Clark Fork River
The Clark Fork River, named for William Clark of the Lewis & Clark Journey, is the main drainage of central western Montana and collects all the other waters as it heads westward toward the Columbia Basin and eventually the Pacific Ocean. The upper Clark Fork, stemming from Butte to Missoula, is a small, winding wade and float fishery where you can find some real solitude and great streamer and terrestrial fishing to a primarily brown trout population.
The lower Clark Fork, downstream of Missoula after the Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers enter, is a much larger river where consistent mayfly and caddis hatches provide great headhunting opportunities to more mature rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout. The Clark Fork is a great destination river or a nice compliment to a Missoula area trip where you would fish two or three other rivers in the region.
Fishing Seasons and Techniques
The Clark Fork River drainage is a long one (almost 300 miles from top to bottom), and generally travels through a lower elevation valley, so it has a longer season than most rivers and sees a wide variety of hatch cycles and water flows. Springtime pre-runoff fishing is good on the Clark Fork, with skwalla stoneflies and spring baetis hatches bringing trout to the surface in the afternoons. Post run-off and into the summer months is the primetime window on the Clark Fork - terrestrial season and trico matches eventually lead to fall blue-winged olives and October caddis to finish up the season.
The upper and lower Clark Fork are two distinctly different waters - the upper is relatively small and winding with higher fish densities of smaller fish - although there are some dandies to be found! The river below Missoula is much broader with lower fish densities but a population of larger average fish to find.