Tag Archives: fishing guide

Leviathan

bitterroot river guidesIt’s been a while since I’ve been involved in a catch and release of this magnitude, and just being near this fish is an honor.  Our good man Jim hooked onto this hen brown trout at the end of an excellent long day of streamer fishing with Chris rowing him as a single on day two of the trip.  Steve and I were sipping beers downstream in the same run, content with our good fortune of fishing for the day.  We heard some shouts and figured something good, or really bad, had occurred.  Stroking quickly downstream with Jim hunched over the bow holding the net, they pulled up mumbling with excitement and dropped anchor.  Chris finally spatted out, Leviathan!, and I understood immediately.

Merle Big BrownThese fish are once in a lifetime to many, and some of us guides are lucky enough to see a few in a career.  Springtime and early summer on good water years gives someone the best shot at a fish like this, covering many miles throwing the junk or rolling big stoneflies under a bobber.  My biggest client fish was a couple inches less than this girl, and amazingly ate a salmon fly dry during late June.  That’s been over five years now, and I’ve personally witnessed only one other fish of this caliber, caught on a san juan a few years back by a fellow guide’s client.  No camera on that one sad to say.:((

bitterroot river guidesOur springtime fishing has been excellent this season, with lots of little dinkers like this one.  Just kidding, this fish taped 19″ but after Jim’s legit 28 incher the scale got a bit screwed up.  The rest of our prior fishing for two days was grand, albeit big water and lots of cast with the big rods.  Little dry fly activity was happening, though when your catching solid fish every few runs underneath and having a blast why bother?  Keep that elbow in, power up the backcast, and let that puppy fly!  This is the time of year to suit up for bear, and get out on the big water with us.

Big Hole Salmon Fly Time

big hole brownThe time is a’coming around again: Salmonflies on the rivers and the fish are looking up!  We’ve been dragging nymphs and buggers for an eternity it seems; Skwala season is long behind us along with the gentle stream flows that occur that time of year.  The rivers are ripping along at a good spring clip and the water is perfect for the almighty giant of the summer’s bugs.  Get ready folks, this could be one hell of a year out there for the Salmonfly!

big hole brownThis weekend found me on the Big Hole running a guided float with long time brethren: many years we’ve spent chasing brown trout together on that river.  My troops fished very well, a bit out of control at times chucking one last shot in the willows, but hey, it’s that time of year and one must pay to play.  Good casts and drifts brought up solid fish to the fly, not all day, but enough to keep us interested while the action ebbed and flowed throughout the float.  Eventually the fishing got downright smoking hot, with big browns chomping hard in all the right spots.  Make your cast and mend equals fish on!

big hole brownOur second day of fishing took us intentionally far far away from the Salmon fly madness on the popular water.  Day one was too good to try and replicate, so our group toured seldom fished haunts deep in the lower river valley.  Always beautiful scenery but a roll of the dice on the fishing, we threw the book at ‘em while taking in the solitude and challenge of the lower river.  We found the right setup eventually, and continued to lay into a great day of fishing with the river all to ourselves.  So here’s a big thanks to this group from Seattle: seven years now I’ve had the pleasure of guiding them through the Complete Fly Fisher in Wise River.  See you next time fellas!

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