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