Planning a Wilderness Drop Float on the South Fork of the Flathead

By Zach Lazzari | Photos by Ryan McSparran

The South Fork of the Flathead River is a bucket list trip. The river cuts through the remote Bob Marshall wilderness where you will experience class 4/5 rapids, pristine forests and willing fish. Make the most of your trip by planning every last detail and preparing for a variety of scenarios and weather conditions.

Boating Equipment – Rent vs Own

Ideally, you own boating equipment and know the exact conditions and setup process. It helps being intimate with your gear. If you don’t own a boat and oars or are traveling a long distance, consider renting from someone local. Use a cooler as your boat seat and make sure your coolers IGBC approved. Oars that break down into multiple pieces are necessary along with a throw bag and life jackets for everyone.

Personal Gear

There’s a balance to bringing the right things without overpacking. You might see snow in July and nothing but sunshine in May. It’s hard to predict the weather for this trip. Bring warm layers, a high quality sleeping bag and your swim trunks and sandals for the nice days. Plan on wearing the same clothes for multiple days and smelling a little funky at the end. Rain gear is critical and will save you from hypothermia and extreme discomfort when it’s pouring rain and the wind is howling.


Believe it or not, rangers patrol the backcountry and you may have licenses checked. If they don’t find you in the backcountry the trailhead and takeout are likely checkpoints. Get your fishing license along with a Bull Trout catch card from the FWP.

Working with Your Outfitter

Your outfitter knows this game better than anyone. Listen to them! Use their gear recommendations, ask about the conditions before your trip and weigh your gear to make life easier for everyone. The mules have a maximum weight allowance and you must have everything planned, packed and weighed in advance. It’ll save everyone time and headaches at the trailhead. 


There are two types of insurance to consider for your float. Think about purchasing trip insurance in case something stops the float from happening. You can get a refund if wildfires close the trails or a health issue prevents you from traveling. There are several providers out there with Travel Guard being a common choice. The other type of insurance for backcountry emergencies. Do you have a plan for dealing with an emergency in remote areas? You can buy a SPOT satellite unit with an insurance plan and be covered for helicopter flights and emergency rescue. Not a bad thing to carry on any backcountry trip.

Here at Lazy J Bar O Outfitters, we offer fully guided fly fishing expeditions into the Bob Marshall Wilderness in addition to unguided drop floats. For more info, check out If you’d like to chat with us about availability or details on these ultimate backcountry adventures, give us a call at 406-932-5687 or send us a message.