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FLY FISHING THE BITTERROOT RIVER IN MONTANA

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Located in Southwestern Montana, The Bitterroot is an excellent river consisting of diverse water and quality hatches. Cutthroat, brown, rainbow, and brook trout can all be found in its waters. The Bitterroot is approximately 75 miles long from the junction of the East and West Fork just below Conner to where it meets the Clark Fork near Missoula. Throughout this long stretch you will find riffles, deep pools, fallen trees, and other characteristics of a great trout fishery. There are a few Special Regulations area's along its path.

Flowing North from Conner, the Bitterroot River passes the towns of Darby, Grantsdale, Hamilton, Victor, Fort Owen, Florence, Lolo, as well as a few others before reaching Clarks Fork. During its journey through a wide, gentle sloping valley, it flows past fir, cottonwood, and aspen trees as well as farms and ranches.

The upper portion of the Bitterroot, from Conner to Hamilton, has the fastest flowing stretch and offers excellent fishing with the dry fly, nymph, and streamer. The river tends to stay cooler throughout the year in this section because of the cold headwaters of the East and West Fork. As the river nears Hamilton, its flow begins to slow and the Bitterroot takes on the personality of a classic dry fly fishery.

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From Hamilton, the Bitterroot flows for approximately 12 miles before reaching the town of Victor. This part of the river is also excellent throughout much of the season, fishing extremely well with dry flies, nymphs and streamers. Riffles and pools make up its character with an occasional fallen tree or bend to create an undercut bank. Islands and braids break up the river throughout, creating excellent holding water for trout. During years of drought, this stretch can become low and somewhat warm because of irrigation purposes. Check with a local shop for the best areas to fish.
Hatch Chart
Below Victor, the river flows for approximately 35 miles before it enters the Clarks Fork River. This stretch slows down in speed from the rest of the river and can be very productive when conditions allow.

Access to the river can be gained via Route 93 which follows the East Fork and main stem of the Bitterroot. County route 473 parallels the West Fork. The Bitterroots' gentle currents make it possible and appealing for both wade and float fishermen to fish the river. There are several well marked access points along Route 93 for anglers to use.

The Bitterroot is well known as one of the finest dry fly fishing rivers in the state. The dry fly fishing season begins sometime in March, depending on the weather, and ends in late November. Spring is always blessed with high water that lasts for two to three weeks in late May and early June. This time of year is always good for the trout because of the abundance of food available when rocks are washed along and nymphs uprooted. Once this is over the river returns to its meandering nature and settles in for the summer fun. The first major hatch is the Skwala (stonefly) in March. If the conditions are right the fish will key on the imitation pattern for a full 6 weeks. One pattern to use for the Skwala is a bullet head fly tied with a black egg sack and dark body. The underwing is dark brown or black and the overwing is tied in bullet head style with dark brown premo-deer hair. The fish seem to look for this hatch to begin their yearly feeding habits and with the size of this stonefly they can build bulk fast. The late fishing which continues into November includes patterns such as the October Caddis and Midges. The October Caddis are large and can be fished with an imitator that is size #8 or #10. The Midges on the other hand are from #20 - #24. In between the major hatches include Pale Morning Dun, Blue Winged Olive, Green Drake, Salmon Fly, Golden Stone and several varieties of Caddis. The mayflies are typically sizes 14 - 18 with the exception of the Green Drake which is size 10. The Salmon Flies should be fished with a size 6 or 8 and the Golden Stones are sizes 8 - 10.

The summer fishing is best described as a continual opportunity for dry fly action. With the abundance of mayfly hatches the expert as well as the novice fisherman can do well. If you are not capable of matching the hatch a well tied attractor pattern such as a stimulator will usually do the trick. There are opportunities for fishermen who prefer wading as well as those who prefer floating from a raft. Many access sites provide the wading fisherman ample stretches to spend a few hours or the entire day.

September and Labor Day mark an end to the heavy tourist season. With children going back to school and vacations over the river lulls to a slower pace. As October approaches the local Montana people begin to ready themselves for the winter. Many begin gathering wood that they will use to heat their homes during the next 6 months. Elk and Deer seasons begin later in the month and it is time to sight in that favorite rifle. After the third weekend in October you can count on having the river almost to yourself almost the entire day. The only local fishermen you will bump into are those like yourself who have chosen to spend their time fishing rather than hunting. Late fall fishing can be the golden opportunity that you have been waiting for.

The closest commercial airports are in Missoula or Butte. There are other rivers in the area to fish and also many recreational activities for the family. The area is very scenic and harbors abundant wildlife. Eagles, osprey, deer, elk, and bear are a few of the wonderful animals that traverse the beautiful country side found along the Bitterroot River.