Category Archives: Bitterroot River

Classic Drifts

bitterroot river guidesThese waters bind us: to the river, the fish, the mountains that feed them, and the friends we share them with.  Time spent on a trout stream is food for the soul, enjoying the natural cycles of the day and moods of the river.  While fishing ebbs and flows throughout the day, we work together to figure it out, changing tactics and mindsets on the sight of a bug or a switch in the wind.  In tune.  Fly fishing tunes us to the river, the environment, each other.

bitterroot river guidesDrawing upon a bond formed on the banks of the Big Hole river almost twenty years ago, I recently had the pleasure of fishing with a true master of the art of fly fishing, David Decker.  Owner and outfitter of the Complete Fly Fisher in Wise River, Montana, David is like a father to those of us guides lucky enough to learn from him.  I can truly say that everything I teach on the water today, starts with something I learned from David and the other veteran guides from the Complete Fly Fisher.  Those bonds run deep as the gut of the Kispiox and wide as a Missouri river sunset.

untitled (17 of 17)So with Skwala stoneflies and March Brown mayflies hatching in full swing on the Bitterroot, a true master casting from the bow, and twelve miles all to ourselves, David and I shared another day to keep close to the heart.  The fish were looking up, and nowhere was out of reach or out of drift.  Everything is possible.  We ran with the mood of the river, keeping and eye on the natural cycles and currents, knowing the next run may be jamming while this one is quiet.

bitterroot river guidesOur bugs were Big Hole style tied by David the night before in Wise River: no foamy Bitterroot flare, just natural fibers and buggy proportions.  Another lesson from the old days: keep it natural, simple, quick to tie.  And they worked, well.  The Bitterroot is really shaping up fine this year with consistent Skwala and mayfly hatches day after day.  Our water is holding up good, with cooler temperatures and high country snow keeping the water locked up in the mountains to use later down the road; a fine summer awaits us.  So here’s to old friends and teachers, and the waters that bind us together.  All photographs in this post were taken by David on our trip, his love of the wild trout evident in yet another art form.

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Skwalas and March Browns

bitterroot skwala nymphIt’s turning into another fine Skwala season here on the Bitterroot with tons of nymphs ready to hatch and good fish already looking up for a bug.  Our weather took a turn for the better, shooting up to seventy degrees a couple times and really bringing out the solar energy needed to get the bugs hatching.  Skwalas are looking for 46 degree water temps before they pop, so we’ve seen the bugs waiting until well into midday to start emerging.

bitterroot river guidesWith that in mind, fishing-wise, take your time out there and don’t get into a big hurry.  There’s plenty of other boats and anglers out there enjoying the hatch, and when the fishing is good, everyone is catching, and when it’s off, it’s off.  That’s how the Bitterroot works: when she’s ready this river will fish lights out, but not until the fish and the bugs are ready to play along.   Nymphing rarely saves a tough day here, but patience and working good water will bring many fine fish to the net.

bitterroot river guidesSo every day should have it’s better moments until the surge of runoff wipes the slate clean for the upcoming summer season.  We have a cool front with moisture predicted for the coming week which may tone down the Skwalas a bit, but will certainly favor the much awaited March Brown.  On our float yesterday, we had a massive emergence of these mayflies, making for the best fishing I’ve seen this early season.  As we move on into April, the March Browns will hatch earlier and more consistent, right around 2:00, and in my opinion this is the hatch to fish.  Skwalas get all the hype, but Bitterroot trout will pod up rising to mayflies, making for fabulous targets and fool hearty takes.

bitterroot river guidesSo get on the horn and get in touch with us for some early season action.  We still have a few weeks of pre-runoff fishing, which is truly some of the best of the season, and our rates are discounted to $350 per guide boat.  Bring a rainjacket for those spring squalls, and get ready to throw dry flies from the put in to the takeout.

Reel Girl

A quick afternoon float on a rising river was all we had going for us. New friends, Ryan and Heather,  and a chance to see some new water together; at least new as of today with the rising tide of warm weather hitting the valley.  The first days of spring cometh, easy fishing on those once a week perfect days may be over, at least until the temps cool off and shrink up the melting snowpack.  Every ‘good’ day brings a rise in the water levels which cool things off and bring on the sediment, making that sure thing a big question mark at the boat ramp.

So fishing is up and down, good and bad, is what I’m getting at.  That perfect day may actually be pretty tough because the river bumped and made all those perfect holding runs way too fast, or those soft banks turbulent and boiley.   Our day was damn near a skunk, due to the previously mentioned issues, until things settled down enough late in the day to start producing some action.  Savor those dry fly takes folks!, sometimes we may hold out for hours waiting and hoping, and all the while learning and enjoying the river on it’s rise to runoff, happy to be out once again chasing wild trout on the fly.

