Fly Fishing in the Bitterroot Valley

of Western Montana

It's always hard to work on a sunny day. Early summer in Montana has the Bitterroot Valley radiating in all her glory. The late summer days can get hot, but today is going to peak at about 81 degrees and the river is starting to fish well. I'm only going to make it at this desk until 5 o'clock.


Fly fishing on the Bitterroot River really begins in March with the Skwala hatch. Like many freestone rivers in the West, the Bitterroot has a healthy stonefly population. The Skwala comes first and then is followed by the Goldens and the Salmonfly. Yellow Sallies and Bitterroot Stones are other hatches that occur through most of the summer. The Salmonflies are strongest on the upper end of the river and that's where I'm heading tonight.

Following the stoneflies are a variety of mayflies, caddis and hoppers. Check in with the local fly shops to find out what's working best.

The early summer days in western Montana are almost Artic in length. Tonight I'll be able to fish until nearly 10. My destination is Spring Gulch Campground on the East Fork of the Bitterroot River. This fork follows Highway 93 south of Darby to the small town of Sula. The East Fork has been manipulated by the construction of the highway, but still provides some excellent wade fishing opportunities. And though the fish are smaller on average than the main Bitterroot River or the West Fork, a lucky fisherman can still coax the occasional hog to the surface.

Fly fishing has fast become a booming industry in the Bitterroot Valley. Hundreds of fishing guides work on the entire length of the river, including the two forks. And according to industry experts, the tourism associated with river recreation bring millions of dollars each year into the valley's economy.

Wading or floating the river can be a quick and easy get away from the daily grind. Since the river flows through or near every town in the valley, good fishing is usually just minutes from your door.

The Bitterroot is a relatively slow river. It's easy to float and fish with just a little preparation and guidance from any local fly shop or sporting goods store. However, the river can also be deceptively dangerous. This gentle river flows mainly through pine and cottonwood bottoms. This woody material provides important homes for fish and aquatic life, but they can also be dangerous to unsuspecting floaters. A little caution and preparation can go a long way.

The Bitterroot River has all the characteristics of a great trout stream deep cutbanks, long riffles, gravel bars, long deep holes, and braided channels. The average trout on the Bitterroot is about 14 inches, but 18 to 20 inch fish are not uncommon. Plus access is not a problem with nearly 30 official access points along the entire river.

So now it's my turn to get away. Thirty minutes after walking out my door, I'll be waist deep in the East Fork with (hopefully) my rod bent on beautiful Cutthroat Trout. Happy Fishing.

Discover Montana Bitterroot Valley Activities, Sports and Things To Do
Camping in the Bitterroot Valley | Canoeing in the Bitterroot Valley | Conservation in the Bitterroot Valley
Cross Country Skiing in the Bitterroot Valley | Downhill Skiing in the Bitterroot Valley | Farmers Market in the Bitterroot Valley
Fly Fishing in the Bitterroot Valley | Hiking in the Bitterroot Valley | Horse Care in the Bitterroot Valley
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