Fly Fishing Rock Creek (A Local’s Guide)

Discover the charm of fly fishing in Rock Creek. Pristine waters and rugged landscapes await your angling adventure.

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For many, fly fishing Rock Creek brings a lot of different things to mind; different approaches, different access, and altogether, different streams.

Rock Creek is one of the most common stream names in the country. For this article, however, we’re going to focus on fly fishing the Rock Creek Creek near Missoula, Montana.

As a Montana native, I’ve experienced plenty of great fishing on this storied creek. My family is from a small town near there and we fished the many lakes and creeks in this beautiful area as a kid. I’ve also spent time living in Missoula and fishing Rock Creek as frequently as multiple times a week.

Fly Fishing In The USA

Fly Fishing Rock Creek: Why Go?

Missoula has many excellent fly fishing streams but Rock Creek stands out as one of the best.

A Closeup Shot of Rock Creek Mossy Rocks in Montana

The proximity to town and ease of access is one reason for its appeal, but this stream also has high fish counts and a wealth of bug life, especially relative to other freestone (non-dammed) rivers.

The scenery is also excellent. It’s a four-season fishery and all of them look spectacular on Rock Creek, even in winter. The wildlife viewing is stellar here too with plenty of deer, elk, eagles, and a resident bighorn sheep herd.

The size of the waterbody is also perfect for beginner and advanced fly fishers alike. It’s small enough to easily wade but big enough to allow a lot of elbow room and floating (when permitted). From the size of the middle and lower sections, Rock Creek could in fact be called a river in most places.

Fly Fishing Rock Creek: Tips & Tricks To Catch More Fish

Rock Creek is a fisherperson-friendly creek. However, knowing a few things before you head out will help elevate your experience.

Rock Creek Montana - Close up of the rocks and river water

Head Out Early on the Weekends

Rock Creek isn’t overly uncomfortably crowded but it’s no secret. It’s a local and destination traveler favorite. Heading out before sunup in the warm months can give you a better choice of spots. Especially if you want to fish closer to Missoula.

Change Weight Often

When nymphing, don’t get discouraged and move on too early. Sometimes a weight change is more important than changing flies. It could be that you’re fishing too high or too deep.

Dead Drifting is Dead

Well, not really. But a dead drift isn’t always the ticket. Know the species that are currently moving or hatching and understand how they move. Swinging emergers or twitching/skating your caddis or stonefly dry can make a world of difference.

Dry fly floating on the water
Dry fly floating on the water

Use Fluoro and Nylon Tippet

Fluoro sinks much faster than nylon and is perfect for nymphing and streamers. Nylon floats better and is perfect for dry flies, especially small dries.

Communicate with Others

When fishing Rock Creek, you can often cross in many places. Give folks plenty of distance and communicate your intentions before trudging through the water.

Drive all of Rock Creek Road

Rock Creek Road (Road 102) follows much of the creek. When free of snow, you can access a lot of water in one day.

Driving Around with a Boat on The Roof Car

Add Length to Your Dropper

When fishing dry-dropper, make sure your nymph is getting deep enough.

Tie the tippet for the dropper to your dry. With your dry held in one hand and against the front of your shoulder, extend the other hand (holding the tippet spool) until your arm is fully extended to the opposite side from your dry fly hand.

This is the length of dropper tippet to use. From there, if you’re snagging all the time, trim small amounts until you find the perfect length.

Treat Bull Trout with Extra Care

Bull trout are protected and you cannot legally target them on Rock Creek. If you catch one, it’s a treat. Keep it wet, handle it carefully, and release it as soon as possible.

Fly Fishing for Bull Trout Catch & Release
Fly Fishing for Bull Trout Catch & Release

Give Swinging Flies a Try

Even if you don’t have a trout spey setup, you can still swing flies. It may not be perfect but it can be done.

Cast across the current and slightly down. Let your line become taught and allow the current to pull your flies across and below your position.

Play with the speed by either mending upstream (slowing) or downstream (speeding up) right after your cast. Add split shot (or a heavier tip if you’re using a spey line) to get your flies deeper if needed.

You might be surprised at how effective this can be during a hatch or when nothing else (especially dead drifting) seems to work.

Visit Nearby Towns

Make sure to carve out time to visit Missoula and Philipsburg.

Missoula has a buzzy restaurant and bar scene, a great college football team and stadium, and other great outdoor activities.

