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.
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.
Just 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.
Fishing 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.
Our 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.
After 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.
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.
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.
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.
A 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.
The 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.
Recently, 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.
For 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.
I’ve never been to the Rangers AC in Milltown, New Jersey, but if they have remotely as much fun at their club as they have on the river, sign me up. These fine gents have fished with Bitterroot River Guides for many years now, bringing different faces and personalities but one remains the same, Musty. And Ernie, can’t forget him. Big Musty anchors these guys into some semblance of order; arranging the guiding, hotels, and travel plans. I think some of them would still be sitting in the Sawmill bar in Darby without him.
Fishing-wise this was a banner year with the Rangers. We spent three days on the Bitterroot searching out the finest water our river has to offer right now, as well as teaching these guys some new techniques for sticking big fish. Versatile fishermen, our NJ crew got the job done every day of the trip, whether we were way up the West Fork or down on the lower main river. Water levels are still up and cruising along, making for tricky casts and quick mending, but the big flows also keep the big trout moving around the system and feeding heavily.
Taking time to enjoy the finer points of a Montana summer on the river, our crew grilled out every day for lunch to slow the pace of things and sip a few cold ones. Cocktail hour starts early with these guys, and their fishing actually improves considerably throughout the day: we’re dealing with professionals here! But alas, three days go by too quickly, and we’ve already said our goodbyes. Musty and the gang have moved on to the Madison river, and then on to the mecca of Craig on the big Missouri for a few more days. I hope they stick some great fish on the rest of their journey, and until next time Chris and I will miss the onslaught of the Rangers AC in Montana.
There is some great fishing on the Bitterroot River right now. We’ve been latching into solid cutthroats and a few browns here and there, with the fish still stacked from their Salmon fly binge of the previous month. Drys have been working right out of the gate, with other methods of fly fishing also working just fine, that is if you want to stare at a bobber all day. No thanks. I actually haven’t put a bobber on the line in weeks, keeping with simple one fly riggings that are simple to cast and very effective. Find the right bug, find the right spots on the river, and there are hungry trout ready to be caught!
Last blog I wrote preceded our actual fishing, so I figured I’d wrap up our three day trip with Jack and the guys with one last post. As anticipated, we saw some pretty amazing fishing out there on the Bitterroot river. With Salmonflies still in the picture, our hookups were many and hard pulling, the fish stuffed from the big bugs and at least 20 percent heavier than normal. Soon enough the dry bite came around and we enjoyed consistent action on top for most of the day.
We topped it all off with some fine burger grilling at lunchtime and apple pie and ice cream we managed to keep frozen deep in our coolers. So, good fishing seems pretty much everywhere right now if you know what to look for. I’ll be guiding the Big Hole Monday through Saturday of this week looking for those buttery browns, so tight lines and stay tuned.
Maybe it’s a bit early to write this one, we still have one day left to guide this group, but we’ve had some pretty solid fishing in the two out of three days with these fine natured chaps. As the title of this blog goes, we’re chasing the big bugs on the Bitterroot and having great success at finding them. Our first day found us way up the river system, looking for smaller fast flowing water that is so conducive for salmon flies.
Trying a few anticipated patterns for the day, we laid into quite a few trout right off the bat, letting us know our bug choices were right on the money. No need to change a sure thing, we stuck with pretty much one setup throughout the day and put the hammer down on many gluttonous fish, their bellies gorged from all the bugs they’re inhaling. There is nothing like fishing size four dries in heavy water with fish leaping to take the fly near the overhanging willows.
Today our group toured some lower water just to see what’s up out there and escape the salmon fly fever. Solid fishermen, these guys are versatile enough to make it work with a variety of rigs, which is what we needed today. With nothing really taking the top spot on rigging, we caught fish on dries, streamers, back drags, swings, and full on bobbered up. After exhausting every conceivable rig, my boat finally said to hell with it, and we dropped “riffle bombs”, Jack’s terminology for a heavy stonefly nymph and worm. And guess what, it worked like a charm!
Tomorrow is our last day with this great bunch of guys; hopefully we can show them some fine fishing. Our plans for the third day have altered a bit from the original: instead of heading even lower down the system, we’re thinking that first day up river maybe wasn’t such a bad idea after all. Not wanting to jinx the fish karma, we’ve settled on an original float a little in between the other two days’ floats, and with some fine casts and blood, sweat, and tears on the oars I think we’ll see some amazing fishing in the morning.
The time is a’coming around again: Salmonflies on the rivers and the fish are looking up! We’ve been dragging nymphs and buggers for an eternity it seems; Skwala season is long behind us along with the gentle stream flows that occur that time of year. The rivers are ripping along at a good spring clip and the water is perfect for the almighty giant of the summer’s bugs. Get ready folks, this could be one hell of a year out there for the Salmonfly!
This weekend found me on the Big Hole running a guided float with long time brethren: many years we’ve spent chasing brown trout together on that river. My troops fished very well, a bit out of control at times chucking one last shot in the willows, but hey, it’s that time of year and one must pay to play. Good casts and drifts brought up solid fish to the fly, not all day, but enough to keep us interested while the action ebbed and flowed throughout the float. Eventually the fishing got downright smoking hot, with big browns chomping hard in all the right spots. Make your cast and mend equals fish on!
Our second day of fishing took us intentionally far far away from the Salmon fly madness on the popular water. Day one was too good to try and replicate, so our group toured seldom fished haunts deep in the lower river valley. Always beautiful scenery but a roll of the dice on the fishing, we threw the book at ’em while taking in the solitude and challenge of the lower river. We found the right setup eventually, and continued to lay into a great day of fishing with the river all to ourselves. So here’s a big thanks to this group from Seattle: seven years now I’ve had the pleasure of guiding them through the Complete Fly Fisher in Wise River. See you next time fellas!