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Fly Fishing The Flathead River Montana
Before we get started, please note that understanding
how the Flathead River is made up can be a little
confusing for those that are not familiar with it. This is
about the main stem of the Flathead River. There are
three other Flathead Rivers that are completely
separate rivers. They are the North, Middle and South
Forks of the Flathead River and each of these three
rivers are covered in a separate section of our Perfect
Fly Stream section.
The Main Stem of the Flathead River is formed by the
confluence of the North Fork of the Flathead River and
the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. The South Fork
of the Flathead River enters the Main Stem of the
Flathead about five miles below Hungry Horse Dam that
forms the big Hungry Horse Reservoir on the South
Fork. This river's drainage is huge, including a large
part of Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall
The Flathead River flows for about 158 miles. The huge
Flathead Lake divides the river into two sections, the
upper and lower section below the lake. From Flathead
Lake, the largest lake in the West, the Flathead flows
into the Clarke Fork River. Fly fishing the Flathead River
can vary greatly depending on the exact location you
fish. It's a big river.
The upper section of the river is a big, cold fast flowing
river. It is deep, and difficult to wade in most places and
during most of the season. Its water is cold even during
the Summer because it comes mostly from melting snow.
There are several braided sections of the river where it
divides into channels. It can be fished best from a drift
boat but attention to the stream flow is warranted. The
upper section has a population of rainbows and
cutthroats. Access to this section is good.
The lower section of the Flathead River is a tailwater.
Kerr dam regulates its flow which can change very
quickly. Like all tailwaters, special attention is needed.
Trout consist of browns and rainbows. It is considered a
prime pike stream but there are some larger size
rainbows and brown trout. The best fishing is just below
the dam. The river flows through a canyon called Buffalo
Flathead River Hatches and Trout Flies:
Contrary to what you might read, the fly your use is
important. It is true the trout will take the generic fly
patterns and attractor flies (we do sell those at Perfect
Fly) but if you imitate the most plentiful and available
insects (subsurface or top water) at the time you are
fishing, you will substantially increase your odds of
success. We have studied the aquatic insects in the
Flathead and have taken samples of the larvae to
develop reliable hatch charts.
There are variations in the tailwater sections and
freestone sections. There are variation in terms of the
time of hatches from the headwaters to the lower
sections. Midges are king in the tailwaters but other
species of insect exist.
Of all the mayflies, Blue-winged Olives and Pale Morning
Duns are the most common and important ones. There
are others including March Browns, Yellow Quills, Dark
Red Quills, Tricos, Green Drakes, Small western Green
Drake and others of far less importance.
In the caddisfly lineup you will find several different
species called Spotted Sedges as well as Green
Sedges. There are also Short-horned Sedges, Little
Sister caddis and October Caddis that can be very
important. Most of the other species are not so
abundant. The population is very diverse.
Stoneflies are very plentiful and they include the huge
Salmonflies, Golden Stoneflies and Little Yellow
Stoneflies. All three of these are plentiful and very
important especially during a hatch. .
During the summer you will find imitations of Carpenter
ants, Japanese beetles and various size and colors of
hoppers work well.
Seasons follow the general Montana fishing season.
Late springtime has decent fishing opportunities and
hatches as good as they get on the Flathead River.
The Summer would be best time for fly fishing the
Early Fall presents good opportunities for big browns..
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Photo Courtesy Steven Lamb
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