Hello everyone, I'll be in GNP for around 10 days in mid-september and I have a few questions.
1. Probably most important because this will have an effect on what camp sites I reserve. Which streams should I be looking at, being from PA, I've never had a chance at fishing for cut throat so that will be my main target. The farther away from everything the better.
2. Equipment...8' 5wt or 9'6" 7wt? What tippet size and leader length am I looking at? A few fly suggestions would be nice too.
This isn't just a fishing trip, I'll be backpacking the entire time so I want to bring the bare minimum amount of stuff so I'm going to have to be pretty selective with what gear I'm bringing with.
I have never been to Glacier, but my backpacking angler's bible by Rich Osthoff titled Fly Fishing the Rocky Mountain Backcountry covers Glacier pretty well. I'll copy some excerpts from the chapter on Glacier:
- "Over half the backcountry lakes in the park are within 6 miles of a trailhead and can be reached on day hikes. If you can't get a permit to camp on a lake you really want to see, then consider a day hike. An angler with just a week to spend in the park could probably visit more good lakes by day hiking than by camping in the backcountry."
- "All camping is at designated sites - designated campgrounds, really. Backcountry sites on any given lake are so closely grouped that several parties hang good from the same bear pole and prepare meals in a central area (wood fires are prohibited at many sites)............Even aside from the obvious aesthetic drawbacks of this arrangement, I don't like camping near strangers in bear country, because I have no control over what they do."
- "Although Glacier may be the most beautiful backcountry I've camped in, the camping experience itself is a far cry from what's available in most classified wilderness areas."
- "Dense willows and steep terrain make fishing difficult from many shores, especially on the lush western slope of the park, which receives a lot of precipitation. Lightweight waders and wading shoes wll get you out of the brush and make fishing and traveling shorelines easier."
Lakes that Osthoff mentions with enthusiasm are:
- Lake Ellen Wilson
- Gunsight Lake
- Trout Lake
- Arrow Lake
- Hidden Lake - "There are cutthroat lakes this good and better all over the Rockies, but if you're going to be touring Glacier and want to slip off the the road for a taste of productive high-lake fishing, Hidden Lake should deliver."
- Oldman Lake
- Kootenai Lakes - brook trout only
- Otokomi Lake - "The cutthroat fishing is rated on par with that at Hidden Lake - which would make this one of the better lakes in the park."
- Grace Lake
From reading about Glacier in Osthoff's book, I would not rate Glacier a great fly fishing destination. The hiking sounds sublime but the camping sounds like utter hell. And the fishing sounds sub par at best. I assume you're locked into going to Glacier, but if you aren't and backpacking-fishing is your prime reason for coming to Montana, I would recommend the Absaroka-Beartooth Mountains as a prime fishing/backpacking destination. Also, mid-September is pushing the weather a little bit. The peaks will be receiving regular dustings of snow and the backcountry campsites and lakes may as well.
As far as gear suggestions, you heard Osthoff talk about waders. I would never recommend toting waders on a backpacking trip......like you said, when it comes to backpacking, only the essentials get packed. But, in the case of Glacier, you should consider waders. I personally take along Teva sandals and where them to wet wade when it's warm enough but that's usually only about half the time. Most of the time, i just fire casts from shore.
Fly fishing high lakes is my specialty. This is what I take (again, only the extreme basics come along with me): A lightweight camera bag with all of my tackle, which includes: 3-4 different replacement leaders (I usually tie on a 4x nine foot tapered leader), one spool of 4x and 6x tippet, a lightweight lanyard with my nippers, hemostat, and dry floatant, and one box of small tackle (split shot, strike indicators, and extra flies) and one bigger box for all of my flies. As far as a rod is concerned, you're on your own there. My philosophy is that high lakes are usually breezy places and you need a rod that can buck some wind. I personally take a 9' 6wt, which is great for firing long casts along lake shores, but dreadful for small streams in the high country.
As far as flies for high-lakes and headwater streams:
Scuds (can't over emphasize the importance of scuds on high-lakes)
Attractors like Wulffs and Humpys
Parachute Adams (my go to high country fly)
Midges (adults and emergers)
Pheasant Tail and Hare's Nymphs
Elk Hair Caddis
Wooly Bugger/Leaches (especially for high country Brook trout)
My usual setup for high country lakes is a good, visible dry fly and one dropper with a nymph or scud on about 1.5 feet of tippet. For the tippet coming off the leader, I usually just do the usual 3-4 feet. Also, I never carry a net in the back country. I use bandanas to help land and handle trout.
