CLARK FORK TRIPS
The lower Clark Fork is one of the most underrated trout streams in the west. From Alberton Gorge to its confluence with the Flathead River, the Clark Fork offers fantastic dry fly fishing for large and aggressive Rainbows and Cutthroats. The Clark Fork is a large but fairly slow river (much like the Missouri), and floating is the way to go. From a drift boat you’ll cast to bank feeders that love to inhale everything from #2 Chernobyl Ants to #20 parachutes. The Clark Fork gets as little pressure as any river in the state and you’ll rarely see other groups of anglers, particularly on weekdays. Why no pressure? Well, the Clark Fork is a little tougher to predict than other Montana streams, and is far enough from Missoula that few anglers make the trip. We’ve dialed in the best times to be there, and our guides have a great deal of experience on the river. Because it is somewhat difficult to hit the best times on the Clark Fork, we are prepared to take bookings at short notice.
The Clark Fork is one of the largest river systems in Montana. Just a trickle at its headwaters near Butte, the river flows west and increases in volume near Missoula where the Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Rock Creek add their flows to the river. As it leaves Missoula, the Clark Fork continues west to St. Regis where it turns north and joins the Flathead before flowing into North Idaho’s Lake Pend O’reille.
St. Regis is located on I-90, about halfway between Coeur d’Alene, Id., and Missoula, Mt. The heavily forested mountains of Western Montana tower above as you float the river. All of the floats are within a few minutes of town. With 40 miles of river close at hand, and few other anglers, the Clark Fork is definitely a different Montana experience.
While the Clark Fork has a diversity of insect hatches, it is usually not a “technical” river. If the fish are feeding, they’ll often take a variety of imitations. Early in the season, baetis mayflies, gray drakes, and a variety of stoneflies produce terrific afternoon fishing. As runoff begins to subside in early summer, the fish feed on a variety of insects and attractor fishing is usually excellent at this time. During the heat of late summer, we often avoid the river as fishing can get very difficult, especially during low water years. With the cool weather of fall, the fish again become active feeding on mayflies and the giant October Caddis. Below is a quick “ what to expect” rundown of the season.
MARCH – APRIL – MAY
Fishing is usually very good by mid-March and continues to get better as spring progresses. Stoneflies hatch in decent numbers as do baetis and gray drakes. During non-hatch periods we usually throw large attractors with bead head droppers or straight nymph rigs. Fishing usually ends with the first real hot weather and the beginning of runoff, sometime in mid-May to early June. During pre-runoff, you’ll need to be prepared for cold weather.
JUNE – JULY
This is the toughest period to predict, but can produce the best fishing you’ve ever seen. Runoff on the Clark Fork is mid-May one year, and late-June the next. Once runoff is on the way down, fishing begins to improve dramatically. As the river drops and clears the fishing can be incredible using large attractor dries with droppers ( if needed ). Hatches of Pale Morning Duns, caddis and a variety of other insects hatch from late morning until dark. While everyone else is chasing Salmonflies in SW Montana, you’ll have the Clark Fork to yourself!
If runoff is late, fishing can remain good through August. Morning and evening hatches produce well, the middle of the day is usually slow. If runoff is early, August can be real tough. Most of our August/early September trips are day trips for folks that are vacationing in the Coeur d’Alene area. This is not a month that we encourage booking a multi day trip on the Clark Fork.
SEPTEMBER – OCTOBER – NOVEMBER
Once the weather and river cool down, the fishing picks up in a hurry. Large attractors and hoppers still take fish, and afternoon mayfly hatches increase in intensity as the fall progresses. The fishing can get a little technical in late summer, but is not difficult. By the end of September, the giant October Caddis begin to hatch and fishing can be great using the large, orange imitations. Fishing remains excellent until winter sets in. Prepare for cold weather, although afternoons can be quite pleasant.
A small and friendly town, St. Regis offers simple but good accommodations and food. Nightlife consists of video gambling while enjoying a cold beer after a hard day of fishing. St. Regis does have a good fly shop in case you’ve forgotten anything. This part of Montana is not on the tourist loop, so don’t expect the kind of services you would find in Bozeman.
Driving… St. Regis is right on I-90, about 2 hours east of Spokane, and 1 hour west of Missoula.
Flying… You can fly to either Missoula, MT. or Spokane, WA. Both are full service airports with car rentals, etc.