The Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone

Clarks Fork of The Yellowstone River, Pilot  Peak
Clarks Fork of The Yellowstone River, Pilot Peak and Index Peak

The Clarks Fork is a tributary of the Yellowstone River, flowing southeast through Montana, and Wyoming. It carves a path from the Beartooth Mountains in the north to the Absaroka Range this river is famous for its recreational opportunities and breath-taking views. It is in the northwest corner of Wyoming adjacent to Yellowstone National Park. Originating in the high mountain peaks close to the Montana/Wyoming border the Upper Clarks Fork headwaters are near the town of Cooke City, Montana, some 12 miles north of the Wyoming border. The Upper Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River parallels the highway for seventeen breathtaking miles which facilitate easy access.

Named for Captain William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition, the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River flows through conifer forests, a spectacular canyon, and open farm country for 150 miles until it meets the Yellowstone River near Billings Montana. Captain William Clark passed by the mouth of the river where it merges with the main fork of the Yellowstone River but that is all he ever saw of his namesake river. When Captain Clark floated down the Yellowstone on his eastbound return during the Journey Of Discovery, he first thought that he had come upon the Bighorn River when he came upon the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone. He later found the Bighorn River so he named the westernmost of the two rivers he had encountered in this area of Montana after himself.

The upper portion of the Clark's Fork River is small, often only 10 feet across but quickly widens as feeder streams add to its flow. The upper section of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone (beginning at the Wyoming border) runs close to Highway 212 for half of its 25 miles. It flows 67 miles through Wyoming before re turning to Montana.

Fishermen enjoy easy access to this upper section of this high mountain river, with brook trout, rainbow trout, and Yellowstone Cutthroat trout all being in abundance. The fisheries of the lower reaches of the river are maintained by stocking by Wyoming Game and Fish and are managed as a basic yield fishery while the upper reaches and Clarks Fork are maintained by natural reproduction and managed as a wild fishery. From Reef Creek upstream, all fish over 8 inches shall be released immediately with a creel limit of six fish. Artificial flies and lures only in this section. Downstream from Reef Creek the limit is three fish with only one exceeding 12 inches and all legal methods of fishing are allowed. Hatches are abundant, caddis is the predominant hatch, but there are plenty of golden stones, green drakes, blue-winged olives, flavilinea, pale-morning duns, and gray drakes. Fishing the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River offers large trout, beautiful floating opportunities and easy access to the river for all fishermen who want that perfect fishing vacation.

Fly-fisherman, Clarks Fork River, pilot peak
A fly-fisherman tries his luck on the Clarks Fork below towering Pilot Peak

The Clarks Fork is treasured by fishermen because of its blue-ribbon trout fishery and hikers for the scenic backcountry trail that parallels the north side of the river; the Clark's Fork is most famous for the spectacular 20 mile-long canyon it carves between the Beartooth Mountains on the north and the Absaroka Mountains to the south. Hemmed in by 1,200-foot high sheer granite walls, the canyon section was included in the National Wild and Scenic Rivers System in 1991. Kayakers from around the world are attracted to this canyon by its continuous class IV – VI rapids, waterfalls, and plunges. The Box Canyon of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River is one of the most challenging multi-day runs in North America. The river cuts through the third deepest canyon in the lower forty-eight, and can only be accessed by kayakers or climbers. The Box Canyon itself possesses an indescribable, surreal beauty that is matched only by the power and difficulty of its rapids. Warning: Many portages in the Box begin as easy class four rapids that end in deadly drops with no way out, so aggressive boat scouting is not recommended. Also, there is no escape on foot for most of the run as the canyon walls lock you in.

For those who would rather not risk the rapids, a trail runs along the north shore and can be explored for about 20 miles. The trailhead is off the Chief Joseph Scenic Highway, near a Forest Service campground. Hiking into the Clarks Fork Canyon from on top is hazardous under good conditions and reckless under bad conditions. Float access to the upper and lower sections is fair with low water being the limiting factor, but the canyon is limited to kayakers with expert skill rating.

