I'm setting sail from here in West Michigan after work on Labor Day Eve, looking to spend 2 weeks fishing/hiking western Montana and Wyoming (was originally going to be motorcycle trip, but I had to bag that). I'll primarily be camping in my Jeep along the way. After talking with some people around here, the Bitterroot has been mentioned a fair amount so my plan was to focus on fishing/camping along 93. Is this a fairly wadeable/decent section for a newbie fly fisher? Though browns and rainbows are perfectly fine, I'd love to catch my first cutthroat! I've been searching this forum for info on fishing the Missoula area so hopefully this post isn't too redundant. Since I've made the decision to leave my dog home, I'm also thinking of fishing somewhere in Yellowstone if possible but haven't done much research. Would I be better off spending my time elsewhere? Any camping suggestions? This is my tentative route http://goo.gl/maps/3P6Vk . Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
Stacey: Probably a wise decision to leave the bike home that late in the year. July/Aug then it would be a different story and could make for a wonderful bike trip. YNP would definitely be excellent fishing, especially the NE section since you are already planning on passing thru Cody anyway. The Lamar River, Soda Butte Creek and Slough Creek will all be fishing great that time of year and the summer crowds will have diminished some. Along hwy 14 from Cody, WY to the NE entrance to the park, watch for the brown public access points along the North Fork of the Shoshone river, it should also be fishing well. Lots of public fishing along the river as well. Passing thru Thermopolis, you have the Wind River in the canyon, it fishes really well, just realize that it is on the Indian Reservation and you will need an Indian fishing permit, but you can buy that in town, there is a White Water Rafting/fly shop on the right hand side as you are leaving town on the right side, they have a big sign so it is hard to miss, they sell the licenses needed to fish the canyon. If your interested I could bring the drift boat over and we could do a float on the Bighorn just south of town. It is primarily a float river as all the land is private so getting access is a little difficult. The only public access that I know of is the public boat ramp on the right side just after you cross the bridge traveling south, called The Wedding of Waters, again watch for the brown public access sign. The takeout at the 8th Street bridge in town also offers a little public access, so that is another option. Oh, I almost forgot, as you travel south from Cody and start to get close to Thermopolis, there are a couple of other public access points north of town, again watch for the brown public access signs. If you don't want to float, those should give you some good options.
Edit: I forgot to mention that at the top of Wind River Canyon (south side of Thermopolis) there are two public campgrounds right on the river. From the Boysen dam to the top of the canyon (where the tunnels start) is all public land, then down stream from there is where the Indian Reservation starts. There is also an RV park on the south side of town with showers and free WiFi, but they charge $20/night for a tent, but the showers are clean and after fishing all day that can be really nice.
Location: White City (tad north of Medford) Oar-E-Gone
Re: Solo Road Trip Montana/Wyoming - September
Originally Posted by heronwheels
I'm setting sail from here in West Michigan after work on Labor Day Eve, looking to spend 2 weeks fishing/hiking western Montana and Wyoming (was originally going to be motorcycle trip, but I had to bag that). I'll primarily be camping in my Jeep along the way. After talking with some people around here, the Bitterroot has been mentioned a fair amount so my plan was to focus on fishing/camping along 93. (Answer is an easy yes, public access points are well marked. You can't miss the signs.) Is this a fairly wadeable/decent section for a newbie fly fisher? (Save fro right at the meeting of the two forks, very easy wade.)Though browns and rainbows are perfectly fine, I'd love to catch my first cutthroat! I've been searching this forum for info on fishing the Missoula area so hopefully this post isn't too redundant. Since I've made the decision to leave my dog home, I'm also thinking of fishing somewhere in Yellowstone if possible but haven't done much research. Would I be better off spending my time elsewhere? Any camping suggestions? (Camping will be a problem, not much in the way of campgrounds in this area-that I know of anyway Really do some research on this!)This is my tentative route http://goo.gl/maps/3P6Vk . Any advice would be greatly appreciated!
One of the best/fun places to fish the Bitterroot is right at the north end of Hamilton. You park on the south side of the bridge and fish your way upstream. Hint: Get ready for long casts, smaller trout hold in mid-river, the 'big boy's' are against the far bank. I used a light 2hander to chase those Puppies.
Hope some of the above was helpful. And do the research on places to camp well before you set out!
---------- Post added at 12:54 PM ---------- Previous post was at 12:38 PM ----------
Add one thing on driving times between point a to b. ALL are grossly understated! Even with a lot of Freeway driving you'll be hard pressed to average 50mph with normal stops for fuel, food, leg stretching, etc. Trust me, I know!
From my front door to downtown Hamilton is 800 miles (on the dot). Will take 16 hours ....... And watch your gas gauge; towns are few and far between! Almost found that out the hard way.
Also have a Jeep (Liberty) with a 15 gallon tank ..... put in 14.95 at one point! Never let the tank get much below 50% until you get to Missoula.
---------- Post added at 01:15 PM ---------- Previous post was at 12:54 PM ----------
One last random thought about long drives like this. Most Libraries have a very good (or can get) selection of 'Books on Tape.' Actually most will be on CD's.
Nothing better to help you 'focus' on your driving. Listening to music is not a good Plan A.
Audiobooks are a staple of any roadtrip I take. I started listening to them when I was doing cross country road trips on my motorcycle to keep me alert. If I listened to music, I rode to fast, audiobooks kept me focused without landing me a speeding ticket I always add a few hours to whatever Google Maps tells me, I usually only stop when I fill up my tank (Grand Cherokee 20 gal tank gets me a little less than 400 miles). You aren't kidding on gas in the west! On my first cross country motorcycle trip on 2010, I was on my Ninja 650, which I could get 150 miles before the gas light came on, boy when I got into the backroads of New Mexico, Arizona and Utah I had a few panic moments. I started carrying a MSR fuel can with me just in case! Thanks for the advice on the Bitterroot, I'll look into camping a little more. It looks like there are some private campgrounds but they are a little $$$ and some free national forest campgrounds around Hamilton.
