Montana Fly Fishing
The Beaverhead River

Beaverhead River

Fly Fishing the Beaverhead River

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Beaverhead River near Henneberry Fishing Access Site 
Photo Use Guidelines

The Beaverhead River, particularly the upper stretch between Clark Canyon Reservoir and Barretts Diversion Dam, is perhaps the most difficult river to fish in Montana. Heavy use, large and fussy brown trout, small nymphs, delicate tippets, frequent difficult water conditions and the twisty nature of the river all conspire to make fly fishing the Beaverhead River a difficult experience.

But the difficulty is not without rewards. The Beaverhead River is prime water for fly fishing for large brown trout - real large brown trout. A common brown trout, particularly on the upper section, ranges from twelve to fifteen inches. Larger browns, stretching well past the twenty-inch mark, are also present in high numbers. For the angler looking to chase trophy-sized brown trout, the Beaverhead River should be on the top of any list.

Before heading out to the Beaverhead River, a word should be said about its flows and how they are regulated, as they greatly affect fishing. Clark Canyon Reservoir regulates the flow of the Beaverhead River. During the late winter period and in spring, the reservoir fills up, slowing the current in the river down substantially (water is witheld from the river to fill the reservoir). In the summer, the reservoir releases significant flows of cold water that are siphoned off for irrigation at Barretts Diversion Dam. This diversion dam frequently takes half or more of the water in the river, thus leaving the stretch below the diversion dam with low water throughout much of the summer.

Fly Fishing on the Beaverhead River 
Photo Use Guidelines

Prime float fishing flows between Clark Canyon Reservoir and Barretts Diversion Dam is considered to be 600-1000 cfs. At this flow rate, wade fly fishing is difficult. Wade fishing is not particularly easy on the upper stretch to begin with, and with high flows, wade anglers are frequently not able to fight the fast and deep current to cross the Beaverhead River to prime fishing holes. Better wade angler flows occur when the river drops to 300 cfs. When the river flows over 1500 cfs, fishing becomes next to impossible for wade anglers and exceptionally difficult for float anglers. At these high flow rates, the Beaverhead River can become muddy and very turbid, limiting flyfishing success. Additionally, the high flows only add to a normally fast current that whisk the float angler downstream that much faster, making presentation difficult.

Typical flows on the Beaverhead River in winter range between 100-300 cfs, but can fall to as low as 50 cfs or less, leading to winter kill. In May and early June, flows average around 1000 cfs, but can balloon to over 1500 cfs in high water years. The river then begins to creep down, settling into August with flows around 600-800 cfs, although it can be substantially lower during drought conditions. As the water is released from Clark Canyon Reservoir, the summer flows are still cool.

Next Page : Fly Fishing the Beaverhead River, Page 2


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