All posts by jedfitzpatrick

Bitterroot River Skwala Hatch

bitterroot skwala hatch 003I figured we’re still early, and we are, but a mid morning phone call today sure led to some fine dry fly fishing on the home river.  Skwala: The Bitterroot’s Big Deal.  Which they really are, even if it brings a bit of pressure to our sleepy little river; get out there and throw a line and put your smile on.  The rest of the state is still dealing with winter, at least its departure, while the Bitterroot Valley is gorgeous and temperate as ever: snowcapped peaks protecting a low altitude, Pacific sided drainage.

bitterroot skwala hatch 2015So we slid the boat in around the crack of noon, or even one o’clock, to see if we could find a few fish looking up.  Sure enough, our second run drew a fine rainbow to the dry, then the next, and the next, and then they were sipping mayflies…. Pretty impressive to say the least.  The true Bitterroot Skwala hatch is still weeks away in my opinion, but the fish certainly know what’s coming.  I witnessed Baetis mayflies and midges today, but no mature adult Skwala moving about.

bitterroot skwala hatch 009So watch your weather for those good warm days in the near future, there should be some fine fishing to be had out there.  The weekend is looking beautiful, so I’d bet there will be plenty of other folks out there chasing the hatch.  My advice: take it easy, put in good ‘ol Bitterroot fashion around noonish, and fish the nice likely runs with medium speed and a wee bit of chop.  Look for your best fishing from two to four, and savor throwing a dry fly once again!

bitterroot skwala hatch 2015Our boats are spruced up, lines are greased, waders patched, and the coolers are packed!  Contact Jed or Chris if any of you are feeling the itch for a guided Skwala float.  We offer discounted rates for the early season, $350, and focus on the midday Skwala and mayfly hatches.  Our meet time is noon, earlier if we need to work out some winter kinks in the casting, and we fish until the day is wrapped up, usually around six o’clockish.  We’d love to have you out with us once again to start our 2015 Bitterroot fly fishing season; see you on the water.   JF #8392

Fly Fishing Idaho Steelhead

salmon river steelheadThis has been a great year for us on the Steelhead rivers of Idaho, namely the Salmon.  Just last season I could barely manage a bite on the swing, usually fishing too heavy and hanging up on every snag in the river.  Losing confidence, I’d waste valuable time switching from swing to nymphs, and back again ten minutes later, then switch bugs to the point l didn’t know what the hell to throw at them.

steelhead on the salmon riverFortunately that’s all behind us now, whether we catch fish or not that day, because we finally have this swing thing pretty dialed in.  Confidence, as with any fly fishing, is key.  Bug choice is easy now-I pretty much fish one pattern- as well as being set to the right depth, which really isn’t as deep as I previously thought.  Steelhead are predictable to a degree as to where they lie in the river, whether they bite or are even sitting there is the question.  So you pretty much have to fish your arm off covering water, and especially good water, which is the never ending quest.

steelhead salmon river idahoSo back to the river, our days start early and end late.  We have runs in mind that we want to fish, most of these we’ve caught steelhead in, but many others just look good, so we give them a swing.  Some of these runs are gargantuan, taking hours to cover, some are just little insides that have the look we want, and ten casts says it all.  I can’t count the miles of water that have held nothing, but eventually you figure out your favorites by simply covering every square inch of likely looking water.  Cast, step, cast, step, cast….tug!

Big Horn River Winter

pole danceCottonwood Camp here we come!  It’s been a long winter in the mountains of Montana, and those of us on the West side of the state have certainly seen our fair share of it.   With the first signs of the season’s thaw, a great crew of friends gather together on the Bighorn River in South Central Montana for our annual getaway.

bitterroot river guides on the bighornWe showed up on a Wednesday eve and planned to fish til Sunday morning, weather permitting.  Our temperatures were great the first two days, allowing for purple sequined sparkle shirts and big straw hats, and also providing easy fishing conditions.  The whole crew, seven of us total, found great fishing throughout the 3 to B stretch, even finding pods of trout rising to midges and scoring Crow beach all to ourselves for a two hour nymphathon.

