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I have always loved the northwest. I made my first trip to this enchanted land when I was about thirteen years old. My dad went to a medical technologist convention in Denver. We spent about three days in Denver before heading to the Rocky Mountain National Park. From there we went to Yellowstone. It was all beautiful, but I was most moved by the mountains and streams of the Rocky Mountain National Park. Interestingly, I have not returned to that park since. I have been to Yellowstone many times on many trips to the Northwest. I fell in love with the Big Sky country. Following a minor detour to Wyoming last year, Steve and I returned to Missoula in September. I cannot imagine anywhere that would come closer to the fly fishing Garden of Eden. As Mr. Maclean suggested, “eventually all things merge into one and river runs through it.” In the Missoula area, four famous rivers run through it.

We left Nashville on a Sunday in mid- September. We arrived in Spokane, flying Southwest to save money, and still had a drive of approximately four hours to get to Missoula. It is a beautiful drive, but I think next time we will fly into Missoula. I called Grizzly hackle on the way to find out what time the shop opened on Monday. This was my third time fishing with Drew Miller out of Grizzly Hackle. There is a reason that I scheduled our floats around his availability. Drew is a great guide. I was told that someone would be at the shop around seven the next morning. So, we checked into the hotel before going to eat. We did not have a lot of time so we settled for Cracker Barrel for dinner.

Rock Creek

The next morning we got ready and began our usual routine of breakfast at McDonalds prior to visiting the shop. We actually arrived at the shop around the same time as the outfitter who arrived riding a bike. It seemed a little cold to me to be riding a bike. But it is Montana and these guys are pretty tough. To them it was probably rather pleasant. After all, Drew arrived a few minutes later adorning shorts and a fleece. We were not fishing with Drew until the following day. We came in to get a recommendation for fishing Rock Creek and to acquire the recommended flies as well as inquire as to when we were expected to arrive on Tuesday. We received the necessary assistance from Drew and headed to Rock Creek. When we exited the interstate to Rock Creek, we decided we needed to get some food and drink for lunch. The only place to do so seemed to be the Rock Creek Fly Shop. We stopped there and browsed around while the shop owner was giving three guys from Maine some advice on where to fish. We paid for our chips, candy, and drinks and headed up the road hoping to reach the twenty mile marker where we were told to begin fishing. Along the way we saw a group of big horn sheep as we had done two years ago. The river and scenery was just awesome.

It was really difficult to drive past so much great looking water without stopping. We passed the restroom provided and maintained by the National Forrest Service. We had parked there to get to the river two years ago. We had a great day there. We pressed on passing sections of river that looked great. Finally, we could not take it any longer. We did make it past the place where the paved road gives way to gravel, but finally could not take it any longer and relented to the water at the fifteen mile marker. We got into our waders and rigged our rods. We took a couple of pictures before entering the water. The climb down the bank was a little rugged, and I was concerned that I had destroyed an opportunity to catch a fish in what seemed to be a really great spot right where I entered the river. I had tied on a Mahogany dry fly with a Prince Nymph dropper. On my second cast, I hooked about a thirteen inch brown trout. It was a beautiful fish. We fished all day in Rock Creek catching fish in two different areas of the river. Steve caught more fish than me that day, but he certainly did not enjoy it any more than I did. It was a great day!




Northern Piike



Lunch on the Stream

 

Clark Fork

The next morning we met Drew at the shop a little before eight. We loaded the equipment in his 4Runner and headed to the Clark Fork. We had fished the Clark Fork before with Drew, but this time we crossed the river and traveled several miles on a gravel road before launching the drift boat off a bank that I thought would be impossible to do so. The trailer and boat were backed down an eroded bank at about an eighty degree angle without his truck leaving the safety of the road. Soon, we were heading down a river that contains the strongest trout pound for pound that I have ever hooked. Steve immediately caught a fish and I told Drew,” oh no, I hope it is not going to be one of those days.” We have all had them. A day when it seems you can’t catch a fish regardless of what you do and your fishing buddy can’t stop catching them even if he feels sorry for you and tries. We did catch a lot of fish on this day including a thirty-four inch Northern Pike that Steve landed. We caught fish all day and by the late afternoon, I was having trouble hooking the striking fish. I blamed it on fatigue. We fished longer than I expected and arrived back in Missoula around seven thirty. We headed down the street to a Mexican restaurant that Drew had recommended. It was good, and I ate too much food.

