5 Rivers for Fly Fishing Near Missoula

Simply said, the most unique thing about fly fishing near Missoula is the abundance of easily accessible water. From our Montana fly shop in the heart of downtown Missoula, you are a stone’s throw away from Clark Fork River fly fishing, the lifeblood of our town. Travel 30 minutes upstream and you will crossover the mighty Blackfoot River before arriving at the mouth of the ever-so-charming Rock Creek. Or head south out of Missoula for fly fishing the Bitterroot River and see firsthand why it is called a “fly fisherman’s paradise.”

There are numerous opportunities for float and wade fly fishing near Missoula because of the variety of freestone rivers and creeks in the area. With seemingly endless options in and around Missoula, you’ll likely leave town yearning for more. Make the most of your time in western Montana and be sure to check these fly fishing rivers near Missoula off of your list.

the bitterroot river in fall with yellow trees and clouds in the mountains1. Bitterroot River Fly Fishing

            For roughly 80 miles, the beautiful Bitterroot River flows north from its headwaters near Conner to meet the Clark Fork River and is renown for some of the best dry fly fishing near Missoula. The Bitterroot River begins at the confluence of the East and West Forks of the Bitterroot. From there, it swiftly gains size and volume as it picks up numerous creeks downstream. The Bitterroot River is nestled beneath Cottonwood forests in the bottom of the Bitterroot Valley. This contributes to the large amount of woody debris in and along the Bitterroot that gives the river its character.

Its upper stretches, near and upstream of Hamilton, are reminiscent of smaller, more wadeable streams. There anglers can find many braided channels, swift runs and plunging pools predominantly full of native westslope cutthroat trout. Travel downstream towards Missoula and you will notice a dramatic change in the Bitterroot. The river’s lower stretches (downstream of Hamilton) are generally much wider and deeper. This fact can intimidate many wade anglers, yet there are still many options for those that prefer to fish on foot. Here, anglers can target cutthroat in addition to large rainbows and browns averaging 14-20”. The entire Bitterroot River boasts incredible hatches of various stoneflies and mayflies from spring to fall. These hatches, in addition to the breathtaking scenery, are just two reasons that the Bitterroot River beckons anglers from all over the world to its banks year after year.

Check out our Bitterroot River fishing report for up-to-date information.

blackfoot river near Ovando with fall colors in the trees and mountains in background2. Blackfoot River Fly Fishing

            Just upstream, the mighty Blackfoot River dumps into the Clark Fork River near Bonner and provides exceptional fly fishing near Missoula. From there, Highway 200 snakes along the Blackfoot River for the majority of its extent. Along this scenic highway you will find multiple boat launches and campgrounds (not to mention a few awesome local bars and restaurants.) Additionally, the Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor, a gravel road that connects anglers to swaths of public access, launches, and campgrounds, starts and runs for roughly 25 miles before Potomac, MT. This road connects anglers with water not seen from more popularly traveled Highway 200.

For many anglers, the Blackfoot River rings a bell because of the timeless film, “A River Runs Through It” It was here that Norman and Paul “shot the shoots” and “shadow casted” to big wild rainbows, browns, and cutthroat trout. While the times (and certainly the tactics) have changed since then, the Blackfoot River still boasts some amazing fishing and scenery. Different from the Bitterroot, many rapids can be found on the Blackfoot that create excellent pocket water, swift riffles and deep pools. These areas are perfect trout habitat on the Blackfoot River.

Many anglers venture to the Blackfoot for the novel salmonfly hatch in late June. It’s hard to beat a summer day spent fishing size 6 foam flies to the bank, as hoards of dark orange stoneflies flutter above you. While this hatch has earned quite the reputation on the Blackfoot, it isn’t the only good fly fishing to be had. Golden stones, yellow sallies and PMD’s flood the banks in the summer months. Excellent terrestrial fishing can be had later in the year with spruce moths and hoppers. Come September, fall mayfly and streamer fishing is the name of the game on the Blackfoot River.

