Fly Fishing Gear List for South Fork of the Flathead

Gear is limited on wilderness fly fishing trips, regardless of how you reach the river. Horses, planes and backpacks all come with limitations on weight and size. The South Fork is especially difficult if you’re packing a boat for a drop float. You must pack wisely to ensure you have essential items without overpacking. On a trip to any remote destination, wranglers and pilots will enforce limits. Avoid having to sort out gear at the trailhead. Weigh everything in advance to ensure you are underweight and ready to roll.

Raft and Frame Selection

We will do another full post describing the brands and raft setups best suited for packing. Breakdown frames, breakdown oars and light rafts that can still handle whitewater are your best bet. The raft must be capable of carrying all of your gear and anglers as well. Two people plus gear is a good rule of thumb. 

Many rafts are made with fishing specific configurations but packing the extra seats and anchor systems is a luxury best left behind. A cooler that acts as a front seat is suitable for fishing from the boat. You can also stand and lean your legs against the tubes while casting. A good chunk of the fishing will happen on your feet while the boat is parked anyways.

Rod Selection

Keep it simple and pack a spare. Take along a single trout rod, a spare trout rod and a bigger bull trout rod. 4-piece rods pack down easily and store nicely on backpacks. Most rod tubes have space to cram in two rods, especially the kit tubes with a reel slot as well. 


For the trout rod, a 5-6 weight is more than ample. A 5-weight is perfect for cutthroats but the 6-weight can handle transitional duties for bull trout if needed. Use a 7-8 weight as a dedicated bull trout rod. The bigger rod will sling your heaviest streamers along with sink tips when you locate bull trout holding in deep pools.

Multiple Line Options

A floating line is all you need on the trout rod. Go with a good weight forward model that matches the rod weight. The weight forward is ideal for casting big foam dry flies each day. It can also turn over streamer patterns. One reel is all you need for the main and backup trout rods. Make sure it has a good drag and functions normally before the trip.

Go with a type 1-3 sink tip on the bull trout rod. You will only use this rod with large streamers and a slow to moderate sink rate will cover most of the water. Add a separate sinking leader/tip if you need to get deeper. Carrying flies ranging from very heavy to unweighted will also help with depth control.

Favorite Flies

A single fly box will save weight. You could even use plastic sandwich bags instead of boxes as you typically don’t need to change flies often. Foam dry flies in pink, purple, olive and tan cover the surface action. A handful of Parachute Adams will pickup fish in the rare event they get picky. Prince nymphs and pheasant tails are ample for nymphs. Small streamer patterns like a Slump Buster or Zonker are fun for the cutthroats. Take a couple dozen of your biggest streamer patterns for bull trout. Double Bunnies, Buggers and articulated baitfish patterns will pack in a baggie as well. 


Nippers, forceps, floatant, good sunglasses and tippet. You could bring along strike indicators but they are not really needed on the South Fork. Bring 0X tippet for the bull trout flies and 3X-4X for everything else. A collapsible net is also useful for landing and safely releasing bigger fish.


Keep it all organized

There are two ways to go about this. Traditionally, I have used a small waist pack on trips where limited equipment is used. Having the pack is nice when you take off on foot and go explore. Currently I am using a large backpack style dry bag with an exterior pocket. All the flies and accessories go into the exterior pocket while clothing and sleeping gear go in the main compartment. I will setup the tent and unload at camp then head out with the bag. You could go either way on this one.