DSum on the HornAs our trip drew down to the last couple days, the weather made a serious turn for the worse, with cold storms blowing in from the North.  Frozen guides were inevitable, stalling your casts every few minutes or so and forcing you to clean the ice off the entire length of the rod.  The fishing remained steady, so at least we stayed enthused through the punishment; and what the hell, we didn’t drive 400 miles to paint, as my brother John put it.

bighorn river in februaryOur last day about froze us out, but we hung in there.  Midday bonfires eased the 22 degree average we were putting up with; find your run, get a serious blaze on, and rotate between fishing and thawing.  As long as the fish kept taking our bugs we’d stay, knowing that the other alternative was to keep on chugging down the river into the bitter North, unprotected in the boats.  We finally beached at the Bighorn access one last time, and partied down one last evening at Cottonwood.  An early start sent us rolling back to western Montana, 400 miles to go and one degree Fahrenheit on the windshield.  Till next year my friends.bitterroot river guides on the bighorn bighorn river evening bighorn river three rivers run bighorn brown

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Swinging for Steelhead

winter steelheadThe clients are essentially gone for the year; snow has set in hard in the high country; the elk have bugled, mated, and survived the long hunting season; and us fishing guides are finally released into the wild once again to pursue the almighty of Salmonids, Steelhead.  We don’t guide Steelhead trips, though we’re sure starting to think hard about it, because I am licensed as a Montana Outfitter only, confining our commercial operations to this great state alone.  But lo, a mere two hours from Hamilton south over Lost Trail Pass, lies the longest run of Steelhead in the United States of ‘Merica on the Salmon River in Idaho.

salmon river idaho steelheadWith 900 miles to cover from the Pacific ocean to their upper spawning grounds in Stanley, these fish don’t really get into our stretch of water until November and even December.  You think a cool day in June can suck, just wait till you start wading hip deep for hours at a time in January water temps and the Salmon River fog icing your eyebrows.  Utter punishment at times.  But the tug is the drug, and at some point in that long swing of the line a fish grabs hold and it’s all worth it.

winter steelheadSo while winter grips the valley as we await another great trout season coming up in March, we guides are still packing fly rods on the dashboards and tackle bags close at hand.  A string of good weather will get us twitching, and not long after that a phone call sets the madness in motion: 5 am on the road.  Two hours and a hundred close calls with elk crossing highway 93, we’re back on the water with the excitement of a summer’s day of guiding…  Except now we have 9 weights, thirty plus inch fish, and we’re doing all the fishing!

Fall Days on the Missouri

The time has finally come to Montana: Fall.  River bottoms are full of color, elk are bugling in the mountains, and big browns are sipping Baetis and Pseudos on the Missouri.  The hot long days of summer are far behind us now, replaced by cool calm days and low angled sunlight.  No hurries this time of season; things are on a slower pace and the fishing is always good somewhere.  Especially the Mo.

Summer Wrap Up

It’s been a great fishing season with everyone who came to experience this slice of Western Montana.  Starting back in March chasing the Skwala hatch, to sniping big bows and browns on the Fall Baetis on the Missouri, starting anytime now, we’ve enjoyed the many friends and faces throwing a line from our rafts.  We hope to see you all again out there on the river, whether it is in a monsoon on the Big Hole in May, or on on of those perfect July bluebirds on the Bitterroot.  Enjoy the photos and see you next year.

west fork bitterroot cutthroat big hole river montana bitterroot rainstorm big hole brown trout bitterroot brown on streamers smith river boat camp west fork bitterroot cutthroat trout flathead river largemouth bass

Kansas comes to Montana

bitterroot cutthroatJust as September is rolling around and the fishing should really start picking up for Fall, a crew of great friends of mine from the flatlands of Kansas showed up here in the Bitterroot for a three day adventure.  With five fishermen in the group and three guides, we set out to give it our best on the main stem of the river for the first two days, then one final shot at the West Fork the last day.

bitterroot cutthroatFishing was tough on the main Bitterroot with high daytime temperatures and bright sun; great for a vacation, but weather like this takes a toll on the bite.  As evening approached, fish began actively rising, saving the day for us guides and giving us some targets to throw at as the day turned to dusk.  Pulling out at Otto’s Cabin where our group is staying right on the river, we anchor up for the night and leave the boats for an early start there in the morning.  For all of you looking for a perfectly situated, peaceful, and simple getaway look no farther than this little gem resting on the banks of the Bitterroot river.

bitterroot cutthroatOur final day of fish camp led us up the West Fork of the Bitterroot, looking for big cutthroats in the cold canyon waters coming off the mountain peaks.  This time of year water levels are down to a trickle, but there was still plenty to get the boats through and plenty of fish for our anglers.  Between stripped buggers and well fished grasshoppers, everybody found big trout to take the fly, making for the best fishing we saw over the three day span.  The West Fork can be like that, especially after a couple days of plugging away at the main stem and getting little returns.  Bring your A game and this river will reward you mucho.  Thanks to the Kansas boys for a great time with old pals on a Montana trout stream.

