Our last road trip found us in Hamilton, MT for some fall fly fishing on the Bitterroot River the last week of September. The weather was beautiful, with fall colors beginning to show in the valley. And we had some good fishing as well!

Karen with Bitterroot Rainbow | www.johnkreft.com

The Bitterroot Valley this time of year is spectacular.

Bitterroot Valley Colors | www.johnkreft.com

Bitterroot River Colors | www.johnkreft.com

The fishing is supposed to be good, with hatches of Tricos, Mahogany, and Hecuba mayflies. If you read last week’s post, 2021 Cast One for Hope, you know we caught several fish with Trico imitations and Purple Haze. The days following the event were sporadic, some days fishing was good, while other days found us waiting and watching for rising trout.

Karen Leaning of Wading Staff - Bitterroot River | www.johnkreft.com

At times, we were rewarded with some nice fish. If you wait patiently enough, this is what happens.

Playing Fish on Rock Wall - Bitterroot River | www.johnkreft.com

Most of the time, we fished the water around Hamilton. I was worried about the low flows. This is Tucker Crossing, a place we normally wouldn’t wade. It’s now a small channel where rafts launch and very shallow. We waded across the channel on our way to the main section of the river. When we arrived, the river gauge at Bell Crossing was at 230 cfs. A few days later when we left the river, it had risen to around 270 cfs.

Crossing Bitterroot at Tucker Crossing | www.johnkreft.com

We were heading to a spot we fished before and luckily would find some rising trout…to size 20 and 22 Tricos.

Bitterroot Rainbow Trout | www.johnkreft.com
Bitterroot River Rainbow | www.johnkreft.com
Another Bitterroot Rainbow | www.johnkreft.com

That evening, we decided to give the West Fork a try. The weather was clouding up and rain was in the forecast, so we hoped to find a few BWOs hatching.

This is a spot we have tried before with success. Notice how low the water is? It was a common theme everywhere on the Bitterroot.

West Fork Bitterroot River | www.johnkreft.com

No insects were visible, and a Purple Haze worked on this Cutthroat.

West Fork Bitterroot Cutthroat | www.johnkreft.com

We moved downstream looking for deeper water and found another nice run.

West Fork Bitterroot River Run | www.johnkreft.com

Purple Haze worked here as well.

West Fork Bitterroot Brown Trout | www.johnkreft.com
West Fork - Bitterroot River Cutthroat | www.johnkreft.com

Late in the evening, I found a few BWO mayflies floating down this nice run with fish rising to them. I tied on an Improved Sparkle Dun BWO and landed a couple smaller trout.

West Fork Bitterroot Cutbow | www.johnkreft.com

But returning the next morning, we didn’t find any rising fish, so back to the mainstem we went.

Our day was beautiful, but the fish didn’t cooperate.

Bitterroot River Below Hamilton | www.johnkreft.com

The following day was different. We went searching for fish!

Searching the Bitterroot for Trout | www.johnkreft.com

And returned to water we caught fish in a few days earlier.

Bitterroot River | www.johnkreft.com

Another beautiful Cutthroat.

Bitterroot Cutthroat Trout | www.johnkreft.com

Our last day on the river…we found a few fish rising to Tricos again.

My wife found this nice Brown less than a foot from shore on the far bank.

Fishy Water on Bitterroot River | www.johnkreft.com
Bitterroot Brown | www.johnkreft.com

And a nice Rainbow in the same run when I was hooking and landing 9 inchers!

Bitterroot Rainbow | www.johnkreft.com

As mentioned earlier, the water was very low. Did it affect the fishing? I don’t really know. We didn’t see many hatching insects, but were able to bring fish up with the trusty Purple Haze. A couple of mornings, Trico fly patterns saved us.

I did catch one fish the first afternoon on the river with one of Chuck Stranahan’s Brindle Chute flies to imitate a Hecuba mayfly. I never saw a real one, but a fish eagerly moved to and ate the fly.

Bitterroot Cutbow | www.johnkreft.com

See you next time…

Bitterroot Cutthroat Going Home | www.johnkreft.com

Enjoy…go fish, stay safe!

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  1. Beautiful.
    You caught the essence of the place I call home; only thing that remains is to share more of it with you – a day on the stream(s) and after, a sunset BBQ on our back deck. Let me know when you’re coming.
    – Chuck

  2. Hi guys,

    Wow! This post was a trip back in time for me. Back in the 80s when I lived in North Idaho, I guided that area on weekends and holidays. The Clark Fork River, Bitterroot River, and Rock Creek were my old area of operation. I can see from your pictures, the fishing is still as good as it once was. Thanks for sharing a great part of the country and a piece of my past.

    Tight Lines – (Gretchen &) Al Beatty

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