On Wednesday, we were on our own. We decided to try an upper section of the Bitterroot. We left the hotel early, stopped at McDonalds on the way and arrived at the recommended spot around eight in the morning. After rigging up, we headed down the river to fish some of the riffles. Before too long, we decided that we had made a mistake. We should not have wasted this time on the learning curve for a new river. We had fished this river two years ago floating with limited wading time, and I had floated the river twice. However, we had not fished the river long enough to gain the necessary knowledge to be proficient in fishing it. We decided to head back to Rock Creek. We caught fish all afternoon at Rock Creek. I think we will always fish this steam when on our own in the future.


Blackfoot

The next day, we were in the shop talking about fishing Rock Creek with some other guys. They were talking about what a tough stream it was to fish. Later in the day, we asked Drew about that since we always had good luck there. He said that the Bitterroot is probably the easiest of the four major rivers in the area to fish which provided us a humbling moment. However, Rock Creek is more like the streams we fish at home. He explained that he had guided a couple of the guys we were talking to in the shop and they probably did not catch any fish in Rock Creek. Wednesday night we talked about looking forward to the next day. I had fished in the Missoula area twice, but I had not had the opportunity to fish the Blackfoot river. We had no idea that night just how great it would be, and we needed to get some sleep. We met Drew and headed up the road to the upper portions of the Blackfoot. The drive alone was a reminder of just how majestic Montana is. At that point, we had no idea what a beautiful float we had ahead of us. We would be fishing Sculpins trailed by nymphs most of the day. We did fish some with hoppers and emergers when the situation dictated their use. This trip was epic in terms of my fishing floats. The river was painted with unbelievable scenery, and the fishing was sensational. Traveling down the canyon we caught brown, rainbow, cut-throat, and bull trout. To quote again from the famous movie, “yes, it’s quite a day.” When we came to the end of the canyon, the scene was indescribable. Later, I caught the largest trout in terms of length that I have caught to date. It was a twenty-three inch bull trout that came after a rainbow that I had hooked and was fighting. The bull trout instead grabbed the nymph that was trailing the Sculpin. After that, the rainbow was able to escape, and I won the battle with the big bull.


Bitterroot

The next day we were to meet Drew for our last day of fishing. Neither of us discussed it Thursday night, but during discussions at the shop while waiting for Drew we realized that both of us had been thinking about how it would be impossible to top the previous day’s fishing. That day we fished the Bitterroot which is a great stream. However, the scenery and, as it turns out, fishing quality for this day just did not compare to the previous day. We did get a grand slam for the stream, as we did with each steam we were guided on, and had a great time, but following the Blackfoot is like watching a minor league game the day after watching a World Series game. It just does not compare. After a good day of fishing, we headed back to the shop, provided Drew what we hopped was a good tip, said goodbye, and headed to Spokane for our flight home the next day.


Reflections

The flight home gave an opportunity for reflection on five days of great fishing. Even the worst day was a good day. Montana is called Big Sky Country for a reason. It could also be called big trout country or big dream country because it is a place where many of my dreams have come true. I cannot imagine a grander place. While on the plane, I was thinking of the day on the Blackfoot, and I remembered some of those special moments when, although very slight, I heard the words. Just as Norman Maclean’s father said, “If you listen very hard, you can hear the words.” And, the words said, this is beautiful and you now have it captured in memory to relive as you choose – remember it well.



Grizzly Hackle
215 West Front Street
Missoula, MT 59802
406-721-8996
Guide: Drew Miller

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