Copyright 2013 James Marsh
Fly Fishing Guide to the Bitterroot River, Monana
The East Fork of the Bitterroot River is a freestone stream subject to the whatever Mother
Nature brings to it. It flows for about twenty miles before joining the West Fork to form the main
stem of the Bitterroot. The upper part is followed by the East Fork Road through National
Forest Land. Highway #93 follows the East Fork from Conner to near Sula. There are several
fishing access sites along the road and some private property in this section. This is a small
stream that contains mostly small Westslope Cutthroat trout. The fish are plentiful and the
stream provides an action packed, fun filled fishing experience.
The West Fork is a tailwater below Painted Rocks Lake located near the Idaho and Montana
border. There are approximately ten miles of the stream above the lake. It
contains small brook, cutthroat and rainbow trout. It can be accessed from the
West Fork Road. Most of it lies on National Forest land. To your right is a
thumbnail image of Painted Rocks Lake. The West Fork tailwater runs about
fifteen miles before its confluence with the East Fork. The water below the dam runs clear all
year long and can even be fished during the spring runoff. It has some good sized rainbow,
brown and cutthroat trout. Most of the water is of moderate flow. It is easily waded.
The two forks of the Bitterroot join just above the little town of Conner. The main stem,
downstream of Conner, is still a small size and provides excellent wading and floating
conditions. It has a good population of rainbow, brown and cutthroat trout. There's a public
access just below Conner, the Hannon Memorial Fishing Access. This upper section is still
cooled during the summer from the West Fork flows of cold water released from the bottom of
Painted Rock Lake. It has lots of riffles and is surrounded by some very nice scenery. Its fish
may not be quite as large as they get downstream, but you most likely won't be crowded.
The next section flows between the towns of Hamilton and Victory. There the water is often
used for agricultural purposes and the river can get rather low. It is broken up in many areas
with split channels. This is a good section to wade. Most of the time the flows are slower than
most everywhere else. There are many gravel bars along the river, along with several
diversion dams in this section. Fishing access sites are available.
From Florence to Victor, the river can get too warm for good trout fishing during the late
summer, but its great most any other time. There are no diversion dams and the river can be
floated fairly easy. The fish population is probably slightly higher than it is upriver. There is
plenty of deep water in large, slow moving pools that can hold trout. The fish in this section are
larger than most of them found upstream. The biggest problem is the traffic during the late
spring and summer created by recreational boaters.
From Florence to the Clarke Fork River, the Bitterroot River takes on a slightly different
appearance from the section above Florence. The braids, channels and islands return. The
stream doesn't have as good of a population of trout as the section above Florence, but it
does hold some very nice trout. Large rainbows have been caught in this section. The river
slows down again, and the water can become too warm during the late summer.
Bitterroot River, Montana
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