Montana Fly Fishing
Fly Fishing the Bitterroot River

Bitterroot River

Fly Fishing the Bitterroot River

East & West Forks Bitterroot River

The Bitterroot River itself begins near the town of Connor, at the confluence of the East Fork Bitterroot River and the West Fork Bitterroot River. Each of these two forks offers quality fishing in a beautiful environment, with low fishing pressure as an added bonus.

East Fork Bitterroot River
Photo Use Guidelines

The East Fork Bitterroot River tumbles out of the mountains of the Anaconda-Pintlar Wilderness area. It runs clear throughout most of the year and can become a raging torrent during spring run-off. During low water years, the flows of the river can become very low during late summer.

Access to the East Fork Bitterroot River is excellent. From its headwaters down to near the town of Sula, the river flows primarily through National Forest lands and is closely followed by the East Fork Road. Many camping areas also located along the river. Just above the town of Sula, the East Fork Bitterroot River flows through a small, scenic valley that is primarily private property, although a fishing access site does exist. Below Sula, and lasting nearly up to the town of Connor, Highway 93 closely follows the river, allowing for many easy access spots.

The East Fork Bitterroot River has good fly fishing for smaller size cutthroat trout. As fishing pressure is generally quite low, the cutthroat trout rise readily to smaller dry flies thrown their way. Since the river is quite narrow in most of its length, casting to all spots of the river is quite easy, although the fast current and large rocks in the river can make wading a challenge. The best fly fishing for cutthroat trout will be found early in the summer while the flows are up and again later in the fall when the water has cooled.

West Fork Bitterroot River
Photo Use Guidelines

The West Fork Bitterroot River begins right along the border of Idaho and Montana. It runs for about ten miles before flowing into Painted Rocks Lake, a man-made lake created by Painted Rocks Dam. Below Painted Rocks Reservoir, it flows for an additional fifteen miles before hooking up with the East Fork and creating the Bitterroot River. For most of its length, the West Fork has decent flows with only a scattering of slow water stretches.

The West Fork Bitterroot River above Painted Rocks Reservoir has good numbers of smaller sized rainbow trout, cutthroat trout and brook trout. Access is easy for much of this section, as the river flows through National Forest lands and is closely followed by the West Fork Road. Many camping areas are also located in this stretch. Fishing pressure on this stretch is quite low, and the fish will rise readily to most any small dry fly presented to them.

Below Painted Rocks Reservoir, the West Fork Bitterroot River takes on a different character. Fed by the flows from the reservoir, the West Fork maintains decent and cool flows well into the summer. Additionally, this section of the West Fork Bitterroot River runs clear all year long, even during spring run-off.

This section of the West Fork Bitterroot River is home to some sizable rainbow and brown trout. Most of the larger fish will be caught on large streamers or nymphs, fished around undercut banks and the many log jams that are found on the river. For top water fly fishing, popular flies on this stretch include dry fly attractor patterns, such as the Madame X as well as standard dry flies such as the Elk Hair Caddis. Hoppers and Spruce Moth imitations can also work well beginning in August.

Next Page : Floating the Bitterroot River


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