05-25-2013, 07:54 AM
Latest on the Bitterroot River.
Fishing report: Below average water levels have some concerned
The Bitterroot River continues in a runoff stage, but is looking a lot better than it did a week ago. While the water levels are still high in most places, they have dropped considerably during the past seven days. It has dropped so much that it has some experts concerned that the water may run out at the end of the season. The river water levels are now below the median levels that have been charged for the past 60 years.
What this means is anyone’s guess, but previous years have been dry in the fall months unless the valley has some rain throughout the summer. These water conditions may be hard on the fish because of lack of habitat. Too many fish crowding large pools can lead to some fish kills when water gets too warm and low. Let’s hope not.
Several fishermen have asked me where the best fishing has been and it has been difficult to pinpoint exactly where the river has been fishing best. It has been difficult to fish the main river, so most fishermen have concentrated on tributaries and side channels.
Since fishing season has started in Montana, all fisheries except some special areas are open to fishing. The best reports have been from small creeks like Tin Cup, Blue Joint, Skalkaho and Mill Creek. The West Fork of the Bitterroot is running about 750 cubic feet per second and fishermen can fish it if they are extremely careful.
The Darby water measuring station is just a little over 2,000 cfs, and when it reaches 1,500 cfs it is usually low enough to put a raft or boat on it to fish. Most raft fishermen will wait until it gets to about 1,000 cfs to be optimal for fishing and a little safer conditions.
A few salmonflies have been spotted throughout the Clark Fork, Rock Creek and Bitterroot systems. The hatch starts at the bottom of the river on the Clark Fork River and proceeds up river at an alarmingly fast pace. Before we know it, the hatch has reached the East and West forks and fishing there can be phenomenal if you can stand the numbers of fishermen and boats on the river.
It is best to wait a little later in the morning to allow the adult salmonflies to dry out a little from the morning dew and begin to return to the river to stimulate the fish. The fish gorge themselves on this protein source and it really stimulates growth of the fish for a short time.
If you are going to fish this weekend, concentrate on the smaller tributaries along the Bitterroot. There are some large fish that have moved into these smaller streams to escape the main flows of the river and the rainbow trout and cutthroat trout have been spawning in these areas. I would recommend Blue Joint and the upper East Fork tributaries for your best results.
Have a great weekend on the Bitterroot.
Bill Bean writes a weekly fly-fishing column for the Saturday Ravalli Republic Outdoors section.
"“Reputation is what the world thinks a man is; character is what he really is.”