The Lower Section of the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone begins at the end of the deep canyon section. Approximately three miles after exiting the canyon of the Clarks Fork, the walls of the canyon widen to a mile or more, leaving lots of room for the river to begin snaking its way past the small community of Clark then on through agricultural land till it meets up with the main fork of the Yellowstone River meandering through cottonwood groves and beautiful prairie.

The 31 miles between the Montana/Wyoming border and Bridger, Montana is the easiest access. Below Bridger at the Fromberg Bridge and the Silesia Bridge are good access points. Rock Creek flows into the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone above Silesia near the Silesia Bridge. The best fishing is probably going to be upstream from Bridger, Montana where there are rainbow trout, brown trout, cutthroat trout, and whitefish (all up to 15 inches and more).

Greater Yellowstone Region Fishing Outfitters
Fly-fisherman Fall Creek Falls, Swan Valley Idaho

Reel Deal Anglers • (Jackson Hole Wyoming) Reel Deal Anglers is Jackson Hole’s Premier fishing guide service, don’t wait in a fly-fishing shop (we provide all the flies), we pick you up and take you right to the river. We guide on the Snake River, Green River, Henry’s Fork River, South Fork River, Madison River, New Fork River, Salt River, Gros Ventre River and the Teton River as well as numerous backcountry streams, popular spring creeks, and exclusive private water opportunities, so we can put you on the hottest water available at any given time. Our guides are superb and are experts onthe water they specialize in. With Reel Deal Anglers, you’ll float and wade fish on beautiful rivers, encounter surprised wildlife, catch native trout while entertaining chance encounters with elk, moose, bison osprey and bald eagles fishing the same waters as you.

East Slope Outdoors • (Big Sky Montana) East Slope Outdoors provides three types of guided trips, all based out of Big Sky, Montana, your Blue Ribbon River fly fishing headquarters. Whether you want to introduce yourself to the sport, hone your skills with fly fishing professional, or simply enjoy a great day on the river, you're sure to appreciate the company of our friendly expert guides.

Jackson Hole Outdoors • (Jackson Hole Wyoming) Don Wackerman offers anglers the fishing adventure of a lifetime with half-day and full-day float trips on one of North America's top trout streams, the legendary Snake River in the shadow of the breathtaking Grand Teton mountain range.

Henrys Fork Anglers • (Island Park Idaho) Henry's Fork Anglers is located on the banks of the Henry's Fork of the Snake River in Last Chance, Idaho. The Henry's Fork is one of the most famous and diverse fly fishing rivers in the world, with plenty to offer the advanced fly fisher as well as the beginner. Its prolific aquatic insect hatches draw fly fishers from around the globe to test their skills against highly selective rainbow trout.

Angler's West Flyfishing Outfitters • (Paradise Valley Montana) Big Sky Flies and Guides Outfitting Co. has merged with Angler's West Flyfishing Outfitters! We continue to offer the same fantastic guide service you've come to know and trust, and the finest selection of flyfishing equipment and quality outdoor apparrel at our Emigrant flyshop location. We are the premier Paradise Valley flyfishing outfitter. Come visit us and do so often!

The River’s Edge • ( Bozeman Montana) Bozeman Montana’s premier fly fishing outfitter and fly shop. With the Gallatin, Madison, Yellowstone and Missouri Rivers a short drive away and a store that carries only the finest in fly fishing products including Simms, Winston, Sage, Ross and Galvan, we’re confident we will provide the very best Montana trout fishing experience. Come see for yourself...

Madison River Outfitters • (West Yellowstone MT) Native cutthroats rising for hoppers along a grassy cut bank on the Yellowstone… Big brown trout slashing at emerging caddis in a broad riffle on Montana’s Madison… Wild rainbows sipping tiny blue winged olives in a setting of incomparable beauty on the Firehole… This is just a sample of the action that takes place somewhere in our ‘backyard’ each day of the season! Madison River Outfitters, featuring an impressive selection of quality fly fishing tackle, custom flies, rugged outdoor clothing and hiking and backpacking equipment, is one of the finest fly shops in the Rocky Mountain West. We offer guide service in Montana and Yellowstone National Park and our friendly guides are committed to providing you with a great fly fishing experience on the world class fisheries surrounding West Yellowstone.

