Western Montana's Rivers and Streams
The Bitterroot River and its tributaries, my home water, runs north out of the Bitterroot Mountain Range and into the Clark Fork River, just west of Missoula, Montana. The Bitterroot's eighty-four miles of fishable water encompasses all types of river habitat, and for this reason is considered a "classic" trout river.
The East Fork is a small stream populated mostly by Rainbow Trout, Cutthroat Trout and a few Brown Trout. Although fishable throughout the season, it is only floatable during high water in May and June which conveniently coincides with the Salmon Fly hatch.
The West Fork is somewhat larger than the East Fork. Its flow is controlled by a dam at Painted Rocks Reservoir for the purpose of irrigation and also to maintain minimum flows of water protecting the trout population down-river. The West Fork is home to mostly Cutthroat Trout, with good numbers of Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout. It also has an excellent Salmon Fly hatch and fishes well throughout the summer.
The upper reaches of the Bitterroot River and its tributaries are characterized by riffles, pools, and runs. It is lined with many boulders and downed trees creating the habitat for a mostly Cutthroat Trout population and a good mix of Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout. This stretch of the Bitterroot also fishes well throughout the season.
The middle stretches of the Bitterroot benefit from numerous smaller tributaries. These smaller tributaries create more flow, but still exhibit the characteristics of riffles, pools, and runs with several splits in the main channel. These sections tend to fish best in the Spring through early Summer and then again in the late Summer throughout the Fall. Although there are plenty of Rainbow Trout and Cutthroat Trout in this part of the river, these stretches also contain the highest concentrations of Brown Trout in the Bitterroot River.
The lower Clark Fork, after the many small tributaries have entered, is characterized by long flat pools and broad riffles. A few small channels and log jams are present but it is generally mellow - excellent Mayfly water. This stretch of river is home to mostly Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout with a few Cutthroat in the mix. Like the middle river, the lower tends to fish best in the Spring through early Summer and then again in the late Summer through Fall.
The Clark Fork flows through downtown Missoula and fishes well both upstream and downstream from the city. Upstream from Missoula the river is small to medium sized with good numbers of Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout as well as a few Cutthroat Trout. Downstream from Missoula, after the Blackfoot and Bitterroot Rivers and Rock Creek have entered, the Clark Fork becomes a large river maintaining its main channel throughout its course. The lower Clark Fork is predominantly a Rainbow Trout fishery with fish averaging over 16 inches. The Clark Fork fishes well throughout the season.
The Blackfoot River, author Norman McClane's home water, has enjoyed a comeback in recent years from degradation due to heavy mining and logging practices in the drainage. The Blackfoot contains sizeable populations of Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, and Cutthroat Trout as well as a steady population of large Bull Trout.
The Blackfoot River is extremely beautiful, with a very scenic canyon stretch in its upper reaches. The river tumbles over numerous large boulders throughout its entirety to its confluence with the Clark Fork River upstream from Missoula