One thing about being spontaneous is you never know where you will be fly fishing next in SW Montana. How about Rock Creek? We left the Madison River with a tentative plan of places to fish as we slowly headed home. Fly fishing Rock Creek, MT in 2020 wasn’t on that list.
We were on the Blackfoot River and decided to finally give Rock Creek a try. How did we get there? I’ll catch you up on a minute.
Several people have told us we need to fish Rock Creek. Whenever someone says that we turn to each other and smile. It’s kinda been our thing NOT to fish Rock Creek.
Looks like this year it finally happened.
We drove from upper Blackfoot River through Phillipsburg via Montana highway 348 to the upper access at the Kyle G. Bohrnsen Bridge. The map from Montana’s Best Fishing Waters book references it as Gilles Bridge, but it looks like it’s dedicated to a soldier who gave his life for our country.
The sign says it’s 41 miles from the bridge to I-90. The road is gravel, well maintained for the first few miles. It wasn’t the toughest road we traveled this trip, but the road is steep in some parts with only one lane and an occasional turnout. Lucky for us, we didn’t meet any traffic on those sections.
Our first night we found a site a couple of miles above Bitterroot Flats Campground. Camping is only allowed in designated sites on most of Rock Creek, which I think is a great idea. The downside to that is there are not a lot of campsites along the river, so it limits the number of people able to stay close to fishing. It’s fine unless you happen to be the last group looking for a site and they are all filled. It makes for a long, slow drive out to find somewhere to stay. Luckily, our mid-week arrival allowed is to find campsites for the two nights we stayed on the river.
Here is an image of the view from our campsite the first night.
We thought it would be a good place to fish when the sun went behind the tall canyon walls
Turns out I was right. I hooked this Brown Trout on my third cast with a hopper. I was hoping it was a sign, but I only landed a handful of smaller fish the rest of the evening.
Dancingtrout landed a few as well.
A Purple Haze “hatch” saved us that evening. (No it’s not really a hatch. A Purple Haze is an attractor fly pattern.)
Several more fish came to our flies, but didn’t hook up.
Our alarm was set early so we could see if Rock Creek had rising fish early in the morning. We were a little surprise to receive a wake-up call around 5:30 with a thunderstorm! It didn’t last too long, but my sleeping was done for the night. I made some press-pot coffee instead. We eventually drove back upstream to check out a spot we passed on the drive in the previous day. It was open and I decided to give it a try.
I didn’t see any rising fish, but tried Beetle Betty, a Morrish Hopper, and finally a Purple Haze.
A couple of fish came to the fly and I landed a 7 incher. A larger fish rose, but we didn’t connect.
Back to the campervan for another cup of coffee and bagel for breakfast.
Sitting in the van enjoying both, I heard Dancingtrout say “there’s a moose”! I looked around and found I was looking too far away. It has walked out of the woods only about 20 yards behind the van and wandered to the river. After stopping and looking at us, it walked down and crossed the river.
The moose hightailed it through the grass and stopped at some nearby willows. How could we tell? The willows were moving like a stiff breeze was blowing, but it was a still morning. Had to be the moose. After a while, it seemed to move on. We didn’t see it again or the bushes move. We waded about the same path as the moose and fished the other side.
We ended up landing a small handful of fish between us with this Brown Trout being the biggest of our two hours of morning fishing.
Downriver we drove to explore more water and hopefully find another campsite.
We lucked out with site number 8. A couple of fly fishers were fishing the camp water, but that was okay with us as we planned to wait for shade again. I hoped the temps wouldn’t reach the low 90’s like the previous day.
Remember the thunderstorm I mentioned above? I was fishing and heard a racket and looked up to see this helicopter flying upstream. It passed over the ridge and was gone.
Turns out we saw him about every 6 minutes as he evidently poured water on a small forest fire a short distance away.
We only spent a couple of days on Rock Creek and didn’t really experience the great fishing we have heard about from others. Perhaps we should have tried a few more spots and stayed another day. It’s a beautiful river though.
Sure, we caught a few fish with our dry flies.
Oh, I almost forgot to tell you how we arrived at Rock Creek.
After leaving the Madison River for the second time, our plan was to retrace our route and fish the Beaverhead and Big Hole rivers.
We arrived on the Beaverhead at the normal spot only to find another fly fisher in the eddy. It was early and we decided to wait him out and see if he would leave. It wasn’t much later and he left.
I walked to the river to see if I could see rising fish and returned to the van and took my time gearing up. When we returned, someone else from a driftboat had walked downstream to fish the eddy. Strike two!
He didn’t stay long and…here we go again, back to the eddy.
We sat on the bank waiting for rising fsh. Ten minutes later, a big thunderstorm started moving through.
Back to the van again. We waited about half an hour and the rain hadn’t stopped…strike three!
We looked at each other and decided it wasn’t meant to be and drove to the Big Hole.
A camp spot at Divide campground was our base for the night. It was late enough and we didn’t fish.
The next morning, we headed upstream to the access at 51 Brown Trout Lane (I made that up).
A couple of small fish came to hand after fishing hard for over an hour.
We tried a different spot that looked fishy downstream. Again, only a small fish or two.
Onward to Fish Trap access and stay the night.
The water was low and I watched several different times and didn’t see any rising trout.
We bagged it early the next morning and headed to the Bitterroot River.
Once there, the temps began reaching the mid-90s…are you beginning to see the writing on the wall?
We fished a couple of areas, one on the West Fork and another below Hamilton. It just didn’t seem like the fish gods were on our side. A few small fish were landed and a few others moved to our flies. Overall, the fishing was really slow.
Here is water we’ve fished before around Hamilton.
It sure looks like fishy water, doesn’t it? I blamed the poor fishing on the high temperatures…into the mid-90s.
We waited out the weather for a few days. Where else should we try?
Why not the Blackfoot? We had never fished the river, but had heard good things about it. I’ll have more information on the Blackfoot River in a future post.
Our next planned stop is in St. Regis to fish the Clark Fork. Stay tuned to see if that really happens!
Enjoy…go fish, stay safe.
When we lived in north Idaho (CDA & Sandpoint) we often fished Rock Creek. Another great fishing opportunity is the Clark Fork River. We like to float it from Saint Regis to 16-mile bridge – great fishing & easy-to-navigate water. We are certainly enjoying your posts from our “old stomping grounds” in Montana and Idaho. Take care & …
Tight Lines – Gretchen & Al Beatty