Our last road trip for the year found us fly fishing the Kootenai, Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers.

Clark Fork Cutthroat | www.johnkreft.com

If you are a regular here on RiverKeeper Flies, you know this is the third fly fishing road trip this year to Idaho and Montana. Here is a link to my post where I captured all the waters we fished during our last 29 day trip – Wrapping Up Our Fly Fishing Road Trip.

We timed this last trip to coincide with the Cast One for Hope, a celebration and major fundraiser for Casting for Recovery.

Kootenai River, ID

We fished the Kootenai River, ID on September 24 & 25, a few days before the Cast One for Hope event. Dave, a friend of a friend, asked us to return this year and see if he could get us into more fish. We fished the Kootenai River last year with him.

We did manage to find more fish this year. Perhaps it had something to do with the water lever. The last time we fished it, the river was running around 9,000 cfs. This year it was about 6,400 cfs. In terms of numbers, I think we landed about 20 fish the first day and a little over 30 the second. Many of the fish were in the 9 – 13 inch range with an occasional larger fish running 14 – 16 inches. We’ve heard stories of fish over 20 in this section.

It’s the only place I’ve launched a drift boat by getting in on dry land.

Launching Driftboat on Kootenai | www.johnkreft.com

This 11 mile drift begins in Montana. We floated less than half a mile before hitting the Idaho border. It certainly seems to be an underutilized fishery. You’ll see very few driftboats on the river…like 2 or 3. The scenery is beautiful with train whistles often breaking the silence of drifting downstream.

Train on Kootenai | www.johnkreft.com

Most of the fish we hooked were along the banks, close to shore. Fish seemed to like the rocks and would quickly hit the size 12 Purple Chubby Chernobyl flies we used.

Kootenai River Rainbow | www.johnkreft.com

They were feisty, strong fighting fish.

Kootenai River Rainbow Trout | www.johnkreft.com
Fat Kootenai River Rainbow Trout | www.johnkreft.com

On occasion, we would stop at a spot similar to this and fish from shore.

Kootenai River | www.johnkreft.com

Here we are posing after fishing from shore. We seldom get a picture of us together.

Karen and John on Kootenai | www.johnkreft.com

Sunsets are beautiful as we float to our takeout.

Kootenai River Sunset | www.johnkreft.com

Thanks again Dave for rowing us down the Kootenai River!

Dave and Karen on Kootenai River | www.johnkreft.com

Bitterroot River

We fished the Bitterroot River earlier this year for the first time in July. The water was much lower and we hoped the fish might be easier to find.

Bitterroot River | www.johnkreft.com

As I mentioned above, we were in the Bitterroot Valley for the Cast One for Hope celebration and fundraiser. It was the reason for our last fly fishing road trip this year.

Since we were on the Bitterroot, our original plan was to stay a day or two and then head to the Madison River and West Yellowstone.

But…Mother Nature had a different plan for us. A major early season snow storm hit us and Hamilton, MT ended up with 4 – 5 inches the day after the Cast One for Hope event.

September Snow in Bitterroot Valley | www.johnkreft.com

We decided to hunker down for several days and watch the extended forecast to see if our plan would come together. It didn’t. So we needed to come up with Plan B.

Plan B meant fishing the Bitterroot River for a few days.

We learned a little about where to expect fish in some of the drifts from our guide Sean during the Cast One for Hope event. In addition, he gave us a spot or two where we could walk/wade and hopefully find a few fish.

This is the first spot we came to upstream from Tucker Crossing. I always love finding and fishing an eddy with foam. You know the saying…all together now…”foam is home”.

Bitterroot River Foam Line | www.johnkreft.com

We stopped to watch for a nose or two and we weren’t disappointed. I was literally a rod length away, casting into the foam and hooked this 15 inch beauty with a Beetle Bailey.

Bitterroot River Rainbow from Foam Line | www.johnkreft.com

We walked upstream looking for more rising fish. We found a few in this run.

Fishing Bitterroot River | www.johnkreft.com
Playing Fish on Bitterroot River | www.johnkreft.com

Two days before, our guide had us into a Mahogany Dun hatch. We found a few here as well. This fish rose to an #16 OGF Mahogany Dun my friend Bryan had tied for me a couple years ago. (OGF stands for Old Guy Flies. He uses a hook with larger eye and wing material that is easily seen.)

Bitterroot Trout with OGF Mahagony Dun Fly | www.johnkreft.com

Both of us proceeded to hook and land several fish.

Bitterroot River Cutthroat | www.johnkreft.com

The next day we decided to check out a different section of river upstream from Hamilton, MT.

