Discussing fishing flies, trout flies, salmon flies, fly fishing gear and equipment, Idaho and Montana fishing rivers, NW rivers, fly tying and fly fishing trips. Over 50 years experience in fly fishing, best flies, fly tying, fly fishing techniques, fish stories, directions to rivers and lakes and great fly fishing tall tales with special communications from area guides.
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This article is posted by YellowStoneFly aka Idaho Angler at Idaho Fly Fishers. The Westslope cutthroat is a native to western North America. The "CUTTY" (Oncorhynchus clarkii) is predominantly a freshwater fish populating the Pacific Northwest, Great Basin, the Cascade Region and can also be found throughout the Rocky Mountains. Some costal populations are andromous and live most of their lives in the Pacific Ocean, only to return to freshwater in the spring for spawning and feeding. Fly fishing in Idaho can be very productive for the "Cutty."
Montana cutthroat trout
The cutthroat has evolved over two million years or so and the trout of today probably came from a species which migrated from the Pacific up the Columbia and Snake Rivers. There are at least 10, and maybe as many as 14, subspecies known today. They can be found in rivers and lakes not located in the western states, but you can bet they were stocked in these bodies of water. Andromous, sea run, trout can reach up to 20 pounds, but the ones that are landlocked rarely get much larger than 2-3 pounds. Idaho fly fishing for big cutthroat predominantly centers around the Snake and little known (except to locals) St. Joe Rivers. Rest assure, both rivers are loaded with cutthroat.
These trout range from a golden to gray to green dorsally and they have a distinctive red or deep orange "slash" on the underside of the lower jaw--thereby the name "cutthroat." Length can range from a few to as many as 40 inches and weights as discussed above. In recent years, they have been cross breeding with the rainbow and look like a rainbow with a "cut throat." Thereby the name "cutbow." Biggest one I have ever caught was 16 inches, but we would love to here your stories. Try fly fishing Idaho and catch a "CUTTY".
This article is posted by YellowStoneFly aka Idaho Angler at Idaho Fly Fishers. The Bull River is a real jewel! High in a beautiful mountain valley above and between the Kootenaiand Clark Forkrivers lays a mountain lake of indescribable grandeur. Situated in the Cabinet Mountain Range in Lincoln County Montana is Bull Lake. Spring fed and without a dam and naturally flowing into the Kootenai River, you would naturally think it is the headwaters for the Bull River. Well it is not. The river is actually a very deep, meandering naturally spring fed waterway arising in the mountains just west of Bull Lake. I do not know the exact depth, but locals say it is in excess of forty feet in points despite the fact the average width is only about fifty feet and it sports many shallow riffles.
The Bull flows for about twenty-five mile due south and ends in the Clark Fork River at Bull River Kootenai National Forest Campground. This is a beautiful float, but I must caution the last four to six miles is steep and treacherous. This section is not really floatable unless you are and expert kayaker. From where the lower section begins, almost up to the lake, there are several access points. Pitch is very gradual and it is easy to row. Fishing in the spring is in this section can be incredible! There are some huge browns and nice cutthroat as well.
Bull Cutty caught on a Brown Drake 6/14/2011
I own a twelve foot, two person raft in which I love to use in this river. My wife rows and I fish. Who could ask for a better arrangement? By the way, I bought my raft from Kootenai Valley Inflatablesfor a lot less than other places and the quality is excellent. Anyway, back to the float. I recommend putting in at the canoe access about milepost 11.5 and float to the eight mile bridge. DO NOT USE THE MORE NORTHERN ACCESS I PREVIOUSLY SUGGESTED. IT IS NOT SAFE AT ONE POINT BELOW THE HIGHWAY 56 BRIDGE. As much meandering as the river does, I would guess the actual float is about 5-6 miles and takes a good 4-5 hours to float from the canoe access. The flow is mostly slow here, but it makes for good, easy fly fishing. The take out at the 8 mile bridge is very easy and I can load directly onto my trailer.
