Fly Fishing Rock Creek
From its headwaters in the upper Sapphire range to its confluence with the Clark Fork twenty miles from Missoula, Rock Creek is a wading angler’s paradise. With over 2,000 wild trout per mile and a density of bug life rivaling some tailwaters, this “creek” is really a small river that flows through ponderosa lined meadows, pristine National Forest canyons and cottonwood choked bottoms. The tea-colored water drops at a heavy pitch through some of the most scenic terrain in the West, and fabled spots such as The Hogback , The Dalles, and The Microburst are as sought after for their views as their proximity to hungry trout. Boulders, deadfalls, cutbanks, cliff walls—Rock Creek offers literally every kind of trout holding water imaginable, and hatches of rare proportion draw its trout readily to the surface. Dense populations of wild trout, prolific hatches of dry flies, and epic scenery—three wonderful reasons why anglers seek out Rock Creek year after year.
Fly Fishing the Seasons – Rock Creek Hatch Chart
Winter and Spring on the Creek: January – April
Rock Creek, especially its upper end, fishes well throughout the winter. If you can find a ten-yard break in the shelf ice, you can usually drown two nymphs and come up a winner. As spring begins to break, hatches of midges and blue wings bring cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout to the surface. April, pre-runoff, brings good if in consistent hatches of Skwalla stones and March Browns, as well as some great streamer fishing—think YELLOW—during the bumps in water flow.
Rock Creek Salmonfly Hatch: May and June
As runoff subsides—Rock Creek drops and clears faster than any other area watershed—usually around Memorial Day, the fabled salmon fly hatch (#2-4) begins work its way upriver. A hatch with an unbelievable biomass, the Rock Creek salmonfly event is a spectacle not to be missed—often the alders and willows are so choked with emerged bugs that shaking a single tree branch will send hundreds of three-inch long stoneflies downstream. Eruption-like trout takes soon to follow!
On the heels of the salmon fly hatch, an equally prolific golden stone hatch keeps big cutthroat trout and brown trout active through June. Big tan sedges, and chunky Green Drakes also lure the Creek’s biggest fish to the surface, before the month rounds out its great fishing with Yellow Sallies, small caddis, and PMDs. The fishing is never technical up here, but this time of year, after a month where the fish have seen a fair number of offerings, can require reach-casts and longer leaders.
Summer on Rock Creek: A Wade Fishing Paradise: July – September
By July (and the end of floating season on Rock Creek) the water is usually on the steep drop, and the upper end, characterized by long, deeply cut grass banks that are often unfishable in big water, come into their own. It’s then we concentrate our efforts on wade fishing, and have some of our most productive and enjoyable days of the year up here. Caddis, small mayflies, and larger nocturnal stones draw quality fish to the surface, and the angler willing to fish “far-and-fine” can
In late July and August, when wade fishing on the upper end of the Creek is at its prime, we’re fond of guiding combo days where the morning is spent catching the damselfly hatch on Georgetown Lake, and the afternoon spent fishing hoppers and terrestrials on the clear, snow-fed waters near Ghilles Bridge. The damsels offer madcap stillwater action for huge lake rainbows, while just over the hill—after a burger and beer in Phillipsburg for lunch—the Creek is teaming with hungry, terrestrial seeking trout.
Rock Creek in the Fall: October – December
As late summer tapers into fall, ants, hoppers, and beetles give way to hatches of mayflies, most notably the Mahogany and Hecuba. While these bugs bring big brown trout and cutthroat to the surface, the real huge fish caught this time of year are migratory pre-spawn brown trout headed up from the Clark Fork. A cloudy September or October day spent chucking big streamers on the lower end of Rock Creek can produce the fish of a lifetime.