Fly Fishing the Flathead River in Montana’s Glacier Country

Guest post by Rich Birdsell

Glacier National Park and the surrounding area is known for its stunning mountains, glaciers and breathtaking beauty. But there is a treasure that thrives under the surface of some of the crystal clear lakes and streams, the wild trout.

Flathead Region Westslope Cutthroat

The Flathead region is home to the strongest population of Westslope Cutthroat trout in the state of Montana. This fish was first recorded in the journals of Lewis and Clark, and is now our state fish. The Flathead River is a beautiful free-stone river that drains Glacier National Park and the Bob Marshall Wilderness. The main stem of the river is just Minutes from Whitefish and Kalispell. The Flathead River forms where its three stems come together, between West Glacier and Columbia Falls.

The North Fork of the Flathead originates in British Columbia and flows south, forming the western boundary of the park. The Middle Fork of the Flathead begins deep in the Great Bear Wilderness and flows north and west eventually forming the southern boundary of the park. The South Fork of the Flathead is born deep in the 2.8 million acre Bob Marshall Wilderness and flows north.

The fly fishing on the Flathead is fantastic. For those who want to catch feisty trout on dry flies, this river system is perfect.

Flathead River Float Trips

The best way to fish the river is from a driftboat. By hiring a guide, one can float downstream in a boat allowing them to fish all the best water and see the surrounding landscape while casting a fly line. Rich Birdsell started Northern Rockies Outfitters in 1995 after spending several years as a whitewater rafting guide and fly fishing instructor.

Although the Flathead is his home river, Rich now guides fisherman on all the top rivers in Montana. Depending on the river conditions, insect hatches, and the weather, Rich can arrange float fishing trips to a number of the area’s rivers. During July and August, the Flathead River is the mainstay.

Fly Fishing is still a very popular activity here in Montana for both beginners and experienced fisherman. Many of the guests who fish with Northern Rockies Outfitters are beginners. All of Rich’s guides are certified instructors. They take both accomplished fisherman who fish all over the world to kids who have never fished before.

Flathead River Fly Fishing Tactics

There are two basic types of fly fishing, one is nymph fishing and the other, more popular type is dry-fly fishing. Nymph fishing means the fly is sub-surface. You are imitating an aquatic insect that is in the nymph stage of its life and therefore has not yet reached the surface of the water. This is a very effective way to catch trout.

Dry-fly fishing is much more popular. In this type of fishing you are casting a larger fly that sits on the surface of the river and is much more visible. When the fish takes the fly it is often with such aggression that there is quite a large splash. Most find this very exciting and will test ones reflexes to set the hook. Once a fish is hooked, the fight is on. This is one of the many reasons people find fly fishing so attractive. One must experience this to really appreciate it.

If you are planning a trip to Montana, you should plan on spending a day on the river. It is wild, free flowing, and teaming with trout. The way mother nature intended.

About Author:
Rich started Northern Rockies Outfitters in 1995 and provides guided fishing and hunting experiences in the more secluded areas surrounding Glacier National Park and western Montana.

Feature image by Stephen Oachs

About the author

Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and find new places to fish. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help you do the same.

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