Photo from Jenny West.

Podcast 65 | The Bitterroot River and Dry Fly Techniques with Jenny West.

In this episode we Wadeoutthere with Jenny West from Hamilton, Montana.  Jenny was born and raised in the Bitterroot Valley, where her father taught her fly fishing at an early age.  Jenny continued to fly fish throughout her youth.  After college her continued passion for the sport eventually led her to guiding on the Bitterroot River where she now the owns ‘Go West Outfitters’. 

We discuss:

  • The Bitterroot River.
  • How Jenny got started in guiding.
  • Dry fly fishing techniques.
  • How flows and temperatures affect the Bitterroot’s many prolific hatches.

** NOTE** Podcast episode and upcoming guests appear at the end of this short article.
Subscribers have access to submit questions for future guests.

We were teenagers when we found the fly rods in the lodge at the bottom of the hill next to the Stillwater River.  The lodge sat across from a small trapper’s cabin.  Both remnants of generations gone, when the ranch we worked as children, brought men on horseback, hunting elk into the Beartooth Mountains.  The lodge held the treasures of that time.  Looking through the drab green packs and canvas tents and dusty boxes we found a tin fly box that brought life to the rods.  In it were the large, fluffy, feathered flies that became all we had, so they were all we fished. 

Running out of flies meant the end of fly fishing until we rummaged through the lodge and found more unknown and unnamed dry flies.  Maybe because the memories have become so precious or maybe because it was Montana in its last sliver of mystery before those memories became unique. 

Somehow, we caught fish.  In the evenings after dinner, amber skies colored the river where those flies ran over the riffles and sat atop slow pools waiting for trout to surprise us. 

Talking with Jenny, two things became clear almost immediately.  First, that we shared a fondness for a place that reaches back to the heart of who we are. 

A young girl and her sister learning to row and catch fish with the gear and smiles and lessons brought from a loving father.  I remember that age and that place for me.  It is a time that can never be replaced, and I hear the tinge of knowing that in her voice. 

Second, is the understanding that fishing dry flies is almost always an option on the Bitterroot.  That’s the game.  If you are willing to learn it, you can enter a wonderful world.  But it takes work, and it takes learning. 

I fished dry flies almost exclusively until I learned about nymphing in the tailwaters of Colorado.  Dry flies became an option, not the standard.  I shifted to exploring subsurface fly fishing, but I never really went all in.  I drug my feet on fishing the tiny flies that I knew were more likely to catch fish.  The midges that seemed too small for me to hookset with, or too difficult to tie on, or simply too hard.  I learned the hard way that the waters you fish don’t care about your skill, and the fish don’t eat what you feel comfortable tying on.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Small Flies, Light Takes, and Lost Fish. It’s Good for You.

We tend to stick with what works and what we understand instead of what is required.  I remember all of the times on the river I make the same mistakes.  I hear the voices of those who have seen them time and again reminding me. 

Mend.  Keep the rod low.  Just let that go. Set, set, set… That was a fish.

Voices like Jenny’s.  Hearing her is comforting because it reminds me that sometimes I already know what is required.  That I know what to do, or that time on the water can teach me.  And that’s a good thing.

Eventually, we all leave the place where we meet fly fishing.  We move on to new fly boxes and new waters.  If we are doing it right, we are learning along the way.  Then, once we know what needs to be done, all that is left is to do it. 

No mend.  No fish.


Key Takeaways

  • Watching people fish makes you a better angler.
  • The Bitterroot River is nearly year round dry fly fishing.
  • Purple haze and Brindle Chute are excellent flies on the Bitterroot.  The Brindle Chute was invented by Hamilton, Montana local Chuck Stranahan.
  • A Chubby Chernobyl works to simulate several different flies depending on size and color.  Examples are a Hopper, October Caddis, or Salmon Fly.
  • Adjust your dropper for the water levels to get the nymph close to the bottom.
  • Wood and debris you cannot see along the bottom of the Bitterroot can make droppers frustrating.                                                          
  • The Bitterroot can be a dangerous river.  Every year water slightly reshapes the river and there is a lot of wood and deadfalls.
  • Mend to avoid the fly line making a downstream bow.  Once the downstream bow appears, re-cast.
  • Keep the rod down low and pointing at the fly through the drift
  • Two of Jenny’s go-to instructional mantras:
    • “No Mend. No Fish.”
    • “Keep the Rod Low.  Let it Go.”

Learn More.

To learn more about Jenny or to schedule a guided trip on the Bitterroot River with Go West Outfitters visit:

Jenny also hosts a women’s fly fishing clinic.  You can reach out to her about the clinic or with other inquiries at her email:

If you want more information on some of the topics we discussed try reading these blog posts from Wadeoutthere:

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Stop More. Get Out Less. How to Optimize Your Time in a Driftboat.


READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Tips for Fighting Big Trout From a Drift Boat.

READ: WADEOUTTHERE | Fly Selection. Share the Work.

Upcoming Podcast Guests.

  • Josh Miller – Euro Nymphing and competition fly fishing
  • Jordan Yackel – Madison River, MT
  • Shyanne Orvis – Colorado
  • Allison Helen Hendricks – Wyoming | Traveling guide | Casting
  • Rachel Leinweber – Anglers Covey Fly Shop | South Platte River, CO
  • Cameron Cushman – Wild Trout | Veterans
  • Matt Wagner – The Driftless Region
  • Marina Gibson – Fly fishing in the UK
  • Dana Osthoff – Golden Trout | The Driftless Region

Subscribers – Ask a Question on the Podcast.

If you have a question for an upcoming guest, I would love to hear from you. I will ask questions from Wadeoutthere subscribers towards the end of the conversation during “Wadeoutthere Wants to Know.”

If you enjoy the Wadeoutthere Fly Fishing Podcast, and want to help it grow, please leave a rating and review.

I hope you enjoy listening as much as I enjoyed talking with Jenny.


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Jason Shemchuk

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