We headed over Chief Joseph pass into the Bitterroot Valley after leaving Salmon, ID. As I mentioned in my last Fall Fly Fishing Road Trip post, this trip was spontaneous. We ended up fly fishing the Bitterroot, Big Hole, and Beaverhead rivers on our way east. Yellowstone National Park was a destination as well. We wanted to see if our timing was right to watch some wildlife.

Landing Fish on Bitterroot | www.johnkreft.com

It turns out we fished four days on the Bitterroot. The first stop was the West Fork.

West Fork Bitterroot | www.johnkreft.com

The West Fork has been one of our stops whenever we are in the Bitterroot Valley. The water was noticeably lower since last fishing it in July. I thought we’d be able to find a few willing Cutthroat trout.

I tied on a Purple Haze since we didn’t see any insect activity. I don’t know why fish like this fly, but they do. It doesn’t really imitate anything.

We cast to the far bank, next to brush and fallen logs. Watching closely, I noticed a couple trout eating something on the surface.

Fishing Edges of West Fork Bitterroot | www.johnkreft.com

Here is one.

West Fork Bitterroot Cutthroat | www.johnkreft.com

I had my fishing partner cast in the same area…here is one of her fish.

West Fork Bitterroot Cutthroat | www.johnkreft.com

We only spent a couple hours fishing this location and headed downstream through Darby, finding a spot to sleep for the night.

We’re still learning to fish the Bitterroot River. We fished it last year when attending Cast One for Hope. If you haven’t seen their promo video, Karen and I were the fly fishers. CLICK HERE. This year’s event was cancelled due to Covid-19. They did hold a virtual event which we participated in. We are looking forward to attending in 2021 in Hamilton, MT.

The run below is a spot we found last year that fished well for us.

Fishing the Bitterroot River in September | www.johnkreft.com

Again, we didn’t see any insects for fish to rise to. Blind casting the Purple Haze, I was able to raise and hook a handful of fish, mostly under 10 inches.

Fall on Bitterroot | www.johnkreft.com

I walked down to a spot I had caught some nice fish last year and gave it a try. I caught a couple nice fish.

Cutthroat Trout From Bitterroot | www.johnkreft.com
Bitterroot Cutthroat | www.johnkreft.com

Here is another spot we fished in Hamilton. This is a boat access spot where a bridge crosses the river. We found a few rising trout, mostly small.

Bitterroot River in Hamilton | www.johnkreft.com

OK, this one was a little bigger.

Bitterroot Rainbow | www.johnkreft.com

If you’re a regular here at RiverKeeper Flies, you probably recognize my “foam is home” comment. I’ve written about how we find nice fish feeding in the foam. I guess trout feel safe there. That’s where the fish above was.

Foam is Home on Bitterroot River | www.johnkreft.com

My wife was waiting for action and noticed this dragonfly on a rock.

Dragonfly on Bitterroot River | www.johnkreft.com

It caught an insect in flight and landed on the rock next to her…and started having lunch with this mayfly.

Dragonfly Eating Mayfly on Bitterroot River | www.johnkreft.com

As I mentioned above, we are still learning the river. We walk and wade, which I believe is different than most on the river. Floating the river would be very effective. If you decide to fish the Bitterroot River, give one of the fly shops a call and take a guided trip.

But if you’re like us, we enjoy the walk and wade experience. Just park at a boat ramp/access point and walk upstream. You’ll find some nice water and hopefully a few fish will rise to your fly.

Bitterroot Valley | www.johnkreft.com
Bitterroot Cutthroat Closeup | www.johnkreft.com
Beautiful Bitterroot Cutthroat | www.johnkreft.com

Yes, we caught fish. What we didn’t see were any Mahogany Duns or Hecuba mayflies on the water. We had a cold front move through, and I think it affected the insects. Kinda like last year. Well, not exactly like last year. We didn’t have 5 inches of snow. Just cold and windy.

We had a good time in the Valley, but it’s time to move on.

Our goal is getting to the Madison River. The only question is which way should we go? Up to Missoula and down the freeway or up the Bitterroot River and over Chief Joseph pass and along the Big Hole River

You guessed it…the Big Hole was calling.

I have a love/hate relationship with the Big Hole River. I’ve heard stories of big fish there, but somehow they have evaded us. But I like the beauty of the Big Hole Valley.

We thought we’d just drive down the valley and stop at the Beaverhead for a night and then on to the Madison River.

We always stop at Fishtrap to see if we could see any rising fish. I didn’t think the fish would be rising.

Fall on Big Hole River at Fishtrap | www.johnkreft.com

Well, I was wrong. Turns out they like Purple Haze!

Big Hole Rainbow Trout | www.johnkreft.com
Big Hole Rainbow | www.johnkreft.com
Big Hole Brown | www.johnkreft.com

The river gods allowed us to hook and land a few fish and we were grateful.

The next morning, there was frost on the ground as we got up. We packed up and drove down river.

We didn’t plan to fish, just look at the different water levels. Our first stop was at the Divide river access.

Divide Bridge on Big Hole River | www.johnkreft.com

We looked for rising fish, but got back in the van and headed downstream again.

Why not drive into Maiden Rock and look?

Maiden Rock on Big Hole River | www.johnkreft.com

What a beautiful spot. The fall foliage was spectacular!

See that spot of foam? We didn’t see any rising fish, but it was too tempting.

Dancingtrout rose three fish, one she guessed was a 20 inch Brown close to the bank and the foam. It took a Thunder Thigh Hopper on the first cast. She hooked up, the line went tight, and then it was gone.

That was it. I decided to swing a couple streamers, but didn’t find any willing trout. Like I said, I have a love/hate relationship with the river.

Back in the van and over to Dillon and the Beaverhead.

Beaverhead River in Late September | www.johnkreft.com

Ooops…that was a mistake. See how low the river is?

Beaverhead River in Late September | www.johnkreft.com

Here is was back in July.

Beaverhead River Eddy below Clark Canyon Dam | www.johnkreft.com

How does the saying go…the best laid plans…

Oh well. Next stop…Madison River.

Enjoy…go fish, stay safe!

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  1. John,
    Do you guys buy 3 day fishing licenses per state, when you take these trips? Beautiful rivers and country. Planning on doing a similar trip next spring/summer.

    1. We are fortunate to be able to spend quite a bit of time fly fishing in Idaho and Montana. As such, we’ve purchased an annual out-of-state license for each state. There are a variety of options, depending on the state. I’ve never complained about the price of a fishing license. I think it’s the cheapest form of entertainment I can find.


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