Missoula, Montana Fishing Report for the week of 3/8/2018

Monday was my first day on the water for the year.  Good friend and fellow guide, Karl, and I launched the boat on the middle Bitterroot to check out the state of the Skwala hatch.  It has been a long, cold, snowy winter in Missoula but the weather finally turned the corner last week to create some fishable conditions.  As fishing guides we are eternal optimists and also lazy in our day off fishing endeavors.  Karl’s rod was rigged with a dry/dropper and he decided to start with that even though the cool temps and bright sunshine indicated that a nymph rig would probably be more productive.  Either way it was just good to be back on the river.  The Bitterroot is in great shape, but after an hour and a half with the dry/dropper Karl had only briefly hooked one.  It was time to switch up and grab a quick bite to eat.  During lunch I rigged up a nymph rod and promptly stuck a 15″ rainbow in the next spot.  Getting deeper was the way to go as I managed to connect with a couple more fish in the next few runs.  Karl chose to stay with the nymph rod when he was back up and managed to find a few as well.  Late in the day we finally saw a few natural Skwalas on the water and found a couple of rising fish.  Karl fooled one on the dry, but otherwise everything else was on nymphs today.  It was a gorgeous day on the water and a good start to the season.

Hard not to smile when they eat the big dry fly

Tuesday was my first guide day of the season and also my first presentation of the year.  I picked up my anglers, Dave and Terry, in Hamilton and we launched just north of town.  Dave is a member of Fly Fishers of the Bitterroot and had invited me to speak at their monthly meeting so he decided to add some fishing into the mix.  It was another stunning, sunny day and a little cold in the morning.  We started off with nymph rigs and Terry didn’t waste any time when he connected with a nice cuttbow in the first spot.  That had my hopes up that the fish were a little more active this morning but that wasn’t the case.  The fishing was dead after that and we worked some runs very hard with multiple passes and fly changes but by lunch we had only added a whitefish to our tally.  We fished one more run after lunch with the nymph rigs and then I switched the guys to a dry/dropper set-up for some slower water.  Terry stuck the first one in the afternoon and then Dave got in on the act too with a solid rainbow.  From that point on our fishing was fairly consistent.  Anytime we found the right kind of water, someone would connect.  Toward the end of the float Dave and Terry even doubled up a couple of times, and Terry landed the first dry fly fish of the season.  Despite the slow start it ended up being a good day on the river.  Once the fish came to life it was an active afternoon with a good mix of cutthroat, rainbows, and browns from 14-16.5″.  We got off the river a little early for dinner and the meeting.  I had a great time with the fishing club members tonight and hope to get out again with Dave and Terry before too long.

Wednesday I was out with long-time angler Bob.  We have been fishing the Skwala hatch together for over 15 years and he is always a treat to have in the boat.  Today was cloudy and a little warmer in the morning so I hoped the Bitterroot might be friendlier this morning.  Not much luck on that front as it was still tough fishing early.  After a few runs Bob finally came tight on a nice 16″ rainbow in a slow deep bucket.  One more mid-sized cutt was all we managed before an early lunch.  There was a light sprinkle during lunch and thankfully it passed before too long.  The deep nymphs didn’t too much better in the early afternoon so we made the swap to a dry/dropper and Bob immediately came tight to a bright rainbow in the next spot.  Another rainbow came out of a big back eddy and then Bob had his first dry fly eat of the day.  That was a great sign, although the dropper proved to be our consistent producer.  We had a little lull in the action mid-afternoon so I switched to a Skwala nymph dropper and that was definitely what the fish were looking for as Bob connected with two quick fish on the nymph and then boated his first dry fly trout of the season.  Through the rest of the float we had another half dozen or so trout eat the dry fly and managed to connect with a few of those plus several more on the dropper.  It was mostly rainbows and cuttbows today with a few brown trout mixed in.  The average was 15″ with a few in the 17″ range.  The fishing seems to improve a little each day right now.

Rainbow ready for release

Friday was my last day this trip with Bob and we were back on a different stretch of the middle Bitterroot.  Based on earlier this week, we weren’t expecting much early but Bob found a nice cutthroat on the first good inside we fished.  Then I anchored the boat on a nice bucket and he hooked another 3 including a big fish that came unbuttoned.  The next run produced too and by the time we stopped for lunch we were both surprised by how productive the morning was.  Most of the good nymph water we fished gave up at least one solid fish.  In the afternoon our solid cloud cover had given way to bright sunshine and we had to work a little hard for the first couple hours.  The fishing started off spotty after lunch with a mix of dry fly eats and fish on the dropper, but no real pattern to what they wanted.  We made a few changes to our flies before I finally decided to go with just a single dry fly.  That allowed us to get into a lot of water that you just can’t fish with a dropper attached.  Bob had to work for the first couple dry fly trout, but as the afternoon progressed the fishing continued to improve with trout coming for the big dry in most of the likely early spring spots.  We finished up with one more quality rainbow on the dry in the last run of the day.  Definitely the best fishing of the week and the first single dry fly session of the season.  Bob boated a bunch of nice fish today from 14-17.5″ with a couple of browns and mostly rainbows and cuttbows.

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This week was a solid start to the season and the fishing should only improve throughout the month.  The weather looks like it will give us fairly stable river flows and those Skwalas will continue to hatch getting more and more of our trout looking to the surface.  There aren’t many places in the country where you can fish a size 8-10 dry fly this time of year.  It’s just one of the many reasons why Missoula is such a special destination.  We’re looking forward to some great dry fly fishing in the weeks ahead!

Tight Lines,

Tony Reinhardt
Montana Trout Outfitters

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About The Author

Montana Trout Outfitters We offer guided float and wade trips on all the waters of western Montana. With so many choices our rivers are rarely crowded, and we know enough tricks to stay out of the traffic even during the busiest times. Montana Trout Outfitters operates out of new drift boats and rafts depending on the river and time of year. We use top quality rods and reels, and you won’t find our flies in the bins of the local fly shops because we tie most of our custom patterns ourselves. We are dedicated to the entire guiding experience, utilizing the best gear, providing great streamside lunches, and all with the insight and know-how to put our anglers on great trout fishing day after day. Our average client has fished with us for five years or more. They are not just customers; they become friends we look forward to seeing each season.

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