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Swan River

Contact Info
Flathead National Forest
200 Ranger Station Road
Bigfork, MT 59911



The Swan River travels almost due north for 66 miles through the beautiful Swan Valley. The valley is almost perfectly U-shaped with the Mission Mountains hemming the valley on the west side and the Swan Range Mountains on the east. The valley is heavily forested and home to grizzly bears, mountain lions, eagles, zillions of deer and, of course, trout!

Despite its proximity to major tourist attractions like Glacier National Park and Flathead Lake, most of the Swan River only receives light fishing pressure. The river is simply overlooked. The only road in or out of the valley is Highway 83. Ironically, the highway never crosses the river and the river is out of sight. Access to the river is by several roads that cross the river at fairly even intervals. The majority of the river bottom passes through private land but if you have a good map you can find scattered areas of public land. By mid-summer the river can be waded. Experienced canoeist can navigate the lower few miles but the rest of the river has log jams.

Anglers can catch rainbow trout and cutthroat trout, although seldom are these fish "trophy size”. Small brook trout are also occasionally caught. From Piper Creek Bridge downstream to Swan Lake, it is catch and release fishing only. Above Piper Creek Bridge, standard regulations apply and the angler is encouraged to release cutthroat.

There are 53 named tributaries to Swan River and all offer cold, crystal clear waters. Most of the tributaries are on public land or Plum Creek Timber Company (which allows the public to fish on their lands). The tributaries have good fishing for brook trout and cutthroat trout. It is safe to say that many of the fish have never seen a hook before.

The Swan River valley is famous for its large bull trout population. These big, aggressive trout hatch in tributary streams, grow big in Swan Lake and then return to the streams to spawn. Anglers may keep one bull trout per day in Swan Lake. All bull trout caught in the river or streams must be released immediately. To protect bull trout four streams are closed year-round, namely Elk, Lion, Goat and Squeezer Creeks. Be sure you can identify your catch!


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