March 2007

On Tuesday morning the 20th we awoke to low level clouds, high winds and forecast of rain and snow for the Bitteroot Valley. The winds were gusting to well over 30 miles per hour in the morning and we made the decision to head back west and get closer to home in case the predicted snow storm amounted to a spring time Blizzard. We loaded all the gear into the truck and headed back towards the Madison to hopefully salvage a few hours of fishing in the afternoon. By the time we arrived in Norris the wind had picked up to about 40 MPH and we decided that it was just not our day to hit the water. We stopped along the Lower Madison and followed the Fish and Game guys as they ran their recapture of trout on the Lower Madison. I was interested to see what the electricity would pull out from the best section of the Lower for catching Big Fish. They netted a few nice browns in the short time we watched and all that Larry and my father could talk about was how hard of work it looked like to shock fish. If you have ever gotten the privileged to help out on a shocking crew you would be amazed at the effort and muscle strength that you will exert in a day, not to mention what happens when you fall in and the probes give you a bit of a jolt. I appreciate the effort of our fish and game officials and thank god we have them to keep track of the health of our waters.
I dropped Larry and my dad off at the airport to pick up Larry’s truck and headed home for some reorganization and to spend a quality evening with my 4 year old son Reece. Reece and I had a stimulating game of baseball in the front yard and we spent the evening drawing pictures and working on his letters. I read him several books and off to bed he went. I unpacked my bags from the previous trip and repacked it with some nice shirts, more underwear, new fleece pants and reloaded my tying bag with materials for midges and scuds. My wife and I had a nice evening and we drifted off to sleep with the hum of the Television in the background.
The next morning I woke up and read the Bozeman daily comicle to see what had happened in the short time while I was away and when I finished the paper I fed Reece his breakfast and got him ready to head to preschool. I dropped him off and packed up the truck with my sleeping bag, grill, driftboat essentials and a few extra items to make the next 4 days on the Bighorn manageable. I was on the road by 10 am and headed 200 miles in the opposite direction from the previous days of guiding. There were a couple of stops that still needed to be made which included a stop for gas, food and or course beer for the Bighorn. I arrived in Ft. Fun at around 3 pm and headed to the park service office to pick up yet another permit for the years guiding. For some reason all of the different agencies are finally getting their poop in a group and setting up commercial use rules for their lands. I have no problems paying the fees and I am glad that they have finally come up with concrete rules and regulations in regards to my profession. It took about 30 minutes for me to find a ranger who could help me and he sold me my $80 National Parks pass and I was legal and ready to hit the river. I headed down to Cottonwood to see if Thor or any of the others were in the small cabin yet and Jamie was still in Hardin dropping off his son with his grandfather. Thor was no where to be found and I had a date with Peter to meet him at the 3 mile access to give him a ride back to his rig. I arrived at the river and put the boat, a 30 pack of Busch, my rod and my midge box in the boat. I launched the boat and rowed over to the Gravel Pit for an evening of fishing. Within ten minutes Peter came twirling down the river trying to fish and row at the same time. He pulled into the Gravel Pit and I quickly offered him up a beer. I quizzed him about the fishing on the Upper Three and he said that it was the same old game as the Bighorn has been for the past three years. There was a nice pod of fish rising in the middle seam and I pulled out my Winston 8 1/2 foot 4 weight, which already had a crippled thor tied to the end from fishing midges on the Lower a few weeks earlier. I took several cast and blew it on three consecutive fish so I handed the rod over to Peter and let him give it a try. He had several eats and broke off the fly just as Paulson and Weedmiller pulled up to the pit to BS and drink a few beers. We spent an hour or so in the hot evening sun and then headed to the boat ramp to load up the boats and get a bite to eat. Just as we hit the ramp, Jamie showed up and he gave peter a ride up to get his truck. We got all the boats out of the water and headed to the cabin to cook up some deer burgers and partake in a few more beers.