Actress Heather Thomas fly-fising on the Snake River in Jackson Hole, Wyoming

T.K. Guide Service • (Star Valley Wyoming) T.K. Guide Service has been a resident of the Snake River area for 15 years and has guided anglers of all abilities for over 40 years. Tom Kelly now exclusively floats the Salt River in Wyoming's spectacular Star Valley. If you are looking for a quality guided fly fishing float trip on the Salt river in Wyoming, we will tailor your trip for your abilities and experience. The Salt River is a fly or spin fisherman's dream. My experience and love of the Salt river will ensure a fantastic day catching wild brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout. Let me make this a float trip to remember and insure that you have the best possible fishing experience.

Tim Wade's North Fork Anglers • (Cody Wyoming) Tim Wade's North Fork Anglers is the premier Greater Yellowstone Fly Fishing Headquarters! Seen on ESPN, TNN Outdoor and other outdoors fly fishing programs, this fly shop is always a must stop destination for all anglers wanting the latest information on hatches, conditions, and the right equipment before they head out to explore the waters of the region. Tim Wade, owner and outfitter, has been guiding and instructing anglers in the Cody Wyoming / Yellowstone region for more than 20 years. During those years he has taught or written about fly fishing, fly tying, fly casting and entomology, sharing his knowledge of water and fish behavior with thousands of during that time. He still lovesto see one of his guests on a guided trip get hooked up with a wily brown, or untangle knots when needed, because it is all part of the job as guide or outfitter. "This is a job that is a privilege for me," Tim says. "My office is not bad either.

Two Rivers Emporium • (Pinedale Wyoming) Two Rivers Emporium offers some of the finest rainbow and brown trout fishing in the state of Wyoming. Our guides are extremely efficient and up to date on hatches and which flies and lures are working. We are here to help you in any way to make your fishing vacation more memorable. If there is any thing we can do, please contact us at our E-Mail address, or call our toll free number.

Wind River Canyon Whitewater & Fly Fishing • (Thermopolis, Wyoming) Experience an exclusive fly fishing adventure in the Wind River Canyon, or on the Upper Big Wind River near Crowheart, Wyoming. There are no crowds as Wind River Canyon Whitewater & Fly Fishing is the only licensed outfitter on the entire river! The Wind River Canyon is trophy style water with many of the catches well over 20 inches. The predominate species in Wind River Canyon are Brown and Rainbow with Cutthroat also being present. Guided fishing trips are also available on the Big Horn River north of the Wind River Canyon, which flows into Thermopolis, Wyoming.

A Few Thoughts On Fishing

Fly-fishing Tower Creek below Tower Falls in Yellowstone

"But when I am alone in the half light of the canyon all existence seems to fade to a being with my soul, and memories. And the sounds of the Big Black Foot River, and a four count rhythm, and the hope that a fish will rise. Eventually, all things merge into one, and a river runs through it. The river was cut by the world's great flood and runs over rocks from the basement of time. On some of the rocks are timeless raindrops. Under the rocks are the words, and some of the words are theirs. I am haunted by waters."

Sound-bite from a River Runs Through it.

The Yellowstone Teton Region fly-fishing is blessed with a plethora of blue ribbon trout waters that host prolific hatches of Mayflies, Caddis Flies and Stone Flies. Dozens of rivers and hundreds of lakes and streams, all world-class fisheries that attract anglers from around the world. The Henry’s Fork, the Snake, the Madison, and the Yellowstone Rivers have been elevated to legendary status by the movies made about them and the books and articles that have been written about them.

If you believe what you read, fly-fishing requires the touch of a surgeon and the spirit of a Zen master. Well, it might help but it certainly isn’t required around here. Forget about what you’ve heard about fly-fishing in the past, if you really want to fly-fish all you need are the right tools, proper technique, and a positive attitude. With these essential elements, you can begin to enjoy the sport of fly-fishing in no time.

