Westslope cutthroat, whose scientific name -- Oncorhynchus clarki lewisi --honors Lewis and Clark, are hearty fish that thrive in the upper stretches of the Bitterroot. Lewis first noticed this fish above the Great Falls of the Missouri. He entertained himself for hours fishing for them while his men carried the cargo uphill.
Today, this native trout exists only in drainages cold and clean enough to support it. The Bitterroot offers ideal habitat, and its many tributaries, including Skalkaho, Kootenai and Blodgett creeks, offer excellent spawning grounds with cold mountain water.
The Bitterroot River offers 90 miles of beautiful, productive, easily fished river that parallels Highway 93 from Conner to Missoula. In its upper stretches anglers catch cutthroat and brook trout, and in the lower stretches they find largemouth bass and northern pike. Brown trout, rainbows and whitefish can be caught along the river's length.
Characterized by riffles, pools, log jams, deep holes beneath banks and big eddies, the Bitterroot is an easy river to fish. It winds around numerous islands, with lots of eroding banks, exposed sand bars and braided channels. It does not drop much over its length, offering easy wading. Numerous Forest Service-maintained fishing access areas are accessible off Highway 93.
Many anglers, historians and conservationists wonder why Lewis and Clark left the easily traveled Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers for the arduous Lolo Trail. It all had to do with finding a route to the Pacific, with salmon being their clue. While at Traveler's Rest, mulling over which way to go, the Corps' Indian guides told them the Bitterroot and Clark Fork Rivers were "rivers of no salmon."
Lewis reasoned that either the Bitterroot did not flow into the Pacific (which it does), or there existed a major impediment like a falls (which did exist in several places). (Albeni Falls at the north end of Lake Pend Oreille in the Idaho Panhandle halted runs of salmon and steelhead further west. If not for these falls, salmon and steelhead could have been swimming in Montana! The U.S. Army Corps of Engineers now operates a dam at this same site.) Knowledgeable local Indians told Lewis and Clark to walk up Lolo Creek to Lolo Trail (the Nez Perce Trail) and to follow it westward where salmon were abundant.