Great Fly Fishing from "smokey" western Montana

firehuntfish

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We just returned from another epic trip out in western Montana. Montana is without a doubt one of my favorite places on this earth and hopefully our future home in retirement. I want to start out by saying that my heart goes out to all of those in many western states suffering from what will likely be the worst summer of wildfires in history. Between the storm & flooding in the Gulf states, and the wildfires out west, this has been a rough summer for too many folks. It was often difficult to fully enjoy our vacation while watching the distant plumes of smoke rise from the mountains as we floated down river each day. Then, to return in the evenings to watch the TV headlines of Hurricane Harvey was harder still..... Having been a South Florida native and resident for 50 years, I have seen my share of hurricanes and how they change both landscapes and lives forever. My father and both sisters lost their homes completely in Hurricane Andrew. Until you have personally experienced a disaster on this scale, I don't think anyone can fully comprehend both the material and emotional devastation these folks are dealing with. Our thoughts and prayers are with them daily...

The silver lining to this if any, is that I was very proud to see the fantastic job the firefighters and forestry people were doing to combat these fires while were were there. We saw hundreds of firefighters from many states in town helping to fight these fires. I believe that there were 17 different active fires within a hundred mile radius of Missoula when were there last week.... They asked folks driving by not to stop on the roads to watch or take pictures because it interferes with the ongoing fire operations and the efforts to keep the highways open for emergency vehicles. As a firefighter, I completely understand and respect what they were doing, so we only managed to get a couple of photos from the car as we drove through the Lolo Peak fire in the upper Bitterroot Valley of Montana very close to Missoula.

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Although we only had a day or two of clear "Big Sky" due to the smoke, we did have some epic fishing... The trout actually prefer the overcast, hazy conditions to eat dry flies, so we had some of the best dry fly fishing I have seen in many years on this trip. We fished so much different water, I can't remember all of it. But, our most consistent fishing was on the upper Clark Fork. We had steady fishing all day, every day with a nice combination of cutthroats, cutbows, rainbows, and browns. No monsters on this trip, but very solid fishing with chunky trout in the 14-20" range every day. Hoppers and tricos were the predominant bugs for this trip.
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A nice, fat, healthy cutthroat on the Clark Fork

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Clark Fork rainbow
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Double-header of rainbows

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Another chunky Clark Fork rainbow
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Brown on the north fork of the Blackfoot
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Really fat rainbow in the small water of Mission Creek up on the Flathead Indian reservation

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A good brown in Mission Creek

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Another good brown trout from the very far end of the upper Blackfoot. I really enjoy wading the small water as long as there are no bears. There were Grizzly tracks all over the banks here...

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Nice cutthroat from the lower Clark Fork

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Me with my very good friend and guide for many years, Nate McDonnough holding another solid brown from the lower Clark Fork.

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Also on the Clark Fork

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Lisa with a "bonus smallmouth" from the lower Clark Fork. We caught several this size on hoppers intended for trout. There were a welcome and fun surprise to the day's catch. This was also on the Eclipse day... We didn't get much of it as you can see...

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We had a couple of nervous moments fishing on Mission Creek which also happens to go through the National Bison range in Montana. They wander right up to you while you are wading the creek with no fear whatsoever.... It reminded me of my Cape buffalo hunt a little bit seeing a huge animal appear from the thick brush from out of nowhere. . You definitely don't want to hook one of these on your back cast...!
 
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Bullthrower338

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Made me homesick! Glad you had a great trip.
As I was sitting here in the storm in Houston, my brother was evacuated out of his home in lolo. I was sincerely wishing that I could send some of the 50" of rainfall to Montana. He is back in his home now and the water is going down here and now I'm thinking about trout on my beloved 9 mile creek back home! Lol
Next time you are up there, try some large mouth on 9 Pipes Resivoir on the Rez. I used to have a blast doing that, but bass were a novelty to a boy in MT.
Cheers,
Cody
 

Brent in Az

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Those are some nice looking quality fish. Great time of year for dry flies. Montana really got hammered by wildfires this year.
 

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Some beautiful trout there. Looks like a lot of fun. Ought to have a AH get together on a good lake or stream sometime... Bruce
 

PHOENIX PHIL

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Heavy sigh.....someday I shall return. Brownie's up on top during the day, yeah I'd say you had some good fishing. I could never get them to hit on top except after dark. Yup I really did catch them that way. A little moonlight and a not so far cast and you can see your bug against the shimmering light provided by the moon. At least 20 years ago my eyes could.
 

