Northwest Fly Fishing

By Jeff Erickson

One of the wonderful aspects of Montana fly fishing is that—in addition to justifiably famous rivers such as the Madison, Yellowstone, and Missouri—there are dozens of smaller streams that also offer excellent fishing but with fewer anglers. Southwest Montana’s Flint Creek is like that: surrounded by large luminaries, including the Bitterroot, Big Hole, and Clark Fork Rivers, medium-size Flint glides largely under the radar.
   A trout stream’s genealogy can be instructive: the primary source of Flint Creek is fertile Georgetown Lake, perched above 6,000 feet northwest of Butte. Georgetown—which in turn is fed by small North Fork Flint Creek—is one of Montana’s most productive still waters, routinely surrendering piglike trout. After tumbling sharply from the reservoir through the Beaverhead-Deerlodge National Forest, Flint Creek winds seductively through the broad Philipsburg Valley, in between the John Long Mountains and the soaring Flint Creek Range. The stream is funneled through a small gorge midway down, then passes through ranchland flats again toward its junction with the Clark Fork near Drummond.
   For much of its length, Flint Creek is followed closely by the Anaconda-Pintler Scenic Route and an old rail line. Because the majority of the land along the stream is private, anglers must abide by the Montana Stream Access Law to fish much of the creek, staying below the ordinary high-water mark unless they have permission from landowners. Reaching the stream by crossing posted private land without permission is not a legal option. Fortunately, adjacent highway rights-of-way, public bridges, and several parcels managed by the state and Bureau of Land Management provide various points to lawfully enter the stream. A good map will help anglers determine where these sweet spots are located.
   According to Montana Fish, Wildlife & Parks (FWP), Flint Creek runs for 48 miles and holds brook, brown, rainbow, and indigenous westslope cutthroat trout, along with Rocky Mountain whitefish. Additionally, the watershed is native habitat for rare bull trout, a species that may not be targeted and is listed under the federal Endangered Species Act. For much of its length, Flint Creek looks like classic brown trout habitat, with the type of overhead cover these cautious beasts crave: undercut banks, drooping willows, and overhanging bunches of grass. An FWP report on recent Flint Creek surveys revealed “surprisingly high densities of brown trout in several sections.” A few of these busters may exceed 20 inches in length. 
   Hatches on Flint Creek include Blue-Winged Olives, Western March Browns, Callibaetis, and various species of caddisflies and midges; come equipped with a selection of nymphs, emergers, and dries for these bugs. Because so much of the creek flows through tall grasses, hoppers are an entertaining enticement from midsummer into early fall, which is also Trico time. Anglers armed with Woolly Buggers, Muddler Minnows, Zoo Cougars, and similar meaty concoctions can stir exciting autumn action, particularly on lower Flint Creek when spawning browns ascend from the Clark Fork.
   An excursion to Flint Creek would be incomplete without a visit to the 19th-century mining town of Philipsburg, (406) 859-3388, http://philipsburgmt.com, which is filled with colorful, beautifully restored Victorian masterpieces. For those not staying at nearby Forest Service campgrounds, the lodging, restaurants, and cultural diversions in the mile-high town make it an excellent base for additional forays to nearby Rock Creek, Georgetown Lake, and the many alpine lakes in the Anaconda and Flint Creek ranges. For information about current fishing conditions and guided trips in the area, stop by Flint Creek Outdoors, (406) 859-9500, www.blackfootriver.com/fco.html. Anglers looking for streamside lodging might consider the Flint Creek Lodge, (406)288-3819, www.flintcreeklodge.com, located 12 miles north of Philipsburg. Also in the area is Big M Outfitters, (406) 859-3746, www.bigmoutfitters.com.

 

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