All posts by best6792

Owner and Outfitter of Sula Mountain Fly Fishing, world class guide service located in Hamilton, Montana. Sixteen years and counting as a fishing guide after graduating with a Biology degree from Kansas State University in 1998.

July on the Mo

Missouri RiverAs a Western Montana fishing guide, we all get the willies when we are  headed to the big river, the Mo.  We’re super stoked to get a chance at the big rainbows and killer dry fly possibilities, but we are also nervous as hell that we’re gonna get our asses kicked!  This river can be brutal sometimes, challenging everything you have to make good casts and see the fly, let alone landing the heavy duty fish the Mo puts out consistently.

Missouri RIver

Fortunately for Chris and I, our group of four were up to the task and the Missouri river smiled upon our efforts.  Caddis, PMDs, and a smattering of little mayflies peeled off the water from early morning to late evening, providing lots of visual targets for our fishermen. Many years guiding the Bitterroot and Big Hole with these guys, we wanted to show them what Montana dry fly fishing can really be like: huge rainbows sipping sub16 dries in shin deep riffles with finger burning runs after the set!

Missouri RIver

So thanks to our diligent fishermen and to the spirits of the mighty Missouri for giving us a great trip.  Everyone stuck a few great fish and held in there when the going got rough, something one must power through on every Missouri trip.  See you all next time!

Three Days on the Root

bitterroot river guidesA phone call this previous winter set this trip in motion: six guys from Texas coming to fish Montana with us, staying up the West Fork in a secluded vacation rental.  Chad, Chris and myself picked up the gang early the first morning to see what we’d gotten ourselves into.  Right from the start, these guys were a hell of a group to fish with: good humored, good friends, easy learners, and awed with our pristine mountain environs.  Sometimes us guides can take for granted the sheer beauty of our workplace, and groups like this remind us to look around and appreciate the scenes we’re floating.

bitterroot river guidesWith three days scheduled to fish the Bitterroot, we decided one day upstream on the West Fork, one day on the mainstem, and the third an audible depending on the previous two.  Day one took us deep down the upper canyons throwing mayflies and caddis bugs amongst the boulder gardens.  With fast water pockets and rapids throughout, the cool waters fished very well throughout the day. Our group learned how to adapt to the quick mountain water these trout live in, dialing in casts and mending like mad to draw fish to their dry flies.

bitterroot river guidesNext day we toured our group down to the main river.  After a day of ripping down the canyons, the main Bitterroot was a welcome sight with long smooth glides and easy fishing scenarios.  Put a good cast and mend out there and let ‘er go!  Long drifts equal big fish in the right spots.  With afternoon temps soaring over one hundred, we swam as much as we fished later in the day.  As Redfish fishermen, these Texans are accustomed to high temps and cooling off in the flats, so hourly dunks were the norm.

bitterroot river guidesAfter our third day up the West Fork again, our now dialed in fly fishermen took advantage of many opportunities they missed the first day.  With a couple days of guide beatings under their belts, many spots inaccessible became easy casts and a slam dunk fish on.  This is one of the huge advantages to multi-day trips, and a joy for us guides to witness, as our customers get better and better day after day, making for great fishing and easing our jobs each day.  So thanks to this group from Texas, you were a blast to guide and spend time with on the Bitterroot River, and we hope to see you in Montana once again someday.

Missouri River June

missouri river rainbow bitterroot river guidesAs hard as it is to peel yourself away from the Salmonfly craze of the mountain rivers, you are always glad you did when you are standing at the Wolf Creek boat ramp at sunrise.  Gulpers and sippers work the greasy water, while pelicans and seagulls flop and squawk on the goose shit covered islands.  Bugs are already peeling off the river, their obvious dun forms gliding lazily into a twenty inch rainbow’s mouth.  Ah, the Mo!  Back Home.

missouri river rainbow bitterroot river guidesDon and I have fished this river many times together, probably more than any other river.  We just keep coming back; or at least Don keeps calling me and booking trips, so I’m all in as long as he is!  You never know what you are going to find on the Mo, maybe nothing. This is a tough river: definitely not for the beginner if you have any hopes of seriously throwing a dry fly.  That takes a different beast.  Patience and precision are absolute virtues on the Mo, and the more you have the more you unlock the river.  Untouchable fish start to become possible, and eventually even predictable.  But I better watch what I say lest the Mo Gods punish me next time with howling winds and frog water.