Downtown View of Missoula Montana
Missoula Montana

Philipsburg is a small, historic town with a great music festival and, for how small it is, a lively scene.

Fish Species in Rock Creek

Rock Creek is an amazing fishery with a variety of species. Rock Creek trout fishing is second to none thanks to the varied terrain from the headwaters to the mouth, great management, and local social responsibility.

Rainbow Trout

The everpresent rainbow trout will show up in most stretches of the river aside from the absolute headwaters. As they’re very temperature-tolerant and hearty, rainbows can often make up the bulk of your day’s catch.

A beautiful rainbow trout catch and release

Brown Trout

Brown trout, like rainbows, are an introduced species. They are, however, very well adapted to the lower stretches of the creek. From the mouth/confluence with the Clark Fork going upstream, you’ll find browns in the lower 1/2 to 3/4 of the stream.

brown trout's diet

The number of browns increases the lower you go on Rock Creek. The only place I haven’t caught a brown is in the forks (East, West, Middle fork of Rock Creek), down to the intersection of MT Highway 38 and Rock Creek Road.

Brook Trout

Another introduced species, Brook trout thrive in the cold, clean waters of the Mountain West. Upper Rock Creek is no exception. Although referred to as trout, Brookies are actually one of two char that live in these waters.

brook trout under water

With perfect riffles, deep undercut banks, and plenty of coniferous cover, brook trout numbers are highest in the headwaters (the forks of upper Rock Creek and their sources) and begin to thin heading downstream toward Missoula.

Cutthroat Trout

The native trout species here is the cutthroat trout. Since Rock Creek lies west of the continental divide, it’s the Westslope Cutthroat that calls Rock Creek home.

fly fishing cutthroat trout

Including the upper forks, there isn’t a place on Rock Creek where I haven’t found cutthroat trout. The upper half of the river is definitely your best bet if you’re targeting cutthroat. You’ll find plenty in the lower river but here, they’re competing with higher numbers of browns and rainbows.

Cutthroats and Raibows interbreed quite easily. The resulting cut-bow is a relatively common occurrence on Rock Creek.

Bull Trout

Bull trout are also native to the area. Like brookies, bull trout are also part of the char family.

While their numbers aren’t as high as the trout populations in Rock Creek, anyone fishing in Rock Creek has a good chance of finding a bull trout. I’ve seen just as many bull trout in one of the upper forks of Rock Creek as I have just above the mouth.

Bull Trout Species

Their limited numbers are due to environmental factors such as dams, sedimentation, and the introduction of non-native species. Because of declining numbers, you cannot legally target bull trout, however, some are caught while fishing streamers or nymphs for other trout.

Best Spots For Fly Fishing Rock Creek

Rock Creek can be broken down into three rather distinct sections – the upper, middle, and lower. The case could be made for adding even more subsections but this is a good starting point. All sections have decent-to-good Rock Creek access.

  • Upper – Includes the different forks of Rock Creek and the upper main river below Moose Lake and down around Highway 38
  • Middle – From the bridge on Road 102 down to the Henry’s Flat/Dalles area
  • Lower – The Missoula side – Henry’s Flat/Dalles area down to the confluence with the Clark Fork River

Upper Creek

The upper creek includes the West, Middle, and East Forks, and the Ross Fork. The combining of these waters forms upper Rock Creek. This area is southwest of Philipsburg, Montana, and is accessible via Highway 38.

A closeup of the river and a small waterfall
Upper Creek Montana

Highway 38 is a paved and maintained highway. If you want to access the forks, however, you’ll need to take Moose Creek Road which is gravel. It’s usually decently maintained and is accessible by car.

For brook and cutthroat trout, this is the best fishing in Rock Creek. Bull trout are definitely common on the upper river. You won’t find a ton of rainbows up here and the browns are almost non-existent.

Middle Creek

The middle section of Rock Creek is west of Philipsburg and heads northwest, then north, toward the Dalles area. Road 102 runs along much of the creek in this section but there’s a lot of private land to be aware of.

A log across the rushing water of Middle Creek  Montana
Middle Creek Montana

102 is a gravel road that’s not maintained in the winter. In fact, it’s usually impossible to pass in the colder months due to snow. Fall tends to be a little drier than spring which can be a bit soggy. This road can become dangerous in wet and muddy conditions.

It’s maintained in the summer, but not regularly. You’ll be able to get a car through but sometimes it’s a little beat up – a truck or SUV is recommended. You’ll want a 4×4 in the fall or spring.

