When it comes to fly fishing, it doesn’t get much better than the wild miles of the Flathead River. As it winds its way through some of the most beautiful scenery in the country, surrounding Glacier National Park, the fishing is a dream that goes perfectly with the view.
The Flathead River starts high in the Rockies around Glacier National Park, flowing down into Flathead Lake before continuing on to meet up with the Clark Fork. The Flathead River is made up of three forks, the North Fork, Middle Fork, and South Fork. All three forks are designated (either entirely or in part) as National Wild and Scenic Rivers. These 158 miles of flowing water make a happy home for many fish species, and the views certainly make for happy anglers.
The North Fork of the Flathead is a popular destination for float trips because of the unbelievably stunning terrain as the river flows between the western boundary of Glacier National Park and Flathead National Forest.
This is an excellent place to cast for the unusual Westslope cutthroat trout, the state fish. You can also find rainbow trout, lake trout, and whitefish. You may be fortunate enough to catch a bull trout, but you can’t target them here. Be sure you know the regulations and do your utmost to protect this species.
The Middle Fork of the Flathead flows from the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex to form the southern boundary of Glacier National Park with its curves and riffles. This branch forms two distinct sections, the recreation section on the lower portion of the river and the wild water of the upper river that runs through the Great Bear Wilderness. Much of the upper section is only accessible by horse, foot, or air, but the effort to get there is well worth it for anglers looking to get away from it all and enjoy this undammed Wild and Scenic River.
Once again, you may find Westslope cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, lake trout, and whitefish.
The South Fork flows into the Hungry Horse Reservoir, where the Hungry Horse Dam regulates the river flow into the lower portion of the river.
On the upper portions of the South Fork, you can legally catch bull trout with a catch card in addition to your fishing license. Be sure to be clear on all regulations and restrictions for your trip before you head out.
Many outfitters in our area can help you get out on the river, whether that means picking up some gear and flies or signing up for a guided trip. Most of the local raft companies offer fishing trips, and there are plenty of local fly shops to help you find what you need. Bigfork Anglers can get you outfitted with whatever your fly box is missing, and Truewater Fly Shop in Kalispell has a great selection as well. As you’re heading north to get on the river, you can make a quick stop in Columbia Falls at Lary’s Fly and Supply.