missouri river rainbow bitterroot river guidesThis trip goes down as an all time epic Missouri foray.  Three days we gave it hell: first boat in every morning, and on our favorite haunts while the water was still fresh and the fish just starting to move.  We search out flats where the river shallows up to knee deep or less, some of them football fields in size.  When the hatch gets cranking, PMDs in this case, fish move onto the flats to feed where the bugs are most plentiful and accessible.  A cautious eye will find pods of feeding fish, sometimes almost indiscernible in the rippled water.

missouri river rainbow bitterroot river guidesThis is when it gets glorious on the Mo.  Slipping out of the boat and into the flat on foot, risers eventually surround you.  Some are untouchable because of the angle, and some are just too far to get an effective drift.  But once again, patience and precision are the name of the game.  A well placed, mended, and drifted bug has every chance of bringing home a twenty inch rainbow on that long piece of 5x terminating a fourteen foot leader.  Anything less than perfect, you might as well throw rocks at them.

Big Hole June

bitterroot river guides big holeIt’s been a great week on the Big Hole for the mid June happenings: Salmonflies and Goldens rushed through the river and belted off tremendous hatches, making for excellent fishing throughout the week.  Some days were pretty slammed with boats-I must have seen 60 last Saturday on Divide to Melrose-but there’s plenty of good fishing for those in the know.  Most boats are playing Hank Williams Jr. on a D battery boom box and chucking Rapalas and spoons so really no threat there.  Just smile and wave and hope they chuck you a beer while we get down to business with the sneaky dry flies.

bitterroot river guides big holeI ran this week for the Complete Fly Fisher in Wise River, guiding new guests to the lodge and showing them the best of the river.  We fished approximately 60 miles of the Big Hole: from the upper water at East Bank to the lower end at the Notch Bottom, the river entirely different at each end.  The week started strong on Salmonflies and Goldens, but eventually I had to resort to the sneaky stuff to really find the fish.

bitterroot river guides big holeSometimes our hatches get a bit played out, to say the least.  Guides start hucking Salmon bugs weeks before the hatch-I am guilty-and the fish are pretty much hook shy by the time the ol’ hatch comes around.  Well, throw it while you can, and when it’s not working, go smaller.  Then smaller again.  Until you start finding bugs the fish will take vigorously, as well as searching out water not being hit heavily.  There’s a bit of guide knowledge not to be taken lightly!  Look where people are NOT fishing, or at least not fishing well.  Heavy water, strong insides, deep under willows, and back channels are all places not overfished.  Keep searching; the fish are feeding somewhere on something you have in your flybox!

Summer’s On

bitterroot river guidesHere we go, the journey begins.  Fishing is pretty stellar at the moment, and I only see it getting better for the next few weeks.  Pre Salmon and Golden stonefly fishing is off the hook if you know where to look.  The main Bitterroot is shaping up sweet and the upper end is a wonderful as ever, a third the size of the mainstem.

bitterroot river guidesSo it’s off to the races on the river for us guides.  I’m slammed with personal trips until August, starting tomorrow on the Big Hole.  The boys are manning the homefront, taking guide calls and setting up trips.  Schedules are getting tight so get to us sooner than later to book a fishing journey with us.  Reach us by email or phone, numbers on the contact page.  See you on the river.

Bitterroot Fishing Report-Late May

Chris_Rockhold bitterroot river guidesMay is often a tough month to fish Montana: high water, unpredictable weather, hatch envy, etc.  Most years this holds true, as rivers just become straight up unfishable for a couple weeks with dirty water and logs coming down the pipe.  This year has been quite a bit milder on river flows due to a warm winter and fairly low snow pack, making the usual barrage of runoff merely a swell in the lower river valley for a spell.

bitterroot river guidesSo what that boils down to is that fishing has been essentially uninterrupted during this runoff.  Fishing is consistent on most reaches of the Bitterroot, Big Hole, and Missouri right now, and I don’t foresee anymore huge snowpack fluctuations affecting flows for this season.  With that water consistency has come some fine fishing and bug hatches to match.  Low water years, as we’re seeing right now, will bring epic hatches to the rivers: lower water allows consistent flows and more solar energy to warm huge populations of insects at one time, rather than high water years which have fluctuating levels and temps causing trickling hatches through a long period.  Our Salmonfly hatch should be a wall banger this season with no floods on the horizon in mid-June.

bitterroot river guidesThe rivers are prime and fishing is good right now, if one knows where to look and how to pull it off.  We do.  Though the dry fly is still a bit away to truly turn the corner on the season, we’re finding good fish eating nymphs and buggers throughout the river systems very consistently, with a bit of dry fly opportunity in the afternoons.  Trips are already running strong and summer is quickly approaching with Salmon bugs and Goldens on the horizon; get in touch with us before we’re slammed for the season, and we’ll be seeing you on the river.  JF

