The Yaak River
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The Yaak River, despite the high level of sediment in the river due to extensive logging operations, is still a fine river to fly fish. While not the excellent trout stream it once was, the Yaak River can still offer up average sized rainbows and cutthroats, and a very healthy selection of brook trout.
Additionally, the Yaak River region is very isolated. Not surprisingly, fly fishing pressure on the Yaak is quite low, with the bulk of all fishermen being locals. Thus, the Yaak River can provide a visiting angler with a fine opportunity to fish in an un-crowded river in a remote, quiet setting.
In the upper portion of the river, the current varies from slow to moderate. The riverbanks are a nice mix of trees, bushes and grass. The upper portion, above Yaak Village, is where the rivers biggest surprise is found - large brook trout, perhaps the biggest found anywhere in Montana.
Catching these brookies can be an exercise in both frustration and patience. Like brook trout in other rivers, the small ones are not difficult to catch. They will rise readily to a dry fly and later in the summer, hoppers and ants.
Where the challenge lies in fly fishing for these brookies is catching the large ones that go over three pounds - a size not entirely unusual in the Yaak. To catch the larger brook trout, streamers are the anglers' best bet. Fish the streamers in the deep pools, as this is where the larger fish will be found. Be fully prepared to lose many flies, as the bottom of the Yaak River contains countless trees and downfall. Additionally, during late summer, hoppers can also draw the larger trout out of the pools and up to the surface.
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Further downstream, below Yaak village, the lower half of the river offers good fly fishing for rainbow trout. The lower half of the river is split into two sections by Yaak Falls, which lies 9 miles above the confluence with the Kootenai River.
Above the falls and extending up to Yaak Village, extensive pools and riffles are found, allowing for classic dry fly fishing. At Yaak Village, the river is quite small, but picks up width and volume as it travels further downstream towards Yaak Falls. Except for in the vicinity of Yaak Village, access to this section of the river is excellent. Throughout this section, the river flows through a mix of private and public land, with a paved road closely following the river. The flow of the Yaak River in this section is generally slow to moderate, although a section of almost dead water does exist below the Whitetail campground.
This section of the Yaak River provides easy fly fishing for wade fisherman. Due to the rivers frequent narrow width, its twisty nature, sometimes very slow flows and easy access, this section of the Yaak River is an excellent place for wade fishing. Fishing pressure is generally low and the rainbows are not exceptionally picky. Standard dry flies, especially in the morning and evening hours, when matched to the local hatch will work well. Hopper imitations also work very well beginning in July and lasting through early-September. Average sized rainbows in this stretch will run between 10-14 inches, with 16-inch rainbows not uncommon.
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fly fishing in this section of the Yaak River, anglers may also encounter two endangered fish, the bull trout and the native inland redband rainbow trout. Both fish species are illegal to take, so if you catch one, take the normal precautions to release the fish with as little stress and injury as possible.
Below Yaak Falls, especially right near the falls, is where the larger rainbow trout can be found. Unfortunately, to get at them is not an easy feat. Below Yaak Falls the Yaak River flows into a canyon that extends down to the confluence with the Kootenai River, making for either a long upstream hike from Highway 2 or a steep climb down into the canyon from upriver. Fishing in this section by boat is out, as the river below Yaak Falls has extensive whitewater sections all the way to the Kootenai River and because there is no easy way to get a boat down to the Yaak below the falls. Either way, access to this canyon stretch is difficult.
Overall, the Yaak River is not the river it once was. The extensive logging operations have taken their toll on the river. However, the future of the river is not completely bleak. Due to the rivers isolation and, hopefully, better timber harvest management in the future, the Yaak River may recover to become an excellent fishery in the years ahead.
Until that happens, the river still offers decent fishing in a isolated place, and makes for a worthy side trip for any angler on a Montana fly fishing trip.
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