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The bull trout (Salvelinus confluentus) is unquestionably one of the hardest salmonids in North America to catch. Even finding them can often be difficult unless you know just where to look.
Well, this month I came across some good information on where to find these fish, and I even tracked down a guide who is adept at helping anglers catch them. The prime habitat of these fish is in northwest Montana, particularly the Flathead River and its three forks (North, Middle and South), as well as the Swan River.
The guide I recommend you contact for some help in negotiating these wilderness waters is George Widener of Lakestream Fishing Co. (*). Widener likes to tackle bull trout with large streamers that look like they were designed for bonefish or northern pike. In fact, one pattern he uses a lot was one he initially tied for northerns.
Make no mistake bull trout grow big. Fish of over 10 pounds are not unheard of. Cutthroats up to eight inches long have been found in their stomachs. Still, the hardest part of the bull trout puzzle is finding the critters.
For much of the year, they hold in Flathead Lake which measures some 28 by 10 miles and is very deep. Starting in late spring, the fish begin to move up the Flathead River proper and on into the North and Middle Forks. One day, they can be at the mouth of one of these streams and the next day 20 miles upstream somewhere. The same is true of their behavior in the South Fork (where the fish move up out of Hungry Horse Reservoir) and the Swan River (where they head up out of Swan Lake). Hence your need for someone like Widener to help you find these fish.
Plan on fishing heavy water, and come armed for fish that average eight pounds. You’ll need at least a seven weight rod, a full sinking line and a short, stout leader with a least a 12-pound tippet. Bull trout are closely related to lake trout, Arctic char and brook trout, so when you hook one in late summer or early fall expect to find a very colorful fish on the end of your line. More than likely a b i g one, too! John Holt.
(Don Causey Note: Holt says a good staging point for this fishing is Whitefish, Montana. Check out either the Grouse Mountain Lodge (*) good food and lodging starting at around $77/night; or Duck Inn (*) comfortable rooms in the $65/night range.)