Some time spent with a guide can enhance your skills exponentially in a very short time, as they are all trained to be teachers. A day discovering the best techniques for fly-fishing with a guide on one of our regional rivers or legendary spring creeks gives you the foundation for many years of productive fly-fishing enjoyment of the future. Many regional guides have spent a lifetime fly-fishing the rivers and streams of Yellowstone Teton Region. Their instruction of the best flies, how to read the water, presentation, and all aspects of fishing the Yellowstone region can greatly enhance your fly-fishing experience.

For those of you who already know how to fly-fish, or do not want to hire a fly-fishing guide, all you need is a map, the proper seasonal fly selection, and some current fly-fishing advice, all which can be found for the price of a handful of flies at a local fly shop.

Most rental shops of the Yellowstone Teton region have drift boats rafts and float tubes for rent for those of you that wish to escape the confines of the bank of your river, lake, or stream, because as we all know, the big one is in the eddy on the far side of the river.

Cody and Scott Hunter fly-fishing the Gardiner River in Yellowstone National Park

Spin-cast fishing is popular around the area also and is a very productive way to wet a line. Although spin fishing doesn’t require the finesse and learning curve of fly-fishing, a guided trip with a guide that knows spin-fishing can really improve our catch rate. Remember to keep in mind to de-barb your hooks to improve your catches chance of survival upon release. We also encourage lure fisherman to cut their treble hooks down to a single hook.

The Snake River Drainage is home to a unique subspecies of cutthroat trout known as the Fine-spotted Snake River Cutthroat Trout. This outstanding game fish is indigenous to the Snake River drainage and relies totally on natural reproduction. Having a wild trout fishery with indigenous trout is not something we take for granted and we highly encourage catch and release fishing to protect this valuable resource.

The Yellowstone Cutthroat, as the name implies, are native to the Yellowstone River drainage of southwest and south-central Montana and northwest Wyoming. In general, The relation of Yellowstone cutthroat trout to Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout is problematic. Early genetic analyses could not distinguish these subspecies, but recent attempts have been more successful.

Whether you are fishing for one of the Fine-spotted Snake River Cutthroat our Yellowstone Cutthroat you will find their most endearing qualities is their fondness for feeding on top sipping mayflies flies or attacking stoneflies, drakes, and hoppers. Large dry flies like size eight Turck Tarantulas, Royal Wulffs, Club Sandwiches, and hoppers are all popular and good choices. Size six and even four stone fly patterns sometimes are also effective.

Rainbow and Brown Trout can be found throughout the area as well a few sub-species of cutthroat trout, and some of our lakes are home to Kokanee Salmon.

Fly-fisherman fishing the dead calm water of Green River Lake in the Wind River Mountains. Squaretop mountain is casting a reflection

Many of our lakes are gifted with giant Lake Trout, but you usually need to be an expert or lucky to get one in the 20 to 50 pound category. Most are taken by trolling with spoons or minnow-like plugs attached to wire-line rigs or downriggers. They can also be taken by bottom fishing with whole or cut fish. In summer they often move to depths of 50 to 100 feet, but in spring and fall you can find them at depths of 20 feet or less. When ice fishing you can catch Lake Trout in hardly any water at all.

Many of our lakes are put and take fisheries and are planted by the Idaho, Montana or Wyoming Game and Fish, but most of our rivers and streams are wild trout fisheries and do not receive planted fish.

Our wild trout fisheries, due to the law of survival of the fittest, produce a hardier, smarter game fish, and is a resource worthy of protection. Catch and release although not mandatory on many waters is often the practice. Many of the fish of the region are caught and released 40 times per year and if everyone kept their fish there wouldn’t be any here except inferior hatchery fish.

I used to keep my big ones because they were such trophies, and I used to keep some to eat until I realized that I can buy a trout for two dollars in the store and that fish in the river provides has a much greater value than two dollars as a recreational resource.

Events
Chuck Yeager & Guide Mike Lawson - One Fly Fishing Contest
Chuck Yeager & Guide Mike Lawson - One Fly Fishing Contest

Jackson Hole One Fly Fishing Contest • Each year in September, flyfisherman from around the world gather in Jackson Hole Wyoming to participate in one of fly fishing's most unique events. It is a weekend filled with fun, challenges, adventures and of course, the famous Snake River Cutthroat trout.

