Tag Archives: bitterroot

Big Bugs on the Bitterroot

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton  montanaMaybe 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.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton  montanaTrying 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.

Hunting Bitterroot Brown Trout

covershotWell, while I was out on a guided float chasing Skwalas and mayflies, my guides were up to no good, as you can clearly see, chasing big Bitterroot brown trout, and definitely not using dry flies.  Trout eat a little of everything, mostly aquatic insects, as they forage throughout the day in rhythm with the daily bug cycles.  When the hatch at hand gets going, large numbers of fish feed throughout the river to take advantage of the increase in bug activity.

bitterroot brownThen there’s these guys.  Hatch be damned.  Browns like this rarely fall for your ordinary insect imitations, their feeding patterns are impulsive, and their foraging is more like hunting and killing.  These are the predators of our peaceful little rainbow/cutthroat stream: no little trout is ever really safe.  That’s why we protect our beloved little dinks by targeting these bruisers with the only thing they consistently hammer.  Streamers.  Heavy, colorful, flashy minnow imitations with big ass googly eyes fished on a clear sink tipped seven weight.  Oh Yeah.

brochureshotStreamer chucking is not for the faint of heart, and many can’t handle it.  Heavy stiff rods and weighted lines wear a person out, especially if one’s cast is inefficient, so we guides use caution when introducing our anglers into this realm:  short periods keep our guests from getting frustrated and beat down.  Now when it’s a crew like these two river monkeys in the photo, there’s no holds barred.  Ten miles of swollen off color river, a half rack of Coors, and hundreds of heavy casts went into that one brown trout.  Every cast has the promise of another leviathan: it may be the first deep log jam at daybreak, it may be somewhere on mile seven, or it may not happen at all.  Keep hucking.

Making it Play

Chris_Rockhold_photo_22-30The 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.

Bitterroot Skwala hatch

upper Bitterroot main stem

     I’ve been writing enough river reports and updates lately to fill a novel, so I’ve decided to write one biggie to all of you to let you know what’s happening here on the Bitterroot river.

We are on the cusp of the famed Skwala stonefly hatch, which traditionally starts mid March, but has been slow to get itself going this season.  If you’ve kept up with our winter’s snowpack you will see we are way above average (160% in the Bitterroots), which has the river at double historical flows.  Water flows and temperatures greatly dictate aquatic insect hatches, and the delayed start to the hatch is attributable to cold temps both in the river and the air: Skwalas wait for the magic 42 degrees water temp to start popping.

 

     Chris_Rockhold_photo_19-65Now, we’ve been catching plenty of fish, mind you, but mostly under the surface on streamers or nymphs. The dry fly windows have been brief, but are beginning to lengthen as we move towards nicer weather. Checking the river on a blustery afternoon float today, I found consistent dry fly activity in specific regions: gradually tapering inside corners and riffles were holding lots of fish from shin deep to waist deep water, indicating the fish are in position for aggressive feeding.

 

     Starting next week (April 7), our weather begins to cheer up considerably, making for excellent hatching conditions.  Along with the Skwala stones, March Brown mayflies will join the party any day now, especially on warm cloudy or rainy afternoons, and continue throughout April until runoff.   When both species are in full hatch, along with the token Nemoura and Capnia stones buzzing around everywhere, this river absolutely lights up!

 

     All this early activity comes with a time limit: runoff.  When that massive snowpack comes roaring down the mountains sometime in the near future, usually early May, the slate is wiped clean.

 

     I hope this stirs the fishing bug within all of you.  My guides and I would love the opportunity to show you the Bitterroot’s early season, before the height of the summer fishing begins.  We are offering discounted float trips during this time, usually meeting at the crack of ten or eleven and fishing till the day is wrapped up, focusing on the midday hatches.

 

   Thanks to all of you of my guides and I have fished with over the years and many more to come.  Contact us anytime to plan a float trip, get the latest scoop on the rivers, or just talk fishin’.  See you on the river.

