Westslope Cutthroats on the North Fork Flathead River

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Back in June, my job as a Refuge Manager with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service sent me to Missoula, MT for a week of Wilderness Leadership Training. Part of the training included a three-day float trip with a local outfitter [insert name here] on the North Fork Flathead River. When the outfitter suggested there would be opportunities to cast for Westslope Cutthroat trout along the Western border of Glacier National Park, I started thinking about adding a new Cutthroat subspecies to my list of native trout. In the weeks leading up to my departure, I debated whether I would bother to pack my fishing gear for a work trip. Ultimately, I decided I could get by with a small fly box, wet wading in my Chacos, and bringing along a pack rod. Boy am I glad I did!

Back in 2019, Tim gifted me one of his custom-made fly rods for my birthday. That rod, a beautiful seven-piece 5-weight, packs down to less than eighteen inches – perfect for travel, backpacking, and “work trips” like this one! Sometimes we joke that this rod “only catches big fish.” It earned its mythical prowess on the Cherokee reservation in the Smoky Mountains of North Carolina. The very first fish I caught was a fat, 20-inch rainbow that launched itself from the depths at an elk hair caddis. Fishing with it on Montana’s Flathead River resulted in my largest ever cutthroat – another 20-inch beauty. Continue reading to see why the Wild and Scenic Flathead River is a special place for wilderness enthusiasts.

The North Fork Flathead River

The North Fork Flathead River is unique in many ways. It flows into Montana from headwaters in the Canadian Rockies. From the U.S./Canadian border, it can be floated for 70 miles to Blankenship Bridge where it joins the Middle Fork Flathead. Throughout its course, the North Fork Flathead supports populations of two native trout species – Westslope Cutthroat and Bull Trout. There aren’t many places left in the lower 48 where you have access to 70 miles of undammed trout water, but the Flathead delivers. 

The Flathead is also one of three rivers in Montana that are part of the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System. 

For its entire length, the North Fork Flathead forms the border between the Flathead National Forest and Glacier National Park. The Flathead river’s three forks flow through one of the largest intact ecosystems in the lower 48, making it a great place for wildlife viewing. 

Floating the North Fork Flathead River

Floating the North Fork of the Flathead River does not require a permit. If you are thinking about floating it on your own, take time to familiarize yourself with the regulations or contact the Hungry Horse Ranger District for more information. There are several commercial outfitters who provide guided trip on the North Fork Flathead. We teemed up with

Fly-Fishing the North Fork Flathead River

The Westslope Cutthroat is a Montana Species of Concern and the Bull trout maintains Threatened status under the U.S. Endangered Species Act (1973). 

Camping Along the North Fork Flathead River

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