Tag Archives: bitterroot fly fishing guides

Fall Hecubas and Mahoganies

Hecuba and mahogany hatch bitterroot riverWhen 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.

Hecuba and mahogany hatch bitterroot riverThe 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.

Bitterroot River July

bitterroot river guidesRight 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.

first fishBug-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 Missouri

With all the running around the state this time of season, I always get the jitters when I’m scheduled for the Missouri River.  Never knowing what to expect, the Mo can be your best friend or your nemesis, depending which way the weather and conditions go.  Cool, cloudy, and calm, chances are we’re going to have a stellar trip hunting heads throughout the day.  Bright, high pressure, and breezy, who knows?

missouri river dry flyThis trip went off very well, even though the weather was not ideal.  My fishermen were long time friends that have fished many rivers in Montana with me, so we were able to get right to the point on this big river.  Right away Elliot set into a good fish with the boat ramp still below us, always a good sign from the gods.  Running the nymphs for the first half of the day, we hooked into a good many of the Missouri’s finest rainbows.

missouri river dry flyWith the ice broken, my crew and I switched almost entirely to dry flies for the next two days.  Certain banks were alive with rising trout, too random to target specifically, but if one put the right drift out front and left it the hell alone, these big bows would fall for it every time.  Sometimes it’s best to just get in the general area with the right offering, and let ‘er ride.  Even if you feel like you’ve passed the fish, just keep it riding high and cross your fingers, they’ll find it!

All About Montana

bitterroot 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.

Missouri river sunsetThe 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.

rock creek cuttFrom 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.

Dad and Lad

bitterroot river guidesSome 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.

bitterroot river guidesSo 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.

bitterroot river guidesBy 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!

Missouri River Baetis Hatch

Missouri river baetis hatchFinally the Missouri is back to her old self for the spring/summer season, meaning some real bugs are peeling off the river and creating some excellent fishing.  Not easy fishing, mind you, but excellent nonetheless if you are willing to put up with some serious weather and make that cast twenty more times before you get it perfect. Which is what Don and I did for three long, cold, windy, and rainsoaked days based out of Wolf Creek.

Missouri river baetis hatchFortunately on the Mo, when the weather goes to shit the bugs go nuts, which may be the only positive at times on that cruel river.  Eventually those big trout heads can’t resist ten million Baetis popping at once and start feeding on the surface somewhere, though the chop on the water makes finding them difficult.  With lots of flats, riffles, back eddies, and channels, finding these fish is a matter of searching that endless river for the areas that will produce today, and definitely not always the same lie from day to day.

Missouri river baetis hatchIn between spotting risers, the nymph game fished stellar at times for us.  Finding the right bug and setting depth and weight was crucial, but once we solved the riddle those big bows were ready and eager to eat.  Our final day was our best: good weather, only a couple hours of gale force wind, a damn good emergence of baetis and march browns, and heavy rising rainbows in a few riffles later in the day.  Find them and they’ll eat right now, on the first good drift.

 

Early Spring on the Mo

missouri river montanaIt’s been a long winter around here, it’s snowing now.  My mountain bike just got knocked over on the front porch by the latest snow squall that ripped through the valley, and now it’s sunny.  All in about twenty minutes.  I can see the next one brewing up Sawtooth and Roaring Lion canyons across the valley from my house.  It should be here in the next hour.  And so it goes, Montana in the spring.

missouri river montanaThe Missouri river is a place that will haunt your memories all winter long, and you might even get a whacky idea mid December or January to go freeze your ass off there and watch your guides ice up. You’ll catch fish, but freeze you will.  So once the bugs stir for the first time and the nights are no longer freezing deep, it’s time to go see what we can find on the big river.

missouri river montanaNymphs dominate the scene this time of year on the Mo.  Until the caddis and baetis get their groove on, really midges are the only thing happening on top, and unless it’s epic, you really will only see a couple random rises throughout the day.  Streamers have their moments, as well, and both fish I’m holding ate a conehead bugger  while ripping it across flats on a sink tipped number seven Loomis. I love the streamer game when it plays, and once a mile is considered playing by my standards.

missouri river montanaSo get with us on an early Mo trip, unless you are here chasing the Skwalas around on the Bitterroot with us.  The Mo offers the utmost challenge in fly fishing with rewards of rainbows in the trophy class. These fish are big and healthy and do not screw around once hooked: jumps, runs, and more runs until you can finally bring them to hand if you play them correctly.  Bring your ‘A’ game and get ready for one of the finest trout rivers in North America.