Bitterroot River Skwala Hatch

bitterroot skwala hatch 003I figured we’re still early, and we are, but a mid morning phone call today sure led to some fine dry fly fishing on the home river.  Skwala: The Bitterroot’s Big Deal.  Which they really are, even if it brings a bit of pressure to our sleepy little river; get out there and throw a line and put your smile on.  The rest of the state is still dealing with winter, at least its departure, while the Bitterroot Valley is gorgeous and temperate as ever: snowcapped peaks protecting a low altitude, Pacific sided drainage.

bitterroot skwala hatch 015So we slid the boat in around the crack of noon, or even one o’clock, to see if we could find a few fish looking up.  Sure enough, our second run drew a fine rainbow to the dry, then the next, and the next, and then they were sipping mayflies…. Pretty damn impressive to say the least.  The true Bitterroot Skwala hatch is still weeks away in my opinion, but the fish certainly know what’s coming.  I witnessed Baetis mayflies and midges today, but no mature adult Skwala moving about.

bitterroot skwala hatch 009So watch your weather for those good warm days in the near future, there should be some fine fishing to be had out there.  The weekend is looking beautiful, so I’d bet there will be plenty of other folks out there chasing the hatch.  My advice: take it easy, put in good ‘ol Bitterroot fashion around noonish, and fish the nice likely runs with medium speed and a wee bit of chop.  Look for your best fishing from two to four, and savor throwing a dry fly once again!

bitterroot skwala hatch 2015Our boats are spruced up, lines are greased, waders patched, and the coolers are packed!  Contact Jed or Chris if any of you are feeling the itch for a guided Skwala float.  We offer discounted rates for the early season, $350, and focus on the midday Skwala and mayfly hatches.  Our meet time is noon, earlier if we need to work out some winter kinks in the casting, and we fish until the day is wrapped up, usually around six o’clockish.  We’d love to have you out with us once again to start our 2015 Bitterroot fly fishing season; see you on the water.   JF #8392

Montana Summer Winding Down

It’s been a great fishing season with everyone who came to experience this slice of Western Montana.  Starting back in March chasing the Skwala hatch, to sniping big bows and browns on the Fall Baetis on the Missouri, starting anytime now, we’ve enjoyed the many friends and faces throwing a line from our rafts.  We hope to see you all again out there on the river, whether it is in a monsoon on the Big Hole in May, or on on of those perfect July bluebirds on the Bitterroot.  Enjoy the photos and see you next year.

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Old Friends on the Bitterroot

bitterroot cutthroatJust as September is rolling around and the fishing should really start picking up for Fall, a crew of great friends of mine from the flatlands of Kansas showed up here in the Bitterroot for a three day adventure.  With five fishermen in the group and three guides, we set out to give it our best on the main stem of the river for the first two days, then one final shot at the West Fork the last day.

bitterroot cutthroatFishing was tough on the main Bitterroot with high daytime temperatures and bright sun; great for a vacation, but weather like this takes a toll on the bite.  As evening approached, fish began actively rising, saving the day for us guides and giving us some targets to throw at as the day turned to dusk.  Pulling out at Otto’s Cabin where our group is staying right on the river, we anchor up for the night and leave the boats for an early start there in the morning.  For all of you looking for a perfectly situated, peaceful, and simple getaway look no farther than this little gem resting on the banks of the Bitterroot river.

bitterroot cutthroatOur final day of fish camp led us up the West Fork of the Bitterroot, looking for big cutthroats in the cold canyon waters coming off the mountain peaks.  This time of year water levels are down to a trickle, but there was still plenty to get the boats through and plenty of fish for our anglers.  Between stripped buggers and well fished grasshoppers, everybody found big trout to take the fly, making for the best fishing we saw over the three day span.  The West Fork can be like that, especially after a couple days of plugging away at the main stem and getting little returns.  Bring your A game and this river will reward you mucho.  Thanks to the Kansas boys for a great time with old pals on a Montana trout stream.

