Bitterroot River

Runs North to Missoula for 80 miles. Watch the Video View Fishing Report


The panoramic mountains of the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness towering above the Bitterroot River make for an unforgettable setting. The Bitterroot’s upper reaches near the confluence of the West and East Forks around Darby, Montana contains classic riffle – run water that clips right along and is chock full of fat native westslope cutthroat.  Further downstream (this river along with several others in the area actually flows South to North) toward Missoula the Bitterroot’s pace begins to slow.  There, grassy undercuts and log strewn corners harbor more browns and rainbows than above with the average trout size jumping in relation to the river size.

The largest fish in the Bitterroot often rise to dry flies even in non-hatch conditions, making it one of the most desired fly fishing destinations in Montana. One of our guides claims that “If you catch a fish on the Bitterroot, you could have caught it with a dry fly!” This probably isn’t far from the truth in light of our fishing some style of dry flies here 90% of the time. Renowned hatches of stone and may flies are in full force by March, providing the state’s best early season surface action.  Salmon flies, golden stones, sallies, pmd mayflies, caddis and green drakes come off in force by early June and some continue on through July.  As if these hatches weren’t enough, the Bitterroot boasts our region’s best trico fishing in late August into September right up until the blue winged olives and mahogany duns kick off in the fall.  The Bitterroot River is certainly a river for all seasons and should not be missed.

The Stats

  • Typical Catch

    On the upper reaches expect primarily cutties 10"-16", with fewer rainbows 12"-18" and browns 16"-20"+. Lower down the river anticipate an increase in the number and average size of bows and browns. We hope to see around 25 opportunities above Hamilton and 15-20 per rod/per day further downstream.

  • Total Area of Drainage

    2,814 square miles including the West and East Forks, ending at the mouth of the Clark Fork right in Missoula.

  • Total River Miles We Guide

    The full 80 miles of the main stem and another 20 miles on the West Fork and 10 of the East Fork.

  • Travel Distances from Missoula

    Range from only 10 minutes to 1.5 hours, with an average of 40 minutes

  • Bank-side Accommodations

    We offer multi-day float camp trips on the Bitterroot, riverside cabin rentals or base out of Missoula.

  • Primary Style of Fishing

    The Bitterroot is renowned for its dry fly-fishing as early as the second week in March, when several stones and mayflies hatch. Early season action with streamers and nymphs isn't bad either. Trico far-and-fine fishing in the late summer serves up some of our areas most challenging big fish on light tippets action. However, the golden stone hatch in early July initiates use of large attractor dries with beadhead droppers that is standard fare throughout the summer and fall.

BRO’s Top Six Patterns for Bitterroot River

  • Rogue Golden Stone #12 or #8
  • Red Thread Prince Nymph #14-8
  • Goldie Hawn #16
  • Purple Haze Parachute #16-12
  • Muddy Buddy #6-2 (olive)
  • True Skwala Stone #10