The Bitterroot River is the quintessential trout river; a beautiful freestone river with endless river features around each bend and surrounded by the towering peaks of the Bitterroot and Sapphire Moutains. The Bitterroot offers anglers almost 70 miles of log jams, undercut banks, drop offs and deep pools along it’s path to it’s junction with the Clark Fork River in Missoula. The Bitterroot’s main draw is it’s incredible dry fly fishing. The “Root” is a bug factory with thriving hatches of Mayflies, Caddis and Stoneflies from March – November, it provides anglers some of the best dry fly fishing in the entire state of Montana.
Bitterroot River Fly Fishing Techniques
We are most likely to fish dry flies on the Bitterroot. During the middle of the summer double and single dry fly rigs dominate the fishing. Fishing dry flies while floating the river and presenting your fly ahead of the boat in a drag free manner is essential for success. There are also some great opportunities to set up on rising fish on anchor or out of the boat. Often times we find ourselves prospecting from the boat with a dry – dropper rig in the morning, and then fish strictly dries when the hatches pour off. When nymphing the Root, we typically short leash with a short leader to two beaded nymphs, with little or no weight. The numerous root wads and downed trees present some challenges while nymphing but provide excellent habitat for the trout.
Fly Fishing the Seasons of the Bitterroot River
Pre – Runoff: March – May
The Bitterroot offers some of the best early season fishing in the state, and maybe some of the best fishing all year long. The first major stonefly hatch of the year, the Skwala, is the main attraction. The Skwala stoneflies are accompanied by two smaller stonefly species the Nemoura & Capnia. Once the water warms a little bit more, and we move into April, we start to see our first mayflies at this time which includes the Blue winged olives & gray drakes. As we enter into May the mother’s day Caddis begin. This hatch is one of the most dense hatches of the year, blanketing the water with naturals making for some explosive dry fly fishing.
Early spring on the root is truly a smorgasbord of hatches!
- Skwalas #8 – 12
- Nemoura #12 – 16
- Gray Drakes #12 – 16
- Blue winged Olives # 16 – 18
- Grannom Caddis #12 – 16
Summer: June – August
Summer on the Bitterroot River starts with two more incredible stonefly hatches, the Salmonfly and Golden Stones. These two hatches are concentrated on the uppermost reaches of the river, primarily the East and West Forks of the Bitterroot. High water Conditions during June allow us to float both forks of the Bitterroot for some incredibly exciting dry fly fishing with huge dry flies. Once the water subsides the whole Bitterroot from the forks all the way to Missoula is in full swing. During July the rivers trout are coaxed out from behind log jams by PMD’s, Green Drakes, Caddis, Tricos and Hecubas. We fish double and single fly rigs fished to match the hatch in all the likely spots. As we move into August terrestrial fishing becomes the name of the game. Fishing the Trico hatch in the morning and Hopper – dropper rigs in the afternoon create most of the action. Other terrestrials such as beetles and ants should not be overlooked.
Late Summmer/Fall: September – November
The late summer fishing continues into September, with Tricos and Terrestrials still being very effective. Some of the best fishing in September is created by the Mahogany Dun hatch. As the cool nights arrive the trout start to become more aggressive again eagerly feeding on the Size 14 & 16 duns. The Mahoganies will last into October when colder days give way to the fall hatch of Blue Winged Olives and October Caddis. As always the streamer fishing begins to pick up as the trout more aggressively feed before the onset of winter.