100 Best: Rock Creek
Location: Southwest Montana
Type of stream: Freestone
Angling methods: Fly, Spin
Species: Bull Trout, Cutthroat, Brown, Rainbow
Supporting Services: Missoula
Short take: Lovely stream off the beaten path
Handicapped Access: Yes
Closest TU Chapter: West Slope
Now if you really want confusion, try this one on for size. Not only are their two Rock Creeks in Montana, but they are close enough to each other to be first cousins. Our Rock Creek gathers its headwaters close to Phillipsburg in a pleasant mountain basin were you can visit Schoolmarm Gulch if you’re so inclined. County Road 102, a twisty and narrow track known as the Rock Creek Road, follows the stream through a charming mountain valley all the way to its confluence with Clark Fork River, about 20 miles east of Missoula. The state has established two access sites on the river. The upstream most is found at mile 43—Gillies Bridge which was probably not named for a Gillie. The second, Tamarack Creek, is six miles upstream from the mouth.
Since floating the river is prohibited after June 1, this water is ideal for wading anglers. Above Gillies Bridge, the creek flows through private property so access is limited. Below the bridge, the stream enters Lolo National Forest. Pull offs and camping spots are numerous. Because of the bumpiness of Rock Creek Road, few anglers make it up this far. If you’re willing to drive in from the top, you may find idea water even when the stream is most crowded in July and August.
Deep pools and fast runs tend to hold the largest fish. A brace of weighted nymphs such as a #8 weighted woolly bugger trailed by a #12 pheasant tail can be extremely productive. As it enters the national forest, the mountains close in and the river gains speed. Pocket water is the norm. Huge blocky boulders divide currents which eddy into deep holes that harbor great trout. Wading can be challenging. But the fishing is worth it; 13 to 16 inch fish are common.