Fly Fishing a Famous River in Montana – An Adventure in Big Sky Country
Montana has been blessed with many of the most famous fly fishing rivers in the United States. Because I have been fortunate enough to live in the beautiful Bitterroot Valley, where a “river runs through it,” to quote from the title of a famous movie; I thought I spring fishing Missoula would begin our adventure with an article on fly fishing the Bitterroot River.
The Bitterroot springs to life at the confluence of the East and West forks just north of Conner. It flows north for 97 miles where it joins the Clark Fork near Missoula. It is not one of the largest rivers, by Montana standards, but its numerous pools and riffles, its abundant insect life, together with generous fishing accesses and scenic vistas at every bend, combine to make it a dry fly fisherman’s dream.
The Bitterroot runs parallel to Highway 93 and is framed by the Sapphire Mountains on the East and the Bitterroot range to the West. The close proximity of these ranges makes this beautiful valley a “banana belt” in western Montana.
As it follows its course through Ravalli and Missoula counties, it passes by such towns as Hamilton, Stevensville, and the Lee Metcalf National Wildlife Refuge. On these 2,900 acres 238 different species of birds have been documented, many of which migrate there to nest.
Because of frequent log jams and other impediments, the Bitterroot can be dangerous to float when the river is high due to melting snow. Be sure to check with local fly shops to find out when the river is safe enough for floating.
Another important consideration: different sections of the river have slightly different regulations concerning catch and release, limits for various kinds of fish and the use of lures or bait; so make sure you are in compliance with those local regulations which apply to that section of the river you plan to fish.
The short novel written by Norman Maclean entitled: A River Runs Through It, begins with what has become a classic sentence in angling literature: “In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing.” This was spoken by the father of the family who was an ordained Presbyterian pastor. I echo that sentiment in this article. To experience a trout stream for the first time, even if its location is common knowledge, can be an exciting discovery, which at times may feel like a spiritual renewal.