Fly-fishing and beer go together like apple pie and ice cream or peanut butter and jelly. Western Montana, known as Glacier Country, offers outstanding fly-fishing streams as well as a surprising number of microbreweries to visit after a successful day of fishing. If fly-fishing and microbrews make you salivate, read on.
Instead of stocking rivers with hatchery fish, Montana preserves its wild trout population by improving and protecting the habitat and imposing catch and release restrictions in certain sections. That means wild and aggressive trout are looking for your fly. Western Montana has no fewer than 20 rivers to choose for fishing. The Bitterroot River near Hamilton, the Clark Fork River near Missoula and the Middle Fork of the Flathead River near Glacier National Park are all known for their good fishing, clear fast-moving water, great scenery and wildlife. All three rivers support cutthroat, rainbow, brown and bull trout. What’s not to like about this picture?
Craft breweries are conveniently located near all three rivers. Western Montana is home to some of the best beer in the West. The varieties of beer from pale to very dark make sampling a welcome indulgence after a hard day of fishing.
Mike Cooney, operations manager at Glacier Raft Company, gave us his opinion on which flies to use in fishing the middle or north forks of the Flathead River but his advice works for many western Montana streams. Cooney says every guide has a different recommendation on flies, but “personally, my answer would be to stick to the traditional patterns. The Stimulator, affectionately known as a “Stimi,” is a main staple of my box as well as a Royal Wolf, H.L. Varient, Parachute Hopper and for a nymph “Prince Nymph.” He says the hot fly that works one season gets replaced by another hot one the next year. He adds, “It seems that the westslope cutthroat (Montana’s state fish) isn’t really that picky, and the guides tend to be pickier than the fish when it comes to what fly to toss.”
Here is information on three top rated Montana fishing streams, tried and true outfitters, close-by brew pubs and suggested places to stay overnight. The hardest decision you have to make is what stream to fish. This is guaranteed fun.
The Bitterroot River is a medium-sized, clear stream that flows fast over a rocky bed. The river can be fished by boat or by using waders. The banks are a mix of woodland and grass, while on the horizon to the east rise the Sapphire Mountains and to the west are the Bitterroot Mountains looming with snow-covered peaks.
Put In: John Clemons Boat Launch
River Miles: 5-6
Take Out: Darby Bridge Fishing Access
Favorite Fly: Blue Haze
Outfitter: Bitterroot Fly Company (bitterrootflycompany.com)
Microbrewery: Bitterroot Brewing Company (bitterrootbrewingcompany.com)
Favorite Flavor: Sawtooth Ale
RV Site: Anglers Rest on the Bitterroot River (406-363-1268)
Clark Fork River
The Clark Fork River flowing through Missoula and just downstream is wide, deep and slow flowing. The same trout are present as the Bitterroot River but there is a better chance of catching larger fish. Float fishing is best at this section of the river, while wading is limited. Wildlife such as eagles, osprey and even mink may be spotted.
Put In: Just downstream from Missoula at the confluence of the Bitterroot River.
River Miles: 9-12
Take Out: Harper’s Bridge
Favorite Fly: Hop & Drop
Outfitter: Grizzly Hackle (grizzlyhackle.com)
Microbrewery: Tamarack Brewing Company (tamarackbrewing.com)
Favorite Flavor: Steep & Deep White IPA
Microbrewery: Kettlehouse Brewing Company (kettlehouse.com)
Favorite Flavor: Double Haul IPA
RV Site: Jim & Mary’s RV Park (406-549-4416)
Dining: Biga Pizza (bigapizza.com)
Middle Fork of the Flathead River
The Middle Fork of the Flathead River borders Glacier National Park and flows past high mountains and canyons on its way to West Glacier. Highway 2 parallels the river and provides numerous access spots. However, the highway is higher and set back from the rivers, so traffic is seldom seen or heard while fishing. The river moves fast and clear, with a rocky bottom. The water is so clear that trout rising to the floating fly can be seen ready to strike, adding to the excitement. There are several white-water rapids near the town of West Glacier, which adds to this adventure.
Put In: Kisson Creek boat access
River Miles: 8
Take Out: East Glacier
Favorite Fly: Hop & Drop
Outfitter: Glacier Anglers (glacierraftco.com/fly-fishing)
Microbrewery: Flathead Lake Brewing Company (flatheadlakebrewing.com)
Favorite Flavor: Porter
Microbrewery: Great Northern Brewing Company (greatnorthernbrewing.com)
Favorite Flavor: Good Medicine Imperial Ale
RV Site: North American RV Park (800-704-4266); gentryriverranch.com)
Dining: The Buffalo Café (buffalocafewhitefish.com)
Mike Brodwater is a writer who lives in Coeur d’Alene, Idaho.