Bitterroot river map Montana fly fishing

The Bitterroot River

The Bitterroot River – Montana Fly Fishing Diversity

The Bitterroot River is a multi-layered scenic fly fishing river in Western Montana that we offer professional fly fishing guide services on from March through October. This Western Montana watershed is healthy and loved by our fly fishing guests. The Dry fly fishing season starts in March with Skwala Stoneflies and runs deep into October to the rises of Blue Wing Olives on the Bitterroot River near Missoula Montana. From the Spring Creek influenced mid river around Stevensville Montana to the pure canyon freestone water in the West Fork near Darby Montana out to the long rainbow flats at the mouth near Missoula Montana, the Bitterroot River has everything for the dry fly angler.

bitterroot River Fly Fishing

 

If stalking tough gator headed Brown Trout shelved up on skinny gravel bars sipping little dries is your idea of heaven, then the Bitterroot River is the place.

Montana Brown Trout Fly Fishing Missoula Guides If Cruising the banks floating big attractor dries to willing westslope cutthroat trout is your idea of magic fly fishing, then the Bitterroot River fills that fly fishing bill as well.

 

 

The Bitterroot River

The Bitterroot River, or as our Missoula River Lodge fly fishing guides call it “The Root”, is a river of three different worlds. It begins deep in the Bitterroot range of the Rocky Mountains and runs north through Montana’s Bitterroot valley bracketed by the Sapphire Range to the east and empties itself at Maclay Flats in Missoula into the Lower Clark Fork River.

 

Bitterroot River Aerial Map Fly Fishing

 

Fly fishing the Upper Bitterroot River – Upstream of Hamilton, Montana, East Fork, and West Fork

The State of Montana Fisheries Department’s population count of the water upstream of Hamilton places the wild trout population at over 1700 per mile of mainly pure strain West Slope Cutthroat Trout representing one of the great sources of this native trout’s home watershed. The Upper Bitterroot River’s cutthroat trout are a willing group that rewards the beginning angler with short casts, easily seen flies, and a species that is programmed to eat dry flies. The Trapper Peak complex with its 10,000 foot snow capped mountains provides a fitting back drop for the angler that should look up from the water as much as he watches his big dry get gulped by a native Montana trout.

 

West Fork Bitterroot River Montana

Fly fishing the Mid Bitterroot River – Hamilton to Florence

The Bitterroot River slows its drop here and settles into the Hayfields and Cottonwood groves around Stevensville, Montana. The trout population drops almost in half but almost all our trout over 20 inches live in this reach of the river. They are bigger, smarter (as all old fish are), and relate habitually to the plentiful downed wood and shallow gravel bars. We will take multiple trout well over 2 feet long throughout each season when all the stars align and the Middle Bitterroot River gives us its soul. The more experienced angler is at home here and will find this arena filled with the clichés of what a classic Montana River fly fishing float trip targeting large trout should be. The float from Bell Crossing to Stevensville bridge is my all time favorite float in this State. Rich, plentiful, diverse big fish habitat is everywhere in the Middle Bitterroot River to test your fishing mettle.

Late Fall Bitterroot River Aerial

Fly fishing the Lower Bitterroot River – Florence to Kelly Island

The Bitterroot River slows down even more and starts to look like its wide Lower Clark Fork Sister. The rainbow trout are plentiful and the Cutthroat trout appear again. The long, slow glides over pea gravel lend themselves to Mayfly Hatches and pod creation. Lots of 16-19 rainbow trout live here with the occasional lurking whopper brown trout to keep things interesting.

Bitterroot River Dry Fly Hatches – A Missoula Fly Fishing Guide’s Perspective

March – April fly fishing on the Bitterroot River: Skwalas, March Browns, Blue Wing Olives

Skwala Stoneflies begin in early March and represent the best early season large dry opportunity in North America. The big bug is a size 10 and fished on short 3x leaders.  As we warm in April, we pick up March Browns and Early Season Blue Wing Olives.

Weather: Highs in the 50-60s, lows in the 30s

Bitterroot River Stonefly Fly Fishing

Bitterroot River Fly Fishing Hatch

May fly fishing on the Bitterroot River: Mother’s Day Caddis

About of half of May we are experiencing run-off as our snow melts. In the dips in flows we are able to take advantage of Mother’s Day Caddis hatch. May can be hit and miss on good water conditions, but when flows are right fly fishing can be exceptional.

Weather: Highs 60s-70s, lows in the 40s

June fly fishing on the Bitterroot River: Salmonflies, Golden Stones, Green Drakes

Early June is Salmonflies in the Upper Bitterroot River. By Mid June, our Golden Stones cover both the Mid River and upper Bitterroot River. Late June Brings in our Green Drakes. By the end of the Month we are in the happy place of bug soup and lots of dry fly options.

Weather: Highs 60s-70s, lows in the 40s

Bitterroot River Goldenstone Fly Fishing

July fly fishing on the Bitterroot River: Golden Stones, Pale Morning Duns, Caddis

Still Golden Stones are in across the drainage, but now we will get our Pale Morning Duns and Caddis in the mornings and evenings. This change to mid sized hatches produces more true rising fish pods and rewards the longer caster that likes to stalk big fish on rhythm to dries.

Weather: Highs 70s-80s, lows in the 50s

August fly fishing on the Bitterroot River: Tricos, Hoppers, Hecubas

Tricos are our smallest Mayfly but come off in massive numbers in the Middle and Lower Bitterroot River. Fly fishing is to sipping sighted trout targets that can be challenging, large, and rewarding. In the afternoon after staring at little flies on gossamer tippet, we cut the leaders back to thick fluorocarbon and large Hoppers that are coming off the grass in the warmth of August. On the rainy days we get our Fall Green Drakes – Hecuba. Those are the easiest days that although damp get our top end fish sipping big Hecubas in the afternoon.

Weather: Highs 70s-80s, lows in the 50s

September – October fly fishing on the Bitterroot River: Mahoganies, Blue Wing Olives, Streamers

The Daytime Mayflies pile back in across the Bitterroot River drainage providing afternoon pods up on Mid Sized dries. They are smart, willing, and motivated as our trout start to feel the creep of November’s cold water and a long Montana winter coming on. Our Brown trout get into a nasty pre-spawn mood that the angler with a large streamer can take advantage of and stick trout in the 4-7 pound range. September and October is awesome scenery, fishing, and consistent fall conditions.

Weather: Highs 60s-70s, lows in the 40s

Bitterroot River Fly Fishing Guide Conclusion – Dynamic Diversity

The Bitterroot River is one of those rare Montana rivers that does it all. It is will impress the advanced angler with its challenging large trout in the Mid River and reward the new angler to the sport with West Slope Cutthroat trout in the upper River. The Scenery is exactly what we imagine a Montana Fly Fishing River should look like.

I was raised on a ranch in the Bitterroot Valley and I am hard pressed to find a better place to fish, float, hunt, and live.

– Joe Cummings, Outfitter, Missoula River Lodge

Another Great Source for information on the Bitterroot Valley is here