By the time you read this post, we have arrived at home from our 2020 fly fishing road trip. After fishing Yellowstone National Park and the Madison River a second time, we discussed different routes to travel home. Should we drive back through Idaho and Eastern Oregon or retrace our previous fishing spots. We chose the later, so here is this week’s post about fly fishing the Clark Fork again.

Clark Fork Rainbow Trout |

We stopped at the confluence of the St. Regis and Clark Fork River about five weeks earlier. I wrote about it in the post Plan B Fly Fishing.

St Regis Confluence with Clark Fork River at High Water |

It looked a little different the first week of August.

Clark Fork and St Regis Confluence After Runoff |

These two images were taken at roughly the same location. Hard to believe, isn’t it?

We were optimistic as we arrived the first evening and didn’t find another sole on the river. Perhaps the fishing gods were looking down upon us in a good way!

I was downstream fishing an area I had caught fish in previous years. I felt a couple of fish hit my fly on a pink Morrish Hopper but didn’t hook up and was hoping for more rises.

I looked up and saw Dancingtrout playing fish. She had hooked and landed a couple of 10 inch fish.

I think she is more observant than me these days. She saw some yellow mayflies on the water’s surface and the fish were feeding on them. They looked close to PMD’s, but seemed like they were bright yellow in color.

As I continued to watch fish rise and her hook them, I walked out into the current and closer to her, beginning to cast…and also ask what fly she was using. It wasn’t but a few casts and I landed this nice 15 inch Rainbow Trout with a PMD Sparkle Dun.

Clark Fork Rainbow with PMD Sparkle Dun |

We couldn’t catch any of thes mayflies until our last day. I’m not sure if this is the fly fish were eating the first night or not. I thought the earlier insects were brighter yellow. There is slight color variations in many mayflies, so they could have been. All I know is a size 16 PMD Sparkle Dun was working. It was close enough.

Clark Fork Epeorus Mayfly Dun |

I’m not an expert, but I looked in my Western Mayfly Hatches: From the Rockies to the Pacific book by Rick Haefle and Dave Hughes and tried to identify this mayfly dun. I believe it’s an Epeorus mayfly. We ran into these on the Madison River as well. (WOW, the book is an Amazon link that is now obscenely expensive. Look for a less expensive copy. I better put my copy under lock and key so my wife doesn’t sell it!)

Epeorus Mayfly |
Epeorus mayfly from the Madison River?

More trout came to our flies throughout the evening. Even this double…

Clark Fork Cutthroat Trout Double |

The weather was hot during the day and from past experience, we didn’t start fishing until around 6 pm. The catching got better around 8 pm until we finally finished fishing close to 9:30. Yes, it stays light late in Montana!

Clark Fork Cutthroat Trout with Slash |

Most takes were not splashy rises. They were barely visible where the fly just seemed to disappear. Other times, a head would slowly rise out of the water and eat the fly.

The fish are strong fighters with their thick bodies. Trying to get their heads above the water so we could easily net then was very difficult. They kept their noses in the water and with a flick of their tail, off they went again into the current. Even the smaller fish used that trick!

Finally in our nets, they continued to twist and turn. It made taking quick pictures challenging. We don’t like to keep them in the net too long. Trout are too valuable and we hope to catch them again someday…or their offspring.

I probably landed over 10 trout the first night, including Rainbows, Cutthroat, Cutt-bow, and a Brown. Dancingtrout probably landed about thre same number, but she was in the nursery that night with most being under 10 inches. A larger one came to net, but all the fish put up a good fight.

We found better success moving up and down the river. Our tippet was 4X, but the fish might have been leader shy. The more we cast, the less likely they were to rise. Maybe it was the fly line, but I’ve seen trout rise right next to it when using a drag-free drift. Coming back to those spots would find an eager trout.

We hooked and landed several 8 or 9 inch fish on Rusty Spinner fly patterns. It’s always nice to have a few willing fish hit the fly.

We arrived early the next morning, but the fish didn’t seem to be awake, or perhaps they were early risers and taking a nap.

I landed a couple of fish including this nice Cutthroat.

Clark Fork Cutthroat Slashes |

And a Rainbow…

Clark Fork Rainbow |

Fishing was short-lived that morning. We decided to bag it and return again that evening to see if the fish would cooperate.

They did.

Clark Fork Cutthroat Trout |
Clark Fork Rainbow Trout Closeup |
Clark Fork Cutthroat Trout Closeup |
Clark Fork Rainbow Trout |
Chunky Clark Fork Cutthroat Trout |

We had a terrific second evening of fishing and decided to live by one of our mantras…never leave rising fish. So we stayed another night.

Since fishing was slow the previous morning, we chose to wait until evening with hopes of having another great night of fly fishing.

Netting Clark Fork Rainbow Trout |

No two days are alike, another mantra, and that proved to be true. Fishing the last evening was slower than the previous two nights. And a few other anglers showed up, the most people we’ve ever seen at this location.

Fishing on Clark Fork with Other Anglers |

However, we did land a couple big fish which made it extra day worthwhile. Dancingtrout landed hey biggest fish, a 19+ inch Cutt-bow.

Dancingtrout Holding Clark Fork Rainbow |
Clark Fork Rainbow Dorsal Fin |

Here are the flies we used with success.

Next stop…back to the NF Clearwater and Kelly Creek, the last stop on our 2020 fly fishing road trip. You’ll read about it next week.

Enjoy…go fish, stay safe!

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