After getting settled into the cabin we ate our burgers and headed to the town of Ft Fun for a little bit of guide revelry and to spend some time with our good friends that call Ft Smith home. As usual most of the town stopped by Dave’s trailer to share in a beverage or talk about the river. I have many great friends on the Bighorn and it was good to catch up with all of them and tell stories about how they passed their time during the winter. At around 10 pm it was time to head back to the cabin and whip up a few bugs and hit the hay. I for one was enjoying the beer and being back on the Horn so I stayed up a little to late tying up Pink Sow Bugs and Big Uglies while sampling one too many beers. I did have to make a few minor adjustments to the table in the room to get the vise to fit but that is a whole different story which I will post at a later date.
The alarm woke me from a dead sleep at 6 am and there was a heavy pounding in my head that came from the mountains of Busch beer that I drank the night before. I pounded down a couple of advils with a glass of OJ and headed for the shower to wash off the night of sleep. I felt pretty good after the shower and jumped back into my bag to warm up after the luke warm shower. As I laid in bead warming up my stomach began to feel a bit queasy and I headed out the door to the back of the cabin to relieve the sour mixture of OJ, Advil and beer. Once the evil demons left my body I felt much better and was ready for a toothbrush and a bowl of Cocoa Pebbles. I finished up the cereal and readied my equipment for the first of three days with the group from Southern and Central California. I put some ice in the cooler and took the short drive to the Kingfisher Lodge where the guest were eager to get on the river. Collett and the rest of the kitchen staff gave us our instructions for the days lunch menu of Buffalo Chili in bread bowls and I packed in a red bull and plenty of water for the day ahead. Brian introduced me to my two clients for the next three days and we packed their gear in the truck and headed for the Three mile boat ramp.
Typically I get the anglers who are less experienced, which I prefer because it is much more fun to watch an anglers skills grow before you than it is to try and teach an old dog new tricks. Andre and Rich would be with me for the next three days and I was excited to have one angler who had never done much fishing before. Andre would be my project for the next few days and his childhood friend Rich would have to fend for himself a bit as Andre needed some help with the basics of fly fishing. Rich was very competent and I gave him some bugs and a run down of the types of water to look for and he was off. Andre had taken some casting lessons and he had a cast that could get the job done enough to catch some fish. We put in on the first day at the 3 Mile access and floated to the Bighorn access, ten miles downstream. I let the guys do some boat fishing and Andre was the first to hook up with nice 18 inch rainbow on the bank opposite of the car bodies. It was his first trout on a fly and what a nice fish to start out your fishing career with. We landed the bow and took a few pictures for Andre and set the fish free to continue his feeding ways. As we rounded the corner the SBA hole was open so I pulled in and we spent an hour or so catching small rainbows and browns out the hole. The fly of choice was a # 16 pink soft hackle sow bug trailed with a #20 Silver and Black as well as a Big Ugly. After catching a handful of fish we jumped back in the Boat and headed down river. We did not have much luck finding a good open spot until we hit the Greycliffs shelf. We pulled over and I put Andre in the meat of the hole and sent Rich to the head to try and pull out a few browns out of the fast water at the head of the riffle. Ed Waddell and his high school friend John had mentioned they were doing well with worm trailed with a soft hackle fished in the fast shallow riffles. As is so often the case with anglers who fish the Greycliff shelf, Rich marched right up through the good riffle water and headed for the deeper drop off in the middle of the river. For some reason I never do very well out in the middle of the deeper water and Rich proved my theory of the fish not being in the deeper water. Andre did manage to hook up a couple of times and it was probably because some fish had moved in below Riches eddy to feed on the scraps that were being kicked up by Rich as he moved around. I do not condone the “San Juan Shuffle” but sometimes there is no avoiding being in the slip stream of your fellow angler as he wades upstream of you. We left the Greycliff shelf and were fortunate enough to get a crack at the vines hole just around the corner. We met up with Palumbo and Jamie at the Vines for a quick lunch and then Jamie and I shared the hole with out four guest. The fishing in the Vines was hot and heavy for a couple of hours with all four of the guys hooking fish one after another. The hot fly for the vines was the Big Ugly, primarily because the afternoon saw the fish really keyed in on the pupal stage of the midges. The vines made up for a lack luster morning of fishing. After putting the numbers on the board we headed on downstream and made another stop at the bottom of the “Bay of Pigs” and I put Andre in the honey spot and sent Rich up the channel to prospect for some fish in the skinny water. Andre did well fishing convergence and Rich pulled out a couple of very healthy rainbows in middle of the channel. We caught several more fish and headed for the take out since it was nearing 6 pm and the dinner bell. We made one last ditch effort on the back channel at the take out and Andre hooked and landed one small brown before we called it a day.
