Montana Fly Fishing 6 min read

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Blackfoot River in Montana

Ken Sperry

Posted by Ken Sperry

August 16, 2017

blackfoot river

Most anglers outside the state of Montana had little to no association with the Blackfoot River.

It wasn’t until the block buster movie A River Run’s Through It that brought the world’s attention one of the best fishing rivers in Montana.

The Blackfoot is well renowned for much more than it’s trout fishing though. The public uses of this river range from floating, watching nature at work, and camping.

One of the added benefits of planning a fly fishing vacation to the Blackfoot river is it’s proximity to the city of Missoula where it joins the Clark Fork River. This city is regarded as part of the fastest growing region in the state of Montana.

Ease of access, plenty of trout, and close accommodations make the Blackfoot River a destination for fly fishing enthusiasts across the globe.

About Blackfoot River

Zac Sexton joins his friend and fellow outfitter Scott Anderson on a float down the Blackfoot river.

Best Places to Fish the Blackfoot River

While there are many sections of the Blackfoot that are enticing to the fly fishing angler, there is one particular section that we will highlight. This is not to disregard the rest of the river. Each section offers its own unique fly fishing challenges and opportunities, and it is wise for each angler to do their own research before travelling to determine their destinations.

Rainbow trout become plentiful in the section from River Junction to Clearwater Crossing. The terrain that will be found from River Junction to Clearwater Crossing varies from valleys to whitewater. This section does not see as much of the recreational pressure as other sections, thereby affording a better opportunity for the fly fishing angler to have some solitude from time to time.

There are several access points located within River Junction to Clearwater Crossing. One of the access points that should be highlighted is the River Junction Fishing Access Site. Of importance to note is that the road to get to this access point is rough, so bear this in mind while planning.

An easier point to access the Blackfoot River is the Russell Gates Memorial Fishing Access Site. This site is part of the Blackfoot River Recreation Corridor, which is 26 miles in length and offers 16 public access points to the river.

Blackfoot River Map, Fishing Access Sites and Boat Launches

Map of fishing access spots on the Blackfoot River in Montana

Get Directions to the Fishing Access Points shown above with the DIY Fly Fishing Map

Best Time to Fish the Blackfoot River

Regardless if you prefer to wade while fly fishing of if you are more of a floater, this section, as it is with the rest of the Blackfoot, will accommodate both.

With the pressure that can occur with the recreational floaters, meaning the ones who are not fishing, many of the waders prefer to fish this river during the week. They have found the pressure to be higher on the weekends, so thereby reducing the “weekend warrior” effect by taking to the Blackfoot midweek.

A commonplace concern for anglers traveling to this part of the country is determining what the best time of year is to come. With this section of the river, fly fishing anglers have several options.

The key is when spring-run off has begun. Spring fishing can begin as early as mid March. The spring-run off typically does not begin until somewhere between the middle of April and the middle of May. It usually lasts approximately a month.

Once spring-run off ends, the Blackfoot River turns into a premier dry fly fishing destination. As the summer months roll along, new fly fishing opportunities present themselves.

Starting in July, grasshopper imitations become popular and this can last into the first week or two of September. Many anglers prefer to schedule their trip during the month of July for this reason.

For the budget minded fly fishing angler who will be planning this trip months in advance, it would be wise to schedule it for the middle of summer.

This would get you here well after the spring-run off and in time for some active dry fly and hopper fishing opportunities.

Bear in mind that the weekends, as previously mentioned, are when this river is a hotbed of recreational activities. So, if you can travel here for fishing during the week, you stand a great chance of solitude.

River Flow and Current Conditions

Blackfoot River near Bonner MT

  • Temperature: 50.36 ° F
  • Streamflow: 1340 ft³/s
  • Gage height: 3.05 ft
Temperature GraphStreamflow GraphGage height Graph

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the ABC River. For larger nymphs and streamers a 9-foot 6-wt with a sink tip fly line makes life easier. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Blackfoot River Hatches and Flies

There is a particular hatch that occurs that is well worth noting. A salmon fly hatch occurs during the month of June on the Blackfoot. The reason this is important to note is that if conditions occur just right, those being an early spring-run off which leads to clear water by late May, then the salmon fly hatch can occur with clear water in June.

