Tag Archives: montana

Salmon River Steelhead

winter steelheadThe clients are essentially gone for the year; snow has set in hard in the high country; the elk have bugled, mated, and survived the long hunting season; and us fishing guides are finally released into the wild once again to pursue the almighty of Salmonids, Steelhead.  We don’t guide Steelhead trips, though we’re sure starting to think hard about it, because I am licensed as a Montana Outfitter only, confining our commercial operations to this great state alone.  But lo, a mere two hours from Hamilton south over Lost Trail Pass, lies the longest run of Steelhead in the United States of ‘Merica on the Salmon River in Idaho.

salmon river idaho steelheadWith 900 miles to cover from the Pacific ocean to their upper spawning grounds in Stanley, these fish don’t really get into our stretch of water until November and even December.  You think a cool day in June can suck, just wait till you start wading hip deep for hours at a time in January water temps and the Salmon River fog icing your eyebrows.  Utter punishment at times.  But the tug is the drug, and at some point in that long swing of the line a fish grabs hold and it’s all worth it.

winter steelheadSo while winter grips the valley as we await another great trout season coming up in March, we guides are still packing fly rods on the dashboards and tackle bags close at hand.  A string of good weather will get us twitching, and not long after that a phone call sets the madness in motion: 5 am on the road.  Two hours and a hundred close calls with elk crossing highway 93, we’re back on the water with the excitement of a summer’s day of guiding…  Except now we have 9 weights, thirty plus inch fish, and we’re doing all the fishing!

Old Pals on the Bitterroot

 

bitterroot cutthroatJust as September is rolling around and the fishing should really start picking up for Fall, a crew of great friends of mine from the flatlands of Kansas showed up here in the Bitterroot for a three day adventure.  With five fishermen in the group and three guides, we set out to give it our best on the main stem of the river for the first two days, then one final shot at the West Fork the last day.

bitterroot cutthroatFishing was tough on the main Bitterroot with high daytime temperatures and bright sun; great for a vacation, but weather like this takes a toll on the bite.  As evening approached, fish began actively rising, saving the day for us guides and giving us some targets to throw at as the day turned to dusk.  Pulling out at Otto’s Cabin where our group is staying right on the river, we anchor up for the night and leave the boats for an early start there in the morning.  For all of you looking for a perfectly situated, peaceful, and simple getaway look no farther than this little gem resting on the banks of the Bitterroot river.

bitterroot cutthroatOur final day of fish camp led us up the West Fork of the Bitterroot, looking for big cutthroats in the cold canyon waters coming off the mountain peaks.  This time of year water levels are down to a trickle, but there was still plenty to get the boats through and plenty of fish for our anglers.  Between stripped buggers and well fished grasshoppers, everybody found big trout to take the fly, making for the best fishing we saw over the three day span.  The West Fork can be like that, especially after a couple days of plugging away at the main stem and getting little returns.  Bring your A game and this river will reward you mucho.  Thanks to the Kansas boys for a great time with old pals on a Montana trout stream.

 

Musty and the Rangers

bitterroot river fishing guidesI’ve never been to the Rangers AC in Milltown, New Jersey, but if they have remotely as much fun at their club as they have on the river, sign me up.  These fine gents have fished with Bitterroot River Guides for many years now, bringing different faces and personalities but one remains the same, Musty.  And Ernie, can’t forget him.  Big Musty anchors these guys into some semblance of order; arranging the guiding, hotels, and travel plans.  I think some of them would still be sitting in the Sawmill bar in Darby without him.

bitterroot river fishing guidesFishing-wise this was a banner year with the Rangers.  We spent three days on the Bitterroot searching out the finest water our river has to offer right now, as well as teaching these guys some new techniques for sticking big fish.  Versatile fishermen, our NJ crew got the job done every day of the trip, whether we were way up the West Fork or down on the lower main river.  Water levels are still up and cruising along, making for tricky casts and quick mending, but the big flows also keep the big trout moving around the system and feeding heavily.

bitterroot river fishing guidesTaking time to enjoy the finer points of a Montana summer on the river, our crew grilled out every day for lunch to slow the pace of things and sip a few cold ones.  Cocktail hour starts early with these guys, and their fishing actually improves considerably throughout the day: we’re dealing with professionals here!  But alas, three days go by too quickly, and we’ve already said our goodbyes.  Musty and the gang have moved on to the Madison river, and then on to the mecca of Craig on the big Missouri for a few more days.  I hope they stick some great fish on the rest of their journey, and until next time Chris and I will miss the onslaught of the Rangers AC in Montana.

bitterroot river fishing guides

Fishing the Bitterroot

There is some great fishing on the Bitterroot River right now.  We’ve been latching into solid cutthroats and a few browns here and there, with the fish still stacked from their Salmon fly binge of the previous month.  Drys have been working right out of the gate, with other methods of fly fishing also working just fine, that is if you want to stare at a bobber all day.  No thanks.  I actually haven’t put a bobber on the line in weeks, keeping with simple one fly riggings that are simple to cast and very effective.  Find the right bug, find the right spots on the river, and there are hungry trout ready to be caught!

 

Day Three

bitterroot river guidesLast blog I wrote preceded our actual fishing, so I figured I’d wrap up our three day trip with Jack and the guys with one last post.  As anticipated, we saw some pretty amazing fishing out there on the Bitterroot river.  With Salmonflies still in the picture, our hookups were many and hard pulling, the fish stuffed from the big bugs and at least 20 percent heavier than normal.  Soon enough the dry bite came around and we enjoyed consistent action on top for most of the day.

bitterroot river guidesWe topped it all off with some fine burger grilling at lunchtime and apple pie and ice cream we managed to keep frozen deep in our coolers.  So, good fishing seems pretty much everywhere right now if you know what to look for.  I’ll be guiding the Big Hole Monday through Saturday of this week looking for those buttery browns, so tight lines and stay tuned.

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.

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!

Big Hole Rising

While the Bitterroot River is up and pretty much unfishable, we took a drive over Lost Trail Pass to search out some fishy water on the upper Big Hole.  Unlike many freestone rivers, when the Big Hole is up it remains quite fishable on its upper reaches.  With meadows and rolling pine hills surrounding the river for the upper forty miles or so, the runoff comes peacefully down the drainage until the eventual canyons at Wise River and Divide.

bitterroot river guides big hole montana-4Pulling up early in the morning after a dawn departure from the flooded Bitterroot, we were pretty stoked to see the river meandering along just like always.  The tea colored waters had risen a foot in the last few days, but we only knew from looking at the USGS hydrograph as the change was almost imperceptible to the eye.

bitterroot river guides big hole montana-2Buggers, streamers, and nymph rigs were the choice of the day; little dry fly activity was expected though March Browns hatched well in the afternoon, bringing up a few little risers.  We found good consistent fishing from noon onward, almost entirely on nymphs.  The streamer game just never played for us even though we gave it our best for the sixteen miles we floated.  Some recent photos have us jonesing for a big brown, and I mean a big boy like the one our Hamilton High School principle just caught.  Fish like this one will keep you coming back to the Big Hole.

Solid Bitterroot Fishing

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.

west fork bitterrootAny 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 Goat Chase

making the best of itIt looked so good.  That’s what I thought when we dumped the boats at the Stevensville bridge. Little did we know we’d be 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.