The middle section is full of trout. Cutthroat make up the bulk of the population but you’ll see rainbows and even some brown trout here too. Bull trout are possible.

Lower Creek

The lower river is what we call the Missoula side of Rock Creek. The Creek empties into the Clark Fork River just 22 miles east of Missoula. From the mouth up to the Dalles area is the lower creek.

Lower Rock Creek is easily accessible by most vehicles. The first few miles of Rock Creek Road, from Interstate 90 going upstream, are paved. Most of the crowds will be in this area due to the proximity to the city.

Aerial View of the water and forest in spring at Lower Creek Montana
Lower Creek Montana

The creek itself is, of course, the biggest here and can handle more traffic. You’ll find different side channels, splits, islands, and springs to be able to move around and find your own piece of fishing zen.

Lower Rock Creek Road is well maintained. Both paved and gravel portions are kept in good shape and snowplows clear the snowfall in the winter for the area’s permanent residents. This makes access by any vehicle a breeze.

The lower creek has the highest populations of rainbow and brown trout. Cutthroat trout are common and you’ll find the occasional bull trout lurking under sunken logs or deep-cut banks.

The lower creek has the best Rock Creek fly fishing during the cold months. Lower elevation and springs feeding the creek help keep some sections ice-free and fishable.

Best Flies For Rock Creek

Dry fly fishing on Rock Creek can be absolutely fantastic. Regarding freestone streams, this one is top-notch when it comes to good hatches.

Best Dry Flies For Rock Creek

The best dry flies for fly fishing Rock Creek are, in my experience, as follows:

Rogue Skwala

The Rogue Skwala is one of my favorite patterns to match this early spring stonefly hatch. The Rogue is a “bullethead” design with a pulled-back, rounded hair head and wing. I’ve seen both dubbing and foam bodies and prefer foam for better and longer floatation.

Rogue Skwala Fly
Rogue Skwala Fly

Finished off with long legs for good motion and a pink or yellow “indicator” yarn on top, the Rogue Skwala is the perfect blend of synthetic and natural elements. Its components mean it floats well, can be easily seen, and still looks “buggy” and natural without being overly perfect.

Skwalas start hatching when the snow is still coming down on Rock Creek and can last until the rivers start to swell. You could start seeing these dark green-to-black stones as early as late February and they’ll be around up to the runoff.

Skwalas are typically sold in sizes 8-12. Sizes 10 and 12 are most common on Rock Creek.

Water Walker Salmonfly

The Salmonfly hatch on this stream can be absolutely phenomenal. Late May usually sees the first salmonfly hatches. The Water Walker is ideal with its foam body and large hair wing.

A photo of Water Walker Salmon fly

Water Walkers sit fairly low in the surface film which, to the fish, makes it look much more realistic than a lot of patterns that sit too high up. Articulated rubber legs penetrate the surface film and have great motion in the current.

Salmonflies are large so, even though this is a low-profile pattern, it’s still very easy to see. To date, this is one of the best-performing stoneflies I’ve used. Sizes 6 and 8 seem to work great but have some 4s on hand too.

Water Walker Golden Stone

For all the same reasons you should stock up on Water Walker salmonflies, the Water Walker Golden Stone should also be in your fly box. There really isn’t a better imitation that blends new, more durable materials with a low-yet-visible profile, leg movement, and a buggy shape.

A photo of a Water Walker Golden Stone Fly with a white background
Water Walker Golden Stone Fly

Golden stoneflies in this area start off large. Not salmonfly large, but pretty close. Golden stones tend to show up at the tail end of the salmonfly hatch around mid-June. At this time, you should have some size 6 and 8 Water Walkers in the golden stone color.

Golden stones will continue to be present into July and, for the most part, will become smaller as the heat of the summer starts to settle in. In late June and early July, I tend to carry some larger golden stones.

As July marches on, I’ll tend to have more in the size 10 range. Some 8s and 12s may still be in the mix.

To fish stoneflies on Rock Creek, any part of the stream is good water. Shallows, fast riffle, deep pools, undercut banks… it’s all fair game. Try dead drifting at first. Stoneflies, however, are notoriously fluttery. A twitch or shake can get a lot of attention from the fish.

Parachute Quill

The parachute quill needs to be in your Rock Creek fly box. Representing a host of mayflies, the parachute quill’s thin body, forked tail, and multi-color availability make it a must-have.

