Allow your mind to conjure up a classic, free flowing trout stream located in the Rocky Mountains of western Montana, and you will have created a mental image of Rock Creek. Rock Creek is located approximately 25 miles east of Missoula, Montana where, after flowing through fifty miles of mostly national forest service lands, it enters the Clark Fork River. It remains one of the true "Blue Ribbon" fisheries of the West, supporting large populations of browns and cutthroats. (Note: Whirling disease has impacted the rainbow population, but they are still present in the system.)
Rock Creek is a mostly free flowing, classic Western trout water. Although Rock Creek is open year around, and provides some excellent angling opportunities before high water, the fishing season typically commences with the salmon fly hatch in late May or early June.
The salmon fly hatch on Rock Creek is somewhat more predictable than many Western rivers, and the angler arriving on the creek during the second or third week of June will have the opportunity to present large salmon fly imitations (size, 2,4 or 6) to hungry fish. Because of the high water, the same angler will also encounter difficult wading conditions and may find themselves competing for the relatively few wadable areas with other bank anglers. However, if you are a strong wader and not opposed to a day of slipping and sliding, June fishing on Rock Creek can be productive. During these high flows, fishing from a well equipped raft is far more productive. This success is attributable to the float fishing angler's ability to access all available holding water with long, drag free floats. Commerical outfitters and private floating is permitted until July 1, at which time all fishing from boats is prohibited.
As June gives way to July and August, Rock Creek quickly recedes and becomes more "wader friendly." The boats are gone, and at this time one can expect to encounter large golden stone flies intermingled with assorted mayflies and caddis. The hectic pace of fishing the salmon fly hatch quiets and gives way to the more typical attempt to match the hatch. Rock Creek trout are easily fooled, and the lower water defines the obvious holding water.
A few special words are required about the spruce moth fishing in August. Generally, in early August, Rock Creek provides some incredible morning fishing to the angler using any reasonable light colored, down-winged imitation. Any size 12 elk hair caddis will do. Depending on the day, the fishing will commence early and continue until 10:30 or 11:00 am. Then, the bugs simply disappear and the fish take up their more subtle forms of feeding.
Fishing in September and October on Rock Creek is not as predictable as in the early summer months. For whatever reason, Rock Creek trout become more selective and difficult to catch. This is not to say that one cannot expect outstanding fishing, but only that the fall fishing does not match the incredible catch rate of early summer. During this time, the lower twelve miles provide opportunities for spawning brown trout, and sporadic may mayfly hatches are present. The upper reaches are most productively fished during the heat of the day with smaller mayfly offerings and any size stonefly nymph. Regardless of the time of year, Rock Creek will provide any angler with a picturesque setting and catchable trout.
Rock Creek is easily accessible and has numerous forest service campgrounds.
About the Author: Mark E. Jones guided the waters of western Montana for more than twenty years. He practices law in Missoula, Montana.