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FLY FISHING THE FLATHEAD RIVER SYSTEM IN MONTANA

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The Flathead River, located in Northwestern Montana, is a unique glacial river consisting of three different branches; the North, South, and Middle Forks. These forks combine to form the Main Flathead River. Originating from glacial run-off the rivers run extremely cold, especially the South and Middle Forks. Although the Flathead River system is not very prolific with mayfly hatches, it does have an excellent population of caddis and stoneflies. The smaller amount of available food for the trout offers much easier fishing. 20-30 fish days are very possible. There are good runs of cutthroat trout from Flathead Lake as well as resident populations of wild rainbows and indigenous brook trout. Bull trout also inhabit these rivers and can be very large in size. The Bull trout are a protected species so be aware of the regulations put upon them.

The Main Flathead River is started after the confluence of the North and Middle Forks. Special Regulations apply. This large river has a better population of resident fish then the other branches which hold more migratory fish. This river can at times run a little off color but the fishing can be excellent. The fishing in this stretch is best for resident and migratory cutthroat as well as bull trout. Floating the river is the best way to access its waters although wade fishing is possible in spots.

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Attractive dries, caddis, and stoneflies are the best choices for dry fly fishing. Nymphs and streamers will also work effectively. Route 2 and 35 will help you to access the river. Columbia Falls and Kalispell are two major towns in the area. The Flathead river eventually spills into Flathead Lake near Big Fork.

The North Fork of the Flathead originates in Canada and flows south along the western border of Glacier National Park. Special Regulations apply to this river. This medium size river is a beautifully clear piece of water most people would imagine as having huge populations of resident browns and rainbows. Contrary to this, migratory cutthroat, resident bull, and some wild rainbow trout exist here. The lack of insects gives the opportunity for anglers to have fairly "easy" fishing.

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The fish are not very selective giving that the food supply is limited. The river is absolutely beautiful and one of the most scenic you will find. Much wildlife is also to be found along the river; bears, deer, and occasionally mountain lions as well as other wildlife comes the river. The river is rated with class 2 and 3 rapids and should be considered dangerous to the non experienced boatsman. Hiring a guide to drift you down this tremendous river is a great idea. Nearly 60 miles of water to float fish exists with several areas to put a boat in and take out. The most popular float is from Big Creek to Glacier Rim. Access to the river although limited from high banks and private property can be gained from County Road 210.

The Middle Fork originates in the Bob Marshall (Great Bear section) Wilderness and flows approximately sixty miles northwest eventually creating the southwest boundary of Glacier National Park. Special Regulations and Wilderness Regulations apply to this river. The Middle Fork is one of the most dangerous of the three forks. Its rapids are classified from a 3 to 5 in most areas. Choosing to float this river on your own without first experiencing it with a guide is an idea you should think twice about. Tight turns, crashing and tumbling white water, and dangerous chutes do exist. Although it may seem to much to bother with it is one of the most popular of the three forks for both fisherman and adventure seekers. The Middle Fork like the North Fork is very beautiful and runs clear with outstanding scenery. Much wildlife shows itself along the river and presents great opportunities for quality photos and memories you will not forget. Fishing on the Middle Fork can be good for migratory cutthroat and some rainbow trout. The water on this river is extremely fast in most areas and fishing at times is outstanding with a high floating dry fly such as a large elk hair caddis or small stimulator. Attractive dries also work very well. Like the North Fork the fish have little time to react to your fly and strike vigorously at almost any well drifted pattern through the head of a fast riffle or run. Access to the upper river is difficult and is accomplished with a horse or strong pair of legs and a good amount of time. The lower river from where it first forms the southwest boundary of the park to its end at the junction of the North Fork can be easily accessed via Route 2.

The South Fork of the Flathead originates in the Bob Marshall Wilderness as does the Middle Fork. Special Regulations and Wilderness Regulations apply to this river. Accessing this river is the most difficult of all three. Access is gained by using Route 2 to enter the town of Hungry Horse from which you will find and cross Hungry Horse Dam. After Crossing the dam you will take South Fork Road along the west side of the reservoir. It is an approximate 50 mile drive along a dirt road from the dam to the mouth of the South Fork where it enters Hungry Horse Reservoir. From there the only accessible water via car is from the reservoir to Spotted Bear Creek. After reaching the creek the only access is from hiking or horse back. Many people choose to do this for its sheer beauty and the wilderness adventure it provides. Hiring a guide or outfitter is a great way to access this river and fish its waters. It is well worth the little extra effort to fish its waters. Catching good numbers of trout is very possible. Fishing the upper section of the South Fork should only be done if you are ready for an adventurous trip. Cutthroat, bull, and some rainbow trout reside in the river. The bull trout are a protected species.

The lower Flathead, located below Flathead lake, is a warmer fishery known for holding some trout and pike. The fishing here is not very desirable for most anglers. Some people choose to thrown large deer hair flies to try and excite an awaiting pike. Trout anglers generally fish the upper Flathead or its forks. Power generation at the dam fluctuates the river drastically.

Overall, the Flathead River System is one that "everyone" should eventually see. It is composed of vast wilderness, abundant wildlife, charming rivers, and beautiful scenery. Many anglers come here for more then just the fishing. The adventure and outdoor potential is outstanding. The closest major airport is in Missoula which is about a two and a half hour drive from Kalispell. Kalispell and Columbia Falls also have commercial flights. If you plan on visiting Glacier National Park or you're just looking for a great fishing adventure be sure to check out the Flathead River.