Category Archives: Bitterroot River

Bitterroot River Salmon Fly Hatch

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton  montanaMaybe it’s a bit early to write this one, we still have one day left to guide this group, but we’ve had some pretty solid fishing in the two out of three days with these fine natured chaps.  As the title of this blog goes, we’re chasing the big bugs on the Bitterroot and having great success at finding them.  Our first day found us way up the river system, looking for smaller fast flowing water that is so conducive for salmon flies.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton  montanaTrying a few anticipated patterns for the day, we laid into quite a few trout right off the bat, letting us know our bug choices were right on the money.  No need to change a sure thing, we stuck with pretty much one setup throughout the day and put the hammer down on many gluttonous fish, their bellies gorged from all the bugs they’re inhaling.  There is nothing like fishing size four dries in heavy water with fish leaping to take the fly near the overhanging willows.

Today our group toured some lower water just to see what’s up out there and escape the salmon fly fever.  Solid fishermen, these guys are versatile enough to make it work with a variety of rigs, which is what we needed today.  With nothing really taking the top spot on rigging, we caught fish on dries, streamers, back drags, swings, and full on bobbered up.  After exhausting every conceivable rig, my boat finally said to hell with it, and we dropped “riffle bombs”, Jack’s terminology for a heavy stonefly nymph and worm.  And guess what, it worked like a charm!

Tomorrow is our last day with this great bunch of guys; hopefully we can show them some fine fishing.  Our plans for the third day have altered a bit from the original: instead of heading even lower down the system, we’re thinking that first day up river maybe wasn’t such a bad idea after all.  Not wanting to jinx the fish karma, we’ve settled on an original float a little in between the other two days’ floats, and with some fine casts and blood, sweat, and tears on the oars I think we’ll see some amazing fishing in the morning.

Bitterroot River Scenic Trips

bitterroot river fishing guides scenic floatBig water is all around Southwestern Montana at the moment, especially the Bitterroot.  Until things settle down a bit, why not still enjoy the river in a safe and leisurely fashion with a beautiful Bitterroot scenic float?  This scenic trip, though, had me a bit on edge since the Root was actually a foot above flood stage at 9000 CFS; did I mention that?

Well, after thoroughly informing my floaters what was happening out there, they decided what the hell, let’s do this!  I am an expert oarsman, but not an idiot, so my faithful guide Chris and I hauled the boat up to Hannon and set out to scout the rampaging river for the next fifteen miles.  What we saw out there was one of the coolest experiences I’ve witnessed: the river could have floated a battleship out there, let alone my little 13 foot NRS.  We found we could go anywhere in the entire river bottom: islands, cottonwood stands, people’s back yards!

bitterroot river fishing guides scenic floatOur scenic scout and float the next day were a huge success.  With life vests fully adorned and safety first in my mind, we ran 23 miles of the Bitterroot in about four or five hours.  Boulders could be heard tumbling and clunking underneath the boat in the torrent, while my eyes scouted miles ahead for trouble in the form of downed timber and strainers.  I don’t recommend the common leisure boater pull this kind of float, but I do trust my abilities and that of my crew to safely navigate our waters and enjoy the resource in all stages of the season.

Bitterroot River Pre Runoff

We checked out the Bitterroot a few days ago just to see.  You know, just to see for ourselves what’s happening out there.  She was at 3500 at Darby, a pretty fishable level in my opinion, so even though most folks will give you the poo-poo about fishing right now we figured it could be done.  While the main stem of the Bitterroot is chugging along, channels like the ones pictured are filled up and looking good.

Well, it pretty much sucked.  I did catch a small brown and a squawfish and had another fish chase the streamer, but the Bitterroot was obviously off color and flowing fast.  Now if you take a look today at the USGS Streamflow, three days later, things are starting to look pretty good.  The river has dropped nicely down to 2900 cfs at Darby, which should clean things up and stabilize the fish.  We’ll be checking soon to keep an eye on the fishing before the big water cometh.  Gotta go to know.

