Dry Fly Fishing

Dry Fly Fishing

Monday I was out with long-time angler, Chris. He really favors dry fly fishing so we met later and launched on a stretch of the Bitterroot near Hamilton. We started with a single Skwala dry and Chris got an eat on his very first cast and then landed a cutthroat on his second cast.

He had a big fish break off just around the corner and then picked up another feisty cutthroat in a back eddy. A solid 17″ brown trout ate the dry tight off a bank just downstream. At that point a cold wind started to blow and so we took shelter in a side channel with sunshine for lunch.

We had a couple eats early on in the afternoon, but it was hard to focus when we came across a group of 10-12 elk in the river. They were several hundred yards below us but we had a great time watching them and trying to sneak up to them.

At some point they winded us and exploded out of the river in our direction. Then they finally realized where we were and swam back across the river in some big currents and around log jams. It was amazing to see how powerful they are.

Once the elk cleared out we were back to fishing and the trout were looking up. For whatever reason they proved hard to hook and even harder to keep on this afternoon. For every fish that hit the net, there were 4 or 5 that tried to eat the fly or came unbuttoned.

That’s the way it goes sometimes, but Chris kept at it. He boated a couple fat cutts and a strong 17″ cuttbow to go along with a few smaller fish too. That wind from lunch persisted all afternoon and we were both pretty chilled by the time we hit the takeout. Despite the cooler temps, it was a solid day of fishing and Chris was able to throw a single dry all day long.

Dry fly fishing - big brown trout were biting
Dry fly fishing – big brown trout were biting
Chris hooked up on a pretty day
Chris hooked up on a pretty day
Elk charging across the Bitterroot River
Elk charging across the Bitterroot River
We ended up pretty close to a bachelor group of bull elk on the Bitterroot River while dry fly fishing
We ended up pretty close to a bachelor group of bull elk on the Bitterroot River while dry fly fishing
Nice trout eating dry flies - Nothing like dry fly fishing on the Bitterroot River
Nice trout eating dry flies – Nothing like dry fly fishing on the Bitterroot River
Amazing colors on the rainbow trout we caught dry fly fishing
Amazing colors on the rainbow trout we caught dry fly fishing

Dry Fly Fishing

Tuesday was my first day of the season with local angler, Skip. We met a little later and headed to the upper Bitterroot. It was cool again today and the wind was already blowing at the put in. We started with a single Skwala dry fly to see what would happen and Skip had two eats in the first long run.

Those first fish were a good sign, but we still had to work for them early. The next few good runs didn’t produce even a look until Skip connected with a nice cutthroat at the bottom of a long bank. Another fat cutthroat followed a couple runs later and the activity started to build.

Skip picked up a couple more on a long, slow bank and had a big fish come unbuttoned as it headed for downed trees in a side channel. The first hour or so after lunch the fishing was similar. Skip would find a fish or two in a run and then we might go a couple spots with nothing.

Then March Brown mayflies started hatching and the river came alive. Fish were rising in certain runs and Skip took full advantage of the activity. We stayed with a Skwala dry as almost every rising fish we encountered was willing to pounce on the big dry as soon as they saw it.

Every likely spot started producing fish and they were even showing up in some unexpected spots too. We had all kinds of great visual dry eats today. Some fish you could see coming from a long ways away, others just sipped the dry, and a few absolutely destroyed it.

For about 4 hours in the afternoon it was as good as it gets dry fly fishing. Skip was hooked up all afternoon and almost everything was quality size. There were a pile of 14-16″ healthy cutthroats, a couple of 16″ brown trout, and some really nice rainbows with best a big 19″ male.

The fishing was some of the best I have seen so far this year and I was shocked it fished so well since there was a cold and constant wind upstream all day. Credit to Skip for casting into that wind all day and hitting the right spots. He was rewarded for his efforts by putting a big number up on the board today.