The Brown Drake hatch is unbelievable in the spring. Insects are huge (size 6-10) and the trout are ravenous. The Bull is predominately known for its huge brown trout, but I have personally seen large schools of bull trout weighing on the average five pounds and perhaps more. I have also caught some really nice cutthroat trout in the 16-20 inch range and an occasional nice rainbow. The fishing seems to slow down in the summer with less prolific hatches, but fish can be had. If you see one other boat while you fish there, I would be very surprised. Out-of-the way and a little hard to find, this is really a great spring fly fishing river. Find highway 56 going north off scenic highway 200 along the Clark Fork River just 10 miles east from where it crosses into Idaho. The Bull parallels highway 200. If you can find no other person with whom to fish, call or email me. I will definitely go with you.
Don’t forget, in the US bull trout are endangered and must be released as soon as caught. You cannot deliberately fish for a bull trout either, but if you do accidently catch one measure quickly, photograph and release quickly. Do not miss fishing this river if you are ever in western Montana in the spring. Now check out our most recent post "Bull River Hogs" for suggested fishing access points and flies.
This article is posted by YellowStoneFly aka Idaho Angler at Idaho Fly Fishers. The headwaters of the Clark Fork River begin at the confluence of Silver Bow Creek and Warm Springs Creek near the Continental Divide and Anaconda, Montana. The mighty Clark Fork flows north and west from there towards and through Missoula, Montana. This river is a main tributary of the Columbia River and was named after the famous explorer William Clark of the Lewis and Clark Expedition fame.
Beginning in the Silver Bow Mountains (aka Highland), the Clark Fork passes south of the Garnet Mountains, through the Bitterroot Mountain range and the Lolo National Forest and eventually ends in the eastern panhandle of Idaho at the southern edge of the Cabinet Mountains and north of the Monarch Mountains. The Cabinet Gorge Dam sits at the intersection of these last two mountain ranges and during the Pleistocene (Ice Age) was the site of a huge glacial ice dam which formed Glacial Lake Missoula. Today the river ends at Clark Fork, ID and empties into Lake Pend Oreille. At this point, David Thompson established the first fur trading outpost in Idaho on the Hope Peninsula for the North West Company, a company based out of Montreal, Canada, in 1809. Some on Mr. Thompson’s descendents still live in Hope, ID.
This river, the largest river by water volume in Montana, is approximately 360 miles long and is divided into the upper, middle and lower sections. The history of this river is impressive but basically the upper portion from near Anaconda to Drummond, MT, which includes multiple feeder streams, had its fishery virtually destroyed by early day mining for Arsenic, Cadmium, Copper, Cyanide, Iron, Lead, Selenium, and Zinc. A massive cleanup has significantly improved the aquatic habitat in this portion of the river in recent years and most of this fishery has been restored below Rock Creek and Clinton, Montana.
The middle portion of the Clark Fork, from below Drummond to Paradise, Montana is a beautiful example of classical western trout fishery. At Paradise the Flathead River empties into the Clark Fork from the north and basically becomes a warm water fishery all the way to the eastern Idaho state line. The list of streams and rivers supplying this middle portion is endless but to name just a few of which you may have heard: Blackfoot River, Bitterroot River, Dry Creek, Fish Creek, Rattlesnake Creek, St. Regis River, and Trout Creek. St. Regis, MT calls itself as the “Trout Capital of the World”. Yes, there is another one. However, there are several good guide services in or near St. Regis who will show you a good time and help you catch some fish.
As stated, the lower portion is basically a warm water fishery with sun fish and some huge pike. There are however some very good feeder streams and rivers here which provide some good cold water, trout action as well. Just to name a few, there is the Thompson River, Trout Creek and the Bull River which all flow into the Clark Fork and hold some huge fish. Access however can be limited and difficult to each unless you have a raft or drift boat. Few people realize that below the Cabinet Gorge Dam above Clark Fork, ID, the Clark Fork is a cold water fishery most of the year and can provide some good trout fishing as well. Again, access here is limited. However, you can actually navigate a boat up from Lake Pend Oreille if you take your time and are careful.
I find fishing success on the Clark Fork is dependent on the time of year and water flows. Spring is definitely the best time to trout fish, with the fall (October) being a close second. Flies are dependent totally on time of year and conditions, but a good reference is the Orvis fishing report. Their report is predominantly center around the middle portion of the river, but is fairly representative of the entire fishery. The only caution I have for you is that the Clark Fork is a big river! Do not fish it alone unless you know what you are doing. The Bitterroot River in particular has much sunken structure and should not be fished without a properly outfitted guide especially in the springtime.
Have some great fishing on the Clark Fork River. It really is beautiful.