Milltown Dam, but maybe it has happened because of the past three years of good water levels.

Nobody really knows the real reason, but who really cares? All that matters is that the Blackfoot has once again risen to the top of many anglers’ lists of the greatest trout streams in North America, and it has been sweet.

Before you all get too caught up in Griz football, duck hunting, pheasants, bowhunting, or the NFL, go fish the Blackfoot. While you’re out there remember to enjoy it as much as possible because the river has been good to us this season, and you never know when it will be this good again.

Norman Maclean once wrote that, “Eventually all things merge in to one.” Although he was most certainly talking on a much deeper level than a trout simply eating a fake bug, things seem to have merged in to one perfectly on the Big Blackfoot this summer.


Fishing for more tales from the river? Check out Matt and Bryce’s other posts: Missouri River Fly Fishing, the Best in AmericaZen and the Art of Not Fishing At All, and An Ode to Brown Trout, or visit the Fish It archive.

Be sure to visit the Make it Missoula fishing page.


Photos of Missoula Fly Fishing Experts Matt Devlin and Bryce McLean

Matt Devlin (left) is originally from Annapolis, Maryland and learned to fool trout on the technical waters of the Gunpowder River. He has fished in Maryland, West Virginia, Pennsylvania, New York, Vermont, Maine, Michigan, Indiana, North and South Carolina, Florida, Texas, New Mexico, Colorado, Washington, Idaho, and Montana. He thinks about flies and fishing a whole lot.

Bryce McLean (right) was born and raised in Montana, and has been fly fishing here for almost 20 years. He first learned to fish on the Missouri River, but when he was ten, his family moved to the Bitterroot Valley. He’s been fishing the Bitterroot River ever since. This has been his second season guiding the Missoula area rivers, which he consider to be some of the best trout fisheries on planet Earth.

Their most recent fish-related project is