Fat cuttbow on the dry fly fishing
Fat cuttbow on the dry fly fishing
Stunning day on the Bitterroot River
Stunning day on the Bitterroot River
Skip hooked up at the top of a side channel of the Bitterroot River
Skip hooked up at the top of a side channel of the Bitterroot River
Quality rainbow trout on top
Quality rainbow trout on top

Dry Fly Fishing

Wednesday I was back out with Chris and we opted for a later start. The cloudy and relatively calm weather in town had me excited to look for some big fish on the middle river today. Unfortunately by the time we got to the river the clouds had burned off and the wind was absolutely howling.

It started out blowing hard and then got even worse. Chris managed to hook a big rainbow in the second spot that came unbuttoned on a head shake. The next hour we didn’t fish hardly at all. The wind was so bad that I could barely control the boat from a safety standpoint, let alone trying to cast a fly rod.

We tucked in as out of the breeze as we could and stopped for lunch. Chris and I both contemplated pulling the plug on the day as the conditions seemed unfishable. When we shoved off I told Chris we would only fish in spots that were a little protected and see what happens.

On our second bank of the afternoon a big cuttbow hammered the dry fly. I breathed a little sigh of relief when that 19″ fish hit the net and I knew at least we wouldn’t get skunked. When Chris tagged another nice fish in the next run I knew we might be onto something.

It was still extremely windy at that point and we couldn’t fish everywhere, but the places that were tolerable were all holding quality fish. In a couple of spots we saw fish rise to naturals and they all aggressively pounded the Skwala when it floated over them.

By the late afternoon the wind laid down just enough to allow us to fish most of the water and that’s when the fishing really turned on. From there on every bank and back eddy produced at least one fish and Chris had 5 eats in the final couple runs with the take out in sight and finished the day with another slab rainbow.

The quality today was impressive with all rainbows and cuttbows in the 15-18″ range with one bigger. Today was one of the top 5 windiest days I have spent on the river and it was by far the best fishing I’ve experienced in those conditions.

So windy that sand and gravel was kicking up in dust storms today
So windy that sand and gravel was kicking up in dust storms today
Chris with a great rainbow in between giant wind gusts
Chris with a great rainbow in between giant wind gusts
Chris tight to a nice rising fish
Chris tight to a nice rising fish
Some big fish were looking up today at our dry fly fishing
Some big fish were looking up today at our dry fly fishing
The masked man with one more above the take out on the Bitterroot River
The masked man with one more above the take out on the Bitterroot River

Dry Fly Fishing

Thursday local angler Jim and I were back on the water together. It was cool and breezy again today, but the cloud cover offered high hopes. After the first two runs came up blank I switched to a bigger Skwala dry pattern, and just about the time I started to wonder what was going on.

Jim connected with a colorful 17″ cutthroat on the dry. Fish started moving in some of the likely spots and Jim picked off a handful before we pulled into a side channel. He fooled two nice cutthroat in there before we tucked out of the wind for lunch.

After lunch 4 more trout fell victim in that same side-channel before we left. By then the wind really started to blow and made for challenging rowing and fishing for a while. Still, anytime we could get the fly in the spots there was a willing fish eating Jim’s dry.

Fortunately, the wind backed off a little and then the Skwalas and March Browns really started coming off the water. That’s when the fishing went to a whole other level. There were rising fish in all the good runs.

It was so ridiculous that Jim couldn’t even get line out to cast to a riser on the bank because a fish ate his dry right next to the boat. I can’t remember the number of times we stuck two fish on two consecutive casts and Jim even had a stretch with 3 fish on 3 casts.

It was absolute pandemonium with the good runs producing 3 or 4 fish each and even the marginal spots were giving up trout. There is nothing quite like being on the river with utter confidence that a fish is going to eat your dry fly when it’s in the right spot.

Big fish were on the hunt today too. The standard issue fish was 14-16″ but Jim landed a good number of trout that went 17+” with some fat 18″ cuttbows, 3 or 4 quality browns up to 19″, and the best fish of the day was a 20.5″ cuttbow near the end of the day.

