Montana Fly Fishing
Fly Fishing the Blackfoot River

Bitterroot River

Fly Fishing the Blackfoot River

Floaters on the Blackfoot River
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The Blackfoot River was one of the forgotten rivers by visiting anglers in Montana prior to the release of the popular movie of A River Runs Through It in 1992. Following the release of the movie and the placement of the Blackfoot River on the ten-most endangered rivers due to the potential threat of a large mine at the time (the mine never got full approval due to a state wide initiative that killed the practice of cyanide gold mining, thankfully), the Blackfoot rose from obscurity to national prominence almost overnight. Today, the Blackfoot River ranks as not only as one of the prettiest rivers in this part of Montana but also one of the most heavily used as well. Excellent fly fishing, combined with its close proximity to Missoula that attract lots of recreational floaters, can turn the Blackfoot River into a very crowded place on a summer weekend.

While the Blackfoot River does see its share of use, a good portion of the use is on the weekends by either local fisherman or recreational floaters from the Missoula area. Arriving on the Blackfoot River during mid-week or before Memorial Day or after Labor Day will find the river empty of much of the weekend crowd, providing for a more pleasant fishing environment - especially for wade fisherman (who need to do battle with all the "flotation devices" that make their way down the Blackfoot River on a summer weekend).

Of course, another reason the Blackfoot River is so popular is because it is both very scenic and diverse. Excellent fly fishing for brown trout and rainbow trout is found throughout most of its length in a very nice, relaxing setting.

Thankfully, the Blackfoot River has both very good access and is quite long (130 miles), helping to spread the use around and to keep the fly fishing pressure down to manageable levels. Any angler who has the time and plans on fly fishing either the nearby Rock Creek or Bitterroot River should plan on taking a trip up to the Blackfoot River, as excellent fishing in a wonderful setting awaits.

Blackfoot River : Origin to Lincoln

Upper Blackfoot River near Lincoln
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This short stretch of the Blackfoot River, which runs for 22 miles, is the only part of the Blackfoot River that has very poor fishing. In this stretch, the river is very narrow and quite shallow. During cold, dry winters, parts of the river in this stretch can either dry out or freeze-up completely - events not conducive to good fishing. The handfuls of fish that struggle to survive in this harsh environment mainly include some small cutthroat and brown trout that will be found in the vicinity of Lincoln. Basically, on this stretch, the closer you get to the origin, the worse the fishing becomes and the better it will become as you near Lincoln.

Blackfoot River : Lincoln to Mineral Hill Fishing Access Site

The Blackfoot River flows for twenty-five miles in this section of the river through some very scenic countryside. Downstream from Lincoln the Blackfoot threads its way through some small, forested mountains. It twists and turns extensively in this section. Access is also very good in this stretch. Highway 141 closely follows the Blackfoot River in this section, allowing easy road access. Despite the easy access, this stretch of the Blackfoot River has the least pressure of any section on the river save the portion above Lincoln.

The low pressure on the Blackfoot River here stems from its distant location from Missoula, its difficult floating conditions and because the quality of the fly fishing, while good, is not as good as found further downstream.

Blackfoot River near Mineral Hill FAS
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Fly fishing on this stretch of the Blackfoot River can be a challenge. Brown trout make up most of the fish in this section. While the numbers of brown trout in this section are only average, the size of the brown trout can be well above average. Brown trout stretching up to twenty inches can be found all along this section of the Blackfoot.

Like brown trout everywhere, though, they are not the easiest to catch. Streamers are the fly of choice when chasing these brown trout, throwing them around the many undercut banks, around the extensive downed timber and into the few holes that can be found.

This section of the Blackfoot River is best wade fished. While this portion of the Blackfoot River can be floated, the many logjams can be both frustrating to portage and can provide for more than a few surprise encounters. Additionally, during low water periods later in the summer, it is not uncommon to end up dragging larger rafts or drift boats over the gravel bottom of the river. Shallower drawing boats, such as small inflatable rafts or kayaks, work better for late season or low water float fishing.

Blackfoot River : Mineral Hill FAS to Cedar Meadows FAS

This stretch of the Blackfoot River looks quite close together on the map, but yet stretches for more than eighteen-miles. The river twists and turns so extensively that six air miles between the two fishing access sites end up being eighteen river miles. Additionally, the current of the Blackfoot River is quite slow in this stretch. Large rafts or drift boats, unless you truly have all day or enjoy lots of rowing, are not recommended in this stretch. Instead, either a canoe or inflatable kayaks are the boats of choice on this stretch, as they are much easier to paddle for long stretches of slow water.

The fly fishing on this stretch of the BlackfootRiver is not much different than found just above Mineral Hill. Brown trout dominate in these waters, and will be found in the same locations as before: the holes, undercut banks and around downed timber. Streamers are once again the best flies to use on this section of the Blackfoot River.

Unfortunately, access is somewhat spotty on this stretch of the Blackfoot River, with only one fishing access site (Aunt Molly) found between Mineral Hill and Cedar Meadows. Since the Blackfoot River temporarily leaves the roads behind, no easy road access exists. Thus, floating this section of the Blackfoot River is the best way to cover as much water as possible. Just remember to bring the proper boat along for a more enjoyable float. Similar to further upstream, later in the summer or during drought conditions this section of the Blackfoot River can get very low, leading to some portages and some short drags over the river bottom. To avoid this, consider float fishing on this stretch between the end of spring run-off a (anywhere from late-May to mid-June) to the middle of July.

Next Page : Fishing the Blackfoot, page 2

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