Montana’s Clark Fork River: A Return to Glory

By BRYCE MCLEAN

It was a truly beautiful sight as I caught my first glimpse of Mount Sentinel last weekend.  It was a long drive home from Seattle where I spent most of the winter for work, and I couldn’t be happier to be back.  The fact that it was also BrewFest in Caras park that day didn’t disappoint me one bit either.  As I sipped on a few handcrafted brews I found myself dreaming of the river and its hungry trout that I had missed so much.  Before I came home, I would have bet every dollar I had that the rivers would be blown out before I got here, but the trout Gods had mercy on me this time.  Well…for a few days at least.  Luckily that was just enough time to try out the new section of the Clark Fork.

Montana's Clark Fork: A Return to Glory, Fly Fishing the Clark Fork River, Missoula, MT

Kevin hookedup.

As most of you probably already know, they opened up the Clark from Turah to Sharon last week.  Just like the rest of Missoula I couldn’t wait to try it out.  It’s a section of river that really hasn’t seen any fishing in about 100 years, so needless to say, we were pretty excited to get the raft in and start tossing flies.  It didn’t take long to start hooking fish.  About 100 yards from the put-in we already had a couple in the boat, and from that point forth it just kept getting better.  Contrary to what I expected, the fish aren’t all small either.  There are some really nice fish throughout the entire section.

It is not your typical “Clark Fork fishy water”.  Honestly, you can’t help but feel like you are fishing the Bitterroot for the first 4 miles or so.  There are a large number of fishy banks, big trees hanging off of the bank, side braids, riffles, and pretty much every other type of trout water you can ask for.  The best part is that it seemed like every good looking spot held a trout or two, and they loved to eat fake bugs.  It was very encouraging to say the least.

Montana's Clark Fork: A Return to Glory. Fishing the Clark Fork River. Missoula, MT

Rubber legsbrown.

In my opinion, the river has clearly far surpassed everyone’s expectations for how fast it could recover from the removal of the Milltown dam.   We saw nearly every type of bug that hatches this time of year, and they were hatching in huge numbers.  There were a seemingly endless number of Drakes and stoneflies flying around, and even though the water was a bit off color, the fish clearly wanted to eat them.

We fished only two types of flies all day long, and when that happens you fall in love with a section of river pretty quickly.  All we had to do was tie on an olive and black chubby chernobyl with a black rubberlegs dropper about 3 to 4 feet down.  I know that sounds too simple, but that really is all you have to do.  It’s easy to over think things out there sometimes, but keep it basic.  Remember, these fish haven’t seen many flies in the last century so you don’t need to get crazy.

Montana's Clark Fork: A Return to Glory. Fishing the Clark Fork River, Missoula. MT.

Turahcutty.

We might be a few weeks from being able to float our rivers at this point, but I strongly suggest that if you haven’t tried it yet, float from Turah to Sharon as soon as the water drops.  You will not be disappointed at all.  The hatches will still be the same when it does finally come back in to shape, so the chubby to a rubberlegs dropper will still be highly effective.

Just for the record, you are much better off taking out at Sharon in East Missoula rather than going all the way to the ramp at Ogren Park.  Once you go past Sharon, your float will quickly turn in to a really long day.  As opposed to 8 or 9 miles, you will all of a sudden find yourself going about 12 or 13 miles which is a bit too much for a day on the Clark Fork.  Plus, until they finish construction over by the baseball field, the ramp at Ogren is actually closed.  This will pose a large problem if you don’t have private access somewhere else to take your boat out.  Turah to Sharon is plenty of water for a full day, especially if you fish it hard.

 

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Read more about Fishing the Bitteroot River, the Clark Fork River, Rock Creek, and western Montana Lakes.

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Bryce McLean BioBryce McLean 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 third season guiding the Missoula area rivers, which he consider to be some of the best trout fisheries on planet Earth. BigSkyTrouting.com.

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