Bitterroot River Run | www.johnkreft.com

We found a few fish here as well. They rose to foam hoppers and Mahogany Duns.

Bitterroot River Cutthroat Trout | www.johnkreft.com

We returned to the original section the third day and found more willing risers on Mahogany Duns again.

Bitterroot River Rainbow | www.johnkreft.com
Bitterroot River Cuttbow | www.johnkreft.com

I even found a couple of small Brown Trout.

Bitterroot River Brown Trout | www.johnkreft.com

As with any new water, the river will speak to you the more you watch. The three extra days spent on the Bitterroot River proved to be very enjoyable.

We stopped at Chuck Stranahan’s Flies & Guides and the Freestone Fly Shop in Hamilton, MT for a few flies and information. I recommend both of them. The Mahagony Dun hatch isn’t one that we key on our home waters, so we picked up a selection of flies. Turns out I found a #16 Mahagony Sparkle Dun that worked well too.

After this trip, I must say the Bitterroot River is beginning to grow on me.

Clark Fork River

After waiting several days in Hamilton, MT and fishing the Bitterroot River, we didn’t see the forecast changing.

Our original plan included fishing the Madison River and driving into Yellowstone National Park. But a forecast of snow and very low temperatures changed our mind.

So we turned left and headed home.

Our hope was to stop at the Clark Fork in St. Regis and see what the river looked like in early October.

Clark Fork and St Regis Confluence | www.johnkreft.com

I have a love/hate relationship with the Clark Fork River. It’s a great fishery, but when you don’t float the river, access can be difficult.

We learned about the Clark Fork and the St. Regis River confluence from Joe at Joe Cantrell Outfitters. I purchased a Parachute Chernobyl I used for a Throw Back Thursday Fly. Joe was kind enough to provide a little information about where we might fish. Now every time we drive I-90, a stop to fish the Clark Fork is always on our mind.

These are fat fish ranging in the 14 – 20 inch range. We’ve caught Brown, Cutthroat, Rainbows, and Cuttbows here. This trip was no exception.

It didn’t take someone very long to start catching fish. How about the third cast??!!!!

Clark Fork Cutthroat Trout | www.johnkreft.com

And a half hour later…number 2.

Clark Fork Cutthroat | www.johnkreft.com

Meanwihile, I was catching nadda.

That changed a couple of hours later…actually Mahogany Duns began floating down the river and fish were taking note. And we both tied them on.

We had a terrific day hooking and landing Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout. I think the total was close to 25 fish, including 3 doubles.

Clark Fork Double 1 | www.johnkreft.com
First double of the day
Clark Fork Double 2 | www.johnkreft.com
Second double
Clark Fork Double 3 | www.johnkreft.com

While I was playing one of my fish, I saw a large mayfly floating down the river and a nice fish ate it right next to mine. After landing my fish, I quickly changed to one of my size 12 Green Drake’s.

On the very next cast, this fish ate my fly with a violent, sideways, downstream take. Turned out to be around 18 inches and a real fatty.

Clark Fork Rainbow Trout | www.johnkreft.com

I didn’t think Green Drakes were hatching, but the size and profile were right and several other fish ate our flies.

Upon returning home, I checked out a hatch chart for the Clark Fork and found a listing for a Hecuba mayfly (Great blue-winged red quill). I read where it is similar to a Green Drake. I can’t be positive because I didn’t see the bugs close up, but I’m guessing they were Hecuba mayflies.

I read where Hecuba mayflies can be locally important. Who wouldn’t want to fish a size 10 or 12 drake fly pattern with high hopes of fish rising to your fly?

After a great day of fishing, we always say “no two days are the same”.

The second day, we got the the river a little earlier, but the fish didn’t seem to cooperate. A few fish were hooked, but later the fish started rising to Mahogany Duns and Hecuba mayflies. We landed around a dozen fish.

Clark Fork Cutthroat with Bracelet | www.johnkreft.com
Clark Fork Rainbow | www.johnkreft.com

I think we will find our way back to the Clark Fork in future fly fishing road trips.

Enjoy…go fish!

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  1. I’ve enjoyed W. Montana and N. (and Central) Idaho waters for years. Never fished the Kootenai, tho, but will make it a point next season. Your narratives were great. As I’m finding it harder to see waters without crowds in OR, I make more trips to the east (including some waters in Wyoming, like the Wind River). Thanks for the inspiration. jhf

  2. Trips like this are priceless. Had to be great fun and the memories will be forever. Momma and I just got back from Ireland. Such a great time and the fishing was a bonus even though the fish were small. Such beautiful streams.

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