Stove Pipe Canyon

Montana’s agricultural heritage has provided Montana with plenty of storage reservoirs that hold water for the dry months of summer.  Willow creek starts high in the Tobacco Root Mountains before the water is captured in Willow Creek Reservoir.  This irrigation reservoir provides the creek with cool clean water year round which makes for some very happy fish.  We fish the creek as it leaves the Reservoir and flows through a private ranch that limits the number of anglers who can fish it each day.  The landowner is a great steward of the land and provides this access to anglers on a reservation basis with no fee to fish the property.

As the water leaves the dam it flows through an amazing canyon for about 4 miles.   The canyon is rugged and not for the faint of heart.   Accessing the river directly below the dam requires a drive down a two track jeep trail that requires good tires and 4 wheel drive.

Willow Creek Reservoir Spillway!

This is an adventurous trip that is well worth the effort to get into the creek.   The canyon was called “Stove Pipe Canyon” by the workers who put the dam in place because they said you needed to wear stove pipes around your legs to protect you from the snakes.  I think the workers were a bit over zealous in their description of the canyon but none the less it is snake country.  I have spent 15 years roaming around the canyon and only had a couple of encounters with both Bull and rattlesnakes.   They have never been a problem but it is always in the back of your mind.

The ranch has about 6 miles of creek flowing through the property.  The creek starts out flowing down a rugged  canyon and then breaks out into a wonderful meadow that provides anglers with less adventure flowing through their blood a shot at fishing this wonderful creek.  Anglers can access the canyon in three areas with the top and bottom of the canyon requiring the least amount of effort to get into.   There is a trail that puts you in the heart of the canyon but it requires a scramble to get to the bottom and a good bit of effort to get back out of the canyon to the truck.

Scrambling back up the middle trail

The scramble down the middle trail takes some effort but it is well worth it.

The fish that call Willow Creek home consist primarily of Browns and Rainbows.   The average size of the fish runs between 8-12 inches.  There are larger fish in the creek as well but the majority of your catch consist of these small to medium fish that make up for their size with effort trying to escape.  Larger resident brown trout are found throughout the creek and during years of high water large rainbows can be found near the dam.  The source of the creek is a water storage reservoir so we typically see low flows on the creek during spring runoff and high flows later in the summer as the irrigators demand for the water increases.  In years with extremely high snow pack we can see the creek high but it is rarely to dirty to fish.  Hatches on the creek consist of mainly caddis, PMD’s and Yellow Sallies.

Bull snake in the water

Hopper and other terrestrials will produce fish later in the summer.  Dry dropper rigs fished in the runs and pocket water provide us with most of our fishing opportunities.  Nymphing is also productive in the deeper pools.   This is a great fishery to bring the 3 or 4 weight rod.

A trip to Willow Creek is a great adventure for both the expert and the novice.


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