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High in the Absaroka Mountains in the Beartooth Wilderness, the Rock Creek River springs to life and continues flowing for more than 55 miles until it reaches its confluence with the ... moreClarks Fork River. The river’s initial journey is dominated by dense, pristine forests and soaring, snow-capped mountains. After a short distance of about 15 miles, the river passes by the town of Red Lodge where the landscape opens onto soft, hilly pastureland. As is true with many rivers in this part of Montana, its banks are lined with thick stands of majestic cottonwood trees, tall reeds and wooly brush. As a result of Rock Creek’s original elevation, and that of the rivers that flow into it, the river maintains trout friendly, cool temperatures throughout most of the year.

Famous for its trout, the mountain stretch of the river is most likely to yield small cutthroat and brook trout that can be brought in with a variety of dry flies. Despite the gorgeous scenery and dependable fishing, with the exception of summer weekend campers, this part of the river is rarely congested. Larger browns, rainbow and bull trout are more likely found below the town of Red Lodge. This is an excellent place for those who prefer wading to floating; the river tends to be narrow and shallow enough to easily navigate on foot.

Most experts agree that float fishing Rock Creek is difficult and probably not worth the effort. The combination of sharp turns, narrow passages and low water through summer months, arguably make floating a bad choice. But for those willing to wade, Rock Creek generously rewards anglers with ample fish throughout the year. The river is particularly giving in late June and early July during the salmon fly hatch, although many who know the river well will dispute that. Those most familiar with Rock Creek say the best fishing can be found downstream in the early months of fall. That’s when the super-sized, aggressive browns and rainbows spawn and swim from Clark Fork and pour into the Rock Creek. Then you can get out your streamers and net in fish averaging 13” to 18” long. Some of the best fishing access sites to do this include Water Birch Fishing Access, Bull Springs, Beaver Lodge, and Horse Thief Station.
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The Blackfoot may not be the world’s longest or most majestic river, but it is certainly well known. First made famous by Norman Maclean’s moving story, it became a permanent part ... moreof the American imagination with the 1992 release of Robert Redford’s legendary movie. A favorite for floaters, the river offers scenic diversity and variation in flows from placid meandering to white water rapids. Filled with large populations of Montana’s only two truly indigenous salmonids, the Cutthroats and Bull trout, it is also host to Rainbows, Cutbows, Browns and Mountain Whitefish throughout its entire length. The Blackfoot Valley is regarded as a fully intact ecosystem, still thought to contain every species of fauna present before the first Europeans arrived – one of only 12 such remaining ecosystems on earth.

Starting out a leisurely pace, the upper portion of the river runs slow and easy through narrow channels and dense forest. From there it flows into a large, open plain, and the first of many intermediate rapids start a few miles above the Scoot Brown Bridge. As it enters the Blackfoot River Recreation area, the speed picks up, but it is from Sperry Grade, five miles down from the Scotty Brown Bridge, that white water appears. For the next seven miles floaters are challenged with Class III rapids and sizeable waves that eventually ease off as you approach Bonner Dam.

The initial 22 miles of the river down to Lincoln, offer little to entice fly fishers. Best fished waded, the appearance of Brown trout begins to pick up on the stretch from Lincoln to Mineral Hill. While the section of river from Mineral Hill to Cedar Meadows looks short on a map, it actually consists of 18 miles of rugged twists and turns. The water is slow through here so inflatable kayaks and canoes are highly recommended. At about the halfway point of the river, the Barefoot gains velocity and continues with quick to moderate flows all the way down to Clark Fork. Wildlife is abundant here, home to grizzlies, elk, bighorn sheep, cougar, lynx, wolf and deer.
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The Clark Fork River has its headwaters in the Silver Bow (or Highland) Mountains, originating at the confluence of Silver Bow and Warm Springs creeks near Anaconda, Montana. The river ... moreflows north and west 350 miles through broad, semi-arid valleys, high mountain ranges, and steep-sided valleys and terminates in Lake Pend Oreille, Idaho. The Upper Clark Fork, bordered on the north by the Garnet Range and on the south by the Flint Creek Range, meanders most of its first 38 miles through the flat plains of the Deer Lodge Valley. Vegetation is sparse, due partly to the effects of the mining boom, the greatest historical influence in the Upper Basin.

Downstream from the mouth of the Little Blackfoot River, the river flows through a steep, narrow canyon. Between Garrison and Jens the river channel has been shortened by highway and railroad construction activities, but past Jens the Clark Fork meanders away from the transportation corridor and native trees and shrubs appear along its banks. From below Flint Creek the river runs 26 miles through Bearmouth Canyon to emerge and widen to 150 feet for its confluence with the Blackfoot River. The Middle Clark Fork River extends about 115 river miles from Missoula to its confluence with the Flathead River and is entirely free flowing. Its drainage is mountainous and covered with large forested tracts, broken by grazing and cropland areas in the lower valleys.

From Thompson Falls Dam, its upper boundary, the Lower Clark Fork River flows through sedimentary formations and a landscape sculptured by the massive outflows of glacial Lake Missoula. It runs into Cabinet Gorge Dam, just outside the Montana border. Between the backwaters of Cabinet Gorge and the tailwaters of Thompson Falls Dam the river is inundated by Noxon Rapids Dam. When the Clark Fork crosses the Idaho border, it is Montana's largest river, carrying an average 22,060 cubic feet of water per second.

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