Here we are finally getting well into August. The Bitterroot River has come down considerably and is at near normal flows for the most part. Unfortunately our wet spring turned into a very dry summer, but thankfully we had enough money in the bank, i.e. snowpack, to hold out pretty well thus far.
With all of the vegetation that grew this season we have an absolute mega plethora of grasshoppers near the riverbanks. Everywhere I walk in higher grass is covered with the little buggers shooting off every direction clacking their wings. Well, guess what, that gets some serious fish looking for a size 6 bug skated across their lairs.
Hopper fishing is exciting to say the least. Our anglers have lots of opportunities at fish, and also opportunities at very big fish like the ones pictured. Grasshoppers provide a large food source when really not a whole lot of other bugs are hatching on the river at this time. We are able to fish heavy lines and move the bug erratically to draw up big strikes. Twitch that bug and hold on…
What are year it has been and continues to be! August has come around and we are seeing just as good fishing now as we did back in June, if not better. This is often very rare for us as by this time of year our water temps are hot, the fish are condensed tightly in the runs, and we are seeing tougher and tougher fishing conditions. Not this year.
2018 has been solid as can be as far as the river health and our fishing goes. We have had hardly any hiccup, none really, with the late season coming upon us. Though our mayfly and caddis fly hatches are minimal now, we are seeing the elusive nocturnal stones emerge as well as the start of our hopper days. We are able to run the entirety of the Bitterroot River system, rather than being confined to the upper reaches due to high water temperatures. What a joy to be able to tour down stream and see no one for several days in a row, searching out wild rainbows and the occasional big cutthroat trout living deep in the lower reaches!
This is been one of the better Julys that I have had the pleasure of guiding on Montana’s Rivers over the years. With a ton of water coming off the mountains, the river has held up wonderfully and fishing has been excellent from top to bottom on the Bitterroot river system. Big water does affect the bugs in weird ways where the hatches are actually not that prolific, though.
When you have a large amount of water coming down the drainage coupled with cooler temperatures, you will see a smattering of many different bugs hatching. On the contrary, low-water years with warmer temperatures will expose more bugs and one will see explosive hatches. The downfall of the low-water is that the hatch will run out of biomass quickly and be short-lived. Big water years you will see the hatches spread out over a longer period of time allowing you to fish a multitude of bugs with all the varied hatches going on at one time. Give any veteran river guide a choice, and I will take the big water hsnds down every time.
It has been a hang on to your seat type of June already. The enormous snowpack has finally started to cut loose and has really made things interesting on the Bitterroot and Big Hole rivers. We are still finding good clear water, but there are some days we are running very high up the system to find it. Our flows are double the norm which has made for interesting days floating long stretches, sometimes 20 miles or more. By covering more water we are able to search out enough holding areas to make a good day for our anglers. Sometimes a fantastic day.
The big water has definitely got the fish feeding hard. Contrary to some beliefs, big water is very healthy for trout. When the water is murky and fishing seems impossible, when you do actually catch a fish he is absolutely stuffed full like a little football. It’s just a matter of there is so much food in the water and low visibility that your bugs often have a little chance of finding the mouth of a trout. That’s where we come in.
This season’s salmon fly hatch has been disappointing honestly. With the high flows often surging week to week, the salmon bugs are having a tough time finding the right conditions to hatch. We’ve seen plenty here in there and had occasionally explosive days of dry fly fishing. But just like Skwala time, the river has been unpredictable and salmon flies really don’t like that. They like a gradually falling river with nice sunny temperatures to heat them up and promote their hatching. Not this year unfortunately for the little buggers.
Tough weather has pretty much come day after day, but we are still having a great time out there salmon flies be damned. Running a variety of tactics and different bugs under the surface we are finding lots of good healthy fish ready to eat the fly. Sometimes you have to take them how you can get them, and big hungry trout are always on my list of things any way I have to do it.
Get ready everyone. This year is going to be for real in the Bitterroot Valley and Southwest Montana. I have not seen the snowpack this thick in all my years in Montana. Granted, I’ve only been hanging around here for 20 years, but this one is impressive. With snow continuing in the high elevations and cold miserable weather the norm, this pack is hanging on late into the year with full force.
