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Montana Trip Aug 09


Carpe Musca
Well, I’ve been back from my Montana adventure for about a week now and finally got around to writing up my big trip. I apologize for my cross post if you happen to also read the other NJ based fishing site, but there were kind folks on both sites that gave me advice while I was planning this trip.

I started playing with the idea of this trip about a year ago, but didn’t get serious about it until this summer. I couldn't convince any fishing buddies to join me, so I decided to do the trip solo. I didn’t want to waste the opportunity while I had the time off. I didn’t really know I was going until about a week before I left. In that week I did as much research as I could on this site (Thanks Skipper and Arron!), reading guide books, and using other internet resources. I also tied flies like a mad man. I tied hoppers, beetles, ants, stimulators, midges, tan EHC, rubber leg stoneflies, sow bugs, GRHE, and big black wooly buggers and zoo cougars, my new favorite streamer.


I did the trip with a reasonable budget. I camped as much as I could, but got a room every few nights so I could shower up. My first stop after flying into Bozeman, was the Bozeman Backpacker’s Hostel – it’s a great place to stay on the cheap - $20 for a bunk or $40 for a private room. Plus there’s a full kitchen to save you some dining out money.


After stopping at a couple of fly shops in town, I hit the Gallatin in the Canyon area, about half way between four-corners and Big Sky.


The water was raging! I was told later that it was higher than normal, but I can imagine that even at lower levels it would be fast, deep, and frothing. One look at that stream and I was glad that I packed a folding wading staff and a spikes for my new Chota “rock lock” boots. I still had to put the spikes in, but figured that wouldn't be a problem. 20 minutes of struggling, and I didn’t have one spike in the boots. Turns out that the replacement spikes that Chota sells don’t fit their new “rock lock” boots. But with only three hours of light left in the day, I wasn’t going to be waylaid by incompatible hardware. So I fished the Gallatin with no spikes, almost broke my neck, but ended up with 6 rainbows including my first MT trout!


All of the fish were less than 12 inches. I started indicator nymphing, but had a lot of trouble getting my flies down in the main current. All of my fish were caught on nymphs or stimulators fished in the seams and pocket water off to the side of the main current. The Gallatin in the canyon is a gorgeous place to fish with steep cliffs and peaks coming right down to the stream. I found it a difficult place to wade and fish, and the size of the fish weren’t very rewarding. I wouldn’t spend a lot of time there next time. However, I later learned that the river further upstream where it runs through Yellowstone National Park (YNP) is much different water, and I would like to give that a try on my next trip.

My next stop was the Yellowstone River south of Livingston in the aptly named Paradise Valley. This area was the highlight of the cross-country trip I made about 12 years ago, though I didn’t have a chance to stop and fish at the time.


The Yellowstone is a classic big river. Lots of choppy runs, riffles, side channels, and great bank water to be fished. However, my experience was that this river is best fished from a boat, and next time I would not spend so much time trying to wade/bank fish this water. I ended up having success both indicator nymphing, and fishing hoppers along the banks. On my second day there I caught browns, rainbows, and my first Yellowstone cutthroat!


For some reason these cuts seemed to like my ugly foam hoppers over the ones I bought at the fly shop.


Of course I also caught my share of the much maligned Montana Whitefish!


I spent three days fishing the Yellowstone and camped right on the bank at one of the fishing access points. Seven bucks a night, and you can’t beat the location.



One night I stumbled on a bar/restaurant/cabin rental called the Pine Creek Lodge. If you’re in the area, do yourself a favor and stop in for a meal, especially on a Thursday – Saturday. Friendly folks, great food, and live music. The night I was there musicians had come from the whole area for a bluegrass jam, and the dance floor was jumping with beautiful women in cowboy hats. Not a bad way to pass an evening.

One afternoon on the Yellowstone, I was distracted from my indicator by an osprey calling from above. I look up to find an osprey loaded down with a heavy fish, and a mature bald eagle, diving and swatting at it. Pass after pass the eagle made trying to get the osprey to release the fish. The osprey couldn’t maneuver well with the fish but held on and kept calling. Then the cavalry arrived as the ospreys mate swooped in and started diving at the eagle. It was a like a fighter jet dogfight! The mate drove the eagle away, diving and swatting at the larger bird. With each pass, the eagle would flip upside down and present its talons to the approaching osprey. Its no wonder Ben Franklin didn’t want those thievin’ eagles to represent our country!


My last day on the Yellowstone was a float trip that I arranged out of the Greater Yellowstone Fly Fishers Shop, outside of Bozeman. The shop was helpful and professional, and the guide was good, but I was very disappointed by the length of the trip. 6 hours on the water is not a full day.

Fished hoppers along the banks and I have to admit to missing many fish. The heartbreaker was huge 20”+ brown that took my hopper in a side channel just upstream from strainer. The fish drifted down one side of the tree and the boat on the other and that was that.


Back to the Bozeman hostel for a good night’s sleep and then got an early start out to the Madison. The advice I had was to concentrate on the area below Quake lake. After a brief stop at the Slide Inn, I fished the bulk of the day at the Three Dollar Bridge access. This was my favorite water of the trip. Lots of structure, lots of pockets, lots of big fish!