A photo of a parachute adam.

Brown, purple, or black with a green thorax are my personal favorites.

Keep browns size 12 and 14 on hand for March Browns (March-April) and mahogany duns (lat August-October). Use sizes 16 and 18 for rusty PMDs June-August.

Have black/olive in sizes 16-12 for BWOs (May, April, Oct, Nov), and sizes 10-12 for green drakes (June and July).

Purple Quills are something between an attractor dry and a natural. Purple seems to be a great go-to on western freestone rivers and can be a great substitute for any dark mayfly from brown to green and black. Keep a few purple parachute quills in sizes 12-18 in your arsenal at all times.

X Caddis

For me, the X Caddis is a better representation than others like the traditional elk hair. Some caddis patterns include a hackle-wrapped body but, for me, the X sits better and more realistically on the surface.

The elk or deer hair floats well, the shape is more true to life, and the subtle rear shuck shows trout it’s a helpless target.

A kind of caddis fly - Elk Hair Caddis Fly

Keep sizes 12-16 in olive for the Mother’s Day Caddis (May, June), in tan for summer caddis (June -August), and sizes 8-10 in brown/orange or tan/orange for the October Caddis (September, October).

Caddis will concentrate near willowy or timbered banks so focus there first. Some will skitter out or ride the current to the middle so find hard or subtle seams away from the bank too.

October caddis flutter like crazy. Adding twitch or motion will draw trout up for an intense “shark attack”!

Best Streamers For Rock Creek

With the many different trout species present, streamers can give you some of the best fly fishing in Rock Creek. Fall means aggressive fish as the browns head toward spawning and the rest know a hard winter is on its way. Spring is the awakening where even big, careful fish are feeding carelessly.

These are the best times to throw streamers on Rock Creek. Don’t be afraid to tie one on whenever low pressure, clouds, and even storms first show up in the summer too.

Mini Loop Sculpin

For big trout, sculpin are one of the most readily available big meals. This is why the Mini Loop shines.

The movement on the Mini Loop is undeniable.

Sculpin streamer fly

With an inverted, trailing hook and a mix of fur and feathers, the Mini Loop gets eaten.

Pack black, olive, and natural colors. Strip them like any streamer or add weight and dead-drift them down the riverbed. Alternatively, you can drag them semi-tight-lined off the side and slightly behind a raft.

Conehead Zuddler

The Conehead Zuddler is an updated cross of the old standards muddler minnow and zonker. The conehead gives weight and some flash. The bunny body/tail undulates well with even slight current.

Natural is my go-to Zuddler when fishing in Rock Creek but olive is a good choice as well. Try white in turbid conditions.

Traditional stripping methods seem to work best with the Zuddler. This fly excels in high water and off-color conditions because the hair collar behind the cone “pushes” water well, making noise that fish can hear. The lighter colors (natural and white) help stick out a bit better in the off-colored water.

Lil’ Kim

The Lil’ Kim may have a funny name but it remains one of the top streamers for me in both tailwaters and freestone rivers.

This is no different on Rock Creek. The movement/undulation of the marabou and the coloration are irresistible to trout. Lil’ Kim has just the right amount of flash too – not too much, not too little.

You may find random colors in stores but olive is the original and the best in my experience. Fish this fly in short, poppy strips or drug/bounced off the riverbed like a sculpin.

Hansen’s Meal Ticket

Hansen’s Meal Ticket puts us into the articulated streamer arena. With a similar shape to the Zuddler, you can see why it might work well.

The main differences are the two-hook articulation and the addition of red beads on the body of the Meal Ticket. Red on the underside of a streamer can turn on the aggressiveness in predatory fish like good-sized cutthroat and big browns.

This is a great stripped fly. Vary the retrieve from longer, more aggressive strips to short, rod-tip-pops.

Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow

Coffey’s Sparkle Minnow has quite a few things going for it. As the name suggests, it is quite flashy. It also comes in great color options, has a rather heavy cone head (black since the rest of the fly is rather flashy), and has great movement in the water.

a photo of a clouser minnow

The “sculpin” color option seems to work best in most situations. The “JJ” will rouse some interest in the fall and the brown color seems to work best in fall or spring.

Since the body fibers pulsate well, this one is best used with short, poppy strips and definite pauses. You can try dead drifting or dragging as well. I’ve even fished this one effectively in a smaller size suspended under a big, foamy dry fly.

