It's the start of September but it's still feeling a lot like the dog days here in western Montana. For the most part we are still waiting on our fall hatches to begin in earnest. Our fall bugs won't be showing up in force until the first real cool and cloudy fall-like days arrive. You know the ones. The days where the highs are in the 70's, not the 90's. Here's the skinny on late summer Bitterroot River FIshing.
Not much doing up here. You have terrestrials and not much else right now. Change up your attractor or terrestrial pattern until you hit on a winner. If it ain't working, change it. Maybe consider giving these fish a break for a while, they've been fished hard all summer. There's 80 miles a mainstem to explore and no hoot owl right now!
A smattering of tricos in the right runs and fish will be eating them in the right runs in the mornings. Above Hamilton the tricos usually don't bring up the real big fish, they just aren't found in big enough concentrations, but you can find a few decent ones working on the tiny bugs. Most of the time you can roll a small ant with a trico emerger (or a zebra midge) and have a good morning. A few Hecubas have been spotted and on any given day you can have fair to good fishing with a big parachute for 1-2 hours. In the afternoon it's a terrestrial game. If you want to throw the hopper you may need to experiment with size, and color before you find something they want. Don't overlook the ants and beetles!
Same as the upper with the exception of the tricos. On the lower Bitterroot you can often find pods of big fish eating these tiny bugs. It's technical fishing in flat water but it can be incredibly fun and rewarding when you get a big fish to eat a size 20 dry fly!
Some Late Summer Tips
This is the time of year that on many days, you may have to think a little outside the box. Here are some tips on how to turn a tough late summer day into a winner.
Terrestrials don't always float
It's true that most of our terrestrial patterns are dry flies, rightly so. However, how well do ants, beetles, and hoppers float. Not well I can tell you. Fish often eat terrestrials under the surface and I would guess they eat them more below the surface than on top. If you have fish that are tail slapping or shying away from the hopper, try a drowned hopper on a short lease below your favorite foam hopper. There's a bunch of commercially available drowned hoppers on the market now a days, but I always have liked using an un-greased Dave's hopper on flourocarbon. If you get the fly good and wet before you fish it, the fly will float about 2-3 inches below the surface. Some days this is all you need. Have you ever tried a drowned ant? A beetle? Give it a shot once in a while.
It's trico time. One of my favorite hatches. This hatch can be really difficult, however there are ways to make things easier.
1. Fish an ant. You'll often get eats on it and it's a lot easier to see!
2. Fish a drowned trico behind a visible dry. It works!
3. Long leaders rule. Don't be afraid of the 15ft or longer leader. Trust me, you need it.
Throw the Streamer
There's not a lot of bugs in the drift right now so fish are opportunistically feeding on whatever they can find. Often this means baitfish, leeches, crayfish, and other things this time of year. Try throwing the streamer and not always a big one. Give the leech a try! On tough days a few nice fish on streamers can make your day. A 20" brown can make you forget quickly about how much you've been struggling up until that point!
Downsize Your Hoppers
Not every hopper is a size 12 or 10 or 8. Have you ever thrown a 14 or 16 sized hopper? Give a try once in a while. Especially if you are getting refusals or the fish are slapping at the fly.