EDITOR’S NOTE: This blog ain’t about Nebraska. It IS about a lifestyle that includes family and fishing. Even though this particular post is not Nebraska-centric, I suspect many of you will be interested in the adventures anyhow. In fact, most of us have a list of waters in-state and out-of-state that we love to fish, let me drop the names of a few of them here. . . .
My immediate family and I spent a week in Montana recently. I have family there, and a special occasion, a nephew’s wedding, compelled us to make the trip north and west. It is a long drive so we took a week to enjoy our time while we were out there. Yes, we spent a lot of time with family, spent a good portion of it on the water.
My other Montana nephew, the one that was not getting married, is a fly-fishing guide. He has guided in Alaska and Chile besides Montana, and has fished many other waters for many other species. My son and I love fishing with him. When you get the three of us together the fish shudder–they are going to get caught! Our first day together on the water was spent on the ‘Stone.
It hardly ever rains in central Montana in the summer; at least that is what we were told.
It rained on us most of day we drifted the ‘Stone. The “program” there had been grasshopper patterns and nice brown trout. The rain put a damper on that. We fished anyway.
On a call-in show, I was once told that when it rains fish go under bridges to get out of the rain. We ate lunch under a bridge; that kept our chips from getting wet. After sammiches and chips, I’ll be darned if I did not pick up a crankbait, make a few casts to water we had already fished, and catch a brownie under the bridge, out of the rain, right where it should have been.
Eventually, the rain did quit and we picked up a few small fish on ‘hopper patterns. I wish we could have seen it on a hot and windy afternoon.
The next morning we were up way before dawn–had to get to our destination early because that was when the Trico hatch was on. The closer we got to our water, the faster my nephew drove. He knew, it would be “on”, “On like Donkey Kong” as soon as we got there.
We arrived at the put-in, flew around getting boots on, gear ready, drift boat in the water, quick oar across the river, and looked. . . . There were pods of dozens of trout rising everywhere! With shaking hands (at least mine were shaking), it was change-out to lighter leaders, and tie on size 20 dry flies. Ever try to tie on a size 20 dry fly in the pale morning light? With aging eyes? And shaking hands? I have, or at least I have tried. After doing what I could, I handed the rest back to my younger, more experienced, and better-seeing “guide”. Thankfully he had us rigged and ready to fish in no time.
My nephew Seth was in full guide-mode that morning. He got fly rods rigged, got us out of the boat, grabbed the landing net, said I was first up, and we waded towards the nearest pod of rising trout.
I promptly snagged a size 20 dry fly in the seam of my wading pants. Did not even make a cast.
Arrgggghhhhhhhh!!!!!!!!! I turned, in disgrace waded back to shore to un-snag a size 20 dry fly, and my son got the first shot.
It took a few repetitions for these Nebraska flat-landers to remember our fly-casting and start putting casts where they needed to be, but we caught on quick and soon my son, Daniel was hooked up with a nice brown trout.
Then I got to step back up, and somehow managed to keep from snagging a size 20 dry fly in my britches again. A few drifts and I hooked up. The next hour or so was like that continuely!
Seth and Daniel left me on one bunch of fish, and worked upstream to a beauty spot where there were dozens of trout rising in a chute of current coming through some aquatic vegetation. There were a bunch of fish there and with the vegetation as cover they were not spooky. The boys went to work on ’em!
Daniel dried off at least eight or ten browns and a rainbow from that one little chute. Every one of those pictures had fish rising when the photo was snapped, if you look really close you might see them.
As you can see it was cloudy with flat lighting that morning and you better believe that size 20 dry flies are hard to see on the water in those conditions. At times one of us fished while the other two spotted. With six eyes straining, we could usually see when a trout sipped a drifting size 20 dry fly off the surface.
“SET, set now!”
My nephew thought our muskie-size hooksets were a little too much a few times, but honestly I recall we only broke off one fish!
After the initial flurry we drifted down river and got in on a little more dry fly activity before it ended. Yes, I have proof that I actually caught fish too. In fact I laid out a relatively long fly cast or two that I was quite proud of, and ended up with a fish to boot!
Some of you might be interested in details about the Trico hatch. This video was filmed on another Montana river, but what you see is exactly what our experience was.
Once the “hatch”, or more appropriately the “fall”, was over, that was it for the dry fly action. At that point we had a couple of options–fish nymphs with strike indicators, more derogatorily known as “bobber fishing”, or cast crankbaits on spinning tackle. Well, I told my nephew if those were our choices, that was an easy decision–Rapalas would give us a better shot at some bigger fish.
