While the Bitterroot River is up and pretty much unfishable, we took a drive over Lost Trail Pass to search out some fishy water on the upper Big Hole. Unlike many freestone rivers, when the Big Hole is up it remains quite fishable on its upper reaches. With meadows and rolling pine hills surrounding the river for the upper forty miles or so, the runoff comes peacefully down the drainage until the eventual canyons at Wise River and Divide.
Pulling up early in the morning after a dawn departure from the flooded Bitterroot, we were pretty stoked to see the river meandering along just like always. The tea colored waters had risen a foot in the last few days, but we only knew from looking at the USGS hydrograph as the change was almost imperceptible to the eye.
Buggers, streamers, and nymph rigs were the choice of the day; little dry fly activity was expected though March Browns hatched well in the afternoon, bringing up a few little risers. We found good consistent fishing from noon onward, almost entirely on nymphs. The streamer game just never played for us even though we gave it our best for the sixteen miles we floated. Some recent photos have us jonesing for a big brown, and I mean a big boy like the one our Hamilton High School principle just caught. Fish like this one will keep you coming back to the Big Hole.
The river has been looking great, even though the levels are up a bit from normal and we all know what is to come soon with the big snowpack. We ran a lower river float checking channels and different lies in the big water. Streamers did for nothing; we spent the early morning hours stripping, dredging, and mending our bugs for not. Towards early afternoon and the end of our float, we finally bobbered up and immedialtly hooked up. Well, shit. I guess we could have tried that about six hours earlier and our float could have been much more productive. We finished the last bit with the bobs and hooked or landed several more fish in the obvious lies. So until the warmth and the rain get to the river, keep a bobber close at hand.
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.
The 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.
Any 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.