Had good results indicator nymphing with zebra midges, san juan worms, and wet ants. Picked up a couple of nice fat 16” rainbows and then switched to drifting terrestrials and attractors along the banks with good success. Had another big fat brownie take my hopper, but I he threw the hook before I could land him.


A big storm rolled in mid-afternoon and chased everyone off the river except for me and one other brave soul. The strategy paid off as the surface action turned on as soon as the storm had rolled through, with PEDs hatching and the fish looking up along the banks.

Camped out at a cheap Forest Service site and met another wandering fisherman who was up from Utah and trying to hit all of the great MT streams before his money ran out and he had to head home. We traded fish stories over beers and a campfire – he was surprised to hear of the great fishing back east.

The next morning it was back to fishing the Madison, this time further upstream. The river here was faster and strewn with mid-stream boulders and lots of white water. I managed a few fish on nymphs and stimulators, but in the end preferred the gentler water downstream.


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Proud Member Of The 10% Club
Very nice report!! Nice to see you had some luck and a great time!! Those cuts are beautiful!! Nice pictures as well the sights out there are awesome!


Carpe Musca
Now it was day seven of my trip, and a Sunday afternoon. I have to admit that seven days of non-stop fishing was wearing on me. I decided that I would head to West Yellowstone for a little diversion. My first stop was Bob Jacklin’s Fly Shop.


As many of you know, Bob is a Jersey boy from way back. I introduced myself to Bob, and told him I grew up in Long Valley fishing the South Branch. Turns out that Bob used to hitchhike to Long Valley when he was a kid and spend a week at a time fishing and camping on the river banks, at Ort's Farm, and even on the high school lawn! He showed me his album of old Long Valley photos and we chatted for a while about his old haunts. As luck would have it, Bob gives a free casting workshop outside his shop every Sunday evening, and has done so for the last 28 years! I took the hour long class, which included practice on his casting pond, and I have to say that I learned a lot. I have to practice what I learned, but I think that Bob and his friends really cleaned up my cast.

Picked up some flies, bear spray, and advice from Bob the next morning, and I was off to the Park. It was a good 2.5 hour drive from the west entrance up to the Lamar Valley, including a couple of brief stops to check out some of the sites.




While there’s no shortage of good rivers in the Park, my targets were the Lamar, Soda Butte, and Slough Creek in the northeast part of the park. By the time I reached the Lamar at about 10:30 am, both of the local campgrounds were full. Apparently, you need to get your site first thing in the morning if you want to camp in the park. No matter, I figured I’d find a room in Cooke City just outside of the northeast entrance that night and found a nice stretch of the Lamar to fish.


Now, I’ve fished in plenty of beautiful spots before, and seen lots of wildlife while fishing, but nothing prepared me for this. From the river that day I watched bison and pronghorn grazing, and at one point looked up at the top of a cut bank and spotted a badger loping along the game trail. I kissed the back of my hand and got him to turn around and look at me, giving me a great view of its facial markings only about 40 feet away. I also spotted a big brown animal on a distant hilltop moving quickly across the sagebrush from one patch of pines to another. I can’t be sure, not having my binoculars with me, but I believe that it was a grizzly. Lesson learned: don’t go anywhere in the park without binocs!



The Lamar cutthroats were more than willing to play. Terrestrials drifted along the bank were the ticket, especially my own black foam beetles.


I caught fish consistently the rest of the day until dusk when the fish switched to a PED spinner fall and had a couple of takes but no hook ups drifting my spinner on the Lamar’s glassy runs.


Walking back to my car at twilight and found a crowd of people with scopes and binocs. It seems that I had just missed seeing a pair of the park’s wolves. This group had been watching them, basically looking over my head as I tried to bring a couple of last cutthroats to hand.


I headed out to Cooke City to find a place to crash, but found nothing but “no vacancy” signs at every hotel, motel, and cabin rental. This was going to be harder than I thought. After a steak and a couple of beers, I headed east toward the Beartooth Mountains to look for an open camp site. Four full campgrounds later I finally found an open spot and was welcomed with this sign.


Unnerved, I considered sleeping in the car, but given the size of my rental there really wasn’t a choice. Up went the tent, and I had a great sleep despite the things that go bump in the night.

Driving back to the park, I was treated with this view of the Beartooth range. It is no wonder where the name came from.


Headed for the Slough Creek trailhead, and made the two mile hike into the first meadow.

It was a dream come true, a small glassy stream with big cut banks, winding through a beautiful mountain meadow, with cutthroats of 12” to 16” cruising everywhere taking tan caddis off the surface.



The calm and clear water allows you to see each fish. I tied on a tan ELK size 16, but time after time these purportedly unselective cuts would only nose my offering before passing it by and sucking in a natural insect with gusto. A closer inspection revealed that these “caddis” were actually moths, spruce moths I guessed. I modified my EHC, clipping off the hackle so it would sit lower in the calm water and splaying out the hair wing to mimic the profile of a moth. The cutties approved and I started taking fish. Beautiful cutthroat up to about 17”.



