We’ve been throwing them for awhile already, but August officially brings in the Days of the Grasshopper. For as much as they are a nuisance in the garden and my yard, they are much appreciated on the river by the trout and our guides. As the day heats up the hoppers get to clacking around flying over gravel bars and grassy hillsides, with plenty of them ending up in the water and getting popped by fish. Big splashy strikes. Fish a good drift with the right bug and we’ll find plenty of fish.
The Bitterroot River is holding up strong, we have good cold water from the West Fork coming in, and it fishes well for us all the way down to the lower river. I checked out the Clark Fork recently and found a handful of that river’s big rainbows, all bombing a hopper style bug like a cherry bomb going off. We Missed a bunch for sure, the bite frightens you half the time!
Our rivers in SW Montana are starting to crank up quite a bit making for some fun and challenging fishing. Actually, the challenging aspect lies more on the guides’ shoulders as we row like hell to slow the boats down so our anglers can properly fish the sweet spots. The fishing is pretty straightforward: a variety of nymphs under a bobber will get the job done with the occasional dry fly opportunity in the right water.
Our water clarity on the Bitterroot has been remarkable this runoff season with clear fishable water throughout the rise. Cold spells have tamed the beast just before all hell breaks loose from warm weather, allowing us to run our float trips confident and successful for our anglers. And as I pointed out in my last post, other guides and fishermen are staying home waiting for the water to subside, giving us countless miles of river all to ourselves. Come and get after it with our veteran guides before the full swing of the season, and let us show you the fishing opportunities waiting for you here on the Bitterroot river.
Summers a’coming quickly and time for us guides to fish is counting down. Once our busy season hits full force there is no more time or extra energy for us to throw a line for ourselves. Chris and I were able to explore some untouched water on the Bitterroot with miles and miles of prime trout habitat to ourselves. Few others are fishing now, and even fewer guide companies are running trips. Not so at Bitterroot River Guides. We guide the full season, including this awkward stage of the season as the river begins to swell into its banks and runoff ensues. Searching far and wide, trout are feeding in the right places and are definitely targetable with the fly rod. Years of experience (35 commercial years between just Chris and myself) and expert guidance allow us to continue running trips while many may tell you that the river is “unfishable”. Layer up, don your warm hat and gloves, and let’s get after it!
With the prolonged winter season this year I was beginning to wonder if Skwalas would ever appear on the Bitterroot. Well, they’re here and hatching well, albeit about a month behind the normal schedule. Morning fishing is pretty slow, nonexistent some days, but our warmer afternoons are bringing out piles of bugs and the fish are happily looking up to eat a well drifted imitation. Streamers have they’re place as well if you are skilled with the bigger rods and the quick hand work that this style of fishing demands.
We’ve survived another winter! Well, almost. Our cold season has held on longer than I have seen in many years. Ice and snow drifts are still lining the banks of the Bitterroot River, and we haven’t seen any Skwala stones to speak of, but the trout are still right where they should be. Definitely not looking up for a dry fly, but there is lots of fun to be had under the surface on nymphs. The lower river is where it’s at right now, search out slower runs with proper depth and slight current and you will find the trout!
Here we are finally getting well into August. The Bitterroot River has come down considerably and is at near normal flows for the most part. Unfortunately our wet spring turned into a very dry summer, but thankfully we had enough money in the bank, i.e. snowpack, to hold out pretty well thus far.
With all of the vegetation that grew this season we have an absolute mega plethora of grasshoppers near the riverbanks. Everywhere I walk in higher grass is covered with the little buggers shooting off every direction clacking their wings. Well, guess what, that gets some serious fish looking for a size 6 bug skated across their lairs.
Hopper fishing is exciting to say the least. Our anglers have lots of opportunities at fish, and also opportunities at very big fish like the ones pictured. Grasshoppers provide a large food source when really not a whole lot of other bugs are hatching on the river at this time. We are able to fish heavy lines and move the bug erratically to draw up big strikes. Twitch that bug and hold on…
What are year it has been and continues to be! August has come around and we are seeing just as good fishing now as we did back in June, if not better. This is often very rare for us as by this time of year our water temps are hot, the fish are condensed tightly in the runs, and we are seeing tougher and tougher fishing conditions. Not this year.
