South Fork of the Flathead: Late Season Trips

Most boaters and anglers focus on the early and mid-summer when flows are higher on the South Fork of the Flathead. Fishing remains excellent through late August and September if you are willing to navigate lower water conditions. Book your horses well in advance as the late season overlaps with hunting trips. There is an early rifle season in the wilderness and you may even encounter a few hunters on the trip. 

Boating in Low Water

Many boaters avoid the late season because navigating is a drag. Literally. Gravel bars are exposed and you are often forced to exit the boat and drag it over shallow sections. Pack light to make this easier. Use the boat to travel and fish on foot to prevent spooking fish. A good strategy involves floating until you hit a drag section. Jump out and fish the run below the drag before hauling the boat down. You can hop scotch down the river and effectively wade prime runs.

Low water does not reduce the danger of the river. Exposed boulders and tight shoots remain and you must wear a PFD and stay on your toes. If anything, you are more active on the oars as you dodge obstacle and pick through skinny lines.

Fishing Strategy

The onset of cooler weather tends to trigger more aggressive behaviour from the trout. Streamer fishing is the ticket to catching the larger cutthroat while opening the opportunity for a bull trout. The bull trout are migrating towards spawning areas. While you can legally target bull trout with a catch card, you cannot fish the tributaries or tributary mouths. Keep this in mind as you work through the river system. The dry fly game for eager cutthroats is always an option as well. Scaling down the size and using lower profile flies is productive. Consider stimulators, elk hair caddis and parachutes. 

Driving up from Hungry Horse: Wade or Float

You can access the lower stretches by road with the option to wade fish or run day floats. While this isn’t within the Bob Marshall Wilderness, fishing remains great. The 60 miles of dirt road that runs along Hungry Horse reservoir will deliver you to the lower river where camping and boat access is available. The Great Bear River provides an additional opportunity to chase smaller cutthroats on an intimate wade fishery. Hunters and horse packers are active on this road so drive slowly and be careful on the hairpin corners. Fall fishing pressure is low and you are not likely to encounter many other anglers.