The ultimate plan in my head always went something like, fish every state on the way north, fishing as many hatches as possible until I hit Canada. Then turn around and fish it on the way back south, catching different hatches all the way home. Should only take a month… maybe two. But it has never materialized that way. I usually never make it past southern Idaho where I fish twice as many days as planned…and at the last hour possible, load up everything, jump in the truck and do a Gumball Rally type drive all the way back home in one radar-dodging shot, just to drag into work the next morning at the last minute still wearing clothes that smell like floatant.
In the past couple years, I’ve been able to break out of that routine and venture farther north into Montana…and I’m glad I have. This episode of the trip involved some friends heading back south from Idaho, some headed to other waters and me heading west full blast to hook up with my brother somewhere in Montana who was driving south from Seattle. After finally finding each other in Bozeman, we gawked at the mountains for a minute and headed west to Missoula to make a base camp.
We hit town about midday, pitched our gear out at “Camp Quality Inn” and found the Grizzly Hackle Fly shop. After a 15 minute conversation, a dozen new to me fly patterns and a map with some circles on it, we were flying down the highway to the Rock Creek turnoff. First cast into the creek was right a 3:30 pm.
This was a first time water for me and it didn’t fail to live up to the hype. The air was full of giant bugs, both golden and orange types, and despite usually high flows from a week of rainstorms prior, the water was clear-ish and fish were cloud gazing. The thing about Montana at this time of year is, it doesn’t get dark until about 9:00pm and we took advantage of every photon of light and drove back to town in the dark. I always said if I ever did move to Montana I would die from lack of sleep within two seasons.
The next day found us launching a drift boat on the Blackfoot. This would be my second time floating on the Blackfoot. The first time being a couple years before during the hopper season in August. The water was low and it was hot but we fished hoppers in pink…yes pink…almost all day and had action on every stretch. The water was so low that year that we had to portage a couple places and hit bottom going through several of the chutes, but we made it through. At one point, we were floating a big flat just about to go through one of the narrow rapids that was the only water deep enough to float us through. I made one more drift past a boulder and at that magic “6 feet past the rock” area where the fish were holding, a large cuttie smashed the hopper and on the hookset, decided to make a dash to the bank instead of the middle of the river toward the boat. As the fish ran I let the reel spin as the guide pulled the oars frantically to keep the boat from going down the chute and into the next run below. He pulled and rowed and actually had us stalled in the middle of the drop for a second, but eventually gravity won…as usual…and we pitched down the drop.
“Your going to need to stop him if you can”. I touched to spool and as soon as it stopped the rod bent hard and the tippet snapped. The fish had never stopped. The guide looked a little disappointed or mad or embarrassed or maybe all three, but I was laughing. “ I never saw anyone try to row up a waterfall before.”
This trip was quite different. It was earlier in the season and the water was high… like really high…like some sections had rapids that were in “classes” and such. Big bugs were out in force again and we had great success early on, and when it started to slow as the sun beamed down we would switch to droppers. At one point we pulled over and switched it up to a heavy double nymph indicator rig…you know, just for fun. We launched back into the heavy river flow and within ten feet of his very first drift, my brother hooks up in the back of the boat with something heavy. The guide immediately replied “This might be a bull trout”. Within seconds the fish ran under the boat, ran about 30 feet of line off the drag like it was nothing, got into the heaviest part of the river current….and stopped. “Yep. It’s a bull”. I reeled up quick and sat down to watch the fight. Unfortunately the fight didn’t last long as the fish was unmovable and eventually, to much sadness….just let go and the hook came loose. Today whenever I mention it, all my brother will say is “That fish was big”.
As the day went on, the fishing got better, we switched back to dries and for the record…if your into that kind of thing…we ended up with a rainbow, a cutthroat and a brown over 20”…I’m sure that’s some kind of grand slam or “20 something” club…and of course, I missed the set on a brown that would’ve topped them all and been the biggest of the day. The guide saw it too, so that’s proof I didn’t just make it up. This float ended like every other one…way too soon…and the Blackfoot with all its fish and movie worthy scenery has quickly made the list of my second favorite river to fish in the west.
The South Fork is my first favorite.
…it’s a 13 way tie for second.