Best Wet Flies For Rock Creek

Wet fly fishing is something that isn’t a big discussion anymore, but it should be! Most will simply fish wet flies under an indicator on a nymph rig. If you fish them under a twitched dry or swung in the current, wet flies can be really deadly.

Soft Hackle Psycho Midge

The Soft Hacke Psycho Midge is a great little emerging mide pattern. The biot-segmented body, flash above the thorax, and soft hackle wrap make for a deadly cold-weather fly.

As on most rivers, midge are important food for trout from fall through early spring. Before the big hatches of the year begin, the sheer number of midge helps sustain hungry fish.

Fish this one in sizes 18-22. Swing them in a tandem rig or behind a larger wet fly, emerger, or streamer. If you see midge on the water and dorsal fins (not snouts) breaking the surface, the fish are feeding on emergers. Tie this on one and have fun!

Partridge Wet Fly

An old-school wet like a partridge (or an updated version of this) is a great way to imitate various hatches.

A photo of Partridge Wet Fly

Use brown, yellow, or rust for hatching PMDs, yellow for sallies, olive for BWOs and black caddis, and brown or rust for lighter caddis. 14-18 is a great range.

Carey Special

Another “classic” wet, the Carey Special works great for hatching mayflies. Use brown or yellow for PMDs, Olive for BWOs, and small/black for tricos. Just because I find it best for mayflies, doesn’t mean you shouldn’t try one during a caddis hatch.

Red Ass Soft Hackle

The red ass doesn’t look like much; greenish black body, red thread at the back of the body, and partridge soft hackle, but it can be a day saver. Try this one on the swing during a caddis hatch.

Sizes 14-18 are recommended.

Beadhead Pearl Soft Hackle

A pearl-soft hackle is a deadly addition to any fly box. This wet fly can be fished on the swing, under a dry, or on a nymph rig.

The bead gives a little more weight for fishing a dry-dropper setup or for nymphing. The soft hackle covers the bead but lets a little of the metallic flash through.

The body is a pearl flash (green/blue flash) which imitates off-gassing of hatching bugs. Caddis, especially, give off a bit of gas in the pupa stage when hatching or moving to hatch, and the pearl color is a great flashy imitation of this.

Sizes 16, 18, and 20 are recommended.

Best Nymphs For Rock Creek

Nymphing is typically good on Rock Creek. Even when the hatch is prolific, many fish will willingly take a nymph.

Of course, warm weather nymphing is great but cold-weather nymphing, and especially winter nymphing on the lower creek, can be ridiculously good.

Pat’s Rubber Legs

Lovingly referred to as the “turd” by guides, this pattern has probably helped put more fish in a guided boat in the last ten years than the next two flies combined.

Despite its looks, there aren’t many other nymphs to have the same bragging rights/catch rates. Since there are multiple stonefly variations on Rock Creek, you’ll want a varied metric ton of these in your fly box.

Early on in the year, use sizes 10-12 in green/black or black for skwala nymphs.

In early summer use big sizes 2-8 in orange/brown mottled, black, or tan/black mottled for salmonflies.

Early to midsummer, sizes 6-10 in tan/black mottled, black, or brown/tan mottled for golden stones.

Mid to late summer, try brown/black mottled or tan/brown mottled in sizes 8-12 for nocturnal (summer/short wing) stones.

Stonefly nymphs can live up to two years subsurface before hatching. If a stream has any stonefly population, they’re as everpresent as nymphs and can often be the only thing a trout will eat in the cold, slow months.

Psycho May

The Psycho Mayfly is a modern updated mayfly tied with a bead head on a curved nymph hook. The body wrap makes it look well-segmented and the pseudo hackle gills are prominent and add movement.

Fish brown Psyco Mays in sizes 14-18 to cover brown drakes/March browns, mahogany duns, and PMDs. Black sizes 18-22 work great for trico nymphs. Olive size 12 or 14 covers green drakes and 16-20 covers BWOs.

Copper John

I still remember when Copper Johns were considered new. Now, much like groundbreaking greats such as Pearl Jam, they’ve been relegated to the “classic” zone.

How To Tie a Copper John Finished Fly Top View

Mid-summer, keep traditional copper and even some yellows on hand in sizes 16, 14, and 12. This will help cover small golden stones and yellow sallies.

The best Rock Creek fly fishing winter nymph just might be the red Copper John. Sizes 14 and 16 seem to be great for winter. They aren’t too big, or too small, and they have just enough of the “attractor fly” status to get eaten well.