Give the Cutt-slam a try. • If you want to see some breathtaking country, do a little camping and accomplish something that only around 300 people have done, you might want to give Wyoming’s Cutt-Slam program a try.  This year marks the 10th anniversary of the program that recognizes anglers for catching Wyoming’s four subspecies of cutthroats in their native range. Back in the mid-90s, Wyoming fisheries coordinator, the late Ron Remmick, had an idea to try to bring more public awareness to Wyoming’s cutthroat trout and the management efforts benefitting these fish.  The Cutt-Slam was hatched and a program was developed to recognize anglers for making the effort to catch the Snake River, Bonneville, Colorado River and Yellowstone cutthroat subspecies. 

Stories
 
Daryl L. Hunter trying his luck on the Wind River south of Dubois Wyoming. The Wind River carves a beautiful path through the badlans of Dubois.

Fly-Fish-Hooky On The Henry’s Fork • By Reyn Bowman
Growing up, my Dad wasn’t into fishing so in the years before heavy chores began I hid my old hand-me-down fly-fishing rod near the low-lying Ora Bridge between our ranch and where I went to school in the town of Ashton, Idaho. .....................The tiny bridge crosses the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River in the shallow tailwaters, just below the century-old Ashton Power Dam and Reservoir as that North Fork winds its way from the mountains down to a rendezvous on plain 50 miles south and a bit west with the South Fork flowing out of Wyoming.............................I’ve learned as an adult that the the Henry’s Fork including the half mile of riffles and runs just above the Ora Bridge down through the deeper, spring-fed portion a couple of miles downriver to the Vernon Bridge (and even a bit further to the Chester Bridge) reportedly yields some of the best for trout fly-fishing in the world. There is even a lodge now a short distance from there.......................To me it was just convenient...................rest of story

Jackson Hole's Flat Creek • By Scott Sanchez
All of us have waters that have made a special connection to us. Wyoming's Flat Creek is one of mine. Part of the attraction is nostalgic, since this is where I learned the intricacies of spring creek fishing. This stream was my schoolroom for spotting subtle rises, sneaking up on the fish, picking a good imitation, and then presenting a drag-free drift. Flat Creek is also special because its scenic location a few miles north of Jackson, Wyoming, on the National Elk Refuge.........more

Fly-fishers go crazy saving flies • By D Dave Strege
One fly-fisher stripped his clothes off and swam naked into the river to retrieve his fly that got snagged. Another stood on the shoulders of the guide and used pruning shears to cut down the branch where his fly was lodged. A lucky one hooked a big fish that snapped his line, losing fish and fly, only to wait five minutes before the fly somehow dislodged from the trout's mouth and popped to the surface. He netted it — the fly, that is. What would lead a fly-fisher to go to such extremes to save a fly caught in a tree limb or a log in the riverh.................More

Jack Lee of Swan Valley floats and fishes his way through section two of the South Fork of the Snake River.

Henry's Heaven  • By Jack Ballard
Lake or river -- take your pick. The world-renowned Henry's Fork country of eastern Idaho boasts some of the finest trout fishing in the nation. Who's Henry? That's the question that kept buzzing through my head the first time I motored through a mesmerizing mountain valley just southwest of Yellowstone National Park. The name seems to be ubiquitous in eastern Idaho, with landmarks such as Henry's Lake and the Henry's Fork of the Snake River...............................more

Fishing Henry's Fork of Island Park • By Ben Arellano
Fly Fishing the rivers and lakes around Island Park is an experience that an angler seldom forgets. The spring fed tributaries, creates an ideal situation for enjoyable and unparalleled fly fishing. Not only will you experience the exceptional fly fishing of this area, but you are surrounded with the beauty of the Targhee National Forest, the wildlife and history of people and the life they lived. ...........................more

Fishing The Famous South Fork of the Snake RiverBy Ben Arellano
It is between the Henry's Fork confluence and Palisades Dam that the South Fork is known as one of the finest dry fly rivers in North America. All of the Fish in the South Fork are wild and fish between eight and sixteen inches must be released because they are the prime breeders. The South Fork typically becomes fishable for the fly fisher sometime between the first week of July and the middle of July, depending on the spring run off. This year (2001)  the run off was for a very short period, thus fly fishing was productive in the middle of June. 