I wish I could work a day with a guide into the trip budget, but some recent car repairs, etc. have eaten away at some of my fun money (who doesn't love to live on beef jerky and ramen for two weeks )
Larry, thanks a ton for all of the Wyoming info! I think Soda Butte Creek/Lamar Valley look pretty great, I didn't get a chance to visit Lamar Valley when I was there in 2011 so it'll be nice to see a new part of the park.
As far as flies, it looks like tiny tricos etc. will be a mainstay...are terrestrials/caddis still a food source in early September? I just started tying about a month an a half ago but would like to have at least some stuff tied before I head out there (I've been tying a lot of caddis, X-caddis, mini hoppers, parachute adams, purple haze, pheasant tail/prince nymphs, etc.). Also, any recommendations for shops in Missoula? Sorry so many questions!
Your flies look good, I would add some ants and beetles to the list also. Late in the summer I do a lot of hopper/dropper fishing (the hopper could be anything from a big dry fly, caddis, chernobyl ant or actual hopper pattern). Just keep an eye on the wx in the park, terrestrials will be out in force until after the first frost or two, after that their numbers go way down. As you walk across the fields to the stream your fishing you will get a sense for how the hoppers are doing. For real rocky sections of rivers, stoneflies always come into play, especially on the North Fork of the Shoshone river or anything similar. Look up the North Fork Special pattern, pretty simple to tie, but very effective.
Location: White City (tad north of Medford) Oar-E-Gone
Re: Solo Road Trip Montana/Wyoming - September
" I'll look into camping a little more. It looks like there are some private campgrounds but they are a little $$$ and some free national forest campgrounds around Hamilton."
Best one that just came to mind is at Lake Como. I'm sure there others, just never had the need to really pin down the 'where.' And when you get too 300 miles, fill up again! I use my trip meter and reset to zero when I tank up even with just normal driving.
I've made similar road trips to what you're looking at every year since 2003, either from central WI and now northeast MN, actually right along your route. This year there are three of us leaving the Friday after Labor Day for a week. There have been some excellent suggestions already, and you're picking a great time of year to go.
Here are a few other suggestions, from the perspective of a visiting angler, specifically solo where a float trip through private water isn't as practical and pretty expensive when there's nobody to split the cost with. One of the key things for me is areas with miles of good public access so you don't have to be worried if you're going to accidently walk a bit too far and get in trouble with a landowner. All of these are well known... just rivers that seem well suited for visitors who may not have local connections or knowledge.
Don't miss YNP, especially if you haven't been there before. Sure there are a lot of people (but less after Labor Day), but where else can you fish next to geysers or steam vents and have to watch out for bison herds? Like anywhere, if you're willing to hike a bit - even just a few hundred yards from the road - you get away from 95% of the people. The NE corner, specifically portions of the Lamar away from the road is my favorite.
The Bighorn tailwater in MT is right along your route, and deserves it's excellent reputation. This late in the year the river is much better for wading than it can be earlier in the summer, and there's plenty of public access and camping spots.
The North Fork of the Shoshone between Cody and YNP is a favorite. Once you get up to the National Forest boundary the access is great (maybe too great) and the fish are crazy strong... plus after picky fish on the Bighorn, etc it's nice to fish somewhere where the guys at the fly shop advise you "don't even mess with anything smaller than 3x tippet".
The Wind River, Beartooth, or Bighorn mountains are a good option also. Which one is the best for you will depend on specifically what you're looking for and how long of a hike you're up for. The brookies at high elevation will probably be in their spawning colors by the end of your trip, which makes them even more beautiful. Check out the Rick Ostoff book on fishing in the Rocky Mountain backcountry.
One non-fishing item - if you haven't been through South Dakota before, you may want to take I-90 west from Chicago instead of staying farther south through Iowa and Nebraska. The Badlands are really cool, and there is a lot t see in the Black Hills region, including Mt. Rushmore and the Needles Highway. Plus, you have to stop at Wall Drug in Wall, SD once in your life... especially since you'll start seeing billboards for it as soon as you hit the interstate heading west from MI. I haven't found the route through Iowa and Nebraska nearly as interesting (no offense to anyone from there... and I'll include I-90 across the southern part of my home state in the "not so interesting" group, unless you jump off the highway into the Driftless streams).
Good luck on your trip... jealous that you're going for two weeks instead of just one! If you see a group of 3 guys with MN plates in a campground or along the river, it might be us, so stop over and say hello!
Heronwheels, welcome aboard. I grew up in W Michigan and made my first trip to Montana a solo road trip as well.
The Bitterroot is easily wade-able for sure, particularly this year! Water flows are low and temps have been warm, but the upper river - from Hamilton upstream - has reportedly been quite good even in the heat, plenty of cold water coming down the West Fork out of Painted Rocks reservoir. While there is a lot public access and clearly marked from Hwy 93, there is very little public land and almost no camping. There are a few campgrounds, but your options are limited.
As something to consider, Rock Creek fishes very well and is essentially 50 miles of public access (there are sections that are private, but less then 10%) and National Forest and so many places to pitch a tent on the bank that you will have a hard time choosing.
The upper ends of both the Bitterroot and Rock Creek will get you into very easy water - easy to read, to find fishy looking holds, to wade and will offer you great opportunities to catch cutthroat trouts.