The snow is melting in Glacier country and Montana bound anglers have been dutifully tying flies as they waited for spring’s return. There are few places in the world more suited for the annual spring outing than the babbling brooks of one of America’s favorite landmarks. Indeed, the thought of glacial peaks peering majestically over still waters has been running through the minds of fisherman huddled over small ice-holes for months.
The panoramic views and abundant wildlife are largely responsible for the park drawing thousands of fisherman to the shores of its waterways each year. You may spot water ouzels, harlequin ducks, beavers, otters, and kingfishers enjoying the waters. After all, Glacier be considered the headwaters of the entire continent since a single droplet from Triple Divide peak can make it to the Pacific, Atlantic, and Hudson Bay watersheds. But, glacier’s appeal goes beyond the talked about to something simpler: it’s the lost sense of natural tranquility, I think, that draws people. The quiet is pervasive and still retains a long-lost sense of simplicity and stillness from yesteryear. It feels untouched, from the architecture and campground facilities to the attitude adopted and respected by those who visit. Fishing in such a place, is an experience as much as it is an outing and it’s one that you’ll want to schedule during your summers, if possible.
Within its ample grounds, Glacier houses 653 lakes totaling 27,000 acres and 392 miles of shoreline, as well as 653 streams totaling over 1,600 miles. The North Fork and Middle Fork of the Flathead bound the park on the west and south, forming its boundary.
The glacier-fed waters are home to bull trout, otherwise known as mackinaw, Yellowstone cutthroat trout, rainbow trout, brook trout, kokanee, lake whitefish, grayling. Northern pikeminnow, peamouth, and several species of sculpins round out the parks’ fishery. Of those, It is the rainbows and cutthroats that have become the coveted catch of anglers since bulltrout are now banned.
If you do make it to the Park this spring or summer, there are several lakes to frequent that combine great fishing with even better views.
Lake McDonald holds good populations of lake trout, as well as smaller populations of cutthroat. In spring and early summer they can be caught with spinners in shallow waters, but as the water warms they head for the depths.
Swiftcurrent Lake is an ample source of brook trout that rise to dry flies in the evenings and mornings, but for daytime fishing go with streamers near rock pies or silver spinners.
Two Medicine Lake holds both rainbows and brook trout that like dry flies in the mornings and evening on calm waters. Large stimulator and hopper patterns work great as long as the waters not too warm. The rainbows can be caught with spinners deep in the day time and the outlet from Two Medicine into Pray Lake can be rewarding, though crowded at times. Upper Two Medicine lake is just a short hike uptrail from it’s namesake and is another good resource for brook trout.
St. Mary’s Lake is spectacular in nearly every way, and fishing is not exception. It houses cutthroats, rainbows, lake trout, whitefish, and bull trout, but it’s a deep lake and fishing is difficult to access. It’s also often windy and unsuitable for float tubes on rough days.
The Flathead river system that forms the boundary lines of the park is also an exceptional resource for fly fishing. The Middle Fork of the Flathead River begins just outside the Great Bear wilderness south of the park and is Montana’s premier wilderness river. It begins a beautiful and wild ride through the heart of the wilderness area and then parallels MT Highway 2 down to Glacier Park, though it is often well back and hundreds of feet below the road. The towering mountains of Glacier National Park and the Great Bear Wilderness create the backdrop as the river approaches West Glacier, where it gains numerous rapids and becomes a popular place for individual and guided float trips. Spring run-off can continue into July some years and anglers with a pension for whitewater love the challenges afforded by the Middle Fork.
The Middle Fork, along with the North Fork and South Fork, contains a healthy amount of decent sized cutthroats up to 16 inches. For fly fisherman, bushy and dry flies floated around likely locations will yield good results. Another technique to try is to use a weighted sink tip line and drag wet streamers or flies through deep pools along the river. Both the Middle Fork and North Fork of the Flathead River system are prime waters for bull trout, though it is illegal to intentionally fish or harvest these ravenous river dwellers.
The waters of the Park are renowned for a reason, and for those lucky enough to tempt it’s inhabitants this year, a beautiful experience is almost surely in store. Plus, a fishing permit is not required to fish Glacier National Park, nor is a Montana fishing license, making it easy for one-time visitors to enjoy one of the great outdoor pastimes.