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One figure anglers mention when they’re bragging about their favorite river is "catchable size trout per mile." The Madison, for example, has 4,500 catchable size trout per mile. That sounds impressive, I know. But remember that measurement doesn’t take into account the volume of water in the river.
Take the Upper Clark Fork near Deer Lodge, Montana, as a case in point. This stream has 2,500 catchable size trout in it fewer by a long shot than the Madison. This stream is very small, though, especially in its upper reaches where it measures some 20 yards across and carries roughly one tenth as much as water as the Madison. You don’t have to be a math whiz to see that any fly you toss out on the Clark Fork is going to float over a lot of trout.
For some reason the Clark Fork has received very little notice from the angling magazines. The very best water here is the five miles of Special Regulation Management below the Warm Springs Settling Ponds. The stream parallels Interstate 90 and it is just 150 yards off the Warm Springs exit. You can walk the river for miles, crossing easily just about anywhere on the pea gravel bottom. This is mainly brown trout water, with the fish averaging 14 inches.
The bad news is, there is no guide service on the Clark Fork (probably because it’s too small to float). The good news is, you don’t really need one. Don’t expect to see many other anglers on the river. This is just one of those minor jewels in Montana, known mostly by locals, that will never support a commercial recreation industry.
The river fishes well throughout the summer, but the dry fly action occurs mainly at dusk on warm days. The Clark Fork is a great night stream, but most visitors don’t want to stay out on a strange river after dusk. Later on in the fall, when the brown trout start moving in their spawning run, those same big fish can be caught during the day on streamers. Fran Johnson’s Sporting Goods (*) in Butte is the best source of information on the Clark Fork. Vallin Cope.