Al the former CEO of Woolrich and his wife Dotty trying their luck on the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park

Yellowstone National Park and surrounding waters offer world-class fly-fishing- a fly-fisher's nirvana • By Dave Strege
WEST YELLOWSTONE, MONT. – A bartender in town gave a hint as to the essence of West Yellowstone on the fishing landscape." There's as many fly shops here as bars, and we're a hard-drinking town," quipped Thor from behind the bar at The Gusher. West Yellowstone is a town of fewer than 1,000 residents yet features six fly-fishing shops, evidence supporting the claim this is the mecca of fly-fishing. Each year, more than 50,000 anglers drop a line in 220 lakes and 1,000 streams that make up 2,650 miles of running water - and that's just in Yellowstone National Park.........more

Follow the bugs to a good day of fishing for trout • by Chester Allen
YELLOWSTONE NATIONAL PARK — The noon sun blasted down and through the gin-clear water of the small meadow stream.Long strands of water weeds twisted like big, green snakes in the gentle current, and you could see every pebble and rock on the bottom. Not one trout was in sight. But they were there —..........................more

Fishing Yellowstone • By Daniel D. Lamoreux
With a bit of research and boot leather, you can escape the crowds that invade Yellowstone National Park each summer and catch trout that rarely ever see humans.....................................Roughly 3 million people visit Yellowstone National Park each year. While that number may seem staggering, the reality is that its piscatorial treasures are often underestimated and usually overlooked...................................Fewer than three of every 100 people who enter the park buy a fishing permit, and not all of those bother to go fishing. And more than 97 percent of the caught fish are released to fight another day......................................more

Fly fishing Backcountry Yellowstone • By Mark D. Williams
Don't let Yellowstone National Park's 3 million visitors spoil your idea of high-elevation trout fishing. There's a virtual fishing paradise just a short hike away from all those crowds..............................You would think that with over 2.2 million acres and 1,000 miles of rivers, there wouldn't be any crowded water. But most anglers fish near access points, road crossings, parking lots, campgrounds, bridges, anywhere a river parallels road.........................more

Fisheries Conservation Organizations
 
Sadee Wheeldon showing off a ten pound cutthroat trout

Jackson Hole One Fly Capital Foundation • The Jackson Hole One Fly Capital Foundation (One Fly) and the National Fish and Wildlife Foundation (NFWF) established a new partnership in 2003 to leverage both organizations’ funding and interest in cold water fisheries conservation, particularly in the tributaries and mainstem Snake and Yellowstone Basins. The One Fly and NFWF have a long history in fisheries conservation throughout the greater Snake River and Yellowstone region.

Trout Unlimited • Trout Unlimited’s mission is to conserve, protect and restore North America’s trout and salmon fisheries and their watersheds. Trout Unlimited accomplishes this mission on local, state and national levels with an extensive and dedicated volunteer network. TU’s national office, based just outside of Washington, D.C., and its regional offices employ professionals who testify before Congress, publish a quarterly magazine, intervene in federal legal proceedings, and work with the organization’s 125,000 volunteers in 500 chapters nationwide to keep them active and involved in conservation issues.

Federation of Fly Fishers •The Federation of Fly Fishers, an international service organization dedicated to the betterment of the sport of fly fishing through Conservation and Education. The FFF and its Councils are the only organized advocate for fly fishers on the national and regional level. By joining you will have the opportunity to contribute, with your membership and your voice, to fishery conservation and restoration for all fish in all waters.

The Blue Water Task Force • The Blue Water Task Force is a lcally-led nonprofit (501c3) watershed group, headquarteredalong the famous Gallatin River in Big Sky, Montana. The Task Force is governed by aboard of community members representing a wide variety of stakeholders, including homeowners, recreational business owners, developers, and local water resource managers.

 

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