The river is on the fluctuations of a big spring, up one day and then dropping after a few cold nights. We’ve been at it through snow and rain, wind and shine, finding pretty good fishing through it all. Adversity is definitely the name of the game; lots of rigs, lots of poking around checking all the holds. Every type of fly rig has its time to play throughout the day: streamers for a few runs, then fish a dry through the riffles and slough mouths.
Any spotted fish is catchable right now, and right about two o’clock the March Brown mayflies have been peeling off, bringing quite a few fish out to feed. Throughout the upper Bitterroot, we’ve found many sneaky little spots that have steady rising fish, but you have to search closely and fish a ton of water to find them. Once you do, bingo. We have plenty of equally sneaky hand tied patterns in Skwala and mayfly that work excellent, with fish moving hard to the fly and eating them fool hearty.
The river’s up and showing the signs of what 170% of snowpack looks like around here: the usual lazy runs and obvious holes are cooking along with at least double last years flows, making for tricky fishing and oaring to get the job done. Two days of guiding recently put us hard at it, searching the inside turns and back eddies for soft water, looking for risers in protected channels. With the first good March Brown hatch I’ve witnessed this year on the Bitterroot, we finally found fish consistently rising in back channels and mellow inside corners on the local hatch. With Skwalas and Nemouras popping at the same time period, mid afternoon, some areas fished pretty hot on the dry, whichever we fished. When the dries died out and the rain started falling, we made her play as best as possible. Big stonefly nymphs on a deep drop proved the most reliable bobber setup. Many miles of river were just too fast to get a decent drift, but with some good casting and elbow grease at the oars, there were plenty of hungry fish to feed if you know what to look for.
Chasing the goat, as we like to refer to it. Or more accurately, a plan that has turned futile that once held so much promise. Kinda like our plan to nail a bunch of big fish on the lower Bitterroot Saturday, April 13 on streamers, until our gorgeous morning turned into a northern winter blitzkrieg around mid afternoon. With easily forty mile per hour sustained gales, we rowed due north right into the punishment for hours on this long stretch of river. The fishing pretty much sucked, between the wind and the bumped up river flows, we caught few fish, and my boat was even handed a royal skunking. Always optimistic, it was a good workout for when the river really gets big, and will make those marginal dry fly days seem outstanding compared to that crap. We hustled it back to Blacksmith Brewing in Stevensville, a beacon of light, and toasted Cutthroat IPAs to another day of chasing the goat.
Time’s a’come and gone for the early, easy water on the Bitterroot, and pretty much most of Montana for that matter. We’ve seen our fair share of bugs and had some smokin’ days on dries out there, but the big snowpack we’ve accumulated this winter is starting to roll off the mountains like we knew it eventually would. The weather is cooling off which will lock up the flows, and also produced one hell of a Baetis hatch today from Stevi to Florence, and clean this river up to start fishing stellar again.