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.
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.
After months running the big main rivers like the Bitterroot, Big Hole, and the Mo, I’ve been itching to get out into the great wild country of Montana’s national forests and wildernesses to get back to the simple parts of life. With a few days off from guiding, the wife and I loaded up the camper and the kid and off we flew to find some solitude and scenery. The good thing about this state is one never has to look too far to find an untrampled view and clean mountain air.
Being someone else’s secret spot, I won’t disclose our fishing location, but really spots like this are frequent in this country. Take the pavement until it turns to gravel, then another ten or so miles of bumps and washboards, and pretty soon you are fast approaching the base of some killer country wherever you are in Montana. Another bit of sweating up the trail and that’s all it takes to be on some prime fishing with the place all to yourself, not to mention the huckleberry bushes loaded to the gills everywhere you look.
So after a few days of gritting it out in our 22″ camper, sounds rough eh?, we were tickled to pull back into civilization and grab a burger and beer at the first place we passed. Another few hours and the family and I arrived home with an entirely new look on life, happy to have the little things like showers and cell service: OK maybe not the cell service, but it does have its strong points. So if you’re tired of seeing the same old stretch of river day after day, just lace up those beat up Vasques and hit the mountains for your own personal trout stream.
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.
Big water is all around Southwestern Montana at the moment, especially the Bitterroot. Until things settle down a bit, why not still enjoy the river in a safe and leisurely fashion with a beautiful Bitterroot scenic float? This scenic trip, though, had me a bit on edge since the Root was actually a foot above flood stage at 9000 CFS; did I mention that?
Well, after thoroughly informing my floaters what was happening out there, they decided what the hell, let’s do this! I am an expert oarsman, but not an idiot, so my faithful guide Chris and I hauled the boat up to Hannon and set out to scout the rampaging river for the next fifteen miles. What we saw out there was one of the coolest experiences I’ve witnessed: the river could have floated a battleship out there, let alone my little 13 foot NRS. We found we could go anywhere in the entire river bottom: islands, cottonwood stands, people’s back yards!
Our scenic scout and float the next day were a huge success. With life vests fully adorned and safety first in my mind, we ran 23 miles of the Bitterroot in about four or five hours. Boulders could be heard tumbling and clunking underneath the boat in the torrent, while my eyes scouted miles ahead for trouble in the form of downed timber and strainers. I don’t recommend the common leisure boater pull this kind of float, but I do trust my abilities and that of my crew to safely navigate our waters and enjoy the resource in all stages of the season.