Streams Outside of Yellowstone National Park
.............................Fly Fishing Yellowstone National Park

01/01/09

Fly Fishing the Bitterroot River, Montana - Part 1

The Bitterroot River is located in the Southwestern Section of Montana, south of
Missoula. The river is really never very far from Idaho. It is a very good days drive from
Yellowstone National Park to the Bitterroot, but it is well worth the trip.

The Bitterroot River is generally considered to be the section below the point the East
and West Forks of the Bitterroot merge. The East and West Forks are considered
separate streams for some reason. They are certainly large enough to be considered
separate streams. The East Fork is a freestone stream and the West fork a freestone
stream above Paint Rock Lake and a tailwater below Paint Rock Dam. When the two
forks combine, I guess you have a partial tailwater stream but it certainly looks and acts
like a freestone stream on its eighty mile venture to the North where it joins the Clarke
Fork River.

The river flows through a beautiful valley, Bitterroot Valley, located between the
Sapphine Mountains on its eastern side and the Bitterroot Mountains on its western
side. Unlike many Montana rivers, most of the Bitterroot is never in remote country. It
lies in one of the most developed areas of the state. Now don't get that wrong.
Developed for Montana -undeveloped in Eastern terms.

I will start describing the West Fork of the Bitterroot below Paint Rock Dam. This is a
small to medium size tailwater that is usually very easily waded. In fact, drift boats are
not allowed in this section of the river. It contains Westslope Cutthroat, Brook trout,
Rainbow trout, Brown trout, and Mountain Whitefish. It is a great section of water to fish.

If any of you have viewed our "Fly Fishing DVD" entitled "Fly Fishing Tailwaters", you
witnessed some of the fine fishing on the West Fork. Angie caught a huge cutthroat
and I caught a huge number of rainbows, some browns, a few cutthroats and some
brook trout or a Western grand slam our very first trip there. There was not a single
person fishing in that area not far below the dam that day in July. Although it was
smack in the middle of the prime fly fishing season, there was still no pressure. Much of
the stream is on private property but still a good amount is available to the public.

We have fished this area three different years and have always caught a large number
of trout as well as some very nice ones. Each time the flows from the dam were very
desirable. It was easy to wade. On our first trip there, we encountered a large hatch of
PMDs or Pale Morning Duns. I caught some fish on the dun pattern but things really
picked up when I changed to an emerger pattern. Seems there were several fish below
each rock in the river and there are a lot of rocks in the river.

I guess we have been very lucky on the West Fork because the flows were right each
time we fished it. I am sure that could easily have be different. I will continue tomorrow
with the Bitterroot River, one of Montana's finest trout streams.

                                                                                                       Copyright 2008 James Marsh
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