 

Sincerely,

 

Jed Fitzpatrick

 

MT Outfitter#8392

 

 

 

 

Gettin’ busy

IMG_0426Well the season is upon us.  Months of tying bugs and day after day of scouting and preparing, we find ourselves wrapped up in the midst of it once again.  Fishing has been good, fishing has been downright shitty, fishing has just been what it is: out on the water with good folks and bugs hatching while trout rise on the edges, waiting for the right cast and the right mend and all that other stuff that makes fly fishing.

IMG_0418I’ve personally been all over the place the last few weeks.  One day I’m roaring down Rock Creek looking for sweepers, then a long muddy journey home and pack it up to get my ass over to the Big Hole to meet clients at 8:00 am at the Wise River Club.  Five straight on that river and pack it up to get back to the Bitterroot to meet a client at 8:00 am who I’ve only spoke with on email because we’re both out of cell service.  The life of the Montana fishing guide.

Big Hole 006This is one hell of a life, though.  Through all the headaches, backaches, long days, and perpetual poverty, us guides are a lucky bunch.  We get to experience this life and this environment to the fullest potential available.  Driving over Lost Trail pass at 6:00 am yesterday morning, I watched a sunrise that could take your breath away.  Moments later I’m dropping down the Big Hole glassing velvet antlered bull elk grazing in the Trail Creek meadows.  Popping out past the Battlefield, antelope line the fences while the Beaverheads rise to my south and the wild Pintlars rise to my north, deep green and shadowed in the early light.  This right here is what I’m talking about.  This is it.  Rolling into some unknown with someone I’ve never met to take them on an adventure of a lifetime floating and fishing on another wild Montana river.  I’ll do my best to teach them what I can and show them a great day on the water but in the end, it isn’t about me or the fish we catch or the lunch and all that other bullshit, it is about this wild place a few of us are lucky enough to be a part of.  This is why we guide.

Guide run

jan olsen 001A bit nervous about my guide day tomorrow, I decided to jump in the boat with my two head oar monkeys, Chris and Alex.  These guys were on about a fifteen mile excursion on the Bitterroot and were kind enough to let me partake in about five of those miles in the time that I had.  They even had cold beer waiting for me, bless their hearts.

jan olsen 016Slow but steady, we found fish holding in the rears and insides of the runs where softer water is found.  Not too many came off the hard banks, but when they did they charged hard and impulsive, making for tricky timing on the hook sets.  In other words, I missed most of those bastards or lost them after the surprise of the strike.  The boys dinged a few good ones, though, and gave me confidence in the stretch I plan to guide tomorrow.

jan olsen 023Dropping me off at my get out point, I bid farewell as the boys drift off into the cottonwoods and log jams awaiting for the final few miles of their drift.  Evening clouds are finally coming so their fishing should only get better as things are cooling off and darkening up.  I pack up and start to get my head in the game for tomorrow; it should be a good day out there.

A look at pre-runoff as I knew it

 

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killer greg thomas photo

Well, the river is making some bumps and the fishing is getting less predictable as we move away from the early conditions of this spring.  The March Browns and Skwalas are giving way to caddisflies as May gets started, and finding rising fish is getting trickier as water levels fluctuate.  To look back at the early season, it was definitely one to remember.  Starting in mid March one could find Skwala risers pretty frequently, and by the end of that month it was on fire on stones and mayflies.  We never got slammed by the early bumps of the river, which provided perfect conditions for both aforementioned critters to hatch profusely and bring up the fish en masse.   This river definitely produces world class hatches and blue ribbon fishing all the way.

Skwala and March Brown Madness

Here finally comes another spring in Montana.  We’ve eeked through the long chill, and even though the snow squalls persist to this day, spring is really happening around here.  We guides have already logged many days throwing nothing but dry flies, a major benefit to those of us who live in the temperate Bitterroot valley.  Skwalas started popping over a month ago and the March Browns came out in full force early to mid April, making for the best and most consistent early season fishing I’ve ever witnessed.  The midday mayfly hatches began around two and would cease by 4:30 of so, with pods of heavy fish rising steadily at a voracious pace.  Absolutely this was  some of the heaviest feeding this river has ever shown, and the big boys were up pushing for the first swipe at a well drifted bug.