Fire on the Mountain

big hole brown, wise river montanaLong distance runner, what you standin’ there for?  Get up get out, get out of the door.  Your playin’ cold music on the barroom floor. Drowned in your laughter and dead to the core.  There’s a dragon with matches that’s loose on the town, Takes a whole pail of water just to cool him down.  Fire!  Fire on the mountain!  Fly fishing and the Dead go hand in hand.  Nothing to fire up the browns, or especially the Steel, with a little Jerry and Bob.  Fishing the Big Hole recently with the “Boys”-Chris, Stu, Greg, and the legendary Gartho- we found some inspiration through Jerry’s music to power onward through the cold and stick with the plan to find some good fish.

big hole brown, wise river montanaWith a predicted high temp of 48 degrees, and that weatherman was spot on, our crew of five ran about eight miles of the most famous stretches on the Big Hole.  Tough fishing in the morning was inevitable with the temp so low, so we just kept on plugging away in the likely runs until things started to turn our way.  Sometime around one o’clock, ol’ Jerry started smiling our way and the Big Hole went from a desolate wasteland to a lights out fishery with Baetis and March Browns exploding off the water.  The trout began to rise, making for solid dry fly takes, and our nymphs were inhaled just as quickly, bringing up multiple browns in the 18 inch class.  Greg, our newbie guest on this excursion, showed us veterans how it is done by hanging fish on every turn.  When the river was on a lull, Greg just kept plugging away patiently, pulling big browns from seemingly endless lies.

big hole brown, wise river montana The Big Hole is on right now.  Our Bitterroot is fluctuating quite a bit with runoff, making for tricky fishing, while the Big Hole remains unfazed.  The higher elevation of that river keeps runoff at bay much longer than the Bitterroot, keeping water flows to a minimum.  Any of you fishing with us during the months of May and early June have quite a good shot at hitting the Big Hole for early season prime time.  Big browns are on the prowl, and the water is perfect.  Hatch times are around one o’clock and wrap up around four for chasing the dry fly.  Nymphs are always a good option, just ask Greg.  See you all again on the water.

Tablerock Lake, Missouri

tablerock lake largemouth bassBack to my roots.  A last minute decision sent me packing back to the homeland to chase largemouth bass on Tablerock Lake with my Dad.  His good friend Sam had to cancel on the annual trip this year, so the old man was thinking of going by his lonesome anyway, just to get away and enjoy the outdoors and lake life.  Well, being the good son I am and not wanting Dad to go it alone, I less than slyly suggested he help me-meaning buy me- with a plane ticket so I could come down a fish with him.

tablerock lake missouriDad’s a great sport, and fell for the ploy hook line and sinker, setting up a killer fishing adventure for us based out of Lunker Landing in Shell Knob, Missouri.  Located on the northern bank of the King’s River arm of Tablerock Lake, Lunker Landing’s accomodations are comfortable; small town friendly; and steps away from the boat slip. Walking down to the water at sunrise, we see the mist rising off the lake, hear the blue jays’ sharp cries of the day, smell the green and lush scents of the oak forest, and spot local largemouth guarding spawning beds in the shallows near the docks.

tablerock lake bassWhich get us into the fishing.  Late April/early May is prime time for the largemouth’s pre-spawn here on Tablerock: clean water and a warming 61 to 65 degree water temp brings the fish up from deeper water and into the spawning regions of the lake.  Protected coves, gravel beaches falling to dropoffs, and woody banks were our focus for finding bass staged up before the spawn.  With Dad Fitzpatrick’s lifetime of knowledge of Tablerock and a steady foot on the trolling motor, we found feeding fish in all his favorite haunts.

tablerock lake bassFor three days we worked up and down Tablerock, usually fishing the nearby King river arm but also travelling down past the James river and into the White.   Our usual tactic is a spin rod with a plastic worm rigged Texas style with a bullet weight, which is cast to the bank and retrieved slowly-and I mean S-L-O-W- back to the boat. Jigging plastics in deep timber proved effective as well, especially later in the mornings and afternoons when the bass moved deeper to escape the bright angle of the sun.  The take is subtle, and one must be very patient to let the fish take the bait, but once a good bass locks on the line starts to move and the tug gets heavy, you give her the mustard!  Every fish we stuck came straight up and taildanced with fury, throwing their heads with open mouths and flared gills.

