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Bitterroot River Fly Fishing

Bitterroot River
Fly Fishing

Flowing north toward Missoula, the Bitterroot’s riffle, run, pool character creates as classic a trout stream as you will find. Bracketed by the Bitterroot mountain range to the west and the Sapphires to the east the scenery is unparalleled. While the views are breath-taking, the fishing is even better. The Bitterroot River is our most consistent fishery with a dynamic range of hatches that has us casting dry flies from early March through late October. Westslope cutthroat dominate the upper river south of Hamilton and provide fast action on big attractors. The middle river is an ever-changing paradise of side channels and log jams where rainbows, browns, and cutts live exactly where you think they should. The lower Bitterroot River closer to Missoula widens and slows somewhat to provide the ideal environment for casting dries to pods of hard fighting rainbows and cutthroat trout. With over 80 miles just on the mainstem and prolific hatches of stoneflies, mayflies, caddis, and terrestrials the Bitterroot offers great options throughout the year. The East Fork and West Fork of the Bitterroot add another 50 miles of water that are incredible float trips during the Salmonfly and Golden stone madness of June, and become consistent wade fishing streams during the balance of the season.

  • Skwala stoneflies (#8-10)
  • Grey Drakes (#12-14)
  • March Browns (#14)
  • Blue-wing Olives (#18)

No longer the secret that it once was, the Skwala hatch motivates anglers and trout alike out of winter’s slumber. Fish have a hard time passing up such a large meal and some of our biggest trout of the year, especially browns, are taken during the Skwala hatch each spring. As April approaches we start to see regular mayfly hatches of Grey Drakes, March Browns, and Blue-wings. This is a favorite time of year for our guides as sheer dry fly gluttony ensues. Anglers who fish the spring once usually return year after year for the opportunity of big trout on big dries.

  • Caddis (#12-16)
  • Gray Drakes (#10-12)

This is typically the time of year when we experience run-off, but when water conditions allow for it the fishing can be fantastic with trout exploding on dries tight to the banks.

  • Salmonflies (#4-6)
  • Golden stoneflies (#6-10)
  • Green Drakes (#8-10)

This is big water and big bug time. We will help equip you with the right hackle for to fly fish the Bitterroot. The action starts early in the month on the East and West Forks with giant salmonfly patterns. Characterized by fast flows and short drifts this is the best time to find large trout gorging on the daily feast of stoneflies. By mid-month Golden stones and Green Drakes can be found throughout the system and cloudy June days can provide some of the most epic fishing of the season.

  • Golden stoneflies (#8-10)
  • Green Drakes (#8-10)
  • Yellow Sallies (#14-16)
  • Pale-Morning Duns (#14-16)

The big stoneflies and drakes will linger into the early part of July gradually giving way to consistent hatches of Yellow Sallies and PMDs. The trout will start to congregate in pods to feed on the daily emergence of mayflies and little stones.

  • Grasshoppers (#6-10)
  • Tricos (#18-22)
  • Hecubas (#8-10)

The peak of summer is hopper time. Trout lie in wait along grassy banks and under logjams to ambush these hapless terrestrials when they hit the water. The morning trico hatches provide ample targets on the lower river that will test your skills. These fish feed willingly regardless of weather, but they demand a good fly with the proper presentation. The Hecuba, or Fall Drake, will show up mid-month and can provide some of the most exciting fishing of the summer. Trout have a hard time passing up a juicy mayfly when all they have seen is hoppers drifting over them for weeks.

  • Grasshoppers (#6-10)
  • Mahoganies (#12-16)
  • Blue-wing Olives (#16-18)

Hopper fishing is a mainstay throughout the fall, but as the leaves start to turn and the mornings get frosty the autumn mayflies will begin to appear. Daily hatches along with the urge to feed before winter make fall fishing on the Bitterroot one of the highlights of the year.

Bitterroot River Fishing Access Sites & Boat Launches

The river is an angler’s paradise with numerous Bitterroot River fishing access sites along it’s length from its forks near Conner to the confluence with the Clark Fork downstream of Missoula. From drift fishing to wade fishing, the Bitterroot is great for all methods of fishing. See below for information on Bitterroot River fishing access and boat launches.

Bitterroot River Fly Fishing Flies

Our Montana fly fishing guides are on the Bitterroot River all season long and have this fishery mastered. See below for guide recommendations on flies that work on the Bitterroot.

the bitterroot river in fall with yellow and green trees lining the banks

Bitterroot River Fishing Report

Looking for the most recent updates on Bitterroot River fly fishing? Be sure to explore our Bitterroot River fishing report for the latest insights into effective fly patterns, water levels, river conditions, and tips to enhance your experience on the scenic Bitterroot River.