Fly Fishing Montana:Floating The Bitterroot River

Floating The Bitterroot River, Montana
The last float of my trip came after a few days wade fishing on my own. Matt and I drove a short distance from his house to the Bitterroot River. The weather had changed, and air temps dropped ten degrees from the previous days. The wind blew hard, pushing clouds across the sun, casting us into ten minute intervals of cold or warmth. The trees along the river were a bright yellow against the gray mountains, and the river, as silver as a mirror. This section of river had good numbers of big browns, and I felt confident fishing one particular streamer pattern. We both had nymph rigs ready, but I fell into cast-and-strip mode, almost second nature after numerous days streamer fishing. One bank in particular was known to hold a lot of trout, and I watched trout spook from the shallows as we approached. A few passes with the streamer brought mainly chases, and one light hit. We saw quite a few big browns, so we pulled off to wade for ten minutes. I missed the first good hit of the day, caught off guard in between strips. Twenty minutes later, I cast into a riffle where the rod was quickly jerked down before a big brown shook the hook on the surface. The strikes for the most part were subtle, a slight resistance on the line. Cast. Strip. Pause. Strip. Swing. Bump. Was that bottom, or a take? Throw in a few big Pike Minnows, and there was enough action to keep things interesting.
Hooked Up
We changed from streamers to nymphs, and took turns at the oars. We fished a variety of rubber legged nymphs, big and small. I even drifted some tiny size 20-22 BWO and trico nymphs. I noticed thousands of the tiny nymphs crawling and swimming over the river bottom. I kept switching back to the streamer when nothing else produced. I was rewarded with a decent rainbow, and Matt mentioned they get huge in this section. It proved to be a bit of foreshadowing. After fishing for a while I offered to row, and Matt took the bow. He fished a hopper/mahagony dry combo along the banks until he got snagged on a submerged stick. I passed off the streamer rod, and he started casting into some great looking oxbows. One oxbow was filled with fallen trees, and deep churning water. I looked up just as the rod bucked violently, and Matt yelled, “Big fish!” I could see a large fish thrashing on the surface as he slide the big rainbow to the net. It was his biggest rainbow of the Summer/Fall, measuring 24 inches.
Matt's Big Bow
Once he released the rainbow, I walked up to the head of the run. On the first cast I had a good hit, and on the second cast I landed a cutthroat. We moved on the towards the take-out, fishing the streamer in deep pools. The river changed dramatically from wide sweeping riffles into deep, narrow sloughs with a lot of woody debris. We covered many miles of river, and only stopped a few times to wade. The sun was setting as we reached the take-out. The day was similar to the other days where the river yielded quality fish over quantity. In this video post I filmed floating on the Bitterroot River.