Certain fly patterns work best during certain times of year on the Blackfoot, as is the case with most other rivers in Montana.

Before the spring-run off occurs, fly fishing anglers can attract trout with certain dry flies as well as nymphs. Some of the more common dry fly patterns include Sparkle Dun and Parachute Adams. For the nymph fans, sizes 16-20 of Pheasant Tail Nymph and Hare’s Ear Nymph should bring good results.

If you should happen to catch the Blackfoot River after an early spring-run off which leads to clear water for the salmon fly hatch in June, sizes 2-8 of the Stimulator and Bitch Creek Nymph bode well. Work these nymphs along the banks, paying particular attention to ensure they are fished around gravel banks and deep holes.

For the anglers who will be venturing to the Blackfoot for the summer months the following patterns have proved worthwhile when fished during the mornings and evenings:

  • Elk Hair Caddis
  • X-Caddis
  • Olive Stimulator
  • Green Renegade
  • Adams Mayfly

Blackfoot River Fishing Tips

The presentation of these patterns is critical to any success fly fishing anglers will have, in particular when fishing between River Junction and Russell Gates.

A drag-free drift on a light leader will be the difference between a successful fly fishing experience and not catching at all. These trout are especially careful with the slower current, giving them time to look over what they are about to attack.

If you are looking for some variation in your fishing and tire easily of dry flies, you can’t go wrong with a grasshopper imitation in sizes 2-8. These will work great starting in the month of July and can carry well into the first or second week of September.

Fish theses grasshopper imitations along the shore, giving the impression that they got stuck in the river. Don’t shy away from casting these farther out in the water as it is not uncommon for a large trout to come to the surface to eat a grasshopper.

Gear Recommendations

A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on the Stillwater River. For larger nymphs and streamers a 9-foot 6-wt with a sink tip fly line makes life easier. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.

Blackfoot River Fishing Reports

There are a number of area fly shops and on-line retailers that publish Blackfoot River fly fishing reports. A few to check out include:

Fishing Regulations

The Montana Fish, Wildlife, and Parks has a user friendly website that provides the latest regulations. A fishing license can also be purchased directly from the site.

How to Get to Blackfoot River

The city of Missoula is part of the fastest growing region of Montana, and with a trip to the Blackfoot River you can be assured that this city will become your friend.

In terms of travel, Missoula sits right on I-90. A short drive on the connecting Montana 200 will place you at numerous fishing access sites.

If your travel requires flying to this beautiful portion of Montana, the city of Missoula is home to Missoula International Airport. This airport receives flights from numerous airlines, as connecting flights from neighboring major metropolitan cities land here.

For the budget minded anglers, it may be cost effective to investigate fights into Billings Logan International and then making the drive into Missoula.

Lodging Near Blackfoot River

A vast array of hotels and campgrounds are found in this region. The city of Missoula holds numerous lodging options. There are many camping options as well, and if you click on the links above for the fishing access sites, towards the bottom of those pages camping sites are listed.

If you are looking for ideal trout water habitat, look no further than the Blackfoot River in Montana. With its varying characteristics, ease of access throughout, and close proximity to Missoula, this destination is sure to satisfy the fly fishing anglers appetite.

When Robert Redford decided to direct “A River Runs Through It”, one may wonder if he had any idea of the effect this would have on the fly fishing community. What once was a little known river in Montana fished primarily by locals has now become a premier destination for anglers worldwide. If you prefer to wade or float, or both, the Blackfoot River holds a large population of rainbow and brown trout eager to please the angler who has the right presentations.

Looking for more places to fish in Montana? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Montana.