The past few years some friends and I have been doing what we hope continues to be an annual fishing trip. It started a few years back with a trip to the boundary waters canoe area in northern Minnesota on the Canadian border. Unfortunately, the winter was long and cold that year and the ice had just come off the lakes only a week or two before our trip. Having set the dates in advance it was the only time we could get away, so we toughed out a week in cold wet weather with little fish to show. Although the weather conspired against us we managed a few big smallmouth and still had a great time. The following year we were hooked on trout fishing and couldn’t put down the fly rods. We decided to plan our trip to the South Fork of the Snake River in Idaho. We met up in Jackson, WY for a burger and beer then made a 30 minute drive up to Crystal Creek to set up camp for the night. We fished Crystal Creek the next morning and everyone got their first few cutty’s out of the way before we headed to town to pick up the boats we had rented for the Snake. We spent 3 days floating the Snake and it was beautiful and the fishing was great. This year while talking about ideas for our trip my uncle mentioned he has a friend that lives on a ranch in Montana. He went on to tell us about a spring creek that flows through the ranch and that there are ponds stocked with rainbows and other ponds stocked with smallmouth bass…. that was all we needed to hear. Three weeks ago my cousin Tate and I hit the road headed for Billings, MT. After 18 hours in the car we arrived in Billings and were eager to get some fishing licenses and some local knowledge. We stopped at the East Rosebud Fly and Tackle shop where some nice guys helped us with flies and pointed out a few spots on the map for us. Tate and I were a few hours ahead of the rest of our group who were coming from Boulder, Colorado, so we didn’t waste any time and headed for the nearest stream. We ended up on Rock Creek where we hammered out a mixed bag of browns and bows then headed to a hotel to meet up with the rest of the group and start planning our week. We spent our first two days on the ranch that we’d been told about catching big smallmouth and rainbows out of private ponds.
A 15 minute drive from the ranch was the largest spring creek in Montana – Big Spring Creek. Big Spring is a blue-ribbon trout stream with very little pressure as a result of being located about 2 hours from any major city. We fished a whole day there and caught some nice fish.
The rest of the week we left our schedule open to just play by ear and fish wherever the fishing was good. The problem with that is that the fishing is good EVERYWHERE in Montana. We took some advice from a nice fellow from the East Rosebud Fly and Tackle shop in Billings and went to the Stillwater River. The Stillwater is a tributary to the Yellowstone that has much less fishing pressure than other popular rivers in Montana. Luckily, the scenery was so nice that I didn’t really care about not catching anything, but that doesn’t mean the fish weren’t there. I stood at a pool boiling with rises and had every fly in my box get rejected. I finally ended up catching a decent rainbow on a stonefly nymph before we had to leave. I wish we could’ve stayed there and figured how to catch those fish but we had a big group and we needed to get on more productive water. Next stop was the Gallatin River. The owner of the Bozeman Angler fly shop said it had been fishing well and that he knew of some spots that would accommodate our large group. He sent us to a spot where the river braids around around a large island allowing some room for us to spread out. Our group of 5 caught plenty of fish in the 10-12 inch range.
We spent one more day on the Gallatin with less luck. A storm in the high country had brought the water level up and stained the water a bluish-gray color. Without seeing a drop of rain the river had changed dramatically. We were forced to head upstream to find good water. After trying one more spot upstream we headed back to camp to sit around a fire and have a beer. The next morning just before heading back to Illinois we made a stop at the East Gallatin and got on some of the best fishing of the trip. It was sad to leave such great trout fishing behind, but on the other hand summer steelhead are starting to make thieir way into rivers in Michigan and Indiana, and I’m anxious to swing the switch rod for some chrome skamaniacs!