Fishing in Western Montana is centered around the town of Missoula, MT, which is located on the banks of the Clark Fork River and within easy striking distance of several other famous fisheries. This region of the state has a bit milder climate than other parts of Montana, which ushers in very good hatches and fishing early in the season. The flip side is that mid-Summer fishing can suffer, especially during low water years. Native Cutthroats still maintain a big presence in these rivers, with ample populations of Browns and Rainbows as well. Steep, heavy timber dominates the narrow valleys such as Rock Creek and the Blackfoot, while larger systems such as the Bitterroot provide more wide open mountain vistas.
A large river best fished from a drift boat, the Bitterroot is well known for its early season Skwala Stonefly hatch in March and April. This is the first opportunity each year to throw "big" dry flys to rising trout. The river offers almost 70 miles of fishable water as it makes its way across the Bitterroot Valley to its confluence with the Clark Fork just west of Missoula.
Timeless cliff walls and ponderosa pines tower over deep, clear runs and boulder strewn riffles -- the Big Blackfoot is trout water. Affording both wading and floating angler opportunity for nearly sixty miles, the Big Blackfoot River is as diverse as the Montana landscape it shapes. Harboring good populations of Montana's only two "native" salmonids, cutthroats and bull trout, the Big Blackfoot is also abundant with rainbow, cutbows, browns and mountain whitefish throughout its length.
The Clark Fork River is a great comeback story. Once devastated by pollution from mining and one of the largest Superfund sites in the nation, the river has rebounded to offer up 100's of miles of productive trout water. Starting as a small, brushy creek around Warm Springs, MT, the Clark Fork eventually grows to carry the largest volume of water of any river in Montana. From tossing hoppers along the willows around Deer Lodge to running the big whitewater of Alberton Gorge, the Clark Fork has something to offer to all anglers.
Draining a chain of lakes, this Blackfoot River tributary lives up to its name. The lakes mitigate the effect of spring runoff and the Clearwater always retains fishable clarity. While it doesn't hold high populations of resident fish, trout tend to migrate into the river from the lakes at times. These fish tend to be larger than your average river specimen, as they grow fat and strong in the depths of the lakes.
Don't let the name fool you, Rock Creek is more of a "River" than a "Creek". This classic freestone stream meets the Clark Fork about a half hour east of Missoula, where a Forest Service road provides excellent access for miles back into the hills. The creek has a float season early on in May and June, with good wading the rest of the year. The Salmonfly hatch in June is famous here, although dry fly fishing can be very good over a myriad of other hatches.