Spanish Bullet

European weighted and/or jigged flies seem to be all the rage, and for good reason.

Admittedly, I had some initial resistance to using them. They don’t look like anything real. But they catch a lot of fish. Whether fish see them as caddis worms, caddis condos, or mayfly nymphs, doesn’t seem to matter.

The two best colors are olive/black (olive body, black thorax) and black with a red ass. For the olive, try with and without the hot (fluorescent collar). For both colors, have sizes 14-18 at the ready.

Bread n’ Butter Caddis

The Bread n’ Butter caddis is one of my favorite caddis pupa imitations. It’s fuzzy and hairy enough but still clean looking and has the soft-hackle movement of any great caddis emerger.

Have size 14-18 Bread n’ Butters on hand in olive, brown, or cream. In September and October, size up to a 12 in a rust/orange color for the October caddis.

Bread n’ Butters work well on a nymph rig but, where they shine best, is as a dropper below a dry fly and dead drifted or twitched under brushy overhangs or against deep, undercut banks.

Find The Best Flies For Any Fishing Scenario:

More About The Best Flies To Use

Fly Fishing Rock Creek: Gear Recommendations

Fly fishing Rock Creek, MT is a joy, especially if you have the right bugs and equipment. Here’s a list of recommended gear:

Fly Rods For Rock Creek

Rock Creek isn’t necessarily a large waterbody but it is big enough to be considered a river in most areas. This means that knowing how you want to fish will help determine what gear to bring. And, if you’re multidisciplinary, you’ll want a range of rods.

  • 9′5 wt – Best for dry fly fishing and light nymphing. This will present smaller flies delicately enough for this river. This should be your go-to rod, especially if you can only bring one.
  • 9′6wt – Best for blustery wind and heavier nymphs. Sometimes, in the wind, a little more power is needed. A 6-weight can fish dries, especially bigger terrestrials, in the wind. You can use this for heavier nymph rigs and streamers too.
  • 9′7wt – For the serious streamer fisherperson. Especially if you’re tossing those big, articulated streamers.
  • 1-11.5′4 wt trout spey – Swinging flies on the horn can be a deadly way to get fish. Swing streamers, soft hackles, or a combo of the two. Trout spey is very underrated and very effective.

Fly Reels For Rock Creek

Lamson: Good solid, sealed drag and dependable performance is what Lamson is all about. The Guru reel is a trout workhorse. The Speedster has the visual wow factor and performance to match, and the Remix is an extremely solid reel at a lower price.

Sage: Sage has proven itself for decades. The Spectrum series is a really solid trout reel. The Abor XL is a very good-looking reel with great line pickup, and the Spectrum C is very solid and quite inexpensive as far as fly reels go.

For trout spey, size up a bit. A 4 wt trout spey rod can be paired with a 7 wt reel. Spey line is thicker, heavier, and takes up more space.

Fly Line For Rock Creek

The summers can get pretty warm around here. For warm weather, Scientific Anglers is my go-to. SA has a great texture for floating and shooting better and is a little stiffer than others and perfect in the heat.

Amplitude or Mastery MPX – Amplitude is top-end, and Mastery is a little less expensive but still high-performance. These will also work well for dries, nymphs, and streamers. SA has a great texture for floating and shooting better and is a little stiffer than Rio in my opinion, which many prefer.

In the colder months, I prefer Rio. Rio Gold or Rio Gold Elite are great trout lines. You can use the Gold line for dry flies, nymphs, or streamers. Rio floats well and has a softer feel so it doesn’t feel rigid in cold weather.