Jim picked off one more good fish on the last bank and as I released that one I cut his fly off. Finishing the day with a trout on his last cast was a fitting end. When you close your eyes at night and picture the perfect day on the water it is exactly what we experienced today. It was the best fishing I’ve seen so far this season.

Jim was hooked up early and quite often today dry fly fishing with skwala
Jim was hooked up early and quite often today dry fly fishing with skwala
Thick cuttbow in a fast run
Thick cuttbow in a fast run
Brown Trout caught while dry fly fishing on the Bitterroot
Brown Trout caught while dry fly fishing on the Bitterroot
...and another one - Brown Trout caught while dry fly fishing on the Bitterroot
…and another one – Brown Trout caught while dry fly fishing on the Bitterroot
Saving the best for last, Jim with a 20.5" cuttbow at the end of the day
Saving the best for last, Jim with a 20.5″ cuttbow at the end of the day

Dry Fly Fishing

Friday was my first day of the season with long-time angler, Marcelo. After the fishing yesterday I was excited, but the bright sunny skies tempered my enthusiasm a little. After the binge feeding yesterday the bright lights might put them off the bite.

We took the little raft to use a difficult put in to avoid weekend boat traffic. We started the day with a single Skwala and had two solid eats in the second run. The trout were already looking up and that trend would continue.

All of the reliable spots were holding fish and I was a little shocked at the average size considering the bright sun. On one bank in the morning Marcelo stuck a hot 17″ rainbow and then came tight on a thick 18″ cuttbow tight to a log.

We were picking up a fish or two in every run until we stopped for lunch. The morning was good, but we were just getting started. In the afternoon the action was even better. Fish were pounding the Skwala in all the right spots but then the March Browns started to give us some rising fish.

I switched Marcelo over to a mayfly pattern and he picked up a couple on that, but when we worked a fast foam eddy I went back to the Skwala to show them a bigger meal, and even the trout rising to mayflies were more than willing to eat the big bug.

The rest of the day was simply awesome dry fly fishing. It was so good that we were well behind schedule and couldn’t work the water terribly hard. Even at the faster pace Marcelo was still connecting with a couple of quality trout in every run.

It was so good that I could almost predict where the next fish would come from. Instead of fishing entire runs I would just slow down in the very best spots, Marcelo would make a cast or two and shortly after that I would have a fat trout in the net.

Then we would coast down to the next spot. There were a bunch of nice brown trout on the prowl today. Marcelo boated 6 or 7 browns which isn’t common in the sun and they were all nice specimens.

It was similar to yesterday with mostly 14-16″ cutts and cuttbows with several fish from 17-18″ and a few larger ones including a gorgeous 20+” brown trout. Single dry fly fishing from start to finish and action all day long. When the Bitterroot is fishing at it’s peak it might be the finest river in the country and the last two days are a testament of that.

Healthy rainbow ready for release on the Bitterroot River
Healthy rainbow ready for release on the Bitterroot River
Marcelo with a fat cutthroat off a logjam - dry fly fishing on the Bitterroot
Marcelo with a fat cutthroat off a logjam – dry fly fishing on the Bitterroot
Great dry fly fishing action despite the sunshine
Great dry fly fishing action despite the sunshine
Several quality brown trout in the net today
Several quality brown trout in the net today
Marcelo with a dry fly fishing river monster
Marcelo with a dry fly fishing river monster

Dry Fly Fishing

What a great week of dry fly fishing! As of tonight the rivers are back on the rise so my spring Skwala season is likely over as I will transition to the Missouri River mid-week. Like any spring, it had it’s ups and downs but it was sure nice to have solid dry fly fishing for a week straight.

Big trout on single dry flies is why I look forward to March and April every year. Of course, the second act of the season on the Missouri River is tough to compete with too. Looking forward to the next 6 weeks east of the divide.

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