Montana Trout Bum Trip
I spent the last week of September and the first week of October in God’s country… Montana and Wyoming. The first week I was by myself - trout bumming it - sleeping in the truck, not eating much but power bars, fishing at least 10 hours each day, and not bathing much. I realize this isn't really a "vacation" to some people, but it was paradise to me! The second week my wife joined me, so while I did still get a few days of fishing in, we hiked a lot, ate in restaurants, slept in a bed and there was more bathing.
I never fished the same place twice (although I probably should have since some were so good), and the biggest fish I caught were a few in the 3 to 4 pound range - so no real monsters. But a couple of the best days I had I was catching 12 inch fish in the most beautiful place on earth so the size wasn't really an issue. I fished the first 9 days in a row and caught lots of fish every day so it was pretty good. The weather was perfect - sunny and 60 to 70 the whole time except for the first day. Mornings would be in the 30s to start with, but as soon as the sun peeked over the mountains it warmed right up.
First stop of the trip was a day at the Bighorn river in Forth Smith, MT. The river was pretty high for this time of year. There was just too much moss down river to wade fish. The drift boats were doing OK because they could keep up with the moss - but from the shore it was too much floating by. I moved up closer to the dam and it was much better, and I started catching fish immediately. This was the only time except for one other spot on the whole trip where I was nymphing instead of using dry flies.
I was standing waist deep in the river as a huge Osprey landed in the tree right above me. He sat there peering down into the river and then a few minutes later he tucked his wings back and spearheaded right straight down into the water about 15 feet from me - my heart skipped a beat or two it was so powerful. He emerged with a nice trout in his talons and flew across the river - pretty cool to see up that close.
The next day I went up into the Bighorn Mountains and fished the North Tongue river for Cutts. The morning was cold and the fish were pretty inactive - not unlike myself. But as the day progressed, we all started to warm up a bit and decided to eat.
I mostly sight fished as you could see them lying along the bends of the river bank. They would just lay there and watch whatever I floated past them without moving. That is until I tied on a size 16 Griffiths Gnat. That was apparently what they were all waiting for, because it was the only thing that got their attention. And get their attention it did. There is something really cool about getting into fat 17 inch fish in a spot where you could step across the river with two good strides. Amazing colors on these beautiful fish!
I spent the next couple of days fishing the Stillwater and the East and West Rosebuds. This produced a lot of fish. The West rosebud has a nice inlet to WRB lake where there were lots of small rainbows, and then on up the mountain is a nice pool stream. The Stillwater is much larger water, which can be harder to figure out exactly where the fish are, but there were still a lot of hoppers jumping out from under my feet as I walked through the grass, and the hopper bite was good. I was there the year before at this same time and there weren't any hoppers out so it was nice to have that option this year.
One night I found a nice spot in the Stillwater and as the sun went down the fish started to rise all around me. I couldn't figure them out at first, the only bug I saw was a tiny little evening dun or something like that, but must have been about a size 46! I didn't have anything small enough apparently, but I started stripping a soft hackle and that did the trick on a few.
The sun was setting, fall colors painted the hills in spectacular fashion, I was standing in the middle of the Stilly with fish rising all around - then as I was pulling in a nice fish, a huge bald eagle flew right up the river and just a few feet over my head. I could hear the wind go through his wings as he flew over! Certainly beats workin'.
Farther up the mountain the Stillwater gets pretty crazy - there are HUUUUGE fish in some of those big pools. You could sometimes see them sort of get carried by the current and lifted up towards the surface. Only caught smaller ones in the pools - couldn't get anything to stay down deep enough to harass the big guys.
Fished Rock Creek and did catch a couple of decent bows there. The water was a bit higher than I like to see it for walking up the creek, but still not bad. Small tan caddis seemed to work best there.
I then headed over the Beartooth highway, one of the most beautiful drives in the country they say. I saw nothing that would give me reason to argue. I stopped briefly up top and fished Little Bear Creek. I walked a couple miles down the stream and must have caught 40 little Brookies. A few nice fat 10 to 12 inchers, but quite a few 8 inch little guys as well, but still fun on the 3wt and with the settings you are fishing in. Just find a slight pool, drop in an Adams, and voila - fish on. Could have caught them all day, but had to move on.
Below this pool below I did discover that if you slip and land on your rear in the middle of the stream, that tends to spook ‘em! If I would have had a video of that it could have went viral.
Yep - there was. Spent the day and hiked about 4 or 5 miles up the Clark's fork, just a few miles outside of Yellowstone. I caught an absolute ton of fish - mostly on an Adams, or small gray caddis. Never saw another soul - was all in the wilderness - it was 75 and sunny with no wind all day - the river all looked like the picture below - it was truly a day of Heaven on earth - one of those days that you really don't want to end. Just wish you could spend eternity wandering up an endless river that looked like this....
After my wife arrived we did some hiking higher up in the mountains. The Beartooth's are overcrowded with Brookies and most of the smaller lakes are filled with 'em. One lake we did go to about 3 1/2 miles up that I had been to last year and caught a ton of nice fish was completely devoid of life - it is a shallow lake and must have silted in enough that a hard freeze wiped it out. You see strange things in the mountains.
But I did fish a few lakes and caught lots of fish. I always am a sucker for the streams on the way up to the lakes - sometimes these are a bit tough to get to but that just adds to the challenge for me. Of course my wife thinks I'm crazy scaling down mountain sides just to get to a little pool for a couple of quick casts, which is why she feels compelled to document it with a photo.
There were other little places and side streams, but we headed back towards home through Yellowstone and the Tetons. We didn't have time to stop and fish but it sure looked good! There were more people fishing in the park than I had ever seen before, and it was on a Wednesday! I guess since the season got started a bit late this year they are making up for lost time.
We stopped at the Snake River - and took some pictures of a big bull Moose that was there - but most people were taking pics of the colors - I had been there before during peak season, but don't think I have ever seen it more beautiful - Took these shots right before the sun finally set on a blessed trip. Already looking forward to the next trip!