For the second day float I decided I did not want to deal with the race that takes place for the good holes on the 3 to B float so I put in at the afterbay to take my long and slowed float to hit the entire 13 miles of river. I like to do this float because it puts me on the good water near the 3 rivers area later in the day and usually I have better luck at getting into some of the great spots later in the day. We did get first crack at the Hot Dog hole which produced a dozen or so fish for us in a couple of hours of fishing. We also stopped at Karls hole and Andre hooked a couple of fish and landed a nice rainbow. Jamie and Peter floated by and we decided to eat some lunch at the Gravel pit. We all rendezvoused for some lunch and made the journey on downstream. Peter got the spot across from the Club and I pulled into the hole in front of the club. The other side was definitely hot and we watched as Jamie and Peters guys hooked fish after fish, while we managed to hook a couple here and there. After watching their assault on the fish, with flies that I had tied up for them the night before, we headed on downstream to find our own piece of angling nirvana. We lucked out and got into Holly’s hole just as one a group of two were leaving. It was good fortune to because they had been up in Sniders channel fishing dry flies and Holly’s was pretty much untouched for a few hours. I put Andre in the middle of the hole and sent Rich to the top. We were not having much luck with the Sow Bug, Big Ugly combo so I switched it up with the small black and white wire zebra midge and we immediately started pounding fish, the only problem was that Karl was on the island side and his guys were catching them a little bit faster than we were. Karl packed up and instantly Rich wanted to head to the other side and fish where Karl was at. I gave a little protest and mentioned that it was generally a bad idea to leave fish to find fish, but at the same time wading around in the meth mud in Holly’s is not a lot of fun and the other side had a nice hard bottom. So we jumped in the boat and rowed to the other side. Rich new exactly where he wanted to be from watching Karls anglers and he headed to the head of the run to start the onslaught. Andre took up the bottom end and kept up a consistent pace as well, mostly doing it on his own. After making up for lost time earlier in the day we all jumped back in the boat and headed for another stop before calling it a day. It was already 6 pm and the guys had to be back at the lodge for the 8 pm dinner bell. Both Rich and Andre wanted to stop at the Bay of Pigs Channel again so when it was open I pulled in for one last stop. Andre jumped into his spot and Rich headed back up the channel just as we had done the day before. Andre was instantly onto a hard fighting Rainbow and it uped his fish count by one. In the hole prior to this Andre gave Rich some grief about catching almost as many fish as he had, until Rich put on a show and distanced the gap by double digits. It was now Andres time in the sun and he made quick progress in closing the fish count gap between the two of them. Andre was starting to feel the force of the angling addiction as he got closer to the fish count that Rich had been keeping tabs on. Rich hooked some fish in the head of the hole but Andre was hooking them on consecutive cast and his smiles and jabs started coming faster and faster as he approached the seasoned veterans tallied numbers. As the gap closed Rich started his assault on Andres spot. First he drifted his flies from above Andre trying to poached a fish from above, then he would reposition himself below Andre and poach a cast into the small bucket from below. He did manage to gank a couple fish from under Andre’s indicator but Andre was still hooking up on a regular basis. It really made the trip for me to watch the addiciton start to afflict Andre and see him start to gain confidence and an understanding of why he was fast into the fish. We finished up at around 7:45 with Rich still in the lead by a half dozen fish, but Andre was a glow in his showing for the “Rookies” on this fine evening stop. I turned the boat around and made a power row for the ramp to try and get back for dinner. We hurried out of the water and I had them back at the lodge ten minutes late for dinner. Being late for dinner and staying out late was well worth it since I got to witness Andre’s fall into the fly fishing addiction.
