Copyright 2013 James Marsh
Fly Fishing Guide to the Clarke Fork River Montana
The Clarke Fork is more of a streamer and nymph stream than it is a dry fly river. Of course
trout can be caught on dry flies, especially during a hatch, but the most effective way to fish is
usually with a nymph. There are plenty of sculpin and baitfish of several types and streamer
fishing is usually very good.
The river can be very deceptive. In many areas it looks more like a large drainage ditch than it
does a trout stream. You may not see the typical runs, riffles and pools you would normally see
in a trout stream. The Clarke Fork has many sections of water that are difficult to read or
determine where the trout may be holding or feeding. Some sections look rather ugly, with little
vegetation along the banks and few objects, rocks, boulders, etc., in the water to create
pockets. Finding trout in these sections can be difficult and often requires the trail and error
approach. Just don't let that type of water fool you. What looks like fishless water may hold
some large rainbow and brown trout.
This river has some very nice size trout. Some sections of the river has brown trout that have
been caught approaching thirty inches. Rainbows exceeding twenty inches are not uncommon.
Often these trout are found in locations in the river that are almost featureless.
You can wade the upper parts of the Clarke Fork above the confluence of the Blackfoot River
fairly easy in most places. That isn't necessarily true below the Blackfoot River confluence.
There are many places the river is too deep to wade. Strong currents can also be a problem.
The biggest thing you must pay attention to is the streams that feed the river. Any one of them
can drastically affect its water clarity and flow. For example, heavy thunderstorms in the
headwaters of Rock Creek can create a lot of muddy water below its confluence with the Clarke
Fork. This is true of any of the other major streams that feed the river including Flint Creek, the
Little Blackfoot, Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River, the Flat Head River and other smaller
streams. Getting good information on the flows and the water clarity will start you out in the
right direction. Each of the dams can also greatly influence the flow of the river.
Except for the fast water in the canyon sections, the Clarke Fork River is made up of long, slow
runs, and what the locals call scum lines. Scum lines are a lines or streaks of foam and
bubbles that are common where there are current seams. These current seams carry most of
the food the trout eat downstream on the surface and is where most dry fly action is going to
take place. It is also where you can catch trout on streamers worked beneath the scum lines.
The eddies are always good places to fish. Undercut banks are another likely location for
brown trout. You will also find an occasional deadfall that will hold the browns.
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