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….
This season looks as good as 2011, as far as snowpack in the high country, and cool temperatures keeping it locked up and the river flows stable. Big and stable. Friends are still skiing and will be for some time to come, while our Bitterroot river is alive and fishing well on our first hatches of the season. Skwala stoneflies are hatching routine now, and the first of the March Browns are here and building every day.
The river is gonna be big this year, same with the Big Hole which feeds from the same mountain ranges as our river. Its been double historical flows for the last month, and a long winter with never ending shitty days and cold temps have kept any signs of runoff at bay. The river and the bugs are happy despite the fickle days, and afternoons produce excellent dry fly fishing for a few hours or better on the pleasant days.
We have a couple weeks of predictable fishing, maybe more, until that big snowpack starts to let loose, and then we’ll see how this year’s runoff shapes out. Right now the valley is just waking up, no leaves yet, deep white mountains overhead, brilliant sunshine followed by a snow squall every thirty minutes or so, and great early season fishing: it feels like a perfect Montana spring.
When the skies look like this in September, best get the trailer hitched up and get downriver, quicklike! Dark heavy days are the catalyst for exceptional mayfly emergences, and this time of year the Hecubas and Mahoganies are ready to pop, just give them a good reason. We still have Tricos in the morning, though they could be some other little TMF, and they provide interesting target fishing first thing.
The real deal comes later. Midday when things warm up and if the weather isn’t too crappy, which sometimes can happen, the holy grail of mayflies may bless you with their presence. On some days, which we witnessed once in a five day trip, the river went absolutely bat shit crazy with bugs, followed by the fish. I made sure we were in some serious big fish water around the witching hour, and suddenly twenty to thirty pigs started slurping mayflies right before our eyes, slashing hard at the big duns. Soon enough, it is all over and the river fades back to calm, time to row out.
We’re starting to see the signs of Fall here in the Bitterroot Valley, thank God! It’s been an interesting summer, teetering on the edge of fire danger but dodging the bullet every time. Roaring Lion blew up last month while we were floating the Wally Crawford section right adjacent. Seeing a small plume of smoke, my front angler turned and asked “is that a fire?” I said I hope not, and within 45 minutes all hell broke loose. You can read about the rest of it from the real journalists, I’m just a fishing guide.
So fishing is pretty damn good in the mornings on tricos and the occasional big whack on a searching pattern. On the cooler mornings we are having, we’re getting back to normal fishing hours, without having to be on the water pre-7am and can show up at a gentlemanly 8-9. Traffic is low where we’ve been fishing, preferring the down river stretches this time of year to the upper canyon.
Right smack dab in the heart of the season is when the Bitterroot River sees it’s most consistent days, weather wise. Ha. Fishing is great when and where you can find it, and playing the traffic game can really help this time of year. I like to get out very early right now to avoid the crowds, relative term of course here in Montana, and get a move on the day before things heat up too much. Fortunately, the weather has been very cooperative this summer, with plenty of moisture when we need it most and bearable temperatures.
Bug-wise any little dry fly will do the trick right now, and later in the afternoons we are seeing some crushing takes on hoppers and big uglies. Some days the fishing can get slow, especially if several boats are in front of us pounding away at the water. This is when I will switch tactics, and simply fish an outfit that they are not. On most Montana rivers, this can be one hell of a good play, and the added traffic pressure forces you to fish a rig outside the usual box. Streamers midday in low water? Hell yes! At least give it a roll and you never know, you may find the best fishing on the river.
Mid summer is upon us, and on us quickly. Just when I’m getting the hang of rainy days and 2x to my dry flies, the reality of late June and early July is here and it’s back to smaller bugs, shorter floats, and hot afternoons. Fishing is holding up swell, as we’ve been having stellar days out there regardless of the Salmonfly hangover and a few 90 degree afternoons.
The last few weeks have been a blur as we guide throughout the state, covering hundreds of miles in just a few days then off to the next river and a new adventure. We’ve run the Big Hole Tuesday and Wednesday then it’s off to Wolf Creek and the mighty Mo that night to guide Thursday morning. Pick up the drift boat and roll down to the bridge to see what we can stir up, praying for a calm day. Saturday eve the tent comes down, the Adipose goes home, and the big Yeti is hauled back in the rig, a quick stop at Trixi’s in Ovando for a burger and beer, then finally home for a real night’s sleep. Kinda. Because we have another one brewing up the next morning….And so it goes.
From our local Bitterroot, to Rock Creek and beyond, it’s already been a wonderful summer of chasing sunsets and rising trout. Fishing is good anywhere you go if you know how to play your cards, all you can do is give it a whirl and see how she goes. Every river has a different character: some kind and gentle like the Bitterroot, some downright menacing at times like the Missouri. All are absolute gems, and we are lucky to live in a place like Montana that has such abundance.
Some of our favorite trips are with father/son groups, helping both Dad and Lad to hone their fly fishing skills, and giving Dad a much needed rest at coaching the youngster. We’ve got this! Youngsters respond well to patient guiding, listening with full attention to the lessons we teach. With a clean slate to work on, good guidance will stick like glue to an interested lad, as long as the lessons are simple and straightforward.
So off on another ten mile float of the Bitterroot, I started these two in excellent water, albeit very quick with the spring thaws. I worked quickly and efficiently with the youngster, keeping the lessons useful and to the point. Being avid fishermen in the Northeast already, both Dad and son picked up our Montana style quickly, putting those lessons to work immediately on the river.
By midday, we were a well oiled machine, making great casts and drifts to many hungry trout, and with proper fish fighting techniques many strong fish came to our net. By our day’s end, both my fishermen had experienced nymph fishing, dry fly, and even a good amount of streamer chucking, catching fish on almost every discipline of river fly fishing. These are lessons which will stick, as these techniques are applicable across many types of fly fishing situations, regardless if it’s Montana or Vermont. Thanks to those Dads out there for bringing those wee lads into our boats and letting us plant the seeds to our future fly fishermen!