The last day of the trip was on a Saturday and I watched as Cottonwood filled with anglers on Friday night. I knew that it was going to be a busy day on the river for the last day and Rich was not excited about the number of anglers we saw in the previous days of fishing so I was concerned about floating the upper 13 miles again. Rich mentioned that he would pay money to try somewhere else and get away from the Bighorn but he also understood that there were geographical limits to traveling to another river. We did get lucky in the fact that the weeds were not bad this year on the river and Soap creek was running fairly clean leaving us the option of floating from Bighorn to Mallards and getting away from some of the crowds. Andre also wanted to get over to Custer to see the battle field so it worked out well to drop their vehicle at the St. X bridge so that Andre could leave after lunch. I picked them up at the lodge in the morning and we headed to drop the vehicle for Andre. When we returned to the ramp there was one other boat at the ramp and I knew that we would have some relative peace and quiet on the lower portion of the river. We started off with a couple of fish from the boat in the first run and the conditions could not have been better. As we approached the first section of faster water we came upon a nice seam on the bank and Rich placed the perfect cast into the seam and came fast to a really nice brown trout, pictured above. It was just what Rich was looking for in that I called out the spot, he made the cast and the fish was there just like it was supposed to be. We landed the beauty and put a tape to it for a real accurate reading of the size. Ed had told us a couple of days earlier that they landed a 27 inch brown and I had told Andre and Rich that most guys just guess and that estimations were usually way off from the real size of the fish. The Brown taped out at exactly 21 inches and I mentioned that this was a fish many would call 24 or 25 inches long. Rich has been around the block and he knew just what I was talking about. The fish made the trip for Rich because he is used to fishing the Madison and having to place cast into good looking spots that you can anticipate a fish laying in feeding. It was much more fun for him than pulling over and fishing a run full of fish. I am in total agreement with Rich on this aspect of fishing and I will take a good ole fashioned freestone river where the fish have to survive over a man made tailwater where the fish just have to exist. After catching this fish we pulled over at the bottom of the braids and did some wade fishing. I put Andre in the money spot and he hooked one fish after another for a couple of hours. He landed 8 fish out of the spot and lost another 6 or 8 from the same spot. One of them was a huge rainbow that he played for several minutes before it came unbuttoned. We did get a good look at the fish and it was probably around the 20 inch mark, but it was very fat and would have been a great fish to fondle and get a grip and grin shot of. We arrived at the St. X Bridge around lunch time and had a bite to eat and let Andre off to go for the tour to the Battle field. The rest of the afternoon was pretty uneventful with a few fish being caugth here and there but nothing was memorable, except for the rednecks in their jetboats. The one problem with floating the lower section of the river is that you do have to contend with the motorhead crowd, which is not a real big issue and on this day they were out in force. I am not sure what Rich thought of the big boats but it did take away from his experience a bit. Everyone does deserve to be able to use the river and I knew going into the day that we may have to deal with a few jetboats to get away from the fly crowd on the upper river. It was a good day all and all and I hope that Rich and Andre enjoyed getting to see another side of the Bighorn River. I know that Rich prefers other waters in Montana, just as I do and I hope that we get to fish some of the Freestone rivers in the Southwestern part of the state in the near future.
