Packrafting Montana’s Wild Flathead River

The South Fork of the Flathead River is home to the wildest cutthroat trout fishing in the American West. The river flows 40 miles through the Bob Marshall Wilderness — Montana’s largest — and has some of the cleanest, clearest water you will ever see. The only way to access it is by mule or by foot, and trails to the confluence are at least 20 miles. Due to its remoteness, it receives light fishing pressure and the result makes for some of the most-willing trout in the world. Here are the resulting photos from a five day packrafting trip in pursuit of those wild fish. Enjoy!

Greg and Tom hiking 20 miles over Young's Pass

Shot 1: Greg and Tom hiking 20 miles through burnt forest in the Bob Marshall Wilderness.


Tom floating opposed to mountain on Young's Creek

Shot 2: Floating opposed to mountains on Young’s Creek toward the S. Fork of the Flathead confluence.

 Tom fishing in the distant mountains

Shot 3: Fly fishing in the distant stormy mountains.


Tim grabbing a cutthroat

Shot 4: The wildest cutthroat trout in the world in hand. 


Tom in the packraft

Shot 5: Paddling a packraft 40 miles down the emerald waters of the S. Fork of the Flathead River.


Greg and Tom peeling into green current

Shot 6: Approaching the takeout at Meadow Creek Gorge’s Class IV water.


Packbridge over our last camp

Shot 7: Packbridge to the final camp with a wisp of campsmoke in the trees. 

The fishing lived up to the pre-trip hype. We hooked up on the second cast and it never quit. The river, too, surpassed expectations and lent itself to a truly wild trip. The long hike, lightning storms, logjams, low water, narrow gorges, and excellent fishing all led to long days ending in exhausted dinners around the campfire. The Bob Marshall Wilderness is big country. It’s remote, wild, and austerely beautiful. You have to really want it to get back there, but once you do, for all these reasons, you’ll find yourself fly fishing in heaven. 

By Tim Gib­bins