I fished through the first meadow and decided to make the walk to the second meadow, where I fished the lower section. By then the spruce moth “hatch” had stopped, but the trout were rising readily to foam beetles. Started my trek out with plenty of time to make it out before dark as I didn’t relish the idea of hiking along in grizzly country after dark, and added some more great wildlife sighting to my list. This cow and calf moose were grazing in a wet meadow right at dusk.


The next day I decided to make my way out of the park and spend my last full day back at the Madison, my favorite river of the trip. I headed south and spent some time on the Yellowstone just below Yellowstone Lake looking for big rising cutties. I had caught numbers on the Lamar and Slough, but now I was looking for a trophy. Having no luck, I headed back out of the park and made it to the Madison in time for the evening hatch.

While fishing the Slough, I had met a guy from Oregon (but originally from Pt. Pleasant, NJ!) who told me I couldn’t leave the area without fishing for some of the famed gulpers. I made it to Quake Lake at dusk, and found a spinner fall and the gulpers living up to their name.



Four or five fat, leaping, drag testing bows came to hand before tragedy struck. As I gently released the last fish, I heard a sickening “plop” as my brand new digital camera fell from my shirt pocket into the drink. After this point in my narrative, you will notice a lack of photos.

That night I had a great dinner and rented a cabin at the Campfire Lodge, right on the banks of the Madison, upstream from Quake Lake. I stopped back in the café for breakfast the next morning. As I sat at the bar sipping coffee, the guy flipping hotcakes comments on my Shannon’s Fly Shop cap. Turns out this guy, Jim Slattery, grew up in my very own Long Valley! After living in California for a number of years, Jim bought the Campfire Lodge, and along with his wife is the owner/operator. We traded LV stories over my amazing breakfast, and Jim gave me some great local tips. If anyone is heading out to the Madison, I highly recommend eating and staying here. You will not be disappointed. Where else can you browse through hundreds of top quality whiting capes as you wait for your breakfast? Campfire Lodge Resort West Yellowstone Madison River

Spent my last full day fishing the Madison and caught some nice rainbows including a nice 19” that was my biggest fish of the trip. I stuck to terrestrials for my last day and my foam beetles continued to give the best result, though I caught a few on hoppers as well. For obvious reasons, there are no photos of these fish.

Drove back to Bozeman, and flew out the next day mid-morning. Our plane took off 5 minutes before the entire airport was shut down for hours because Air Force One was arriving. 8 hours later and I was back in the Garden State.

On fly shops: I stopped at many, many fly shops on my adventure and I have to say that for the most part I don’t think that you could go too far wrong with any of them. There were two however that really stood out for me in terms of knowledge, selection and level of service. They were Bob Jacklin’s shop in West Yellowstone and Kelly Galloup’s Slide Inn on the Banks of the Madison. I already wrote about Bob’s shop – you gotta go there especially if you’re a Jersey boy.

At the Slide Inn, I found both Kelly and the younger guy working at the shop to be very friendly and helpful. They knew exactly what was happening on their water and were more than happy to share their information.


A few final thoughts on my trip: If you are thinking about going…. Just do it. It is a trip you won’t soon forget. And don’t let a lack of funds dissuade you - this trip can be done on a reasonable budget, especially if you are willing to do some camping and explore new waters on your own rather than hiring guides. I would have preferred to do this trip with a buddy, but still had a great time going solo and met many wonderful people – half of them from NJ!


Head out to Montana and I can promise you you’ll have amazing views, see great wildlife, and have the opportunity to fish over new and interesting hatches. Here’s one of the exotic hatches that I never saw back east – the famed tumbleweed hatch – never did figure out which stage the fish were taking.

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New member
Awesome report and pictures, Gadfly. Makes me want to go even more. Maybe there's still time for me to get out there this season. :eek:

Love the way you did the trip, a nice mix of accommodations and methods! Sounds like a great way to do it.


Red Sox Hater
Awesome trip. I enjoyed reading your report. The photos were top notch. I bet your friends wished they went along now.


New member
Very nice trip report - it surely sounds like your first trip to MT was great. Next time you might want to consider flying into Billings and driving south to fish the Big Horn for a few days. Yes, it can be crowded but you will be rewarded with one of the best nymphing rivers in the USA. Many 17" - 20" 'bows and browns plus in August there used to be very good Tricos and black caddis in the evening.


Carpe Musca
I'm glad you guys enjoyed it! I'm happy to be able to contribute some content to the site. Usually I just have questions and smart ass remarks.

Wbranch, I would love to make it out to the Bighorn next time. There are just so many great rivers out there. I also didn't make it to any of the Jefferson River tribs or the Snake. Oh well, guess I'll just have to make the trip again next year!

Onemorecast - you should buy your plane ticket today! You still have time for some great hopper fishing.

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Go outside and do something constructive!
Great pics - thanks for posting them. I head out to Bozeman every summer. My buddy lives and guides out of Gallatin Gateway. Nice.