Montana Fly Fishing
Floating the Clark Fork

Clark Fork

The Clark Fork : Floating Information

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Lower Clark Fork
Photo Use Guidelines

The Clark Fork in Montana has a somewhat nasty reputation among most anglers and floaters due to its past and continuing environmental problems. As a result, fishing and floating pressure for most of its length is fairly light in comparison to other prime Montana rivers.

Floating or rafting the Clark Fork can begin as far up as its origin, in the Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area, although the section between its origin and Garrison has fairly slow water. The Clark Fork also resembles more of a spring creek than a river for its first twenty miles. As a result, only very small rafts, inflatable kayaks (the best bet) or canoes will work well when floating from the headwaters. Anyone who plans on floating between its origin and Galen should be prepared for some portages around obstructions, lots of overhanding brush and some general frustrations in general. It is not an easy float. Below Galen, the Clark Fork becomes more friendly to floating during normal water levels.

Upstream from Deer Lodge, Montana, the Clark Fork gradually picks up flows until it begins to resemble a decent sized river, albeit frequently a shallow one due to irrigation use. Later in the summer, this part of the Clark Fork may be unfloatable due to heavy irrigation use, so be sure to check river flows. Downstream from Deer Lodge, at Garrison, the Little Blackfoot River empties into the Clark Fork, increasing flows and providing for solid and consistent rafting conditions year round.

Below Drummond, pressure on the Clark Fork increases as more float parties use the river for fishing and pleasure. Access sites between Drummond and Milltown Dam are somewhat sparse and widely spaced apart. However, by using the road on the north side of the Clark Fork, float parties using smaller boats can easily drag their boats down the banks and plop them in the river. Inflatable rafts, kayaks and canoes will be the best bet for this - disaster likely awaits any floater trying this with a drift boat.

Twenty-five miles below Drummond and just above the Beavertail Hill access site, a diversion dam must be portaged.

The Clark Fork continues flowing through the forested canyon below the diversion dam, picking up the waters of Rock Creek ten miles downstream from the diversion dam. It then picks up the flows of the Blackfoot River another fifteen miles further downstream.

Below Milltown Dam (hopefully soon to be fully removed), the river begins to make its way through Missoula. The Clark Fork divides into two channels in Missoula. To avoid a diversion dam and a portage, use the left channel.

Floaters on the Clark Fork

Photo Use Guidelines

Below Missoula, the Clark Fork continues another 35 miles with somewhat sparse access to Alberton, where the first of the whitewater on the river begins. Between Alberton and the Tarkio Access Site, a distance of sixteen miles, the river has many whitewater sections. Depending on river flows, the whitewater can hit Class IV difficulty. In general, the higher the flows the more difficult the rapids will be, so check current river flows before rafting this stretch of river.

Canoes are not recommended on this section of river, and only intermediates and above should take rafts down this stretch. During sunny weekend days, this section of the Clark Fork receives heavy use from recreational floaters, with theTarkio Access Site (the popular takeout spot) resembling controlled chaos.

Following this stretch of whitewater, the Clark Fork continues for another thirty miles until its confluence with the St. Regis River, where the Clark Fork leaves the Interstate behind. This section of the Clark Fork offers a very scenic float for thirty-five miles to the town of Plains. One stretch of whitewater exists, depending on river flows, 18 miles downstream from the St. Regis River confluence.

Five miles downstream from Plains, the Clark Fork has a short Class II and a Class III rapid. Below these small rapids, the river continues to Thompson Falls. Floating essentially ceases at Thompson Falls, as several dams back up the river and form a chain of lakes all the way down to the Idaho border.

Selected River Miles for the Clark Fork

Listed below are selected river miles for the Clark Fork in Montana. Clicking on any of the links (opens new window) will provide more detailed information about each fishing access site (FAS).

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