There are more miles of quality trout water within a one-hour drive of Missoula than anywhere else we can think of. Combine that with quality lodging, outstanding food, and all the activities in a fun university town, and… well, you can see why we are here!
Made famous by the book and movie A River Runs Through It, the Blackfoot has undergone an amazing transformation over the past 20 years. A cooperative effort between local fishing organizations, ranchers, and the State of Montana has cleaned up the effects of logging and mining and has improved fishing access.
There is very little that is delicate about the Blackfoot. A freestone river characterized by big boulders, deep pools, and clear water, it is water for big fish and big flies. Some of the biggest fish caught in the Missoula area are pulled out of the Blackfoot. Much of the 70 mile stretch is set in between canyon walls with sheer cliffs, colorful rock formations, and studded with local wildlife. Many locals leave the rods behind and float the river during the summer to enjoy the peaceful scenery.
The Bitterroot River flows south to north through the Bitterroot Valley for roughly 78 miles. This freestone stream – prime cutthroat water – begins with the convergence of the East and West Forks of the Bitterroot River. As the river makes its way to the confluence with the Clark Fork in Missoula, it winds through a broad river valley, carving out long holes, undercutting banks, creating braids, and depositing trees. The Bitterroot hosts large populations of all of Montana’s trout species.
The magic of this river is the dry fly fishing for large trout. The hatches of the Bitterroot are legendary. Early in the year, stoneflies are the draw: Skawala stoneflies, salmon flies, golden stones, and Bitterroot stones. As we transition into summer, mayflies, caddis, and terrestrials take over.
Clark Fork River
The Clark Fork starts as a small creek near Butte, flows through Missoula as a healthy river, and leaves Montana 200 miles later as the largest river flowing out of state. Along the way, there is a little something for everyone.
The upper river is just a small stream until it meets Rock Creek, a lively, fast flowing stream. Initially a brown trout haven, the Clark Fork River offers a good mix of browns and rainbows for most of its length. The fishing pressure here is less than in some of the other Missoula waters, and the dry fly action can be spectacular.
The lower river is a different animal. Below Missoula, the Clark Fork becomes a large river and shares many of the Bitterroot River’s characteristics, such as large fly hatches and beautiful trout. Especially in the spring, the Skawala stonefly hatches rival any others in the area. In addition, this river has become a quality pike fishery. In the spring and fall, we do several combined trout and pike trips, and opportunities for catching a 10+ pound pike on the fly is not something to be missed! We use the jet boat on this water in the spring and late fall to access the best runs and sloughs.
Georgetown Lake is located about an hour and half to the east of Missoula. Georgetown is located at 6,500 feet, on the edge of the scenic Pintler Wilderness. The lake boasts plentiful, large rainbows and some trophy brook trout. Much of the fishing is subsurface, using streamers and nymphs. However, there is some tremendous dry fly action on damselflies, large caddisflies, and callibaetis.
Georgetown Lake is a scenic wonderland. The views of the Pintlar Mountains are fantastic and moose sightings in the lake are common. The lake itself is crystal clear and the bottom is covered with tall weed beds like an overgrown spring creek. Our favorite times to fish the lake are following the thaw in late May or June, and then again in the fall. In addition to Georgetown Lake, we fish several other lakes in the area, especially early in the season.