Bitterroot Rainbow

Rainbow on the Bitterroot River
(Photo by Merle Ann Loman)

Fly fishing the Bitterroot River in the fall is fantastic. The weather changes dramatically during the day giving stellar lightshows and the fall hatches mean you will probably see fish noses and fins in select places. As the trout work the hatch, It is definitely a challenge to have targets to throw to. The fun part is trying to pick out which rise form is the biggest trout. By this time of year the trout have seen just about everything but a good presentation. In other words they are very educated but still feeding consistently. The flat smooth water where you find them feeding makes it even more difficult to execute a convincing presentation and drift. Proper selection of dry-flies and tippet are essential.

Give yourself plenty of time to concentrate on certain areas. On the Bitterroot River, there are many pods of feeding fish giving the amateur angler lots of chances to work on technique. If you put the fish down with bad casts, just row back up and wait. Chances are, they will begin feeding in a similar place again. If you don’t want to row up-river, keep going to the next pod. You can see them feeding as you float down the river. Very cool.

Jack with a northern pike

Jack Mauer with a Northern Pike (Photo by Merle Ann Loman)

Want a change of pace? Bring along a 9 weight rod and a box of colorful streamers. As you fish for trout and you come upon a backwater of slow water with significant drop-off next to it, you might consider changing your arsenal to a heavier rod and a very large bright streamer. You have just come into northern pike habitat and they are a HEAVY fish. If you throw the streamer at the drop-off, let it sink and then retrieve it in frequent jerking motions, you will likely tick-off a pike. When a pike hits the fly, you have a fight on your hands. Pike are non-native and predatory so catching them and getting them out of the river is a good thing. The pike in the photo to the right had a whole fish in its stomach. See the slideshow for pictures of the fish. It isn’t pretty.

This pike was about 33 inches long and a tremendous fighter. As Jack caught it, another boat approached from behind. You could hear them cheering Jack on as he worked at bringing the fish into the boat. He thought about getting to shore and landing it there, but it was netted from the boat, barely fitting the net.

Cutthroat Trout from the Bitterroot River

Cutthroat trout (Photo by Merle Ann Loman)

This particular day was about 50 degrees with a slight breeze and overcast. The sun and clouds created unbelievable light shows. Even though this autumn hasn’t produced as many colors and hues as usual, the rainbows and even the gray cast of the aspen have been beautiful. Besides amazing scenery, birds provided entertainment. While looking down the river at pods of fish feeding, beyond and on the curve was an Osprey looking for its dinner. It flew in a tighter circle, dove straight down and made a huge splash. As it came out of the water, there was a sparkle as the sun hit the fish in its talons – probably a whitefish. A few minutes later an eagle soared down the river, passed over the boat and continued downstream. Near the take-out, a Belted Kingfisher played the bank. They are a funny looking bird with a shaggy crest or topknot.

For more info:
Bitterroot RiverWapiti Waters Fly Fishing Montana description
Montana Fish, Wildlife and ParksField guide for Northern Pike
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks – Field guide for Belted Kingfisher

Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks – Field guide for Bald Eagle
Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks – Field guide for Osprey
Merle’s SmugMug photo site – More Bitterroot River photos in their original format

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