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!
The easy days of pre-runoff are long gone, and with them go the predictable water flows and insect cycles we’ve grown accustomed to. March Browns and Skwalas are still hatching every day, but that sure doesn’t mean anyone with fins is actually looking at them. When the water starts to spike in the spring, things can get a bit dicey out there on the river. Bugs will still hatch for the most part if the weather is conducive, but the added river flows charging down the valley keep the fish busy finding new homes and lies, virtually eliminating any rising activity until things stabilize.
Now is when your fishing guide is worth their weight in gold. Those easy single dry fly days are history, and plugging along with such rig will lead to a long beautiful day making casts, but that’s about it. With our feet in the river daily, a good guide can make a tough river fish spectacular with the right setup and instruction. What may look like a turbulent, flooded river basin to many, is actually an oasis to the fish, filled with food and hiding spots not usually available at lower flows. Big trout move to feed in this kind of water, coming out of their deep winter holes to lie in ambush positions throughout the river. Gravel bars littered with tree stumps become flooded and then attract fish to their refuge, more than doubling the available hideouts throughout the basin.
So some days you have to say screw the dry fly, at least until things really get cooking, and bust out the junk. Being a good fly fishermen means dealing with adversity and finding success whenever and wherever you may find yourself. If the dry and the five weight ain’t gonna do it, bump up to the six and the bobber, or grab the seven and the biggest ugliest thing in your box and start ripping casts. One way or another we’ll figure them out, and we’re having a blast in the process.
I’d have to say it’s here full swing, or at least enough to have some great consistent fishing throughout the main part of the day. Skwalas were hatching well a couple days ago, with just a few Baetis and possibly a March Brown or two on our float trip. Lots and lots of skwala nymphs are staged near the shoreline ready to pop. We started early enough in the day things were quiet, and a simple nymph rig brought up lots of mighty whiteys for the little guy in the front, while Dad threw a dry and found a couple willing fish.
After a great morning and river bank lunch, we set out full dry fly for the remainder of our long float. Quite a few fish rose to our bugs, the little guy putting the wood to ’em and Dad missing most, but having a great time and seeing lots of great eats. Most water with the right habitat for trout was holding a willing fish, and some banks several. Eventually the window closes for the day, and as evening approaches the fish settle down and the bite turns off. Time to head for the corral after a fine day.
Here we go again, the start of another Montana fishing season, and as always, the Bitterroot River Skwala hatch is on the forefront. While most of Montana is covered in ice and snow, and many rivers are still locked up in a winter pattern, our Bitterroot is wide open with bugs starting to pop along the gravel bars and riverbanks. Skwala and Nemora stoneflies are the first of the real bugs to get cranking on our rivers, not counting the midges that peel off on most nice winter days, and they bring up trout to the surface even on a snow squalled March afternoon.
We are still very early in the hatch, as I’ve seen only a few Nemora adults and less Skwala adults yet, though the fish are definitely looking up for a bug during the right window of the day. Nymphs and droppers off dries play well during the early part of the day, and a decent dry fly bite has occurred right around noon til four on the right days. As our weather improves with spring, which who knows when that will actually happen, we will see a greater emergence of stoneflies and eventually start to see some March Brown mayflies. This is when things really fish well around here. So give it a couple weeks and bit o’ sunshine, and get in touch with us for a little early season topwater before it’s too late, runoff is just around the corner and that dry fly window will shut down until June.
Our days are short and the night are getting longer. Rifle season for elk and deer is in full swing, and the winter snowpack is forming in the high country and slowly migrating down into the valleys. Our guide season is in its final throes, those rugged souls who fish with us well into October and brave the unknown conditions. The Bitterroot will fish as long into the season as one is willing, provided you are prepared for cold conditions and short windows of opportunity on the surface. When you do find them feeding, though, it can be an amazing experience: alone on a Montana trout river and fish like these spread out rising river-wide. See you next season.