There are about 51 miles of river here that constitute Hwy 200. Eventually the Blackfoot dumps into the Clark Fork River about 7 miles east of Missoula. Beginning near the town of Ovando, both Harry Morgan and River Junction accesses tend to be the uppermost launches although there are several others farther upstream. There are almost no floats on this river that don’t have some type of rough water on them, although the degree of intensity varies widely. The Blackfoot is one of the best attractor pattern rivers in the area and produces better middle of the river fishing than the other area waters.
1) Harry Morgan to County Line: This is a long float that actually begins on the North Fork of the Blackfoot and eventually ends up 14 miles downriver on the main Blackfoot at a campground on the right side know as County Line or Russell Gates. This can be a dangerous float in the spring when water is high, and the sweepers and hydraulics are at their worst. During the summer months, it’s a fairly mellow event although probably not a great choice for beginning rowers. Harry Morgan, River Junction and Russell Gates are all decent access and driftboat worthy. The drive into River Junction is kind of a pain, especially with a trailer. Later in the fall, the upper portions of this float (above Scotty Brown Bridge), can get pretty shallow to where you’ll be better off running a raft. Map
2) County Line or Sperry Grade to either Clearwater Bridge, Sunset Hill, Round-Up or Riverbend: County Line and Sperry Grade are only about 2 miles apart, but if you’re like us, you’ll love the water between County Line and Sperry. Launching at County Line, then, you will be much better off in a raft unless you intend to go all the way down to Riverbend. If you do intend to go all the way down, you’d better be able to row since this is, by far, the most technical water on the river. The section of river just above Round-up Bridge and then downstream for another 3 miles can get really ugly for even intermediate level rowers . . . especially in a hardboat. This is also a very long float and would be hard to get through later in the season when water levels are low and slow. The first set of rapids is about 20 minutes below Sperry Grade, but the section of river right after this water is gonzo fishing for big fish. If you’re taking out at either Clearwater or Sunset Hill, you’ll have to schlep your boat up a couple of fairly obnoxious banks. County Line to Sunset Hill is about 8 miles. You can shorten the County Line to Riverbend float considerably by launching at Sunset Hill. This launch is still a pain for hardboats although we do it pretty regularly. Map
3) Round-up to Riverbend: The Round-Up launch is a very steep bank with timbers for sliding your boat down. It’s MUCH better suited to a raft than a hardboat, and even getting a raft out here is a pain. You’ll immediately be in fairly technical rowing if you do this float, so be prepared to be working hard on the sticks, weaving your way though giant boulder gardens that hold very nice fish. The take-out at Riverbend is a piece of cake and very accessible for driftboats. Riverbend is a campground on the right side of the river. Map
4) Riverbend to Whittaker Bridge or Johnsrud Park: From Riverbend to Whittaker Bridge (the only bridge on the float), there are only a couple of moderately technical areas of rowing which shouldn’t be a problem for an intermediate rower. During the spring, this is a very short float of maybe a couple of hours, but by mid-summer, you can make a day of it if you hit the runs hard and take your time. This is about a 4 mile drift. If you continue on down to Johnsrud Park, the float becomes about 10 miles and adds more technical water in the way of Thibodeau and Sheep Flats rapids. There are several other areas of water that are much less talked about but that we feel are every bit as technical. You should be an experienced rower on the section of river below Whittaker Bridge. Map
5) Johnsrud to Wisherd Bridge, Marco Flats, or Game Check: Johnsrud to Game Check (or Bonner), is a float of about 10 miles. This can be run in a hardboat pretty much all year depending on the normalcy of the flows. The take-out at Game Check involves winching your boat up a steep, grassy bank, but it’s no big deal. An easier option is to take out at Wisherd Bridge which is about 6 miles below Johnsrud. The Wisherd take-out is immediately upstream on the left of the second bridge you’ll see after launching from Johnsrud. If you have a raft, you can use the Marco Flats area to take out, but you’ll have to carry your boat for a short distance to the parking lot. Map
Major hatches: One of the best salmonfly hatches in the area, hoppers, caddis, green drake mayflies, PMD’s, blue wings. This is also probably the best river for fishing streamers in the area.