Tag Archives: bitterroot fishing report

Spring Squalls, Skwalas, and March Browns

bitterroot river guidesThe easy days of pre-runoff are long gone, and with them go the predictable water flows and insect cycles we’ve grown accustomed to.   March Browns and Skwalas are still hatching every day, but that sure doesn’t mean anyone with fins is actually looking at them.  When the water starts to spike in the spring, things can get a bit dicey out there on the river.  Bugs will still hatch for the most part if the weather is conducive, but the added river flows charging down the valley keep the fish busy finding new homes and lies, virtually eliminating any rising activity until things stabilize.

bitterroot river guidesNow is when your fishing guide is worth their weight in gold.  Those easy single dry fly days are history, and plugging along with such rig will lead to a long beautiful day making casts, but that’s about it. With our feet in the river daily,  a good guide can make a tough river fish spectacular with the right setup and instruction.  What may look like a turbulent, flooded river basin to many, is actually an oasis to the fish, filled with food and hiding spots not usually available at lower flows.  Big trout move to feed in this kind of water, coming out of their deep winter holes to lie in ambush positions throughout the river.  Gravel bars littered with tree stumps become flooded and then attract fish to their refuge, more than doubling the available hideouts throughout the basin.

bitterroot river guidesSo some days you have to say screw the dry fly, at least until things really get cooking, and bust out the junk.  Being a good fly fishermen means dealing with adversity and finding success whenever and wherever you may find yourself.  If the dry and the five weight ain’t gonna do it, bump up to the six and the bobber, or grab the seven and the biggest ugliest thing in your box and start ripping casts.  One way or another we’ll figure them out, and we’re having a blast in the process.

Bitterroot River Skwala Hatch

bitterroot river skwala hatchI’d have to say it’s here full swing, or at least enough to have some great consistent fishing throughout the main part of the day. Skwalas were hatching well a couple days ago, with just a few Baetis and possibly a March Brown or two on our float trip.  Lots and lots of skwala nymphs are staged near the shoreline ready to pop when the weather smiles.  We started early enough in the day things were quiet, and a simple nymph rig brought up lots of mighty whiteys for the little guy in the front, while Dad threw a dry and found a couple willing fish.

bitterroot river skwala hatchAfter a great morning and river bank lunch, we set out full dry fly for the remainder of our long float.  Quite a few fish rose to our bugs, the little guy putting the wood to ’em and Dad missing most, but having a great time and seeing lots of great eats.  Most water with the right habitat for trout was holding a willing fish, and some banks several.  Eventually the window closes for the day, and as evening approaches the fish settle down and the bite turns off.  Time to head for the corral after a fine day.

Bitterroot Skwala Hatch

bitterroot skwala hatchHere we go again, the start of another Montana fishing season, and as always, the Bitterroot River Skwala hatch is on the forefront.  While most of Montana is covered in ice and snow, and many rivers are still locked up in a winter pattern, our Bitterroot is wide open with bugs starting to pop along the gravel bars and riverbanks.  Skwala and Nemora stoneflies are the first of the real bugs to get cranking on our rivers, not counting the midges that peel off on most nice winter days, and they bring up trout to the surface even on a snow squalled March afternoon.

bitterroot skwala hatch 019We are still very early in the hatch, as I’ve seen only a few Nemora adults and less  Skwala adults yet, though the fish are definitely looking up for a bug during the right window of the day.  Nymphs and droppers off dries play well during the early part of the day, and a decent dry fly bite has occurred right around noon til four on the right days.  As our weather improves with spring, which who knows when that will actually happen, we will see a greater emergence of stoneflies and eventually start to see some March Brown mayflies.  This is when things really fish well around here.  So give it a couple weeks and bit o’ sunshine, and get in touch with us for a little early season topwater before it’s too late, runoff is just around the corner and that dry fly window will shut down until June.

End of a Long Road

bitterroot river fallOur days are short and the nights are getting longer.  Rifle season for elk and deer is in full swing, and the winter snowpack is forming in the high country and slowly migrating down into the valleys.  Our guide season is in its final throes, those rugged souls who fish with us well into October and brave the unknown conditions.  The Bitterroot will fish as long into the season as one is willing, provided you are prepared for cold conditions and short windows of opportunity on the surface.  When you do find them feeding, though, it can be an amazing experience: alone on a Montana trout river and fish like these spread out rising river-wide.  See you next season. JF

Hot and Low

Our winter of 2014-15 turned out to be pretty dismal, with warm dry weather dominating the bulk of the winter season.  Snowpack was barely above 50 percent in some valleys and not much rain ever came to help out.  So, we knew it was coming at some point; low, warm water conditions and river closures.

The Bitterroot has closures on the main river starting at 2 o’clock to fishing, so we fish early and run scenic floats in the afternoon.  We are still fishing in the mornings until the heat cranks up and the river goes quiet around 2, then hang out and grill up a big riverside picnic on the nearest gravel bar.  Brats, burgers, and a cold one isn’t such a bad way to go during the heat of the day.  With the rods put away and everyone kicking back, we head on home.  Full days can still be run on the West Fork, and soon enough the main river will have restrictions lifted with the coming of fall.

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.

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

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