For more information on what’s working and where to fish, check out our Blackfoot River fishing report.

Clark Fork River near Missoula Montana with mountains in background3. Clark Fork River Fly Fishing

            Many visitors are familiar with the surfing, farmer’s markets, and brew fests that happen in and along the Clark Fork River in Missoula. But few are familiar with the stellar fly fishing opportunities in the Clark Fork outside of town.

The Clark Fork begins at the confluence of Silver Bow and Warm Springs Creeks near Anaconda. There, the Clark Fork resembles a small, meandering stream that flows through ranchland and open fields. However, the Clark Fork rapidly picks up water as it approaches Missoula. Rock Creek first meets the Clark Fork near Clinton, roughly 25 miles from Missoula. The Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers then follow, increasing the flows in the river tenfold. Both stretches, up and downstream of Missoula, are very different in character yet are home to great trout fishing.

For those that prefer to fly fish Montana on foot, the Upper Clark Fork is for you. These stretches are generally small enough to wade the entire year. A plethora of stonefly and mayfly hatches, accompanied by large numbers of hoppers in late summer and early fall, make this area a dry fly fisherman’s paradise.

The “big water” below the mouth of the Bitterroot on the Clark Fork makes for awesome float fly fishing near Missoula. These stretches are generally wider, slower water making for easy, laid-back float fishing. Several amazing mayfly hatches, including march browns and then the trico hatch in late summer, make these stretches unique. From the boat, anglers have the opportunity to anchor up and fish dries to big pods of trout all day long!

For the latest update on conditions, read our Clark Fork River fishing report.

Montana's Rock Creek in fall with yellow trees and mountains4. Rock Creek Fly Fishing

            Possibly the most traveled-to place for fly fishing in Missoula is Montana’s Rock Creek. Every summer, anglers from all over the globe travel to experience the picturesque trout fishing that is Rock Creek. Unlike other creeks in the area, Rock Creek is open year round and provides great fly fishing opportunities season to season. For roughly 40 miles, Rock Creek Road parallels the creek from its mouth near Clinton to the small mountain town of Philipsburg. This road guides anglers along unbelievable amounts of public access on and along Rock Creek. Excellent dry fly opportunities present themselves in the spring through early summer, when the first salmonflies make their way to the banks in May. Many anglers wade and float this time of year, when high water and swift pocket water permit a short, yet epic, float fishing season. From June on, great summer and fall hatches occur on Rock Creek, and the scenery is second to none. Rock Creek’s swaths of public water should be put high on your list. Whether you’re looking for a quick evening out on the water or a weekend-long adventure, make sure to add Rock Creek to your list of Montana fly fishing destinations.

Check out our Rock Creek fishing report for updates on what’s working and how to be successful.

three anglers in drift boat fly fishing on the Missouri River near Craig, Montana5. Missouri River Fly Fishing

            Just over the hill lies the Missouri River, home to the most trout per mile of any river in Montana. The Missouri is a tailwater that is open year-round, making fishing consistent when conditions elsewhere are poor. The river’s most popular stretches lie beneath Holter Dam, near the town of Craig. The Missouri River lies hidden beneath rolling hills, where the Rocky Mountain Front transitions into the plains of eastern Montana. The Missouri’s amazing scenery is only second to its great fly fishing. In the spring and summer months, a plethora of mayfly hatches create ample opportunities for those that like technical dry fly fishing. And in the offseason, the Missouri River is home to great nymphing, streamer, and trout spey fishing. If you’re looking to see another part of the state, or to check a world-renowned fishery off the bucket list, head east from Missoula and experience the Missouri River.

Get the latest update at our Missouri River fishing report.

Long story short, there’s no better place to base your Montana fly fishing trip than Missoula. Between the town’s convenient, central location and the unparalleled amounts of public access, a fly fishing trip to Missoula is simply a no brainer. Call or visit us at our Missoula fly shop to see why we love living and fishing in Missoula so much!

Need gear for your next fly fishing trip? Check out our online fly shop to get the gear you need to make the most of your time on the water.

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