Oh, you mentioned streams..............first and foremost if you are going into the high country, still water should be your focus. Headwater streams in the high back country are usually pretty small and over run with timber and/or willows on the banks. But of course Glacier holds some moving water, and Osthoff mentions some of them:
- St. Marys River - "The trail runs mostly through timber along the SMR. With some bushwhacking you can dap a fly on seldom-fished river runs and catch some pan-sized rainbows.
- Camas Creek - ".......which is brushy but beautiful once you're on the water. It holds small cutthroats right through summer and probably pulls larger fish from the lakes at spawning time..........This valley reportedly holds more than its share of grizzlies, which may explain why I had no company at the camgrounds"
- Belly River - "If you're looking for a backcountry stream in Glacier with decent action for pan-size trout, check out the BR.........The river offers easy wading over gravel and small cobblestone. Pack waders or hip boots so you can walk right up the channel.......I didn't see any grayling that inhabit the drainage, but I had good action for brook and rainbows to 12 inches. The fish were not picky. You need only an Adams or an Elk Hair Caddis, and maybe a Wooly Worm of Hare's Ear Nymph for probing the deeper spots."
BTW, Osthoff's book is now 11 years old, and backcountry fisheries can change quickly over time. I've been to dozens of the destinations in his book (he covers CO, UT, WY, MT, and ID) and sometimes the fishery is exactly as he describes, and sometimes it's been altered by management and/or too much fishing pressure. But other than that, I believe Osthoff to be at the forefront of describing back country fisheries in the Rocky Mountains.
And again, I would recommend you concentrate on the lakes in GNP. Lakes in the Rocky Mountain high country are fascinating and captivating places to fish. A lot of fly fisherman get caught up in the romantic vision that moving water is the only challenging and correct place to wet a fly.......not so in the Rocky Mountain backcountry.
Wow, thanks, this is incredibly helpful. Someday(maybe next year), I'll get to another part of Montana but this year I'm pretty limited. I'm taking the train straight into the park so I won't have a vehicle of any kind. From what I've heard from talking to people I'm going later than major tourist season so I'll probably get the back country sites to myself and a little bit of snow doesn't bother me, I camp and backpack all year round here in PA.
I will definitely be checking out the lakes you mentioned, I only mentioned streams because I'm really not familiar with still water fishing so I just automatically gravitated to the streams on the map. Your gear suggestions are also really helpful, I had no idea what to bring along out there. Again, your posts were super helpful, thanks again.
Personally, I think that you can cover most of what you'll need for fishing in Glacier with an 8'6"-9"0" 5 wt. rod. It's certainly the case for other places in Montana, such as the Paradise Valley area, where you'll find Rainbows, Browns, Cutthroats and Whitefish all in abundance.
Welcome to the forum, as you have already found out someone here can usually provide an answer to almost any question. I hope you enjoy tour trip to the park. I have visited Glacier many times and found the hiking and opportunity for photography were better than the fishing. When you are traveling north from McDonald along the McDonald River you will cross 'Logan Creek', standing on the bridge take a look up the creek. You will see a waterfall way up in the mountain. I have taken a hike up there and climbed that granite escarpment on the left side of the falls. The trip is incredible. You will be walking among the largest Western Red Ceder trees I have ever seen (I'm talking 10' diameter trunks) and the lower end of the creek is open enough to fish. Up high it is a series of plunge pools and runs. About a mile up you would find that the creek forks, if you take the left branch it will take you to the greatest natural water slide I have seen.
All said if I were giving a backpacker advice on Glacier (and I am) I would say leave the broken trail and go explore Logan Creek. I have been many places on this continent but the trip I am describing to you is one that stands alone for a hike along a creek. The trip offers a glimpse of a real West Slope temperate rain forest, no broken trail (there will be one down low but by the time you reach the Rangers Cabin it will peter out into the bush) it is an actual wilderness experience inside one of our most heavily visited parks.
When traveling I have always had to try to balance the value of fishing against exploration. Sometimes the fishing is so good you can't walk away from it. Other times the beckoning of a world new to you wins over and you must change boots. I had crossed that bridge at Logan Creek for four years before I finally gave in to my sense of adventure and as I have said I will remember that trip as long as I live. It's on the short list of best hikes.
I too am heading to Glacier in September. Though my dates may be different (7-12). In addition, I'm also taking the train, via Chicago, from DC. My plan is to hike from Many Glaciers to Waterton then take the shuttle back to St. Mary's. If you've never been to the park be prepared for the mind-blowing beauty. Can I ask you what you're plans are? I'm always looking for beta .