Clark Fork of the Yellowstone
**Content Credit: Rocky Fork Outfitters
The Clark Fork of the Yellowstone, known locally as the Clark Fork begins immediately adjacent to Yellowstone National Park in Montana, flows into Wyoming, and then back into Montana. The section of the river most accessible to Red Lodge based anglers is approximately fifteen miles east of Town.
I have to admit that I really love the Clark Fork although it is not an easy river to love. Trout populations are low, averaging between 400 to 100 fish per mile depending how far north of the Wyoming border you are fishing. What the river lacks in trout numbers, it more than makes up in character, opportunity, and fish size.
The Clark Fork provides a unique opportunity for winter, early spring, and fall fishing in a truly desert environment. The landscapes, which the Clark Fork and its irrigation systems flow across, are composed of highly erodible soils. This river does not fish well during the summer months; say from mid-May through August, due to reduced river volume resulting from irrigation demands. Additionally, since the river is situated in a truly desert environment, elevated water temperatures are the norm during the summer months. Additionally, the irrigation return waters consist of muddy “waste water” that serves to reduce or eliminate necessary water clarity. These contributing factors all but make the Clark Fork un-fishable during much of the traditional fishing season.
The make up of the lands surrounding the Clark Fork are un-like anything you will encounter along the Beartooth Mountain face. This is a place where fishing opportunities can be found through out the winter, and it is not unusual to find fish rising to midges during the winter months. If you‟re tired of skiing and want to try something different, this river may be for you. The river contains some truly large trout and one of the best things about the Clark Fork is that you never know what species you are going to catch. In a single day, browns, rainbows, cutthroat, and grayling can be caught at the right time of the year. Additionally, the river is packed with mountain whitefish, and during the winter months, you can share the fish, and a shot of schnapps‟ with the local Fin-landers sitting on a five gallon plastic bucket drowning maggots. Just a little of that unique character found only on this river.
Wading the Clark Fork is relatively easy as the river contains few locations with slick rocks or gravel. The most important wading consideration is the large amounts of sediment that build up on the rivers bottom. This stuff has a tendency to “suck you in”, and at times you may think that you can‟t free yourself from the muck. Do yourself a favor and look at the bottom before you wade forth.
Fly selection on the Clark Fork is pretty straightforward. You should focus on wet flies of either the nymph (sizes #12-18) or go for the big boys and chuck large nasty streamers with lots of action. By far, my preference is throwing the large streams such as bunny fur, wooly buggers, or yuck bugs. I also prefer lots of lead and believe that the more you get the flies down to where the big trout live, the better luck you will have. The only time that dry flies become important on the Montana section of the Clark Fork is during the winter months. These fish aren‟t overly smart and any reasonable midge imitation will work provided the fish are actively engaged in feeding on these little flies. Midge dries or wets should predominately be of sizes #14 to 18. Winter dry fly fishing, whether to whitefish or trout is a wonderful way to spend a couple hours on days between 40 to 50 degrees, thus breaking the ensuing cabin fever.