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Looks like a great time! Thanks for sharing!
 

kathy

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Awesome adventure, looks like a lot of good eating to me.
Fires and hurricane , no good, I live 18 miles from cape Hatteras N.C. seen more hurricanes than I want to remember. Forrest
 

BWH

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Love West MT!
 

Gsxrmike

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Fantastic trip. Thanks for sharing!
 

BSO Dave

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I hate you Dan! Seriously, Miami is not that far from you. When am I going to get an invitation to go fishing? ;)
 

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Firehuntfish - what a nice report and awesome photos! Looks like you had a very successful trip in my backyard. It was a long time before that smoke cleared this year. I know the fishing guides like the fires because of the overcast conditions it creates but it gets old when you have to breathe it every day. I really enjoy wade fishing on the southern end of the Bitterroot Valley but maybe I need to branch out a little!
 

firehuntfish

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Firehuntfish - what a nice report and awesome photos! Looks like you had a very successful trip in my backyard. It was a long time before that smoke cleared this year. I know the fishing guides like the fires because of the overcast conditions it creates but it gets old when you have to breathe it every day. I really enjoy wade fishing on the southern end of the Bitterroot Valley but maybe I need to branch out a little!

Lori,

We just bought a little cabin between Darby and Sula. Sounds like we may be neighbors...

The Bitterroot is one of my favorite rivers to float, but not to wade. Public access is limited in the really prime spots. I have done a lot of exploring/hiking/wading many of the smaller streams all over the valley and beyond. Have you ever fished Rock Creek? It can be crowded certain times of the year, but there are so many fish per mile, you can really find fish on any section of that river from Philipsburg to Clinton. We also had some great fishing this summer on the Flathead river inside the National Bison range, and the Jocko river just outside the park along Hwy 200... I also had a couple of good trips on Fish Creek which dumps into the Clark Fork over towards St. Regis. There is plenty of access all along these creeks and some surprisingly nice sized fish. We also wade-fished one day on the upper Blackfoot. We had some really nice browns up there, but it was wild, isolated country and very "Grizzly-beary".... I don't like fishing and looking over my shoulder at the same time.

You definitely need to get out of the valley and explore some of these other fisheries. :)
 

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Congrats on the cabin! I don’t wade fish on the main river but the East and West Forks. Also Skalkaho is just up the road a ways. I did fish Rock Creek during Salmon fly hatch but water was still very high so a little tough, found some Cuts in side channels.
You’ll have to let me know when you are gonna be out this direction again and we’ll try to meet up.
 

firehuntfish

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You’ll have to let me know when you are gonna be out this direction again and we’ll try to meet up.

Lori,

We checked out the Skalkaho this past trip. Beautiful drive, but we saw a fisherman or a dog in the stream at just about every pull-out. How did you do there? Is it worth another trip up there? Try Rock Creek again in August on a week-day after they close it to boat traffic....

We will be in MT pretty much the entire month of August 2018.... Let's plan to meet at the Bandit Brewing Company in Darby. We will buy the first, second, third, & forth rounds... ;)
 

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Lori,

We just bought a little cabin between Darby and Sula. Sounds like we may be neighbors...

The Bitterroot is one of my favorite rivers to float, but not to wade. Public access is limited in the really prime spots. I have done a lot of exploring/hiking/wading many of the smaller streams all over the valley and beyond. Have you ever fished Rock Creek? It can be crowded certain times of the year, but there are so many fish per mile, you can really find fish on any section of that river from Philipsburg to Clinton. We also had some great fishing this summer on the Flathead river inside the National Bison range, and the Jocko river just outside the park along Hwy 200... I also had a couple of good trips on Fish Creek which dumps into the Clark Fork over towards St. Regis. There is plenty of access all along these creeks and some surprisingly nice sized fish. We also wade-fished one day on the upper Blackfoot. We had some really nice browns up there, but it was wild, isolated country and very "Grizzly-beary".... I don't like fishing and looking over my shoulder at the same time.

You definitely need to get out of the valley and explore some of these other fisheries. :)
While you are up fish creek next time, there is some fine fishing in the waters below white mountain and both surveyor lake and Cedar Log lakes are well worth the walk in. I used to fish below the railroad trestle where fish Cr enters the clarks fork, phenomenal place. One of the best places that used to be on the creek was directly behind the big pine parking area. I ate a many lunch of trout cooked over hot coals on that beautiful stream and miss it Dearly!
Cheers,
Cody
 

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Don’t think I’d complain about catching a number of 14-20” trout on flies. That sounds great! I think the Bitteroot valley is one of the prettiest places you can fish. Who knows, I might just show up next August for a float trip!
 

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I hope to fish Montana with my grand daughter when she gets older and I am not yet too old!
 

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