Rock Creek, a tributary to the Clark Fork River, is nestled a short drive to the southeast of Missoula in the beautiful state of Montana. There are actually two rivers named Rock Creek in Montana; one in the southeast near Red Lodge, and the Rock Creek in southwest Montana, profiled here. Montana is rich in fly fishing waterways, and Rock Creek ranks among the best.
Tom Costa chronicles an 8-day father-and-son fishing trip on Rock Creek near Clinton, MT.
Best Places to Fish Rock Creek
While there are three distinct sections of Rock Creek, of particular interest to the angler will be the fourteen mile stretch from Dalles to the Clark Fork.
There are two portions to this stretch, as the upper half offers the angler excellent rainbow and brown trout opportunities. The lower half is predominantly populated with brown trout. Each half has its own distinct personality.
The upper half is characterized by a rapid current with clear, deep pools. Boulders can be found in and along the water. This particular area is not for the novice fly angler in search of larger trout, as the boulders and rapid currents make the fly approach to the deeper pools difficult to perfect.
The lower half, which is below Dalles, is where the Rock Creek takes on a new personality. As it flattens out, a new fishing experience occurs as pools are found sporadically. Numerous feeder creeks found along this portion heighten the attention of anglers as they present unique fishing opportunities.
Rock Creek Map and Fishing Access Sites
Finding access points when we travel to new areas to fish can be an issue. The beauty of a trip to Rock Creek is that access is not a challenge. Rock Creek Road runs parallel to the river and provides able access to anglers via designated Fishing Access Sites and campground. Click the access points shown the map above for driving directions.
Fair warning though, Rock Creek Road is a pothole-ridden dirt road that narrows to a single lane in the upper reach of the river.
In addition, travel to Rock Creek is simple in that it is a short ten to fifteen minute drive from I-90. With this in mind, angling pressure can be heavy - especially in the lower reaches of the river.
Rock Creek Flow and Current Conditions
Rock Creek USGS Flow, Gauge Height and Temperature
- Water Temp: 42.26 ° F
- Flow: 1880 ft³/s
- Water Level: 6.80 ft
Best Time to Fish Rock Creek
The start of spring runoff can vary up to three weeks. Generally speaking runoff occurs late May through mid-June.
The middle of June is when the Salmonfly hatch occurs on Rock Creek and it can last up to two weeks. This is an excellent time to fish. Of importance to note is that this hatch begins on the lower portions of Rock Creek and travels upward at a rate of three to five miles per day.
The anglers who have experienced this hatch refer to it as a “spectacle”. Angling pressure will be heavy during this hatch, but with excellent access and ample water to fish the river handles the pressure well.
Rock Creek Hatches
Hatches on Rock Creek are typical of a western freestone river. Some of the more popular hatches to fish include:
- March - April - March browns and Skwala stoneflies
- June - Salmonflies, Golden Stoneflies
- July - Pale Morning Duns
- Aug - Terrestrials
- Sept - Oct - Blue-winged Olives
Rock Creek Fishing Tips
Rock Creek is popular with wade fisherman due to it's medium size. Wading can be tricky though and cleats and a good wading staff are a must.
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on Rock Creek. For larger nymphs and streamers a sink tip fly line makes life easier in particular in the deep runs on the lower river. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
Rock Creek Fishing Reports
There are a number of area fly shops and on-line retailers that publish Rock Creek fishing reports. A few to check out are listed below.
Rock Creek Fishing Regulations
Rock Creek is in the Western District, Region 2. Montana fishing regulations include:
- December 1 to third Saturday in May: extended season for whitefish, catch-and-release for trout, artificial lures only
- Trout limit: three brown trout daily; catch-and-release for rainbow and cutthroat trout
- July 1 - November 30: Closed to fishing from boats/vessels
Planning Your Trip Rock Creek
The city of Missoula is within arms reach of Rock Creek, and is home to Missoula International Airport. Perhaps you can find affordable airfare that takes you directly into this city.
I always like to make mention of Billings Logan International Airport, which is approximately a five hour drive from Rock Creek. Many times, traveling anglers who begin the planning of their dream fishing trip well in advance to Montana find they save money by flying into Billings.
Upon arrival, you can rent a car and take the scenic five hour drive to Missoula. The city of Missoula has a wide selection of hotels and restaurants so finding accommodations is usually not a problem.
If you prefer to camp there are numerous camping options available along Rock Creek.
With Rock Creek located a short cast from I-90, any traveling angler who prefers to drive to the destination will have no difficulty.
Looking for more places to fish in Montana? Check out our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Montana.