September Fishing on the Clark Fork River

Heavy thick smoke from wildfires in California, Oregon, and Washington state shrouded the Clark Fork Valley near St Regis, Montana as we set up camp at Sloway Campground. Poor air quality had been a way of life in Western Montana for the past three weeks. We were hopeful that rains predicted later in the week would bring some relief.

Arriving mid-day, we were a little road weary. Since late May, we had been traveling and fishing from our small Jayco camper.

Our little cabin on Rock Creek was only 120 miles away – close by Montana standards. We have fished this section in the past, not thoroughly as it was always a day trip from home. Instead, for this trip, we wanted to get to know this area and explore the many nearby tributaries.

Sloway

Sloway lies between Superior and St Regis Montana. As the name suggests, the river is slow-moving and gentle in this section. The Sloway Frontage Road follows the river from exit 43 (Dry Creek) on I-90 to exit 37 near St Regis.

Early in our trip, hoppers were the ticket. The long glides of the river were ideal for dry fly fishing from our drift boat.

Wildfire Smoke Chokes the air above the Clark Fork River in Montana

Wildfire Smoke Chokes the Air Above the Clark Fork River in Montana

Drifting the Clark Fork River near St Regis under smoky skies

Drifting the Clark Fork River Near St Regis Under Smoky Skies

About the Clark Fork River

Named for William Clark of the Corps of Discovery (Lewis and Clark), the Clark Fork begins its journey to the Pacific near Butte, Montana. Here the small headwater stream, Silver Bow Creek, twists and winds beside the Anaconda Settling Ponds until joining Warm Springs Creek at the Warm Springs Wildlife Management Area where it becomes the Clark Fork.

See our video of fishing the Upper Clark Fork

The Clark Fork forges west receiving the Big and Little Blackfoot Rivers, Rock Creek, the Bitterroot River, Petty Creek, Fish Creek, the Flathead River, Thompson River, and numerous small tributaries. In total, the Clark Fork drains more the 25,800 squares miles in Montana, Idaho, and Washington.

Miles of Trout Water

The Clark Fork supports trout from its headwaters to Paradise, Montana. That’s about 220 miles of trout water. In Paradise, the warmer Flathead River joins the Clark Fork, and warm-water species as well as brown trout, are the main catch. Look for trout where cold-water tributaries join the main stem of the river.

There are two sections of concern when drifting the Clark Fork. Alberton Gorge has Class lll – IV rapids and the river between St Regis and Paradise is boulder strewn.

Map of Clark Fork River Near Sloway Gulch

Easy rowing on the Clark Fork River near Sloway

Easy Rowing on the Clark Fork River Near Sloway

Belle fishing the Clark Fork River

Belle Watching For Risers the Clark Fork River

Fishing Access

Our favorite float of the trip was from Dry Creek Fishing Access to Sloway, a primitive take out on the Sloway Frontage Road about a mile west of the campground.

The river has numerous fishing accesses just off I-90.

In Superior, float from the Big Eddy to Dry Creek. Next is Dry Creek to Sloway. Then, Sloway to St Regis.

Below St Regis, the river passes over boulder fields. Skill with the oars is needed.

Buy A Map

Fishing the River

The Clark Fork is a big, wide river. We prefer to fish the river from a driftboat for the best coverage of the water. Actually, any watercraft (canoe, kick boat, kayak, johnboat) would work well on these gentle sections of the river.

If you prefer to wade, try near the boat launch in St Regis and walk in near where the St Regis River flows into the Clark Fork. Upstream at the Sloway access, wading anglers can find a decent amount of water that can be fished from shore.

Floating the Clark Fork River in our Driftboat

Floating the Clark Fork River in our Driftboat

Clark Fork Cutthroat Trout

Clark Fork Cutthroat Trout

September Hatches

We did not encounter any real hatches during our time on the river. Scant BWO hatches did not interest the trout.

Early in our trip, the fish gobbled up hoppers cast at the bank.

Later in the trip, the fish keyed on yellow jackets. I had never seen this before. In the late afternoon, there would be bunches of yellowjackets fighting in the surface film that the trout slurp up.

I found it odd. Are these yellowjackets suicidal? It happened on warm afternoons – plenty warm enough for them to fly. And do the trout get stung? If you have some insight, please add it to the comments at the bottom! I’d love to know!

Yellowjacket in the Clark Fork River

 Video

Brown Drake Flies for Silver Creek

Last Night of a 3½ Month Long Fishing Trip

Clark Fork Experts

Clark Fork Trout and Joe Cantrell Outfitting are the local experts and are both located in St Regis. Neither offer regularly updated fishing reports so it’s best to call or stop in.

Nearby Fly Fishing Waters

The Clark Fork has many tributaries that are awesome trout streams. Here a few within an easy drive of St Regis.

  • St Regis River
  • Fish Creek
  • Petty Creek
  • Thompson River
  • Flathead River
  • St Joe River

Clark For River – Current Stream Flow

USGS Water-data graph for Clark Fork River Below Missoula Montana
Clark Fork and Flathead River Paradise Montana

Clark Fork at Paradise, Montana

The Necessities

Our picks for fishing information, food, and places to camp.

Our Fishing Trip to St Regis

For most of the trip, we camped at the Sloway Campground, a National Forest campsite. It was perfect. It was right on the river and our site was spacious. We chose a spot near the horse campsite which gave the dogs lots of room the run when it was not occupied.

We found Sloway to have primarily overnight travelers so it was very quiet (except highway noise) and no other anglers. There was good cell reception with lots of open sites every night.

For the last couple nights of our trip, we treated ourselves to the St Regis Campground which had full hook-ups. The final days of our 3½ months long fishing trip were rainy and cool so it was great to kick back, watch some TV, and shower.

Side Trips

Fishing is fun but we always set aside time to explore a little or to soak in a hot springs.

See More Photos From Our Trip

Fishing Guidebooks

Go with knowledge! We keep guidebooks in the camper and the state atlas in all of our rigs. If you’re serious about fishing, here’s our recommended reading for this water.

*The link takes you to Amazon where you can read more about the titles and purchase the guidebooks if you choose. We do receive a small portion of the sale for providing the link which helps to support this site. We appreciate your support!

Flyfisher’s Guide to Montana
Flyfisher’s Guide to Southwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes
Montana Road & Recreation Atlas

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