Few places in the world—if any—can match the Flathead region for flowing water. Within this area are 21 listed rivers. Three—the main Flathead, the Kootenai, and the Clark Fork of the Columbia—are major rivers in any sense. Others, such as the Thompson, Swan, Whitefish, Stillwater, and the North, Middle, and South Forks of the Flathead are all large enough to be excellent for fishing, drift floating, or whitewater adventure.
Still, other streams listed as mere creeks would rate as rivers elsewhere. McDonald Creek, up in Glacier, is a good example. Big Salmon Creek, deep within the Bob Marshall Wilderness is another. And then there are simply dozens of swift-flowing brooks that would be counted as rivers in Texas.
Shotgun pellets wouldn’t carry across the lower Flathead, the Kootenai, or the Clark Fork. From there, streams range in size down to tiny neighborhood creeks fished by local kids. Cedar Creek near Columbia Falls and Ashley Creek near Kalispell are examples, as is Trumble Creek between Whitefish and Columbia Falls, and Abbott Creek near Martin City.
Many streams run through private land, but most are well within National Park or state and National Forests, or else a significant portion of them are. Floatable streams, such as those listed above, are all available to floaters by law throughout their navigable reaches, even though passing through private lands.
However, access through that same private land Is not afforded by law, and one must either obtain permission or utilize a public access site.
Fish inhabit most streams in the Flathead country, but they differ in size, species and catchability, depending on the stream. Specie, of course, has a direct bearing on size. Big cutthroats, Dolly Varden and whitefish most often are migratory, traveling from lakes and lower rivers, sometimes for many miles upstream. Native fish are usually smaller, especially in the smaller streams. They tend to be cutthroat blocked by some natural migration barrier, or “brookies.”
Brown trout are seldom found in the Flathead but do exist in a few surprising places. So can one find an occasional northern pike, especially in larger Flathead Valley streams?
To give any of ‘em a try, though, you must (depending on where you fish) purchase the appropriate Montana fishing license, a Flathead or Blackfeet Tribal Permit, or obtain a free Glacier Park fishing permit.
So … take something along to cook your fish in and have a good lunch.
Roland Cheek has lived the better part of fifty years living in Columbia Falls in the heart of the Flathead area. A good many of those years he spent as an outfitter. Most of the rest of that he’s spent observing the area and its wildlife and writing about bears, elk, and the great outdoors surrounding him. His “Trails to Outdoor Adventure” has been syndicated in print and radio. He is the author of six books and countless outdoor articles. Find out more about him at www.rolandcheek.com.
by: Roland Cheek