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.

bitterroot river guides

 

 

 

 

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

Fly Fishing for Steelhead

salmon river steelheadThis has been a great year for us on the Steelhead rivers of Idaho, namely the Salmon.  Just last season I could barely manage a bite on the swing, usually fishing too heavy and hanging up on every damn snag in the river.  Losing confidence, I’d waste valuable time switching from swing to nymphs, and back again ten minutes later, then switch bugs to the point l I didn’t know what the hell to throw at them.

steelhead on the salmon riverFortunately that’s all behind us now, whether we catch fish or not that day, because we finally have this swing thing pretty dialed in.  Confidence, as with any fly fishing, is key.  Bug choice is easy now-I pretty much fish one pattern- as well as being set to the right depth, which really isn’t as deep as I previously thought.  Steelhead are predictable to a degree as to where they lie in the river, whether they bite or are even sitting there is the question.  So you pretty much have to fish your arm off covering water, and especially good water, which is the never ending quest.

steelhead salmon river idahoSo back to the river, our days start early and end late.  We have runs in mind that we want to fish, most of these we’ve caught steelhead in, but many others just look good, so we give them a swing.  Some of these runs are gargantuan, taking hours to cover, some are just little insides that have the look we want, and ten casts says it all.  I can’t count the miles of water that have held nothing, but eventually you figure out your favorites by simply covering every square inch of likely looking water.  Cast, step, cast, step, cast….tug!

Late Winter on the Bighorn

sparkleCottonwood Camp here we come!  It’s been a long winter in the mountains of Montana, and those of us on the West side of the state have certainly seen our fair share of it.   With the first signs of the season’s thaw, a great crew of friends gather together on the Bighorn River in South Central Montana for our annual getaway.

bitterroot river guides on the bighornWe showed up on a Wednesday eve and planned to fish til Sunday morning, weather permitting.  Our temperatures were great the first two days, allowing for purple sequined sparkle shirts and big straw hats, and also providing easy fishing conditions.  The whole crew, seven of us total, found great fishing throughout the 3 to B stretch, even finding pods of trout rising to midges and scoring Crow beach all to ourselves for a two hour nymphathon.

DSum on the HornAs our trip drew down to the last couple days, the weather made a serious turn for the worse, with cold storms blowing in from the North.  Frozen guides were inevitable, stalling your casts every few minutes or so and forcing you to clean the ice off the entire length of the rod.  The fishing remained steady, so at least we stayed enthused through the punishment; and what the hell, we didn’t drive 400 miles to paint, as my brother John put it.

bighorn river in februaryOur last day about froze us out, but we hung in there.  Midday bonfires eased the 22 degree average we were putting up with; find your run, get a serious blaze on, and rotate between fishing and thawing.  As long as the fish kept taking our bugs we’d stay, knowing that the other alternative was to keep on chugging down the river into the bitter North, unprotected in the boats.  We finally beached at the Bighorn access one last time, and partied down one last evening at Cottonwood.  An early start sent us rolling back to western Montana, 400 miles to go and one degree Fahrenheit on the windshield.  Till next year my friends.bitterroot river guides on the bighornbighorn river eveningbighorn river three rivers runbighorn brown

IMG_0724IMG_0743

Swinging up Steelhead

winter steelheadThe clients are essentially gone for the year; snow has set in hard in the high country; the elk have bugled, mated, and survived the long hunting season; and us fishing guides are finally released into the wild once again to pursue the almighty of Salmonids, Steelhead.  We don’t guide Steelhead trips, though we’re sure starting to think hard about it, because I am licensed as a Montana Outfitter only, confining our commercial operations to this great state alone.  But lo, a mere two hours from Hamilton south over Lost Trail Pass, lies the longest run of Steelhead in the United States of ‘Merica on the Salmon River in Idaho.

salmon river idaho steelheadWith 900 miles to cover from the Pacific ocean to their upper spawning grounds in Stanley, these fish don’t really get into our stretch of water until November and even December.  You think a cool day in June can suck, just wait till you start wading hip deep for hours at a time in January water temps and the Salmon River fog icing your eyebrows.  Utter punishment at times.  But the tug is the drug, and at some point in that long swing of the line a fish grabs hold and it’s all worth it.

winter steelheadSo while winter grips the valley as we await another great trout season coming up in March, we guides are still packing fly rods on the dashboards and tackle bags close at hand.  A string of good weather will get us twitching, and not long after that a phone call sets the madness in motion: 5 am on the road.  Two hours and a hundred close calls with elk crossing highway 93, we’re back on the water with the excitement of a summer’s day of guiding…  Except now we have 9 weights, thirty plus inch fish, and we’re doing all the fishing!

Missouri River Fall

The time has finally come to Montana: Fall.  River bottoms are full of color, elk are bugling in the mountains, and big browns are sipping Baetis and Pseudos on the Missouri.  The hot long days of summer are far behind us now, replaced by cool calm days and low angled sunlight.  No hurries this time of season; things are on a slower pace and the fishing is always good somewhere.  Especially the Mo.

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.

west fork bitterroot cutthroat big hole river montana bitterroot rainstorm big hole brown trout bitterroot brown on streamers smith river boat camp west fork bitterroot cutthroat trout flathead river largemouth bass

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.