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During it’s 85 mile journey from Conner to the Clark Fork confluence in Missoula, the Bitterroot has dropped 800 feet – this provides a very comfortable speed in which to wade or float. This is not an intimidating river; full of traditional holding water, the Bitterroot offers well- defined riffles, pools, log jams, cut banks and back eddies.
Blessed with some of the most prolific insect life in the Rocky Mountains, the Bitterroot River offers mayflies, stoneflies, damsels, caddis and terrestrials. In the Spring anglers flock to the Bitterroot for the highly awaited Skwala hitch. Once the water reaches 42 degrees you will see bugs, fishermen and tons of smiles for those who venture on the river.
The much anticipated Salmonfly hatch corresponds somewhat with the weather, snow pack and spring run-off. It usually commences near the first of June, and depending on water temperature (it needs to be 51 degrees) and can last anywhere from mid-June to early July. Riding on the backs of the Salmonfly is the Golden stone hatch.
From here the fishing just gets better and better with the Bitterroot stonefly hatch, Green & Grey Drakes, PMD’s, mahoganies, Blue-winged olives, flavs, caddis, and terrestrials (just to name a few). A general rule of thumb is almost every aquatic insect found in the Rocky Mountain West can be found on the Bitterroot River.
The Clark Fork is characterized in two distinct sections. The upper Clark Fork starts at Warm Springs but the fishing is nothing to get excited about until it flows by Drummond. From Drummond to Milltown the Clark Fork is primarily a brown trout fishery. It resembles most of western Montana’s trout fisheries with long riffles, plunge pools, and long grassy, undercut banks.
The upper Clark Fork is a true freestone river and accordingly has all the associated bug life, including but not limited too Skwalas, Salmonflies, Goldenstones, Green & Grey Drakes, PMD, Blue-winged Olvies, caddis and terrestrials.
The lower Clark Fork (below Missoula) is in steep contrast to the upper. Here slick water and big foam back eddies are the norm. After the confluence with the Bitterroot, with the exception if the Alberton Gorge section, the river spreads out and slows down. The lower section receives almost the same hatches as the upper section.
However, the most notable insect missing is the Salmonfly. On the lower Clark Fork long leaders, small bugs and immaculate drifts are the norm. However, there are quite large rainbow, cutthroat and brown trout as well as Northern pike and bass on the lower Clark Fork.
Imortalized by Norman McLean’s “A River Runs Through It”, the Blackfoot and the valley through which it runs has become not only a Blue Ribbon fishery, but a standard for land and river conservation and maintenence in Western Montana. Here is a river for the novice fisherman; the fish are aggressive and come readily to the fly.
Hatches here aren’t as dense as on many rivers, but the fish will rise boldly when feeding actively on the surface. Truly a recreational river, one must be aware of the various craft on the water – rafts, canoes, kayaks and inner tubes areall reasons to keep one eye up stream.
With tremendous riverbed characteristics, boulders and cut banks, the Blackfoot is ideal for the wader and floater alike. Dries, streamers and nymphs are all good choices for this legendary water.
Formed at the confluence of the Gallitan,the Jefferson and the Madison rivers, the Missouri runs 150 miles from Three Forks to Great Falls. Originally a transportation thoroughfare for Indians, it might be hard to imagine that the 100 foot span of the “Mighty Mo” has the characteristics of a spring creek, but indeed it does.
River sections between the dams allow anglers the opportunity to catch not only the smaller, resident fish, but also the considerably larger migaratory fish. they play an important role in the overall fishing appeal of the water, as it is not unheard of to see six-to-ten pound rainbows as they move out of the reservoirs into the river sections.