Best Fishing Access Points Along the Bitterroot River
The Bitterroot River provides legendary blue ribbon flyfishing for 80 miles in Western Montana. It is tucked between the Saphire and Bitterroot mountains in the "bananna belt" of Montana. The Bitterroot river originates South of Darby, with it's East fork coming from the Anaconda-Pintler Forrest and Sapphire mountains, and it's West fork from the Idaho border and Bitterroot mountains. From it's origination, the Bitterroot river then snakes up toward Missoula where it flows into the Clarks Fork river. It parralels highway 93 and the "East-side highway", going through many historic towns and providing numerous fishing access points. From south to north, the river passes by Darby, Hamilton, Corvallis, Victor, Stevensville, Florence, and Lolo, then up to Missoula.
We will go through the fishing access points near each town from South to North and give a description of the goods.
South of Darby where the East and West forks meet, the water is still very cold, and the primary species of fish at this part of the river is cutthroat. These are native Western Slope Cutthroat, and the Bitterroot is one of only a few rivers in Montana where you can catch these fish over a foot long. The best fishing access points from South to North include Forrest Cooper, The Darby bridge, and Wally Crawford. Watch out for Bighorn sheep licking salt off of this stretch of Highway 93, especially in the winter months. Also, pack your cross country ski's and check out the great trails around painted rock lake if that's your thing.
Getting closer to Hamilton, the river widens and warms. The main species found at this level are brown and rainbow trout. The best access points close to Hamilton from South to North are Anglers roost and the Demmons fishing access points. Highway 93 also splits to east side highway here at hamilton. With both Highway 93 and the east side highway hugging the Bitterroot River for 40 miles north up to Florence, it provides numerous crossing bridges that are great fishing access points.
North of Hamilton, the next town along the east side highway is Corvallis. The highway and bridge crossing from town to highway 93 is the woodside bridge fishing access. This parking area floods out a lot in early June, but a trail from the parking lot about a half mile south provides a great hole where the river bends and pushes up against a steep rock bank.
North of Corvallis to the little town of Victor includes the tucker crossing, victor bridge, and Bell crossing fishing access points. The victor bridge has a history of flooding out every few years, but provides great fishing a half mile up or down from the access point. Tucker crossing is my favorite spot, and allows you to park and walk on the dry river rock bed around 40 yards to the river. Holes behind fallen trees all along this area walking south from the access point provide great spots for hungry browns, rainbows, and cutthroat. Bell crossing, along the way North to Stevensville also provides a great hole where the river bends, close to the parking area.
North of Victor towards Stevensville (Montana's oldest and most historic town), the best spots are the Stevensville bridge and bass creek fishing access areas. Above the Stevi bridge is great for whitefishing with a jig set-up, and every so often, a monster brown. This area is mainly used for swimming dogs, and a hiking trail along the bank heading north. Bass creek is a hidden gem that the locals will tell you how to get to.
North of Stevensville to Florence and the end of the east side highway is the Poker Joe fishing access, the Florence bridge, and chief chief looking glass fishing access. Up and down the banks from Poker Joe's has been known to have to great bends and holes in the river for nice brown and rainbow trout. The florence bridge has never been very productive, and is mainly used for a swimming hole and sun bathing spot in the summer months. Chief looking glass access is next to a great campground, and you cross a small tributary branch of the river to get to the main Bitterroot. This area is very shallow a mile up and down from the access, this allows you to wade a long ways down the river and fish along banks. Florence is also home to the River Otter Fly Shop, which in my opinion is the best fly and gear shop in the Bitterroot valley. If you need info on the hatch or a guide to take you, this is the place to stop.
North from here towards Lolo and Missoula, the fishing spots die down until the Bitterroot meets the Clarks Fork river.
Hope this helps you get a little better acquainted with the Bitterrot river and it's great fishing spots as you begin planning your trip. Enjoy this gem of Western Montana!