The first stop on our road trip was fly fishing Idaho’s Kelly Creek and North Fork Clearwater River. Fly fishing Kelly Creek has been on my list of places to fish for many years. We finally checked it off the list.

Westslope Cutthroat on Kelly Creek |

Kelly Creek is located north of highway 12 which runs from Lewiston, ID to Missoula MT. We passed through the towns of Orofino and Pierce to hit Forest Service Road 250. The last few miles were along Orogrande Creek until it emptied into the North Fork. It was another 17 miles until we hit Kelly Forks. I was surprised at how good the roads were. Some old blacktop and other well maintained gravel.

NF Clearwater at Orogrande Creek |

We had arrived!

Kelly Creek |

Kelly Creek is about 23 miles long with the road running next to the river the first 10 miles from Kelly Fork with the confluence of the North Fork Clearwater River. Hiking trails provide additional access. Kelly Creek was Idaho’s second water classified as catch-and-release in 1970.

We arrived late afternoon on the first day and found a pool with fish rising. We thought we were in heaven.

Kelly Creek First Hole |

After donning our waders, we strung our rods, and tied on our first flies.

And caught fish immediately!

Kelly Creek First Fish |

OK, it did get better than that!

Kelly Creek Underwater |

Our second day, we drove as far as we could up to the end of the road and walked upstream to find a few fish rising to Purple Haze. We called it the Purple Haze “hatch”.

Kelly Creek Cutthroat with Purple Haze |

Some of these cutthroat trout rose so slooowwww to our flies. I missed some very nice fish. Either they changed their mind at the last minute or I ended up pulling the fly out of their mouth. Could it be the fish are cross-eyed and miss the fly?

I’ve been known to tie on the road. This trip was no exception. We had seen a larger PMD mayfly, so I tied up a few size 14 flies and used them that evening.

Just in Time Fly Tying on Kelly Creek |

They worked!

Most of the fish we landed were in the 9 to 12 inch range. A few that came to hand were around 14 or 15 inches.

We were fishing one evening at the Junction Creek Trailhead bridge and I happened to look up.

North Fork Clearwater Scenery -

I thought I was watching a large black dog cross and all of a sudden it hit me. “Bear” I yelled.

The bear stopped to look at me and headed up a game trail.

Kelly Creek Bear Trail |

I kept fishing while my fishing partner pulled out the bear spray.

While we didn’t get a picture, here is a similar likeness.

Bear on Kleenex |

We fished the area the next day and kept a watchful eye on that bridge!

We had a great time on our first trip to Kelly Creek. We fished the river the last few days of June 2019. It’s a serene peaceful setting and were surprised at the lack of fly fishers.

Here are a few more images to show the beauty of Kelly Creek.

Fishing on Kelly Creek |
Landing Kelly Creek Cutthroat |
Late Evening Kelly Creek |

Make sure you stock up on supplies before heading to Kelly Creek. This is a remote area and the closest town is many miles away.

We decided to drive over Hoodoo Pass enroute to Superior, MT as we left Kelly Creek, which is over the Bitterroot divide from Idaho to Montana. That took us along the upper North Fork through Black Canyon.

Kelly Creek Scenery |

The water was much different than Kelly Creek. We found boulder laden rapids, filled by clear pools. Many of the fish we caught were in the smooth runs or glides between rapids. Cutthroat quickly rose to our flies at times, as we searched for their lies.

NF Clearwater -

Honestly, we seemed to do just as well or even better on the NF Clearwater.

By luck, we found a great spot for the night right next to good fishing. It was the best fishing we’d experienced.

NF Clearwater Run -

We landed 9 cutty’s out of this spot that evening…even a double!

Pair of NF Clearwater Cutthroat -

The fish were rising to our PMD Sparkle Dun and later to the Purple Haze “hatch”.

North Fork Clearwatter Cutthroat -
Karen with NF Clearwater Cutthroat -

Lastly, I decided to experiment with a St Joe Special I found during our fly fishing road trip last year to the St Joe River. I had tied them for a customer and decided to tie up a few for myself as well. Needless to say, it worked.

St Joe Special and NF Clearwater Cutthroat -

If you decide to fish Kelly Creek and North Fork Clearwater, check out the Fly-fishers Guided to Idaho by Ken Retallic & Rocky Baker (1996) as a source to plan your trip. Even though it’s several years old, I found the information to be pretty reliable.

Enjoy… go fish!

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  1. man, it’s that time of the year when you start daydreaming of the fishing to come in this new year. We just got off the CDA river this weekend and were catching them all day. Son asked me you think there biting like this down in the Joe so I said lets go find out. 🙂

  2. We will be driving across 3 states to get to these waters in early September. Thanks for the reviews. I’d like to stock up on appropriate flys before we head that way. What do you recommend?

    1. I haven’t fished these rivers in September, but I’d have a Purple Haze, Arrick’s Ant, and Beetle Bailey in my box. You can use the SEARCH function in the menu bar to find these flies.



  4. Any tips on types of flies for a late October trip to the Lochsa and North Fork, would be greatly appreciated. Thank you.


  5. Hi Karen and John! Nice post-I especially like the bear on the bridge ‘similar likeness’. It looks like a beautiful trip-you two know how to live.

    We are fishing the Metolius; my husband John caught a nice redband trout and I’m honing my casting skills with my CfR solid foundation. I did get two trout to rise to my flies on Tumalo Creek the other day. 🙂

    See you on the river,

  6. John, what a great trip. I really enjoy following your adventures.

    Do you think this would make a good Fall trip?



    1. David

      Thanks for leaving a Comment. We had a great time! I’m guessing fall would still be a good time to fish. The water level would be much lower. I’ve read that Kelly Creek can get down to 200 cfs. Don’t know what that does to fishing, but the NF Clearwater would be a great alternative.


  7. Hi John & Karen,
    We are jealous! Those rivers are the waters we fished for years when we lived in North Idaho. It sounds like you are enjoying a great trip. Take care & …
    Tight Lines – (Gretchen &) Al Beatty

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