Montana Fly Fishing
Fly Fishing the Bitterroot River

Bitterroot River

Fly Fishing the Bitterroot River

Bitterroot River : Hannon Memorial to Wallace Crawford

The Bitterroot River begins just upstream from Hannon Memorial Fishing Access Site and downstream from the small town of Connor, Montana. This is an excellent stretch of water for both wade fishing, as the river is of only moderate size, as well as floating, as no diversion dams or other obstructions are found along this section of the Bitterroot River.

Bitterroot River near Connor
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The fish in this segment of the Bitterroot River tend to run a little smaller than is found elsewhere on the river. However, what it lacks in fish size it makes up for in a wonderful fishing environment. Good populations of cutthroat trout, rainbow trout and brown trout can all be found in this segment. Since this segment lies the furthest away from Missoula, it receives less fishing and floating pressure than is found further downstream. As a result, the fly fishing isn't quite as demanding and the trout are more a little more easily caught. Combine that with the wonderful scenery and you have a recipe for a great day on the water.

This is the stretch to fish for anglers who like to fly fish in riffles, as the riffles are long and plentiful in this segment. Since this segment is not prone to the de-watering that occurs further downstream, it fishes well into the summer, helped by the cooler flows coming down from Painted Rocks Reservoir. Small standard dry flies, fished in the riffles, work well into the middle of the summer when other sections of the Bitterroot River tend to go into hibernation due to warm water and low flows.

Overall, if you arrive on the Bitterroot River later in the summer or during a low water year, consider fly fishing this section. While the potential to catch a real large rainbow is somewhat less than found further downstream, the better river flows and cooler water temperatures increase the likelihood of a successful fishing outing.

Bitterroot River : Wallace Crawford to Bell Crossing FAS

This section of the Bitterroot River, which runs between the towns of Hamilton and Victor, offers intriguing fishing, especially right after spring run-off in June and early July, as well as later in the fall. During the middle of the summer, the combination of low water from heavy irrigation use and high water temperatures due to slow river flows tend to put a lid on some of the fly fishing. The pressure on this stretch of the river is also generally lower than is found further downstream.

Bitterroot River near Darby
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What's intriguing about this section of the Bitterroot River are the numerous braids and channels found all along this stretch. All these braids and channels provide a wonderful place for the wade angler, as most rafts generally stay out in the main channel. The river is easy to wade, as the slower flows and lower water remove most of the hazards. All of the gravel bars also make for easy wading and shore walking. Although the fishing access sites are fairly widely spaced in this section, any wade angler seeking solitude usually just needs to make the easy walk up or down the river from a fishing access site to one of these side channels to have an enjoyable fishing experience.

The fish in this section generally are somewhat larger than is found further upstream. However, just be prepared for lower fish numbers per mile than is found elsewhere on the river. Successful fly fishing on this stretch requires finding the scattered good places to fish, such as in the holes, undercut banks, the riffles and around downed timber.

When floating this stretch of the Bitterroot, be prepared for some portages. A number of diversion dams are found on this section of the river, along with other irrigation hardware.

Bitterroot River : Bell Crossing to Florence Bridge FAS

Bitterroot River near Florence
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This section of the river runs between the towns of Victor and the quickly growing town of Florence. The numbers of rainbow trout found in this stretch of the river rebound, due to higher flows and better habitat. Wade fishing also becomes more difficult, due to the wider width of the river and its increased depth.

This stretch of the Bitterroot River does not have all the braids, channels and gravel bars that are found elsewhere on the river. Instead, lots of flats, deep holes and some intriguing undercut banks provide the main fly fishing action.

The section of the river can receive a lot of use during the height of the summer, particularly on warm, weekend days. The Bitterroot River is very popular for recreation floating since the river flows are steady if at times somewhat slow. There are also no diversion dams or other obstructions to hinder floating or that requires a portage. Combined that with the rivers close proximity to Missoula and its suburbs and you end up with lots of people floating down the river in a wide variety of boats, inflatable rafts and float tubes.

The best time to fish this stretch of the Bitterroot is during the spring, early summer and fall. During warm summer, especially during low water years, this section of the Bitterroot River can get awfully warm, hampering quality trout fishing.

Bitterroot River : Florence Bridge FAS to the Clark Fork

This section of the Bitterroot River is also heavily used for recreational floating, but should not be overlooked by visiting anglers. While trout populations are not as high as found further upstream, the rainbow trout in this segment can get quite large if somewhat finicky. This segment of the Bitterroot River also has many braids, channels, sloughs and gravel bars.

The best trout fishing on this segment of the Bitterroot occurs during the spring, early summer and again in the fall. During the middle of the summer, the waters generally get too warm to spur productive trout fishing.

But don't despair if you arrive on this segment of the river during either low water years or later in the summer. While the warm waters might have put a temporary lid on the trout fishing, the warmer waters are also home to bass and northern pike. When fly fishing for the bass, crayfish and streamers work very well although some heavier gear is required to heft these large flies around.

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