Fishing South Fork of Flathead River

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September 5, 2017

We woke up to the coldest it has been yet, 38 degrees. After a leisurely breakfast we headed out. By 9:00 when we first stepped into the cold river, it was still chilly. We are “wet wading” without waders. Most of the time in the summer it’s just fine. We fished a fast-flowing area with plenty of water with no results. It seems cutthroat don’t like these parts of the rivers. They need a pool nearby. Our Virginia Brook Trout would love this. 

We moved up river and crossed to the other side where there were huge, long pools. As we walked to the side of the river about 50’ up, we saw rocks that were lined up in formation on the far side of the current. One rock was closer to shore. I walked down a bit, picked up a small stone and tossed it near the closest fish-looking rock. It swam upstream! Oh my, the others were all fish, big fish, maybe 18 or 20 inchers. Our hearts leapt. We stood there wondering how to get a fly to them across the current without dragging the line, but there was no way. You couldn’t wade out, because it was probably 20’ deep in that area. We have never seen fish schooled up like that, in perfect formation like a military company. There were 40 or 50 of them sitting there in clear, turquoise water.

If there were that many fish in that spot, surely there were a bunch in the beautiful pools ahead. We fished hard for several hours, but only caught a few small fish. We changed flies many times to no avail. There are lots of stonefly shells all over the rocks. Maybe they have feasted on these big, molting bugs and are full. Walking back downstream, we stopped to analyze the possibilities of fishing that school. The wind was blowing hard now, making ripples on the water, so we could not see if they were still there. Kelly went above and I went below. We tried our best, but we couldn’t really reach the sweet spot. When I lost my fly on the rock cliff behind me, I gave up. That was the third fly I had lost on the rocks.

Planes and helicopters flew over us all day, going to fight fires all around us. Maybe those fish were sitting in the best possible position in case of disaster. We went back to Spotted Bear and fished for an hour. This time I fished upstream and Kelly went down. I managed to catch just enough for dinner. this is a gorgeous stream and would be great to fish for several days. The problem is how to get out when you are tired at the end of the day. It can be a long, steep climb out to the road. If you are younger and you love fishing, this is a great stream. 

In fact, looking at the maps, where all the roads end, trails follow the Flathead for miles and miles. There are also trails following all the other streams. That still doesn’t mean the trail will be right next to the stream, and it could be straight up, but that is how it works fishing the west. Still, at least there are trails. You have to be comfortable camping in the wild and doing all the bear-prevention things, but there are few places like this. There is only one way in and one way out, and that is 50 miles of rough road. Actually, you can fly in and stay in one of several lodges. There is great opportunity to float the Flathead, probably the best way to really fish it, perhaps camping along the river for several days. One of the pioneers of this area loved horses, so there are extensive horse trails. This is one of the coolest places I have ever been. It breaks your heart to see so much of it burning.

  2 comments for “Fishing South Fork of Flathead River

  1. September 14, 2017 at 8:07 am

    Sounds pretty dangerous with all the fires. Makes breathing difficult at times I guess.

  2. September 14, 2017 at 9:47 am

    Yes, a little scary Billy, but never really in danger. However, the smoke is a different issue. I’m sure it isn’t good.

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