We have already seen a few releases from the occasional warm weather spell to give us an idea of how much is up there. When the sweet weather hits for real, especially if the rain accompanies it, these rivers are going to fill their banks like never before. With all that said, we are pretty stoked to see such an excellent snow pack in the Bitterroot. Big water means long lasting cold river temperatures and lots of food in the river. Trout will fill themselves and have a good healthy year as long as our temperatures can hold up throughout the summer. The river will be scoured clean, channels will change, and logs and even boulders will shift all about the river creating new habitat. Be heads up everyone as this is going to be a doozy. Let’s have fun out there, bust out the big rods, and get to cranking on those oars.
This year’s Skwala hatch has been extraordinary at times, and downright hectic at others with rising river flows and cold temps. We have pulled it off every day that we’ve been out, but we are often resorting to nymphing while waiting on a patch of good weather and crossing our fingers for a decent hatch. Just when everything settles down and we start to see some consistency in our fishing, the damn river spikes and we are left twiddling our thumbs waiting for it to stabilize.
All complaints aside fishing has been very good. We try to approach the river as an angler, not taking anything for granted and not expecting it to be the same day after day. With lots of experience, knowing the runs that hold fish and where to find them, one can search them out using all methods of fly fishing to have a successful day out there. Maybe we’ll get to throw that dry fly all day. Maybe it will just look pretty on the side of the boat while we’re catching good fish underneath in the bigger flows.
I’m not sure how many years we’ve fished together, but these guys are some of my very favorites year after year. Easy going, great fishermen and casters, and tough as nails when the weather gets nasty; traits every fishing guide appreciates in a client. Craig and Lyle show up every fall to the Bitterroot, sometime between late September and October, and they bring their A games every year.
Mahoganies and Hecubas are the bug of choice right now, especially with our weather turning cold and wet on the Bitterroot river. Mornings can see a handful of Pseudos, but the real action is later in the day when the bigger mayflies start to pop. Some days are just too damn nasty to get any real hatch coming off, so a slowly retrieved bugger will do the trick, waiting for that heavy pull as the bug comes cross current back to the boat. Being a versatile angler has it paybacks, not afraid to throw some junk when you realize that elegant dry fly just ain’t gonna cut it today.
The heat is cranking up in the valley for midsummer, it’s great to spend days on the cool river, catching shade up high on the river system from the towering pines and firs. Cottonwood takes over near Darby, mixed with large ponderosa pines that provide good shade and fish refuge to the main river. We’re starting to get out earlier and earlier to beat the heat, and finding good fishing to boot. Upriver we can take our time a bit more as that water is so cold it takes a while for the bugs and trout to get active, even on the hottest days.
Well the bugs have popped pretty early this year, even though the water is ripping along pretty good. I was kinda hoping they’d hold out a bit longer until water levels dropped, but smoke em when you got em, eh? I just came from Rock Creek and not much is happening over there except for high speed hang on for your life runoff, so the Bitterroot is a welcome sight with the upper portion dam controlled. The boat traffic can get a bit hectic during the salmon fly hatch, but what river doesn’t get busy when the bugs are in?
Running different stretches of the Bitterroot, we can find solitude even in the busiest of times. Good guides instructing our anglers in proper techniques gets the job done on any water, any river. Knowing entomology and how it relates to different parts of a river system can greatly improve your success rate behind the fly rod. When salmon bugs are popping way upstream, other insects are starting to crank up downstream, long away from the rolling whitewater and canyons that house the famous stonefly. Drakes and goldens can fill the void of salmonflies and provide just as good fishing, and on a water type slower and easier going. Catch them where you find them, don’t be afraid to search around in places you wouldn’t first guess.
These are perfect days, they won’t last forever as the summer is coming and runoff could come any moment. Embrace them as they come; the fields are turning green in the valley, mountains white and loaded with the water we hope to get all through the summer, the tree buds waiting to pop. Fishing is good to grand some days, this was one of them shared with good companions on a perfect weather day. May it last forever….