4 Tips for a Drop Float on the South Fork of the Flathead

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A drop float on the South Fork of the Flathead River is a unique and wonderful wilderness experience. On these trips, we safely transport you and your gear to the put-in, deep within the Bob Marshall Wilderness Area. But you need advance planning and preparations to manage the float. Here are four tips to consider before your adventure begins:

  1. Expect the Best, Prepare for the Worst:

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The summer float season offers great weather and water conditions most days but always prepare for inclement weather. Bring a quality tent and sleeping bag to stay warm and dry at night and keep a rain jacket accessible during the trip. Flash storms will sometimes arrive with little warning and quickly pass over.

Exit the river for any bad storm systems that have lightening and stop fishing anytime lightening is near. Fly fishing through an electric storm is a dangerous proposition.

  1. Bring durable dry flies and big streamers:

The South Fork Cutthroat trout are not particularly picky. The best fly patterns are durable and can withstand a long day of abuse. Foam dry flies are ideal for our fishery. You can fish through an entire day without changing your foam fly. They float high and last for a long time.

Traditional options like an elk hair caddis will catch as many fish but they become water logged and require treatment. Use foam patterns in pink or purple to present a highly visible and attractive offering. A size 10 is all you will need but bigger and smaller flies are also effective.

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Nymphs are not necessary during the summer but they can increase the number of fish caught. Drop a beadhead prince or pheasant tail nymph about 2-feet off your dry fly and you may even catch two trout on a single cast.

The South Fork is one of the few places where you can legally fly fish for bull trout. You must obtain a catch card from Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks and report on all fish caught. You also must immediately release all bull trout caught.

Bull Trout will eat large nymph patterns but streamer fishing is the best choice for these aggressive fish. Large buggers, double bunnies and articulated flies will draw violent strikes from bull trout.

  1. Pack fly rods for multiple setups:

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You want to save space for other camp gear on the pack animals but it’s nice to bring a few rods. A 4 or 5 weight with a floating line is a good option for throwing dry fly rigs to cutthroat trout and a 6 or 7 weight with a sinking line for streamer fishing will suffice.

If you want a single rod to manage everything, choose a 5-weight with a floating line and carry a sinking leader (such as a Rio Versileader) for streamers. However we highly recommend bringing more than one rod in case one breaks. Additionally, having a dedicated dry fly rod and a streamer rig makes it easy to quickly switch from one setup to the other.

  1. Try these fishing tactics:

Casting along the nice canyon walls is a productive strategy but don’t overlook the shallow riffles during warm weather. Cutthroats will sit in the fast water where oxygen is readily available. It can be surprising to find fish holding in what appears to be just a few inches of water.

Many of the bigger fish utilize the large boulders as habitat. Work your fly around these structures and you are sure to have some success. The bull trout prefer the deep green pools and cliffs. Fish these areas with your sinking line and a streamer. In many instances, you will locate bull trout as they attack a cutthroat on the end of your line. Land the cutthroat and change to a streamer when this happens.

For general information on our drop float trips on the South Fork of the Flathead River, you can visit our Drop Float Trips Page. If you’d like more details or availability, please give us a call at 406-932-5687 or contact us on the website.

About the author: Zach Lazzari is a fly fishing guide and freelance writer based in Montana. Zach has fished and guided in Alaska, Colorado and Patagonia. When he's not fishing, Zach is chasing big game, upland birds and waterfowl in the Rocky Mountains and Northwest.