Other Gear

  • Waders – Rock Creek’s temperature changes greatly with the seasons. In the hot weather, while on a boat, I prefer wet-wading. The cold water is a nice reprieve from the searing sun. Fall through late spring, you’ll want good, durable waders.
  • Neoprene Socks – If you’re wet-wading, neoprene socks allow you to wear your wading boots without waders. They help keep your feet warm in cold water too.
  • Hat – Bucket, trucker, dad hat – whatever you choose, wear it. The bill blocks the sun AND helps keep errant flying hooks away from your face. No one is allowed in my boat without one.
  • Polarized SunglassesSunglasses should really be worn at all times too. Your eyes need protection from the sun and flying hooks as well. Also, even on cloudy days, polarized glasses cut surface glare and allow you to see INTO the water. This helps you see fish and/or structure and improves your fishing tenfold.
  • Rain Jacket – No matter if it’s sunny and 95 degrees out, have a rain jacket handy. Nasty storms can come off the mountain peaks and cover the valley or canyon in a hurry and without warning.
  • UPF Shirt – Wading or boating, full coverage is recommended. Hooded shirts are a great way to go. Skin cancer is dumb so don’t be that guy (or gal).
  • Sun gloves – The back of your hands get absolutely beat by the sun.
  • Face Mask – For the same reason as a UPF shirt. Your nose and ears burn easily. Masks can also help you to not breathe in the crazy black caddis hatch.
  • Net – Seems obvious but there’s always someone trying to hand-grab a big trout. Use non-abrasive rubber to protect the fish. A longer or extendable handle net is great for a boat. A personal net should have a tether to ease your burden while wading.
  • Organization – This includes a pack of some sort, chest or hip. You need pockets for leaders, tippets, weights, indicators, and your license, and large pockets with various boxes to organize your flies. Fly boxes with foam slits or magnetic bottoms are good bets.

Rock Creek Fishing Season

There are no general closures on Rock Creek. Rock Creek fishing season is all year long. With just a little research and knowing, you’ll be able to fish any time you’re in the area.

Fly Fishing Rock Creek in Spring

Fly fishing Rock Creek in the Spring can really be a delight, especially pre-runoff. The weather is unpredictable and could be snowy, rainy, or sunny, so have appropriate gear.

Runoff happens during some pretty important hatches but you do need to be careful. There aren’t any really bad rapids but a swollen river is a powerful river and log jams are common.

Remember, boats are only allowed in the spring. The float season is terminated after July 1. This means you may run into a bit of boat traffic if flows aren’t dangerously high.

Fly Fishing Rock Creek in Summer

Summer on Rock Creek is hard to beat. Boats are no longer allowed but there is usually plenty of wade fisherpeople.

Summer Fly Fishing

Most are avid outdoorsmen and women and are courteous and respectful. So please be the same.

You’ll find plenty of bugs out, plenty of riffles, buckets, and undercuts to hit. and may enjoy wet wading to stave off the summer heat.

Fly Fishing Rock Creek in the Fall

Fall on Rock Creek is pure magic. The changing leaves, the cooler weather, the thinning crowds, and the aggressive fish all make for a magical experience. This place is absolutely beautiful in the fall.

Hatches may be a little less prolific but the October caddis hatch is generally really fun. Streamer fishing starts to pick up and crowds start to thin out.

If you’re considering fall fishing on Rock Creek, do it. You won’t be disappointed.

Fly Fishing Rock Creek in Winter

Fly fishing on Rock Creek in winter is a treat too. The narrow valley often gets socked in with clouds keeping some heat in and making fishing very possible.

You’ll want to stick to the lower river, from the mouth and up a few miles. This lower section has warmer weather and a few natural springs to keep ice at bay.

There will still be some local die-hards but the crowds will be very, very sparse.

Best Time of Day To Fish Rock Creek

The best time of day to fish Rock Creek depends on the season.

In the summer, cool mornings and lower-light evenings are generally more productive. Hatches are strong early to late morning and tend to lessen in the heat of the day.

In the winter, check your local hourly weather and plan to hit the water just before the warmest time for that day. Often, this is the afternoon but not always. If there are clouds present all night, they form a blanket over the earth and can keep heat in. If this happens, morning can sometimes be your warmest/best bet.

Rock Creek Trip Planning Tips

After fishing Rock Creek Montana for many years, I’ve realized that a lot of people make some mistakes while planning. Here are some tips for planning a fly fishing trip to Rock Creek:

Get Your Montana Fishing Licence

You can buy your license online at

From there, you can print your license or take a screenshot. Montana allows for electronic versions. Just make sure you save your photo to your favorites folder for easy access and ensure your phone doesn’t die! I recommend turning your phone off or to airplane mode while fishing to save battery.

All fly shops will have licensing systems and can get you set up as well.

Book Lodging

Lodging isn’t a problem in the area, especially if you want to stay in Missoula. It’s a great college town with nice bars, restaurants, and plenty of accommodation options.

Downtown Missoula and the university district are the closest parts of town to Rock Creek. Grab a room in the Missoula Holiday Inn Downtown to be right on the Clark Fork River, only 22 miles from Rock Creek, and have a buzzy restaurant and bar right in your lobby.

