100 Best: Bitterroot River
Location: Southwest Montana
Type of stream: Freestone
Angling methods: Fly, Spin
Species: Browns, Rainbow, Cutthroat, Bull Trout, Brook Trout
Season: All year if you catch and release
Supporting Services: Hamilton
Short take: Great river saved by TU and friends.
Handicapped Access: None
Closest TU Chapter: Bitter Root
Bounded on the west by the Bitterroot Mountains and on the east by the Sapphire Range, the Bitterroot River flows for more than 100 miles from its headwaters above Painted Rocks Reservoir to its junction with Clarks Fork in Missoula. The valley is as long and narrow as an aristocrat’s foot. Float the river in April and cast a foam skwala—that stonefly on steroids—into the pockets behind boulders. Had it not been for enlightened TUers like former Bitter Root Chapter president Marshall Bloom, that lovely wild west-slope cutt that’s about to eat your fly would not exist. For more than two decades, Bloom and his like-minded friends negotiated water releases that saved the Bitterroot.
The river is one of the most accessible of the West’s great trout streams. Highways follow its course. The Montana Department of Fish, Wildlife and Parks has established a number of launch ramps from which waders, too, can enter the river. The 82 miles from the junction of its East and West Forks, offer a smorgasbord of riffles, island defining channels, and flats. High runoff has added much woody debris and currents have carved pockets which provide cover for large trout..
Because it’s so accessible—many outfitters guide on it and it can be filled with freelance traveling anglers as well, the Bitterroot in summer may be too crowded for your taste. In that event head for the river’s headwater forks. The fish may be smaller but you’ll find stretches of water that you can have to yourself.