Montana Fly Fishing
Fly Fishing the Clark Fork

Clark Fork

The Clark Fork : Fishing Information

Clark Fork downstream from Drummond
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That the Clark Fork has any fly fishing at all, let alone very good fishing sections in spots, is a testament to the ability of nature to overcome total man-made environmental debacles and provides a showcase of how to go about cleaning it up.

Not so long ago the Clark Fork would often run red, full of heavy metals and mining wastes that flowed down the entire length of the river, killing all but a handful of lucky fish. These mining wastes originated near the headwaters of the Clark Fork, in the heavy mining area surrounding Butte, Anaconda and Opportunity. These wastes ended up in the two primary feeder creeks that create the Clark Fork, Warm Springs Creek and Silver Bow Creek.

With the creation of the Superfund Act, a huge section of the Clark Fork was declared a Superfund Site and a tremendous amount of money and time has gone into cleaning it up. The Anaconda Settling Ponds were created and engineered to catch the mining wastes before they entered the headwaters and have been very effective at trapping the heavy metals. So effective, in fact, that virtually all of the heavy metals that come down from various feeder creeks (Silver Bow Creek and Warm Springs Creek in particular) are kept out of the Clark Fork.

As a result of these efforts, the Clark Fork has been making a solid recovery and now plays hosts to lots of large brown trout and rainbow trout. Excellent fly fishing can be found in numerous spots along the Clark Fork, some of which rival that found on other more notable rivers (many of which drain into the Clark Fork, such as the Bitterroot, Blackfoot and Rock Creek). While the entire Clark Fork holds trout, the best fishing will be found in various spots along the river. A successful angler will bypass some of the slow areas and instead focus on the better producing water.

Clark Fork below Galen
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The Clark Fork is a very long river, running for more than 300 miles in Montana. The lower sixty miles consist of a chain of dams and reservoirs. The remainder of the Clark Fork, though, holds a lot of every kind of habitat a fly fisherman could want. Whitewater, pools, runs, riffles, brushy banks, grassy banks, forested banks, fast current, slow current and much else await an angler visiting the Clark Fork.

An angler visiting the Clark Fork for the first time and sees the river at its origin and later downstream can only be amused by the changes in the river. At its origin in the Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area, the Clark Fork is so narrow most people could jump across it. Yet the river begins to pick up flows from numerous feeder streams and by the time it reaches Deer Lodge it is a sizeable river. By the time the Clark Fork flows through Missoula it is a very large river. And after it picks up the flows of the Flathead River near Plains it becomes a massive river - the biggest river in the state, in fact.

Thus, an angler who plans on fly fishing the Clark Fork for the first time should think about what type of river they like to fish. If you enjoy fly fishing in a small river setting, don't plan on fishing below Missoula. Likewise, if a spring creek fishing experience is what you are looking for, plan on fly fishing right at the origin of the river. And if float fishing is your style, plan on putting in anywhere downstream from Missoula.

In short, the Clark Fork offers enough fly fishing variety to satisfy any angler. It provides excellent fishing in spots, and both very large brown trout and monster rainbow trout can and have been pulled out of the river. And as an additional benefit, compared to other Montana rivers, fishing pressure on the Clark Fork is generally light. With its nasty reputation and its close proximity to more notable trout rivers, the Clark Fork is generally drove by without a second thought by most anglers. As a result, many sections of the Clark Fork allow an angler to fish and have the river all to themselves.

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