Great Bitterroot Fly Fishing

west fork bitterroot cuttThe river is on the fluctuations of a big spring, up one day and then dropping after a few cold nights.  We’ve been at it through snow and rain, wind and shine, finding pretty good fishing through it all.  Adversity is definitely the name of the game; lots of rigs, lots of poking around checking all the holds.  Every type of fly rig has its time to play throughout the day: streamers for a few runs, then fish a dry through the riffles and slough mouths.

west fork bitterrootAny spotted fish is catchable right now, and right about two o’clock the March Brown mayflies have been peeling off, bringing quite a few fish out to feed.  Throughout the upper Bitterroot, we’ve found many sneaky little spots that have steady rising fish, but you have to search closely and fish a ton of water to find them.  Once you do, bingo.  We have plenty of equally sneaky hand tied patterns in Skwala and mayfly that work excellent, with fish moving hard to the fly and eating them fool hearty.

Trophy Bitterroot River Brown Trout

covershotWell, while I was out on a guided float chasing Skwalas and mayflies, my guides were up to no good, as you can clearly see, chasing big Bitterroot brown trout, and definitely not using dry flies.  Trout eat a little of everything, mostly aquatic insects, as they forage throughout the day in rhythm with the daily bug cycles.  When the hatch at hand gets going, large numbers of fish feed throughout the river to take advantage of the increase in bug activity.

bitterroot brownThen there’s these guys.  Hatch be damned.  Browns like this rarely fall for your ordinary insect imitations, their feeding patterns are impulsive, and their foraging is more like hunting and killing.  These are the predators of our peaceful little rainbow/cutthroat stream: no little trout is ever really safe.  That’s why we protect our beloved little dinks by targeting these bruisers with the only thing they consistently hammer: Streamers.  Heavy, colorful, flashy minnow imitations with big ass googly eyes fished on a clear, sink tipped seven weight.  Oh Yeah.

brochureshotStreamer chucking is not for the faint of heart, and many can’t handle it.  Heavy stiff rods and weighted lines wear a person out, especially if one’s cast is inefficient, so we guides use caution when introducing our anglers into this realm:  short periods keep our guests from getting frustrated and beat down.  Now when it’s a crew like these two river monkeys in the photo, there’s no holds barred.  Ten miles of swollen off color river, a half rack of Coors, and hundreds of heavy casts went into that one brown trout.  Every cast has the promise of another leviathan: it may be the first deep log jam at daybreak, it may be somewhere on mile seven, or it may not happen at all.  Keep hucking.

Great Early Bitterroot Fly Fishing

The river’s up and showing the signs of what 170% of snowpack looks like around here: the usual lazy runs and obvious holes are cooking along with at least double last years flows, making for tricky fishing and oaring to get the job done.  Two days of guiding recently put us hard at it, searching the inside turns and back eddies for soft water, looking for risers in protected channels.  With the first good March Brown hatch I’ve witnessed this year on the Bitterroot, we finally found fish consistently rising in back channels and mellow inside corners on the local hatch.  With Skwalas and Nemouras popping at the same time period, mid afternoon, some areas fished pretty hot on the dry, whichever we fished.  When the dries died out and the rain started falling,  we made her play as best as possible. Big stonefly nymphs on a deep drop proved the most reliable bobber setup.  Many miles of river were just too fast to get a decent drift, but with some good casting and elbow grease at the oars, there were plenty of hungry fish to feed if you know what to look for.

Futile Floating

early bitterroot float 004Chasing the goat, as we like to refer to it.  Or more accurately, a plan that has turned futile that once held so much promise.  Kinda like our plan to nail a bunch of big fish on the lower Bitterroot Saturday, April 13 on streamers, until our gorgeous morning turned into a northern winter blitzkrieg around mid afternoon.  With easily forty mile per hour sustained gales, we rowed due north right into the punishment for hours on this long stretch of river.  The fishing pretty much sucked, between the wind and the bumped up river flows, we caught few fish, and my boat was even handed a royal skunking.  Always optimistic, it was a good workout for when the river really gets big, and will make those marginal dry fly days seem outstanding compared to that crap.  We hustled it back toBlacksmith Brewing in Stevensville, a beacon of light, and toasted Cutthroat IPAs to another day of chasing the goat.

Bitterroot River Skwala Hatch

   I’ve been writing enough river reports and updates lately to fill a novel, so I’ve decided to write one biggie to all of you to let you know what’s happening here on the Bitterroot river.

We are on the cusp of the famed Skwala stonefly hatch, which traditionally starts mid March, but has been slow to get itself going this season.  If you’ve kept up with our winter’s snowpack you will see we are way above average (160% in the Bitterroots), which has the river at double historical flows.  Water flows and temperatures greatly dictate aquatic insect hatches, and the delayed start to the hatch is attributable to cold temps both in the river and the air: Skwalas wait for the magic 42 degrees water temp to start popping.

