"I'm a member of the 20-20-20 club. Have you ever heard of
Castwell replied seriously, not knowing if our guides
question was some local joke, "No, don't think I have."
John Miller, (who is no longer guiding) flashed a big grin.
"Well, it's catching 20 fish, 20 inches or better on a size 20 fly in
"That's really something," letting out a "wow" in the same breath. "Where did
you do that?"
"Just about here," as John pointed to a long run below us. Carefully avoiding
areas that might contain trout, he beached the driftboat. We all watched currents and
seams for signs of actively feeding fish.
"Any noses sticking out anywhere?" I asked.
"It's still a little early," John remarked, "Why don't you work the edge of that far
Here on the Bitterroot, a variety of trout are available. Brooks, browns, rainbows,
and westslope cutthroats . . . punctuated with the local mountain whitefish. Not a trout,
and considered "trash" by some, locals find them very tasty smoked.
The seam where the faster current collided with a long flat slick was perfect trout
feeding water. On the back side of the flat was a 200 yard long, deep, undercut bank.
Castwell picked a spot half-way down the run, and I started at the bottom and
worked my way upstream. Casting a size 16
'fish-finder' (a full palmered grizzly hackle fly) I hooked a few small rainbows
and finally landed a couple twelve to sixteen inches. But no browns.
We watched as a variety of insects appeared. Caddis, Yellow Sallies, and Golden
Stones. A mixed bag.
Castwell worked his section with similar results using a small Cinnamon Caddis.
Once we had worked the water to our satisfaction, our guide asked, "Would you like to
see how my DHI works?" We had earlier discussed our preference for dry flies, and
while we knew nymphs would work, it just wasn't what we wanted to do on this
celebrated water. But it would be fun to see it.
John's invention, The Dead Head Indicator, was developed to use with double
taper lines, since it is roll-cast and mended. Two nymphs, one on a dropper about 8
inches below the first is attached to the DHI. The "indicator" is a large, brightly
colored puff of antron yarn treated with floatant. Since it is firmly clipped onto the line,
it can be cast without concern for it falling off. (Some strike indicators are simply stuck
on, and will easily dislodge.) Local fishermen nick-named the DHI the "old ball and
As John made his first roll cast he warned, "I'll probably have to get the trash out
first." Rocky mountain whitefish. Half a dozen casts later, - and half a dozen whitefish
later- John remarked, "That ought to be about all of them."
John ducked hhis head and fired his 10ft.,5wt, IMX,- made an upstream mend and
within seconds had a nice brown. Keep in mind he is fishing the same stretch we had
just worked with our dries. Another 'Chuck & Duck" cast and a larger Brown. This
scene was repeated half a dozen times in fifteen minutes.
All that was lacking for another 20-20-20-club membership was having more trout
over 20 inches. This system certainly produced fish. It helps, of course, if the stream
you are fishing has fish. The Bitterroot, south of Missoula Montana has an envied
reputation for producing fish and insects.
Earliest of Western streams for a major hatch, the Bitterroot is host to a large
gray Stone fly, called a Nasqually (or skwala.) This hatch can come off as early as
March. In years where water levels are within stream banks, dry fly fishermen clean
up. Catching large trout so early in the season makes suffering through winter almost
As on most water, the fly hatches vary by season and overall weather patterns.
Always stop at a local fly shop and ask, "what's hatching." Locals in the Hamilton
Valley look for pale morning duns (#14-18), caddis (#12-16) and blue winged olives,
(#16-18) in early to mid June. By mid-June the salmon hatch (#2) green drake and
golden stone, (#10) through June and into August. Mid-August additions are light cahil
(#12-14) and trico in #18-20 which still show though September.
Mid-September bring on fall green drakes, (#10) and red or mahogany quill. Blue
wing olives prove rewarding all the way into October. Check out the Eye of the Guide
for our recommendation for October as well.
Access on the Bitterroot is limited, although the state of Montana has established
public fishing accesses. Between Stevensville and Darby, a thirty-mile plus run of
river, are five "official" state access points. Access areas do tend to be over-fished.
Your best bet is to hire a guide for at least a half day to learn the diversity of the
water and fishing methods.
Montana law does make all streams public, however that does not mean you can
trespass on private land to get to the water. Several bridges also provide some wading
Civilization may not be far away, but many stretches of the Bitterroot give the
impression of wilderness. Douglas firs, service berries, eagles and ospreys, and mule
deer tracks on the soft banks combined with a Montana blue sky make this a great
place to fish! ~ The LadyFisher (October 6th, 1997)
Fall on the Bitterroot
October can be the dream month for those who love fishing
the Bitterroot. Family vacations are over. The river is left to the
serious fishermen who come to fish and spend their entire time
wading or floating. No distractions from the family obligations of
Hunting seasons have also started, taking away even more
individuals from the river who both hunt and fish.
September changes in the river, caused by less water from Painted Rocks Dam,
dwindles the river flow. The Bitterroot slowly returns to it's meandering pattern that
will last throughout the winter. It will lessen in volume and cool as the days and
evening grow colder.
Leaves are turning to yellow and red, larch needles carpet the ground in gold. As
the leaves begin to fall in the river it will change the patterns of the fish. Fish spook
easily with the shining leaves reflecting light during the day. It will also cause some
confusion with fishermen as they see the leaves and mistake them for turning fish in
riffles and pools.
This month will one of the most beautiful on the river. Take advantage of our
natural resource and fish until your heart is content. ~ Bill Bean
About Bill Bean
Bill Bean's Fishaus in Hamilton Montana, provides professional floating and
wading guided trips to most rivers in Western and Central Montana. Some
of the rivers: Bitterroot (his home river), Beaverhead, Blackfoot, Clark Fork,
Big Hole, Missouri, Gallatin and Madison. These rivers are all accessible
and within easy driving distance from Hamilton. The Fishaus is also an
excellent choice for your fly gear needs!
Bill, an experienced guide, has personally fished these waters. He and his team of
guides furnish superior lunches with the full day float, and snacks with the half day
floats. The guides also provide you with the entomology of the rivers to enhance your
opportunities to catch fish. Whether you are a novice or an expert fisher person you
will have all the help that you need or want.
All floats are fly fishing and catch and release only. The rivers are excellent wild
trout fisheries and the Fishaus is committed to preserving them for future use.
For more information contact: Toll Free: 1-888-363-6158 or (406) 363-6158.