Early Bitterroot Skwala Hatch

bitterroot skwala hatchHere 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.

bitterroot skwala hatch 019We 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.

Bighorn River Annual

bighorn riverLate in a long Montana winter we start thinking about spring and the moment we can finally put the skis up for fly rods again.  Actually though, junkies such as ourselves never take the rods off the dash to begin with, except those damn speys don’t fit up there, or anywhere for that matter, as we swing for steelhead all winter.  So as late February turns to March and I’m already fielding Skwala Q and A’s, trout it is once again and away with the speys as our guide season approaches.

bighorn countryAs with the last two years we kicked it off with bang on the Bighorn River in south central Montana, famous for its high trout numbers and solid fishing.  Good friend Trent organized our crew of miscreants, setting us up in a sweet little ranch house just up from the Bighorn access this year, rather than the quadra-wide at Cottonwood Camp from last year.  Evening tunes, ribeyes, a few cribbage battles, and lots of laughs and BS greeted us every night we rolled off the river: great times!

bighorn countryWe fished three days on the Horn, covering every mile from Three Mile access down to Two Leggins, nearly thirty miles of river.  Day one is the let’s not get our asses kicked and go where we know it’s good day, so Three Mile to Bighorn was the play.  It’s a lovely sight to see only a few boat trailers in the 3 mile lot at 9am, and we essentially had that section to ourselves, plenty of water to go around.  Right away the fish were happy, rising steadily to a midge hatch rolling off and eating the dry fly quite well.  bighorn riverNothing big but what the hell, dry flies in February is music to anyone’s ears. Eventually G-gnat dries gave way to sow bugs and san juans on the bobber, and we found fish in all the right places.  The streamer game played well in the morning and decent throughout the day, but often after watching fly rod rookie Dan put on a nymphing clinic up front with Chris rowing him, I switched out to the orange orb as well to get in on the action.  Lots and lots of fish in this river if one knows where to look and what they like eat!

bighorn countryDay two, different story.  Bighorn down to Mallards is another beast altogether with water types a little flatter than the upper glory water and not as many definite fish holding runs.  We found enough fish to occupy us in beteween our water thrashing, searching for the thousands of fish you know live in that river, but definitely got spoiled on day one finding fish everywhere.  But that’s what you get for a bright and beautiful almost 60 degree bluebird day in February, your ass kicked.  Dan even got to bust out the sparkle shirt.  Funny how it works that way with fishing.  Pray for the worst possible stuff you can handle, minus the lightning.

bighorn countryWe definitely got the weather on Day three, dark low clouds rolling into the area and rain predicted, so our group split up on river sections.  Not wanting a repeat of yesterday, one boat went back to the holy waters up top, and I don’t blame them a bit, and the rest of us went Lewis and Clarking down to Two Leggins from Mallards. Armed with streamer rods and plenty of provisions, mostly beer, we set out hopeful with the good cloud cover and dark skies.  And we were rewarded for our gamble right away, hooking up in the first couple of runs on good sized fish.  As the day progressed, the bite got better with fish absolutely crushing our bugs.  I had one fish Jackie Chan my streamer, coming a foot out of the water in a brown trout kung fu move, then come back to eat it hard on the return cast and hooking up.  Nothing like a good streamer brown trout attack!

bighorn countryRemember that part about pray for the worst possible stuff you can handle?  I forgot to mention it gets a bit windy sometimes on the Horn.  As all good things must come to an end, our perfect fishing weather finally did as well, changing from a gentle breeze down river to a howling gale coming upstream in our faces.  Thankfully we had a smoking good day with lots of good fish, so we knew we deserved some penance for our glories, plus we kinda knew where we were in the float, nearing the takeout.  Gotta take those lumps out there every now and again.  Hoods up and sterns downstream we battled it out til we finally arrived at the ramp with light to spare.

bighorn countryAfter one last night of cocktails and camaraderie, our group packed up and said goodbye to each other and Bighorn country.  New and old friendships were kindled on this trip, as many of us were strangers to one another three days ago.  Half of our group headed for the hills from whence they came, while the other half decided to squeeze in a quick run on the Yellowstone on the way back.  If your gonna drive over a hundred miles paralleling world famous trout water on the interstate, salivating on the steering wheel and swerving with the fish eyes going on, might as well check it out, eh? And yeah, it was good!  I’ll keep that story to myself, no kiss and tell on freestones!  Hope to see all of you again next time.  JFbighorn country

 

Wrapping it up

bitterroot river fallOur 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.