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Hamilton, MT's Bitterroot offers high counts of 'cutbows, cutthroat

A day on the Bitterroot produced cutbows running 13 to 15 inches. They were powerful fighters on a 5-weight in heavy flows.
A day on the Bitterroot produced cutbows running 13 to 15 inches. They were powerful fighters on a 5-weight in heavy flows.
Photo by Sean O'Brien

"Throw your offering over there behind that tree and give it one quick mend," said Osprey Outfitters owner Sean O'Brien, as he, my son Barrett and I drifted the Bitterroot River on an early August day. "This pocket looks awful fishy so be ready to set the hook."

This average cutbow put up quite a fight on a 5-weight in high flows.
Photo by Brian La Rue

It didn't take long as a 14-inch cutbow swirled on the golden stonefly offering. It pulled the lead fly under as I raised the rod tip of O'Brien's newset RL Winson rod in the bow of the boat. The fish put on a great fight despite being average-sized. I've personally caught 18- to 20-inch fish that didn't have the fire demonstrated by this Bitterroot fish. I brought the fish to the net for a quick photo and it was on with the drift.

We launched out of Tucker Crossing, fishing some eight miles of bendy, fishy-looking river. Though the fishing had seen a slight drop in the action, quantity wasn't the problem, attracting some 30 strikes and landing more than 15 fish for the afternoon. But it seemed all the top producing spots were holding small fish as smaller fish seemed to grab the fly first. A few 16- to 18-inch fish did strike the two-dry rig. At one point we threw streamers which resulted in a quality take, but the fish came unbottoned before we could see him.

Yellow sallies were also hatching which kept us busy on the trailing fly. More and more cutbows hit here and there in what is a beautful fishery with lots of trout-holding structure. When throwing streamers, I kept thinking one of these logs would produce a 20-inch brown. Fishing mid-day (90-plus-degrees) with big dries was more appealing to this writer, versus battling evening thunderstorms.

The other goal for the day was to get Barrett, 5, on a fish. Not only would it be only his second solo fly caught fish, but it was his first drift. He got the hang of casting from the driftboat during one of his many turns in the bow. When he got the hang of the cast, he missed the few fish that took his hopper pattern. I think he'll put it all together soon. He had caught his first solo fly caught fish on the Lewis River in Yellowstone just two days before. Baby steps.

At one point a diversion dam forced us to portage the raft over 20 yards of a grassy beach. Later O'Brien showed me why we had to pass the small waterfall. One "less than knowledgable" guide had tried to tame the rough spot and ended up losing all his gear and smasking his driftboat. Now the local guides have thrown a "as-is, for sale" sign on the wreck some major distance downriver. All joking aside, the guide and clients were lucky to survive themselves.

While on the river we enjoyed seeing a bald eagle, a family of osprey, deer and we enjoyed hearing a pheasant call. The day wrapped up with a few more trout in the 12-inch range, but it was a "take out" 15 incher that gave us a bright spot at the end of the day. By take out I mean I hooked he fish near the take out boat launch. The 15 incher took two nice runs of 20 yards and made the drag of the Ross sing so nice. Great fight, obviously a 17- or 20-inch fish would really give you a fight.

Overall, it was a fun day. No pressure to get a big fish. Brought my 5-year-old out for a fun day on the water and made a new friend in Sean. Book a trip with him soon. He also runs Osprey Outfitters Fly Shop in Hamilton, MT. Fishing typically is good through November. With the high flows this year, things will stay good until nymphing is the only way to score in winter. He is a really busy guy in March through June too. Book early for dates in spring for the river's famous Skwala bite. Give Sean a call at 406-363-1000.

If you plan to stay the night in the Hamilton area, book a stay with the friendly folks at Bitterroot Cabins. They offer everything from a 2-bedroom/1-bath cabin in Hamilton just a stone's throw from the fly shop to a 6-bedroom, 4 1/2-bath wonderland that sleeps 16, perfect for all your fly fishing buddies or a corporate retreat. Of course, you don't have to be a fly fishermen to appreciate a nice pad to call home while relaxing in the Bitterroot Valley. Give Sherrie a call at 406-363-2258 or write her at


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