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.
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.
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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.