flyfishing tablerock largemouth bassOn the final day of our trip, I had yet to stick a bass on a fly rod.  Deep holding fish are tough on the fly, and the shallow spawners weren’t interested in my quick moving Clousers or crawdad imitations.  Trolling along a gravel beach early in the morning, a few bass finally showed themselves chasing shad minnows near the bank.  Big smacks to the surface and minnows hurling erratically showed me a target some fifty feet away, so with a quick rod switch (the XP #9 was rigged and ready from day one) and a long double haul, I airmailed a Montana tied frog pattern within a couple feet of the last explosion.  One twitch and it was lights out for that poor frog.  With a huge gulp and boil, said frog vanished and up came a flaring pissed off largey, hooked on a 9 foot 9 weight Sage.

flyfishing tablerock largemouth bassOur week flew by too quickly: just when I was adjusting to nightly ribeyes and cocktails at noon, I had to hop on a plane back to Montana.  This trip reminds me how much I love warmwater fishing, and the bucket mouthed largemouths that inhabit those waters.  Our Montana rivers and lakes hold bass as well, down in their lower stretches where temps allow these fish to exist.  When the time is right this summer, we’ll certainly pay a visit or two to some of these haunts, throwing plastics and stripping topwater flies to fish rarely targeted by Montana folk.  Back to my roots, full circl

Early Spring Wrap Up

Bitterroot RainbowWhat a great Skwala and March Brown season we’ve had here in the Bitterroot Valley!  Our weather and river levels remained perfect from the first week of March until this last week of April, and the bugs and fish responded with solid daily hatches and heavy topwater feeding.  Can’t say I threw any nymphs this whole season.

Bitterroot River GUidesWhich is probably about to change, as the Bitterroot is starting to bump up with the coming of May.  Soon the Skwalas will fade away from the spotlight, and caddis will replace our coveted stoneflies.  As the Bitterroot rises, fishing can be much less consistent, and downright tough if the river has just bumped any significant amount.  Nymphing and streamers become our new staple to deal with the heavy flows; trout hunker down and feed subsurface on all the food blasting through the water column.

Bitterroot River GUidesSo thank you to all the brave souls who fished the early hatches with Bitterroot River Guides.  We saw tremendous fishing this year, and we were able to pull off every trip on a single dry fly.  Each day had high points where the fishing was red hot, especially around two o’clock on the mayfly hatch, and the Skwalas hatched consistently throughout every day I was on the river, bringing up good fish.

Bitterroot River GUidesWe’ll see how runoff shapes up this year: it’s not looking like a whopper snowpack so we should be throwing a line through the whole season.  The Missouri is fishing excellent right now, and will continue to just get better as summertime approaches.  Being controlled by Holter dam, the Mo keeps in good shape throughout runoff with Blue Wings and Caddis hatching profusely.  The Big Hole also fishes well through the runoff, mainly the upper third of the river, as this is the time to hunt big browns with streamers.  Get in touch with us and let’s go fishing!

Classic Drifts

bitterroot river guidesThese waters bind us: to the river, the fish, the mountains that feed them, and the friends we share them with.  Time spent on a trout stream is food for the soul, enjoying the natural cycles of the day and moods of the river.  While fishing ebbs and flows throughout the day, we work together to figure it out, changing tactics and mindsets on the sight of a bug or a switch in the wind.  In tune.  Fly fishing tunes us to the river, the environment, each other.

bitterroot river guidesDrawing upon a bond formed on the banks of the Big Hole river almost twenty years ago, I recently had the pleasure of fishing with a true master of the art of fly fishing, David Decker.  Owner and outfitter of the Complete Fly Fisher in Wise River, Montana, David is like a father to those of us guides lucky enough to learn from him.  I can truly say that everything I teach on the water today, starts with something I learned from David and the other veteran guides from the Complete Fly Fisher.  Those bonds run deep as the gut of the Kispiox and wide as a Missouri river sunset.

untitled (17 of 17)So with Skwala stoneflies and March Brown mayflies hatching in full swing on the Bitterroot, a true master casting from the bow, and twelve miles all to ourselves, David and I shared another day to keep close to the heart.  The fish were looking up, and nowhere was out of reach or out of drift.  Everything is possible.  We ran with the mood of the river, keeping and eye on the natural cycles and currents, knowing the next run may be jamming while this one is quiet.

bitterroot river guidesOur bugs were Big Hole style tied by David the night before in Wise River: no foamy Bitterroot flare, just natural fibers and buggy proportions.  Another lesson from the old days: keep it natural, simple, quick to tie.  And they worked, well.  The Bitterroot is really shaping up fine this year with consistent Skwala and mayfly hatches day after day.  Our water is holding up good, with cooler temperatures and high country snow keeping the water locked up in the mountains to use later down the road; a fine summer awaits us.  So here’s to old friends and teachers, and the waters that bind us together.  All photographs in this post were taken by David on our trip, his love of the wild trout evident in yet another art form.

bitterroot river guides