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Published on November 13th, 2014 | by J. Strong Smith

Quick and Easy Fly-Fishing spots near the University of Montana

This is a list of great[1] fishing spots, arranged by distance from downtown Missoula, for those who need to get their minds right after a long day of work or class.  Before you read, be sure to check out our quick and dirty guide on stream access laws and your rights as a fisherman.

West on the Clark Fork

Fish Creek

30 Miles[2] West of Missoula on I-90

Clark fork

A tributary that flows into the Clark Fork River, Fish Creek is one of the best lesser-known streams in Western Montana.  The drive – a quick and easy half-hour on I-90 – meanders along the big and clear Clark Fork.  The fishing access is a couple miles up Fish Creek Road, but the dirt road follows the stream for several miles, so if there’s already cars parked, or if you have a little more time, you can keep going until you see a turnout, or a particularly nice-looking spot on the river.

Tip: Spruce Moths in late-summer/early-fall

East on the Clark Fork

Rock Creek

20 Miles East of Missoula on I-90

The obligatory listing still deserves its due. Rock Creek is iconic, immortalized in A River Runs Through It by Norman Maclean, and fished hard all year.[3] I’m partial to the lower couple of miles starting in late July through October (and sometimes early November).  There are pull-outs along the whole paved superhighway,[4] and access sites at Mile 2 (Valley of the Moon), Mile 6 (Soloman), Mile 8 (Sawmill), and more as you go.  Look for big Brown Trout lurking along the edges, and Rainbows behind rocks in the middle or in deep pools created by the water slicing through the westerly mountain.

Tip: Chernobyl Hopper with red San Juan Worm dropper

Flint Creek

45 Miles East of Missoula on I-90, then another 15-20 Miles South on Highway 1

Flint Creek is Rock Creek’s ugly stepsister.  It also flows into the Clark Fork, but this much smaller stream winds its way through acres of ranchland along the Pintler Veterans’ Memorial Scenic Highway.  Don’t let the size of this stream fool you, big trout lurk along the grassy edges looking for tasty field mice that happen to slip and fall in the cool water.  Fishing accesses are few, but there are several bridges anglers can use to enter the stream, and fish are easier to catch as there is much less constant pressure, especially compared to Rock Creek.

Tip: Elk Hair Caddis with an orange body in the evenings.

South down the Bitterroot Valley

Lolo Creek

12 Miles South of Missoula on Highway 93


The Bitterroot River is one of the best fisheries in Western Montana.  That said, it’s a much easier river to fish from the friendly confines of a boat.  Occasionally I have some luck wading the main river, but I far prefer its many tributaries – like Lolo Creek – that flow from the Bitterroot National Forest.  There are incredible hikes all the way down Highway 93, and a basic rule of thumb is: the harder the hike, the better the fishing.[5]  Lolo Creek is the first of many spots to try, depending on how much time you have after class.

Tip: Blue-winged Olive Dun.

East on the Blackfoot

I’ll just come out and say it: I love the Blackfoot River.  I love how Norman Maclean refers to it as the “Big Blackfoot.” I love its crystal greenish-blue hue.  I love how strong and fast it runs in the spring, and how easily accessible it is to wade in the summer and early fall. I love that thousands of people spend lazy afternoons on recycled rubber, drinking cold beer out of aluminum cans floating any number of river miles.  I love that, for the last eleven years, many of those same people volunteer to spend a day picking up trash to help preserve the river, so their kids and grandkids can do likewise.  I also love that many of the notches[6] on my fly rod were etched on the banks of the Blackfoot.

Whitaker Bridge

25 Miles East of Missoula on Highway 200

One issue with the Blackfoot around Missoula is the amount of people that float on it, a phenomena I affectionately refer to as “the Tuber Hatch.”  It’s almost impossible to avoid the Tuber Hatch – the only way to beat it, is to go farther upriver than most are willing to venture.  Obviously you can stop at any access along the way, but if you take a left off Highway 200 at the Johnsrud fishing access, and keep going up the dirt road, eventually you cross Whitaker Bridge.  The bridge provides a perfect opportunity to fish either side of the river.  Walk upriver for some great fishing.

Tip: Purple Haze cripple pattern, or Goddard Caddis after sunset.

In town

The Double Tree

It’s a good spot to teach a friend how to cast, but get out of there as soon as they stop tangling the leader on every throw.  I see people fishing in front of the DoubleTree hotel, and sometimes think Finn and Porter pay them an hourly fee to be there.  I’ve never seen anybody with a fly-rod catch a fish, even if they’re trying around the mouth of Rattlesnake Creek.[7]  It’s cool to have a spot within walking distance from downtown and campus, but make time to check out the superior spots a short drive away.


[1] Not my favorite, but good.  Only bait-fishermen reveal their favorite spots on the internet.

[2] All mileage is approximate.

[3] MT Fish, Wildlife and Parks (FWP) Ranks Rock Creek as the top river for “Most Days Fished” in 2009 at almost 30,000 days fished.

[4] What my dad called it when they decided to pave the first 8-10 miles.

[5] Especially if you’re looking to catch native west-slope cutthroat trout.

[6] Reserved for the biggest and most memorable fish.

[7] Nobody knows exactly where the Rattlesnake got its name, but one rumor posits that the noise boulders moving downriver make sounded like the rattle of a Diamondback.

Cover Photo Credit to

Clark fork photo credit to USFWS Mountain-Prairie

Lolo photo credit to pjsixft (“PJ”)

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About the Author

J. Strong Smith

Hunter, Trapper, Fur Trader, Fisherman, Trailblazer, Cartographer, Explorer of the Rocky Mountains, and Montana Mint Contributor

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