I made my annual summer trip west to Montana recently, a trip Iíve been fortunate to be able to go on the past 12 years or so. Being able to go out and live in a tent or car for a week or two and play outdoors allows me to recharge my mental batteries for the rest of the year. Some years I do a lot of hiking and fishing, some years I just do a lot of wandering, this year fishing was the only order of business since each trip might be my last for a long time.
I flew in to Bozeman and rented a small SUV (Nissan Rogue) and immediately met up with Swimmy (aka Rob). Rob was kind enough to take me on a float with his friend Graham and his long-haired hot dog Sammy down the Yellowstone River. We floated right below Livingston in the afternoon targeting big browns with oversized streamers. I had a blast with these two friendly laid back guys who showed me the ropes of fishing from a boat. I did ok but kept tangling my line around the seat. Fishing was on the slow side, we boated a handful of fish but none of the 20+ inchers we were after. My one attempt at a glory pic with a 14-15 inch brown resulted in me letting the fish slip out of my hands and into the water. No big deal. Each of us had some big fish follow our flies but it wasnít meant to be on this day. I wrapped up the day by wading during the evening caddis hatch and landed several rainbows and whitefish and slept in the back of the car riverside.
Graham, Rob, and Sammy
The next day I woke up early and drove 2.5 hours north to the Missouri River near Craig, MT. It had been 12 years since I last visited the Missouri and I had fond memories of difficult big, challenging rainbows. I spent the next 2 nights on the Missouri trying to figure it out. I had a couple short bursts of great action (hooking 7-8 fish in an hour), but most of the time was real slow with a hookup every few hours mixed with a lot of slinging weeds off my flies. The temps were scorching as well, reaching 100F 2 days in a row. The Missouri is filled with fish that thoroughly worked me over. I probably landed only 1 out of 8 fish hooked either to breaking off (the weeds were a killer) or the fish spitting the hook. When you set the hook on these big rainbows, they just go berserk and they really got the best of me. Most of my fish came in a big eddy filled with 10-15 cruising fish. My final day there I found a big pod of rainbows in the afternoon feeding on trico spinners, again in a massive eddy. There mustíve been 30 fish gulping without a care in the world and they didnít spook when I made my casts. I hooked at least 8 fish in a couple hours but I only landed 2 or 3. The 22 hook, weeds, and strong fish combined to make it hard to land these guys. I was also kicking myself for not bringing my net, the one item I left out when I packed because I couldnít zip up my luggage bag with it in.
Healthy Missouri rainbows
The heat eventually drove me away from the Missouri so I headed southwest stopping in Dillon, MT to fish Poindexter Slough for a few hours. Poindexter is a public spring creek, a place I love to visit for a few hours as often as possible. Itís a great mid-day spot since fish tend to be rising in the heat of the afternoon. I fished from around noon-4 and there was a nice pmd hatch popping the whole time. I used a pmd sparkle emerger with a splitback pmd nymph a foot below it and both took fish, and these spring creek browns are just gorgeous little guys. I saw only one other angler out there.
Continuing on past Poindexter I made my way to the upper Madison where I would spend the next few days. The Madison was ďoffĒ for me the past couple years, but it has been my favorite river for a long time and I knew it was a matter of time before I realized why I love it so much again. It took me a little while to figure out the fish, but I soon discovered that fish were hanging out right on the bank and I did well most of the time nymphing or running a stimulator with a midge trailing off the back. A brown zebra midge was killer, the fish chewed through my only one. Madison fish are also really strong and combined with the current the average fish makes you do some work to haul it in. The mornings and evenings I threw big streamers and I had some explosive strikes. I had 2 real solid fish on at various times but I lost one in a tangle in some structure and the other spit the hook after taking a bunch of line out for a minute or so. They felt like they may have been in the 20 inch ballpark. Each day the flows got higher and the last day wading was pretty limited. I used my 12í 5wt spey rod for nymphing in the high water which is actually a great nymphing rod. With the length you can high stick a lot of water and itís really easy to control your line. It also has the backbone to overpower fish in fast current.
One day I made the short drive to the Henryís Fork planning to stay a couple days, but the local old timers informed me that there were no bugs the past couple days. I fished from 8am-1pm and I only found a couple fish rising inconsistently. It was frustrating knowing that an hour away the Madison was hot, so I decided to ditch my plan of staying on the HF and headed back to the Madison. I love fishing the selective fish on the HF, but for some reason this year I didnít have the focus to work so hard for a fish or two.
The last night I hit the Gallatin, another one of my favorites. It seems the Gallatin in the canyon is just always on fire in July and August, and this night was no exception. I landed a bunch of smallish rainbows during the evening mayfly and caddis action.
It was a great trip but itís nice to be in my bed at home again. I also donít think my body could take much more of the diet I was on which consisted of ramen and beer for dinner, peanut butter sandwiches for breakfast lunch and snacks, and dried apricots to keep things moving. This is the first time I didnít set up my tent once, but the back of the car had plenty of room and it saved me time setting up/breaking down. I met some great people and had a lot of time to do some thinking and reflecting by myself. Hopefully Iíll be back next year.