Fishing Rock Creek – The Details
From Missoula, Montana, Rock Creek lies 21 miles to the east. At exit 126 on I-90, Rock Creek Road heads south and some of the West’s best fly fishing lies ahead.
Rock Creek can also be accessed from Philipsburg, Montana, a small mining town turned tourist/ski town. Take Route 348 which leads to the Kyle Bohrnsen Bridge near the 41 mile marker or take Route 38 to bring you out higher on the creek. Here Route 38 leads to the seasonal Skalkaho Road that goes over the Sapphire Mountains and drops into the Bitterroot Valley near Hamilton. The Skalkaho Road is open in summer and fall. It is a narrow and winding gravel road.
There are numerous fishing access, primitive campsites, and roadside access to Rock Creek. Angler paths lead up and down the river in many spots. A well-trod path often means good spots to fish. Don’t worry about finding the ‘best spot’. Rock Creek offers great fishing in its entirety. Grab your fly rod and go. If you are not successful in one spot, keep moving. With 2000 fish per mile, you’ll come upon a great spot just around the corner.
Floating the Rock Creek
Floating the river is a great way to cover water and fish in the spring, during the salmonfly hatch, and during run-off. Floating is prohibited after June 30. Most folks float pre-runoff in April through June.
There are no official boat launches on Rock Creek. Floating the creek is done by rafts fitted with fishing frame. This is no place for a hard boat.
Seasoned floaters know the spots. Near the 4 mile mark, the “Tamarack” launch (unmarked) is a popular take-out and launch for floating down the Creek and into the Clark Fork, taking out at the Clinton Fishing Access. This access can be dicey as there are often snags and sweepers in the river channel here.
Near the 13 mile mark, a crude launch/take out exists for floating to tamarack or taking out. Continuing upstream, the Harry’s Flat Campground had launch access. Floating downstream from Harry’s Flat will take you through the boulder field of the Dalles. There is a crude take out just above the Dalles. At the red bridge near the 22 mile mark and Bitterroot Flat, there is a crude launch/take out.
Above that, you’ll find small launches that are no more than a place to drag a raft from a small turn out. Bridges such as the Concrete Bridge and the Kyle Bohrnsen also provide put in/take out spots. Contact the Rock Creek Mercantile to inquire about shuttles.
Rock Creek Hatches
I’ve seen fish take an insect off the surface in every month of the year on Rock Creek. Of course, some months are much better than others. You can expect dry fly action April through October. Here’re a list of hatches you can expect to see.
Blue Winged Olives – Almost any month of the year bwo’s hatch on the creek. From size 16 to flies so small they can barely be seen. Admittedly, BWO may not be the absolute correct name or term, baetis, or maybe just olive midges, but you get the idea. Have some small, olive bodied or dun bodied winged flies sized 18-22 ready should conditions warrant in the colder months.
Nemora – These early stoneflies make spotty appearances in late March and early April. Sized 12 or 14, with a thin body, this bug can get fish to look up in the afternoon.
Skwala Stonefly – When the skwalas hatch, it’s the start of the big bugs in Montana. Skawalas can be on the water anytime in April.
Western March Brown – A favorite mayfly hatch, look for these sized 14 Mays to hatch between noon and 3 pm daily beginning mid-April.
Salmonfly – Fish the salmonfly hatch just once and you’ll know why folks get so cranked up for it. Water temperature dictates when these big bugs hatch. The hatch begins in the lower portions of the creek and moves upstream daily. Start watching for the hatch in late May.
Golden Stones – Summer is on its way when the Golden Stone hatch in June. Smaller than the salmonflies, these are still good sized bugs that hatch when the salmonfly hatch is over.
Cadddis – Caddis can be found on the river from June through September.
Pale Morning Duns – July brings great hatches of PMDs. Be sure to have variants such as cripples, duns, emergers, and nymphs in your box.
Spruce Moth – In late July and early August the Spruce Moth hatch is a favorite. Sized 14, these bugs resemble caddis. And the fish just love them!
Grasshoppers – July – August – September, have hoppers in your box! Foam bodied in a variety of colors, don’t skimp on hoppers.
Trico – Look for tricos in mid August, hatches will wind down after this.
As autumn sets in, fishing during the best time of the day becomes more important. Early and late are not as productive as the cool weather sets in.