2018 has been solid as can be as far as the river health and our fishing goes. We have had hardly any hiccup, none really, with the late season coming upon us. Though our mayfly and caddis fly hatches are minimal now, we are seeing the elusive nocturnal stones emerge as well as the start of our hopper days. We are able to run the entirety of the Bitterroot River system, rather than being confined to the upper reaches due to high water temperatures. What a joy to be able to tour down stream and see no one for several days in a row, searching out wild rainbows and the occasional big cutthroat trout living deep in the lower reaches!
This is been one of the better Julys that I have had the pleasure of guiding on Montana’s Rivers over the years. With a ton of water coming off the mountains, the river has held up wonderfully and fishing has been excellent from top to bottom on the Bitterroot river system. Big water does affect the bugs in weird ways where the hatches are actually not that prolific, though.
When you have a large amount of water coming down the drainage coupled with cooler temperatures, you will see a smattering of many different bugs hatching. On the contrary, low-water years with warmer temperatures will expose more bugs and one will see explosive hatches. The downfall of the low-water is that the hatch will run out of biomass quickly and be short-lived. Big water years you will see the hatches spread out over a longer period of time allowing you to fish a multitude of bugs with all the varied hatches going on at one time. Give any veteran river guide a choice, and I will take the big water hsnds down every time.
It has been a hang on to your seat type of June already. The enormous snowpack has finally started to cut loose and has really made things interesting on the Bitterroot and Big Hole rivers. We are still finding good clear water, but there are some days we are running very high up the system to find it. Our flows are double the norm which has made for interesting days floating long stretches, sometimes 20 miles or more. By covering more water we are able to search out enough holding areas to make a good day for our anglers. Sometimes a fantastic day.
The big water has definitely got the fish feeding hard. Contrary to some beliefs, big water is very healthy for trout. When the water is murky and fishing seems impossible, when you do actually catch a fish he is absolutely stuffed full like a little football. It’s just a matter of there is so much food in the water and low visibility that your bugs often have a little chance of finding the mouth of a trout. That’s where we come in.
This season’s salmon fly hatch has been disappointing honestly. With the high flows often surging week to week, the salmon bugs are having a tough time finding the right conditions to hatch. We’ve seen plenty here in there and had occasionally explosive days of dry fly fishing. But just like Skwala time, the river has been unpredictable and salmon flies really don’t like that. They like a gradually falling river with nice sunny temperatures to heat them up and promote their hatching. Not this year unfortunately for the little buggers.
Tough weather has pretty much come day after day, but we are still having a great time out there salmon flies be damned. Running a variety of tactics and different bugs under the surface we are finding lots of good healthy fish ready to eat the fly. Sometimes you have to take them how you can get them, and big hungry trout are always on my list of things any way I have to do it.
Get ready everyone. This year is going to be for real in the Bitterroot Valley and Southwest Montana. I have not seen the snowpack this thick in all my years in Montana. Granted, I’ve only been hanging around here for 20 years, but this one is impressive. With snow continuing in the high elevations and cold miserable weather the norm, this pack is hanging on late into the year with full force.
We have already seen a few releases from the occasional warm weather spell to give us an idea of how much is up there. When the sweet weather hits for real, especially if the rain accompanies it, these rivers are going to fill their banks like never before. With all that said, we are pretty stoked to see such an excellent snow pack in the Bitterroot. Big water means long lasting cold river temperatures and lots of food in the river. Trout will fill themselves and have a good healthy year as long as our temperatures can hold up throughout the summer. The river will be scoured clean, channels will change, and logs and even boulders will shift all about the river creating new habitat. Be heads up everyone as this is going to be a doozy. Let’s have fun out there, bust out the big rods, and get to cranking on those oars.