Meadowburke on the River

Meadowburke fishing tripAfter many years of fishing Montana streams together, my main man Jan brought his crew of executives from his concrete accessories company to fish the Bitterroot River with us.  Team Meadowburke, as we’ll refer to them, was a four person group with lots of fishing experience, just not much in the way of fly fishing.  So, Chris and I had our work cut out for us assembling our troops and teaching as much fly fishing knowledge as we could cram in there in our short two day trip.Meadowburke fishing trip

Starting with casting instruction in the lawn for a couple hours, then shifting right onto the river, our guys quickly picked up the basics of fly fishing and proceeded to lay into quite a few nice trout out there.  What our anglers lacked in fly fishing experience, was made up by their general fishing abilities: once they were hooked into a trout, a lifetime of fighting fish on the salt helped them to bring em’ to the net quickly and efficiently.  Casting and drifting a fly can be a whole new experience to most folks, but good ol’ fish savvy comes from spending time on the water with a rod in hand, fly rod or otherwise.west fork bitterroot cutthroat

Montana weather, always on the sketchy side, didn’t let us down in the least.  Our days would start warm and sunny, but would quickly deteriorate into overcast skies and falling temps: trust your weatherman when he says thunderstorms are predicted.  Soon enough the rain jackets would come out as we prepared for whatever was coming down the pipe from the West, dark storm clouds and lightning flashes.  We took shelter wherever available, sometimes under the immense canopies of ponderosa pine trees, sometimes anchored under the nearest bridge until the deluge passed us.Chris Rockhold west fork bitterroot cutthroat

With all the weather ups and downs, the river fished downright awesome.  Drys and streamers played very well with fish chasing the bugs hard from rocky banks and inside seams.  Just after we’d get clobbered by one of the many storms rolling down the valley, the fishing would light up, helping us forget about the drip off our hats and our soggy jackets.

bitterroot cutthroatA big thanks to the Meadowburke crew for fishing with Bitterroot River Guides, we enjoyed a true Montana fishing experience out there.  Many big trout came to the nets, we suffered with the mountain weather, floated and fished over twenty miles of scenic river, and enjoyed good camaraderie and great times in the mountains.  See you next time.

Friends on the Bitterroot

sleeping childThe summer is in mid swing and our rivers are holding out big time this year for us.  Still way up above historical average on water flows, the Bitterroot continues to fish excellent even with our high temps during the midday times.

bitterrootRecently, I fished with a good friend for a three day adventure, chasing fish up and down the Bitterroot system.  From the West Fork up high to downstream right around Hamilton, we found lots of great fishing with dries, and really any other method of fly fishing for that matter.  Get that bug on the right drift and keep it there, they’ll find it.

out with the boysFor our last outing, we invited the boys to tag along and get their first taste of Montana fly fishing with Dad.  Great fishing, a major log jam portage, lunch on a sand bar, and a rendevous with the girls later in the day added up to a superb adventure on the river.  Thanks to the Jacobs family for another year of fishing and family in the Bitterroot Valley.  See you next year.

 

The Jersey Boys

bitterroot river fishing guidesI’ve never been to the Rangers AC in Milltown, New Jersey, but if they have remotely as much fun at their club as they have on the river, sign me up.  These fine gents have fished with Bitterroot River Guides for many years now, bringing different faces and personalities but one remains the same, Musty.  And Ernie, can’t forget him.  Big Musty anchors these guys into some semblance of order; arranging the guiding, hotels, and travel plans.  I think some of them would still be sitting in the Sawmill bar in Darby without him.

bitterroot river fishing guidesFishing-wise this was a banner year with the Rangers.  We spent three days on the Bitterroot searching out the finest water our river has to offer right now, as well as teaching these guys some new techniques for sticking big fish.  Versatile fishermen, our NJ crew got the job done every day of the trip, whether we were way up the West Fork or down on the lower main river.  Water levels are still up and cruising along, making for tricky casts and quick mending, but the big flows also keep the big trout moving around the system and feeding heavily.

bitterroot river fishing guidesTaking time to enjoy the finer points of a Montana summer on the river, our crew grilled out every day for lunch to slow the pace of things and sip a few cold ones.  Cocktail hour starts early with these guys, and their fishing actually improves considerably throughout the day: we’re dealing with professionals here!  But alas, three days go by too quickly, and we’ve already said our goodbyes.  Musty and the gang have moved on to the Madison river, and then on to the mecca of Craig on the big Missouri for a few more days.  I hope they stick some great fish on the rest of their journey, and until next time Chris and I will miss the onslaught of the Rangers AC in Montana.

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Last Day

bitterroot river guidesLast blog I wrote preceded our actual fishing, so I figured I’d wrap up our three day trip with Jack and the guys with one last post.  As anticipated, we saw some pretty amazing fishing out there on the Bitterroot river.  With Salmonflies still in the picture, our hookups were many and hard pulling, the fish stuffed from the big bugs and at least 20 percent heavier than normal.  Soon enough the dry bite came around and we enjoyed consistent action on top for most of the day.

bitterroot river guidesWe topped it all off with some fine burger grilling at lunchtime and apple pie and ice cream we managed to keep frozen deep in our coolers.  So, good fishing seems pretty much everywhere right now if you know what to look for.  I’ll be guiding the Big Hole Monday through Saturday of this week looking for those buttery browns, so tight lines and stay tuned.