Later in the day, my nephew bragged to an outfitter that he knew that his Neanderthal uncle and cousin from Nebraska were pretty good with spinning rods, could put crankbaits where they needed to be, in the “bucket”. I am sure we did as well as anyone on the river the rest of the day.
You have seen pictures of the fish, we caught dozens of brown trout and a couple of rainbows that day. How many for sure? I have not a clue, we lost track. They were all about the same size, we hoped for a big “kicker” fish or two, but not on this trip.
Our final major fishing adventure while we were in Montana occurred here:
The “carrot” at the end of a 5-mile, uphill, or should I say upmountain, hike was a lake called “Lost” where big cutthroat trout and grayling lurked. I would love to catch a grayling! This was an “all hands on deck” family affair, wife, sister, short-legged dog, even my mother made the hike. Here is what we looked like at the beginning.
The trail was relatively easy, but it was a slight incline all the way. We walked through trees, and trees, and more trees. It seemed like we had walked for twenty miles, but still had not come to the fork in the trail that led to Lost Lake. I am middle-aged and live in Nebraska, so I know my pace was slow, but we walked forever. At a point where we were about ready to turn back, my kids raced ahead and found a note left earlier by my niece, nephew and his wife, “This way to Lost Lake, Moose is on the loose, protect the Bruce”. We knew we were finally almost there. (Let me provide some interpretation of the note: My niece, trout-guide nephew and his wife had gone in earlier that morning and in fact had hiked an additional three miles ahead of us. We had finally found the fork in the trail, Lost Lake was just up ahead, earlier that morning they had seen two pairs of moose cows and calves. Bruce was the dog.)
After four hours of hiking, finally Lost Lake!
The sun was shining, it was beautiful, we had finally made it. I looked up the shoreline and spotted a couple of big cutthroats cruising just under the surface. Although some in our crew stretched out for a rest, a couple of us could not wait to fish!
A mountain girl and her dog were there fishing when we got there. As she walked the trail back by us, we noticed she was carrying a fish in a bag. We asked what it was and she said it was a grayling. I asked her if I could see it, I had to see a grayling! She opened the bag and there was a grayling inside, a big grayling, more than a couple of pounds. She said she had seen several grayling chase her baits, could only get one to bite. I was so fired up I would have been shaking again if my feet were not so sore. I actually got to touch a grayling!
So we commenced to fishing. Then the afternoon clouds rolled in, the wind kicked up, and we could not see fish cruising anymore.
We did not get to fish Lost Lake very long, not nearly long enough. We had a 5-mile hike back down the mountain and it was already late afternoon. If only the middle-aged flat-lander from Nebraska could have hiked faster!
Somewhat discouraged, we started trudging back down the trail. The trail followed the Lake Fork of Rock Creek. My kids had a lot more energy than I did, so on the way down, Daniel would run over to the creek and make a few drifts then catch back up with us.
At one point we heard whooping and hollering behind us and turned back wondering if Daniel had seen a bear. He had not, but he did kill the skunk; he caught a couple of beautiful brook trout and a small rainbow.
He got his sister over to the creek’s edge to make a few drifts and she caught a gorgeous cutthroat!
After a bunch more hiking we finally dragged back to the trailhead. At least some of us were dragging, and some collapsed.
I do not know why my daughter did that; the kids were running circles around us. Seriously, here is the “after” picture of the whole crew taken at the end of our 10-mile hike:
My mom made it every step of the way!
After that we had wedding festivities and more time with family. Congratulations Caleb and Katelyn!
We fished a metro water for a bit one afternoon, but saw no muskies. Next time.
And then it was a drive home, a little eclipse, and back to work. Oh how hard it was to go back to work.
As I stated at the beginning, this post has nothing to do with Nebraska. Yes, the fishing in Montana was great, but don’t expect me to go on about how much better things are in other states. They ain’t. The point is wherever I am I will be fishing, and much of that time I will be with family. That is all I have ever known, and would be fine if that is all I ever do know. You can expect me to drop names of the places I have been, the ‘Stone, the ‘Horn, Lost Lake, on this occasion outside of Nebraska. But, you can be sure I will be dropping more names, names of places in Nebraska, and I will be there, will catch fish there, and will cherish the time I get to spend there with family: Pelican, Soldier’s, B.O., the Train, Oh Golly, the White, Merritt, and many, many more.