For our summer vacation this year Tara and I decided to venture back out west to our second favorite state, Montana, in hopes to catch a few fish. I always look forward to the dry air and the snowcapped Rocky Mountains. Flying on the other hand can be stressful but part of the adventure is getting there.
Thankfully our flights out went smooth and arrived on time. It still amazes me that I can wake up and roll out of my bed bright and early and then hours later land in Big Sky Country at noon western time. With the rest of the afternoon and evening there was only one thing to do what we came for, fish!
After checking into our cabin for the next 4 nights in Twin Bridges we drove to the Ruby River. I remembered a certain stretch we fished last year that had some nice browns so that’s where we decided to start. A short walk down the dirt path lead us to the spot I wanted to fish and sure enough the brown trout were there and rising.Tara and I spread out and started casting to the feeding browns. Several drifts and refusals later left us scratching our heads on what they were feeding on. I had already switched flies 5 times trying to catch a nice 17-18” brown that was rising steadily in front of me. Tara wasn’t having much luck either so I decided to stop fishing and take a closer look.I noticed several spinners in the air as the small mayflies were mating and falling onto the water’s surface. I scooped a handful of them up and the light bulb went off. “Ha, they’re eating trico spinners” I yelled to Tara. I had a #14 PMD spinner tied on but quickly switched to a smaller size #20 rusty spinner. On my first cast the nice brown came up, took my fly, then I proceeded to break it off on the hook set. A few choice words followed but at least I figured out what they were eating.
It’s hard to believe that I had to go to the smaller trico fly pattern instead of the bigger PMD fly, but that’s what was more plentiful on the water’s surface and what the trout were keyed in on. We both managed a couple decent brown trout before exhaustion and darkness sent us to the vehicle. We had been up for 20 some hours and had a float trip the next day so we hit the sack.
The next morning we met our guide and friend Cody at the Beaverhead River. We’ve floated with Cody before and always enjoy fishing with him. He’s a Dillon, MT native and grew up fishing those famous waters. There was cloud cover and things started out slow before I caught a brown to get the skunk off.
As we floated along it started raining and didn’t stop for over 3 hours. With it came wind that we had to fight but we kept on fishing picking up a few trout here and there. It was bizarre weather for August. Usually western rain consists of a 15-20 minute thunderstorm and then it moves on. Not this day, it rained steady with temperatures in the low 60’s and wind chills in the low 50’s.
It felt more like early spring and fall instead of summer. I’m glad I brought our rain jackets as they got there use that day. The weird weather messed with the trout and hatching bugs as well. We both caught 18” fish but none over 20”+ that we were used to catching on the Beav.
That evening we caught a couple small rainbow trout on the Jefferson River behind the cabin we stayed in before calling it a day. On our 3rd day we drove up the Big Hole River valley above Melrose. We stopped to stretch our legs and fish of course. As soon as we got to the river I noticed fish rising in the middle.
They were small splashy rises and it didn’t take long to realize they were mainly whitefish. I caught several and so did Tara but she doesn’t care too much for them. The Big Hole is a neat river because it holds grayling and is one of the few places you can find them in the lower 48. We didn’t catch any grayling this time but have before on previous trips.
I moved down river to some pocket water and found the trout. I tied on a small #18 rainbow warrior nymph as a dropper off of the hopper and it proved to be a great setup. I hooked 2 nice 16”+ rainbows that looked like footballs jumping out of the water as they threw my hook. I managed to land a few small rainbows and a brown before the sun got high in the sky.
With the heat we decided to drive into the mountains to the upper Bitterroot River drainage. At Sula we hopped out and hit the East Fork. The small river was winding through a wide open valley and there were grasshoppers everywhere so a hopper pattern seemed like the logical fly choice. I immediately caught a small brown then heard Tara yell out as she missed a nice fish by the undercut bank.
There was a nice hole above us and once again Tara missed an even bigger fish in the middle of it. Both of the big fish were westslope cutthroats that tend to rise in slow motion and Tara pulled the fly out before they took it down. It’s a common mistake and you have to adjust with a latter hook set for the cutt’s. She slowed it down on the next one and caught a plump 14-15” cutthroat out of the same hole. We fished on up and caught a couple more and tried the big fish again but they’d had enough. We drove up the road to a bridge where the East Fork turns up into wilderness away from the road. The water was ice cold here and flowing with the abundant snowpack this year.
We only fished a short stretch and caught a couple more cutthroats before driving back down towards Sula. It was getting later in the evening so we fished one more spot on the upper Bitterroot then took the long drive back to Twin Bridges.Well it looks like I’ve ran out of room for this week. Next time we’ll float the famous Madison River then fish the Gallatin River to finish up the trip. Stay tuned and have a good one until then.