Missoula Holiday Inn Downtown

If you want to fish mid-creek or the upper sections, grab a room in historic Philipsburg. It’s a small town with a great brewery, music festivals, and a great candy store. Plus, you’re an easy drive to Rock Creek and other great towns/fisheries.

The Kaiser House Hotel in Philipsburg is a historic building hotel with loads of charm and only 10-15 minutes from Rock Creek.

Kaiser House Hotel

Meadows on Rock Creek

If you’d prefer to stay on the creek, the Meadows on Rock Creek is hard to beat. The buildings are very well-designed and you can get a package that includes meals and fishing if you like. Fish right on the property or explore the area.

Check The Weather Forcast

Make sure to check the weather forecast often. In summer, fall, winter, or spring, the forecast can change often and quickly.

Check the weather before your trip to get an idea of what’s to come. Check the weather every day before you head out the next morning. When you wake up, check the hourly forecast to make the best plan of attack for each day.

In winter, bring plenty of layers. In the summer, even if you see sun all day every day in the forecast, have a rain jacket with you at all times.

Lower river weather forecast

Mid/upper river forecast

Check the Water Level Before You Go

Knowing the streamflow data can help you better prepare for the day. You don’t want to go out when the river is blown out. Rising flows can also be difficult. Steady or dropping flows are usually best for fly fishing on Rock Creek.

USGS Streamflow Guague for Rock Creek at Clinton, MT

Book Your Guide

Rock Creek is generally easy to access on foot. Local shops will help out with setups. However, hiring a guide can be beneficial, especially on a float trip down this amazing stream.

Fly Fishing Guide Services on Rock Creek

Only a very small number of outfitters are permitted to guide float trips on Rock Creek. Again, the float season ends on the last day of June, and only wade fishing is permitted.

John Perry’s Montana Fly Fishing

John Perry’s is located on the lower section of Rock Creek. It’s easily accessible and they hold half of all guided float permits for all of Rock Creek.

Meadows on Rock Creek

The Meadows on Rock Creek, mentioned above in the lodging section, also offers seasoned guides on Rock Creek and other area rivers.

Grizzly Hackle

  • Address: 215 W Front St, Missoula, MT 59802
  • Website:
  • Phone Number: (406) 721-8996

Grizzly Hackle is Missoula’s premier fly shop. Located downtown on famous Front Street Grizzly Hackle has the gear and the knowledge to get you into fish.

Rock Creek Fishing Report

The current Rock Creek fishing report is this:

Warm to hot weather has been the norm but recent cooler weather has helped ease the heat burden. Hoppers will still get a few fish and tricos are thinning but good late summer/early fall hatches could start at any moment. We’re looking forward to mahoganies and October caddis.

If hoppers aren’t getting eaten, try some ants or beetles. If those don’t work, you may be better off under a bobber.

A photo of rock creek montana

Spanish bullets are a good go-to nymph when others won’t even get a look. Pat’s Rubber Legs have slowed down so try Copper Johns or a Bread n’ Butter caddis late afternoon to evening under the brush or against an undercut.

The usual Rock Creek Fishing report this time of year says to go out early or late but, again, the recent cooldown means fishing is still decent mid-day – well, at least the nymphing is.

Keep an eye on rising temperatures and go back to the early and late method when it comes.

Fly Fishing Rock Creek: The Verdict

Rock Creek in general cannot be beaten. The fly fishing on Rock Creek is second to none, it’s stunningly beautiful, easily accessible, and offers a cornucopia of trout to catch.

Connecting the Philipsuburg-to-Missoula corridor, Rock Creek links some of the neatest communities in the state. Not only is the fishing great, but the off-water activities are plentiful, varied, and generally fantastic.

So, whether you’re looking for a spring float trip for the famous salmonfly hatch, you’re looking for fewer crowds and stunning colors in the fall, you need a fishable winter getaway, or you’re needing a summery/warm weather mountain getaway, fly fishing Rock Creek is a phenomenal choice!

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Born and raised in Billings, MT, Nic was blessed to be brought up in an outdoor-minded family. Fishing and hunting were a part of his familial culture. Blame it on my Aquarius birth or some divine design but, from as early as he can remember, he had to be near or in the water. Guiding since the early 2000s, Nic has thousands of hours of fly fishing and guiding experience and has helped hundreds of people get into the sport of fly fishing, or better their skills as anglers.

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