The Flathead River System comprises a large area of northwestern Montana. Its drainage includes parts of the Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex The three forks (North, South and Middle) and the main stem flow swiftly trough some of the most beautiful scenery in Montana.
The North Fork Flathead River begins in British Columbia, and travels for 47 miles before spilling over into Montana. Throughout it's length in Montana, it forms the western boundary of Glacier National Park. Upstream of Big Creek, the North Fork Flathead River has a "scenic" designation. Below Big Creek, there are multiple rapids, twists and turns. This fork provides a really exciting and fun float. I have done it in September and am looking forward to trying it out when the water is higher. Maybe the fishing will be better too. The North Fork and Middle Fork meet at Blankenship forming the main stem of the Flathead.
“The Middle Fork of the Flathead River begins just outside the Great Bear Wilderness, which is located south of Glacier National Park. The Middle Fork emerges from the wilderness area near Essex, where it flows past a unique place called the "Goat Lick." Beginning in Essex, the Middle Fork Flathead River parallels Highway 2 all the way down to West Glacier, although the river is generally out of sight as it often flows hundreds of vertical feet below and well back from the road. Numerous designated and undesignated access points exist between Essex and West Glacier, allowing for easy access and countless potential camp sites. It’s also a very scenic section of the Middle Fork - with the towering mountains of Glacier National Park and the Great Bear Wilderness frequently visible. The middle portion of the river, between Essex and Moccasin Creek, only has moderate pressure from floaters and fishermen.
“The South Fork of the Flathead River begins deep in the heart of Bob Marshall Wilderness complex, one of the nation’s largest designated wilderness areas. Due to the fact that the South Fork of the Flathead River starts deep in the wilderness area and flows for more than 40 miles through the heart of the complex, simply getting to the South Fork is an adventure in itself. Backpacking gear will be needed for the angler without a horse to fish the South Fork above the Hungry Horse Reservoir, as the only access to the river is by trail.” *** This fork empties into the main stem a couple of miles below the Hungry Horse Dam and the main stem flows from here south into Flathead Lake, which is the largest freshwater lake in the Western United States.
This river system does not have a prolific mayfly hatch, but does have large numbers of caddis and stoneflies. There are multiple places to wade fish this river, but most people access these spots via drift boats. Caddis and stonefly dries do fish very well. I have done excellent though with attractors such as the Royal Wulff particularly in the morning. Do not be afraid to use large flies, for they frequently work best here. Large streamers, hare’s ear nymphs, zug bugs, large terrestrials and hoppers will also do well here during the hotter summer months. Expect to catch rainbows, cutthroat, occasional brook and the rare bull trout here. I have never caught a brown trout here—don’t think they were ever stocked. Remember the bull are endangered and must be released immediately.
The lower Flathead is mostly a warm water fishery, but I hear there is an occasional trout and some huge pike holding in these waters. Overall the Flathead River System is one that all US citizens should see, if for no other reason than to take in the breathtakingly beautiful scenery. Multiple rafting guides located here will take you on a beautiful day float or even overnight if you like. These floats can make for a great family outing and you can get in some great fishing as well. For a family outing (with children under the age of 8 and 100 pounds), I would suggest the Middle Fork of the Flathead which is a calmer river and there are multiple places to camp along the way.
* There are some special regulations for this river system with which you should be aware if you are going to keep any fish which you should read at the Montana Fish and Game website.
Idaho Angler (IdahoAngler@live.com)
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