The Clark Fork begins at the
confluence of Silver Bow Creek and Warm Springs Creek in the Warm Springs
Wildlife Management Area, which is located west of Butte and
east of Deer
Lodge. The fact that this river has any fish at all is
a surprise to many anglers. The fact that the river actually has decent
fishing for very large trout in some sections of the river is a testament
to the ability of a nature to heal itself from near catastrophic damage.
The Clark Fork has the dubious
honor of originating near the largest Superfund site in the US. Silver
Bow Creek near its headwaters is essentially fishless, as various toxic
metals are found in and all along the creek just upstream from its
confluence with Warm Springs Creek. These toxins, of course, drain
into the Clark Fork and have, both today and especially in the past,
caused the Clark Fork tremendous environmental damage.
The Clark Fork : General Overview
The Clark Fork is one of the
longest rivers in Montana, stretching more than 280 miles from its
origin to the Idaho border. The last sixty miles of the river is essentially
a series of lakes created by three dams. The best fishing on the Clark
Fork is found between its origin and the confluence with the Flathead
River near Paradise.
For its entire length in Montana,
Interstate 90 roughly parallels the river, providing frequent if sometimes
noisy access sites. The terrain the Clark Fork flows through is quite
diverse. At its origin, the area is marked by large, arid plains with
towering mountains located to the south. The many scars on the landscape,
especially near its headwaters, serve as a reminder to what the regions
heavy mining activity. The Clark Fork picks up flows from many smaller
streams as well as the Little
Blackfoot River in this section.
Further downstream, beginning
around Drummond and lasting till Missoula, the Clark Fork picks up
volume and begins to thread its way through the Garnet Range on the
north and the John Long Mountains and Sapphire Mountains to the south.
In this section, the riverbanks are frequently forested and it is quite
The valley the Clark Fork flows through in this section is
quite narrow, and mountains frequently abut right up against the
river. Despite this narrow valley, access to the Clark Fork in this stretch
is excellent. A road closely follows the river on the north side
much of the distance in the canyon, allowing for easy off the road
access. Several bridge crossings and designated fishing access sites
provide further access. The Clark Fork picks up the flows from Rock
Creek and the Blackfoot
River in this canyon section as well.
The river leaves the mountains
temporarily and enters Missoula,
MT. Following Missoula, the river picks up the flows from the Bitterroot
River and makes its way through a fairly large plain before entering
heavily forested mountains another twenty miles downstream. This is
a very scenic area, with moderately tall forested mountains rising
straight up from the river. While the Interstate roughly parallels
the river, the Clark Fork is generally located deep down in a canyon,
usually a hundred feet or more below the level of the road. The only
real whitewater on the Clark Fork is also encountered in this section.
A number of designated fishing sites, along with many road access spots,
provide decent access to the Clark Fork in this section.
After flowing through this
scenic countryside for another sixty miles, the Clark Fork joins up
with the Flathead
River, and becomes a very considerable river. While the countryside
is still mountainous, the area is noticeably drier and not nearly as
forested as found just a bit upstream. Following its confluence with
the Flathead River, access to the Clark Fork becomes more difficult,
with only a handful of fishing access sites providing access to the
river. The Clark Fork continues on to a series of dams downstream from
Thompson Falls, Montana.
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