Team Meadowburke

Meadowburke fishing tripAfter many years of fishing Montana streams together, my main man Jan brought his crew of executives from his concrete accessories company to fish the Bitterroot River with us.  Team Meadowburke, as we’ll refer to them, was a four person group with lots of fishing experience, just not much in the way of fly fishing.  So, Chris and I had our work cut out for us assembling our troops and teaching as much fly fishing knowledge as we could cram in there in our short two day trip. Meadowburke fishing trip

Starting with casting instruction in the lawn for a couple hours, then shifting right onto the river, our guys quickly picked up the basics of fly fishing and proceeded to lay into quite a few nice trout out there.  What our anglers lacked in fly fishing experience, was made up by their general fishing abilities: once they were hooked into a trout, a lifetime of fighting fish on the salt helped them to bring em’ to the net quickly and efficiently.  Casting and drifting a fly can be a whole new experience to most folks, but good ol’ fish savvy comes from spending time on the water with a rod in hand, fly rod or otherwise. west fork bitterroot cutthroat

Montana weather, always on the sketchy side, didn’t let us down in the least.  Our days would start warm and sunny, but would quickly deteriorate into overcast skies and falling temps: trust your weatherman when he says thunderstorms are predicted.  Soon enough the rain jackets would come out as we prepared for whatever was coming down the pipe from the West, dark storm clouds and lightning flashes.  We took shelter wherever available, sometimes under the immense canopies of ponderosa pine trees, sometimes anchored under the nearest bridge until the deluge passed us. Chris Rockhold west fork bitterroot cutthroat

With all the weather ups and downs, the river fished downright awesome.  Drys and streamers played very well with fish chasing the bugs hard from rocky banks and inside seams.  Just after we’d get clobbered by one of the many storms rolling down the valley, the fishing would light up, helping us forget about the drip off our hats and our soggy jackets.

bitterroot cutthroatA big thanks to the Meadowburke crew for fishing with Bitterroot River Guides, we enjoyed a true Montana fishing experience out there.  Many big trout came to the nets, we suffered with the mountain weather, floated and fished over twenty miles of scenic river, and enjoyed good camaraderie and great times in the mountains.  See you next time.

Warm Water Fishing: Bass and Pike

Chris_Rockhold_photo_31-16Adventure is what we all really live for around here.  After you’ve thrown a million dry flies to hapless cuttys and river rainbows, it’s time to go check out some other fisheries that Montana provides.  These rivers get warm, eventually: somewhere down the system temps become too high for the trout, but perfect for smallmouth bass and pike.

loaded upWith two days and eighteen miles of enormous river, Chris and I had plenty of time and equipment to seriously check out this piece of water.  Two 9 weights, two sevens, four spinning rods and baitcasters combined, we were straight loaded to reek havoc on this river.  Sloughs right off the bat held pike and largemouth, while midriver structure supported smallie hangouts:  everywhere you fish is a different setup.

pikeSlipping into slackwater sloughs we hunt pike, hanging in the deep mossbeds; way trickier than you think on a fly rod but way worth the effort and the steel leader.  Largemouth hang on the edges in the tules and right up into the shoreline, killer fighters and a blast to cast big flashy articulateds to.  We fish late into the evening  as the bass get going well past dusk.

Chris_Rockhold_photo_31-4Miles upon miles we travel on this quest of ours, awed by the size of the river system down here and the variety of structure.  We figure out our location to the takeout, finally, and decide keeping a few smallies would be a good idea.  Last night we ate one on the weber grill we packed along, and it was clean and fresh like the fish I remember as a kid.  Loading up a stringer from just one hole of thirty or so fish cruising around, we stung enough bass to feed the masses and pulled anchor for home.

 

Another Great Year

sleeping childThe summer is in mid swing and our rivers are holding out big time this year for us.  Still way up above historical average on water flows, the Bitterroot continues to fish excellent even with our high temps during the midday times.

bitterrootRecently, I fished with a good friend for a three day adventure, chasing fish up and down the Bitterroot system.  From the West Fork up high to downstream right around Hamilton, we found lots of great fishing with dries, and really any other method of fly fishing for that matter.  Get that bug on the right drift and keep it there, they’ll find it.

out with the boysFor our last outing, we invited the boys to tag along and get their first taste of Montana fly fishing with Dad.  Great fishing, a major log jam portage, lunch on a sand bar, and a rendevous with the girls later in the day added up to a superb adventure on the river.  Thanks to the Jacobs family for another year of fishing and family in the Bitterroot Valley.  See you next year.