 

     Chris_Rockhold_photo_19-65Now, we’ve been catching plenty of fish, mind you, but mostly under the surface on streamers or nymphs. The dry fly windows have been brief, but are beginning to lengthen as we move towards nicer weather. Checking the river on a blustery afternoon float today, I found consistent dry fly activity in specific regions: gradually tapering inside corners and riffles were holding lots of fish from shin deep to waist deep water, indicating the fish are in position for aggressive feeding.

 

     Starting next week (April 7), our weather begins to cheer up considerably, making for excellent hatching conditions.  Along with the Skwala stones, March Brown mayflies will join the party any day now, especially on warm cloudy or rainy afternoons, and continue throughout April until runoff.   When both species are in full hatch, along with the token Nemoura and Capnia stones buzzing around everywhere, this river absolutely lights up!

All this early activity comes with a time limit: runoff.  When that massive snowpack comes roaring down the mountains sometime in the near future, usually early May, the slate is wiped clean.

I hope this stirs the fishing bug within all of you.  My guides and I would love the opportunity to show you the Bitterroot’s early season, before the height of the summer fishing begins.  We are offering discounted float trips during this time, usually meeting at the crack of ten or eleven and fishing till the day is wrapped up, focusing on the midday hatches.

Thanks to all of you of my guides and I have fished with over the years and many more to come.  Contact us anytime to plan a float trip, get the latest scoop on the rivers, or just talk fishin’.  See you on the river.

The Busy Season

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaWell the season is upon us.  Months of tying bugs and day after day of scouting and preparing, we find ourselves wrapped up in the midst of it once again.  Fishing has been good, fishing has been downright shitty, fishing has just been what it is: out on the water with good folks and bugs hatching while trout rise on the edges, waiting for the right cast and the right mend and all that other stuff that makes fly fishing.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaI’ve personally been all over the place the last few weeks.  One day I’m roaring down Rock Creek looking for sweepers, then a long muddy journey home and pack it up to get my ass over to the Big Hole to meet clients at 8:00 am at the Wise River Club.  Five straight on that river and pack it up to get back to the Bitterroot to meet a client at 8:00 am who I’ve only spoke with on email because we’re both out of cell service.  The life of the Montana fishing guide.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaThis is one hell of a life, though.  Through all the headaches, backaches, long days, and perpetual poverty, us guides are a lucky bunch.  We get to experience this life and this environment to the fullest potential available.  Driving over Lost Trail pass at 6:00 am yesterday morning, I watched a sunrise that could take your breath away.  Moments later I’m dropping down the Big Hole glassing velvet antlered bull elk grazing in the Trail Creek meadows.  Popping out past the Battlefield, antelope line the fences while the Beaverheads rise to my south and the wild Pintlars rise to my north, deep green and shadowed in the early light.  This right here is what I’m talking about.  This is it.  Rolling into some unknown with someone I’ve never met to take them on an adventure of a lifetime floating and fishing on another wild Montana river.  I’ll do my best to teach them what I can and show them a great day on the water but in the end, it isn’t about me or the fish we catch or the lunch and all that other bullshit, it is about this wild place a few of us are lucky enough to be a part of.  This is why we guide.

Good Bitterroot Fly Fishing

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaOver eight miles of water and not another soul in the boat ramp.  This is definitely how I like to start a guide trip no matter what the river.  You’ve gotta love this time of year around here: while the crowds chase salmon fly dreams on Rock Creek and tour over the hill to the Big Hole looking for the big browns, our sweet  Bitterroot river teams with healthy fish with hardly anyone bothering to throw them a bug.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaSo we just figured we’d brighten their day and give them some company.  What a fine day out there with the whole thing to ourselves.  From the moment we set out to the time we rounded the last bend, the fish cooperated wonderfully with whatever rig was in the water.  Buggers and nymphs mainly, and we even stumbled into a little early salmon fly dry action. For the second time this year I’ve witnessed adult salmon bugs well below the upper forks, and this time the fish were eating them in select spots.  Always keep a heads up for those pockets of activity instead of just bobbering right on your merry way and not even seeing whats going on: protected river bends, back channels, and log jammy areas can have their own little micro hatches going on among the high water. Actually, I take all that BS back, just keep your eyes on the pink orb and nevermind that slough mouth we’re watching closely.