The Bighorn is a great place to catch fish and I do enjoy getting down there from time to time, however a big part of going to the Bighorn is also comming home. The Bighorn gives me even more appreciation for rivers like the Yellowstone, Gallatin, Madison, Boulder and Stillwater. Stroking your ego on the Bighorn can be good entertainment but getting schooled by fish on a Freestone gets my blood flowing even more than catching lots of nice fish on the Bighorn. I hope to see Rich and Andre again someday and hopefully we can give Andre the experience he deserves on a free flowing river in the Southwestern portion of the state.


Today was the official kick off of the 2007 season with Larry and my dad. We drove over on Sunday morning, taking the longer scenic route up the Bighole Valley and over the top of Lost Trail pass. We arrived in Hamilton at just after 3 pm and checked into our room at the Bitteroot River Inn. Larry had yet to purchase his season fishing license so after check in we headed out to get him his license and try and sneak in a few hours of wade fishing. We stopped at Fishaus tackle first, which has become part of our annul Skwala hatch ritual. Bill was closed for the day so we headed down the street to Bob Mart to get the license, but on our way we saw new fly shop called ” The Flyfishing Center” and low and behold they were open after4 pm on a Sunday. As we walked into the shop there were several people hanging out shooting the breeze. Larry purchased his license and a toilet paper roll holder made out of fake whitetail deer sheds for his rental house this summer. Of course Larry got into a conversation with all the guys in the shop and we had to discuss Florida snook fishing along with Elk Hunting, women and steelhead. We met a funny older “Bitterooter” whose flies were featured as the local seceret weapons. His name was Ted and he was fast after the steelhead addiction and was proud to share some smoked Steelhead that his buddy caught last week, they already had an 8 X 10 glossy picture of the fish and the dude who caught and smoked it up on the shop wall. We picked up a few of Ted’s Skwala dries and headed out to check out the River. The flows were coming up and the river was still in great shape but fishing a rising river prove to offer up some slow fishing. We checked out several of the public access points on the river and decided we did not need to spend a couple of hours on the water and instead we opted to drive 30 miles to Guy’s Lolo Steak House instead. Guys 5000 square foot log restaurant was built by guy and his family and they have turned it into a well know stop for Montana Beef. After the steak house we headed back up the road to the Inn and I tied up variety of Skwala dries to try out the next day.
We woke up fairly late and had breakfast at the Inn, which is a contenintal style breakfast with some mediocre omlets, Biscuts and Gravy, assorted danishes, ceral, coffee and juice. We finally got the raft ready and the gear in the car and we headed for the river at around 10 am. We stoped by the Fishaus to get a shuttle and check on the fishing reports and Bill told us that the river was up another 400 CFS and that the fishing on Sunday was very slow. Larry commented about the poor reports and we headed to the Anglers Roost putin because we were here and we were going to fish dries or catch nothing at all. We got on the water at around 10:45 am and by 1 pm we had finally seen our first fish come to net. Now typically you don’t need to get started to early in the morning for Skwalas because the fish don’t get active on the bugs until mid day but this was later than usual and I was worried the day was going to be very slow. My dad did some nymphing from the boat and we pulled over in one run and gave the nymphs a try as well with no success. He also gave a zonker, JJ’s and bunny fly a run but we never even got a chase. By the time we got near the town park I switched Larry from a Foust Chernobly with a parachute Skwala to one of Ted’s Skwala’s trailed with a # 10 Royal PMX. Our luck slowly but surely started to change and most of the fish we saw come up to the surface came after either the royal or a peacock PMX. We did have a half dozen fish eat the Skwala dry but the other dozen ate the PMX’s. We hit the Woodside boat ramp at ten to six and the days tally was a dozen fish for Larry and 5 for my dad. The fishing was not red hot but we did manage to squeak out a reasonable day from one that looked like it might be fishless at lunch time. Tomorrow is another day and hopefully the weather will be cooler than 70 degrees and the flows will have crested and started to drop. Rising flows on the Bighole and Bitteroot do make for tougher fishing conditions.
Flows on the root were 1010 C.F.S. at Darby and 2900 C.F.S. near Missoula.