Argentina, Alaska and other far-flung destinations can capture a trout angler’s imagination, but the Inland Northwest offers a world-class fly-fishing dream trip for the price of just two tanks of gas.
Drive east from Spokane on Interstate 90 equipped with waders as well as a personal pontoon, drift boat or raft and force yourself to drive past the Kingston Exit and bypass the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene River.
This odyssey starts beyond Lookout Pass in Montana with the St. Regis River, which is best after the spring opener when flows drop below 1,700 cfs, and spawning rainbow are responding to stoneflies before dropping back down into the Clark Fork. The St. Regis also is great in fall, when a surge of brown trout moves in.
The Clark Fork offers a hundred miles of excellent trout fishing for wading and floating upstream and downstream from St. Regis. Stop at Clark Fork Trout & Tackle in St. Regis for supplies, licenses, updates, shuttles, etc.
The Clark Fork has settled in to prime post-runoff conditions in the past week, a bit later than normal because of the deepest snowpack in a couple decades in the upper drainage.
The four major fly shops in Missoula offer fishing updates and excellent maps for the area’s rivers showing angling access sites.
Take a tangent up the Blackfoot River, which has become much more popular in recent years as restoration efforts have boosted the trout fishery.
Or begin a loop by heading off I-90 and into the national forest up the narrow road along the fabled Rock Creek. Anglers are lured here by a litany of hatches starting in June with floaters chucking stoneflies and salmonflies. The hatch was still strong around June 25 around mile 35, where the road has gone to dusty gravel.
As the river flows decrease, boating is prohibited and Rock Creek is turned over to wading anglers. The creek needs to drop below about 500 cfs before wading is easy.
More tangents as you continue the loop up Rock Creek and over Skalkaho Pass:
•Hike-in lakes, including a two-mile trail to Fuse Lake for a shot at arctic grayling.
•Drive to Georgetown Lake, where trout rise viciously for a large traveling sedge hatch that lasts through most of July.
It’s 92 miles mostly slow but scenic miles from I-90 over Skalkaho Pass to the Bitterroot River near Hamilton.
Head south on Highway 93 past Darby and turn up the West Fork, where cutthroats were responding to a salmon fly hatch that rivaled a plague of locusts in late June. Float from Painted Rocks Dam downstream for the best fishing at high flows. Wading is best below 300 cfs.
Complete the loop by fishing north toward Missoula on the Bitterroot, which has a rich trout fishery that provides a living for dozens of river guides. If you neglected to get river maps earlier in the trip, it’s essential now to stop at a fly shop near Hamilton and get fishing updates, shuttle services and the indispensible maps that pinpoint public access.
You’ll know it was a great trip if you can easily bypass the North Fork of the Coeur d’Alene on your way home.