Fly Fishing Traditions

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"It's about Life & Fly Fishing"

Monday, February 10, 2014

Fishing Montana - Summer of 2009

As I sit here with the rain pounding away I am looking forward to summer and my annual trip to Montana. For years it was a trip with friends and back country hiking and fishing but it has evolved to time spent with my wife Laura, my son Zack and usually my Mom and Dad.

I was born in the town of Red Lodge, Montana where my dad, Bob, grew up on a family cattle ranch and my mom, Geri, grew up on a family farm. My folks moved to California when I was about a year old. Even though we moved to California when I could barely walk, I have been drawn back to Montana for almost every summer for over 30 years. In my younger years I spent, I believe, 16 years in a row with a 65 to 70 pound pack on my back, hiking and fishing the back country of Yellowstone Park, and the Beartooth and Absarokee mountains. These years were spent with the Stahl brothers, Pete, Mark, Jeremy and Doug who adopted me as their "camp cookie". We had many adventures through those years hiking in and around Yellowstone Park. Like the time we got not so politely escorted out of Yellowstone Park by a back country ranger. Hopefully I'll get around to telling some of those stories down the road.

For the last 3 or 4 years I've been pulling my "Fishcraft" cataraft, instead of my driftboat, to Montana and fishing rivers around Bozeman and Yellowstone Park. I really like the fact that with the raft, there is just a greater feeling of comfort and safety when we're going down rivers that we've never been down before. It will also hold 4 people pretty comfortably. This year it was mainly my son Zack, my mom Geri, my dad Bob and their dog Kay-Yai. For the last 4 years or so we have hooked up with family and friends and spend time floating rivers like the Madison, Big Hole, Beaverhead, Yellowstone, and Jefferson. We stay in my wife Laura's, family home in Bozeman. This year we had the most memorable trips on the Madison River above Ennis and on the Yellowstone River in the area around Emigrant.

We were in Montana in the 2nd week of July and big thunderstorms had the Yellowstone and other rivers muddied up. We spent 3 days off and on fishing the Madison River, which is basically a tailwater fishery, in the reaches above Ennis. We would either put in at "Varney" and float down to the "Ennis" takeout or go a little further upstream and put in at the "Storrey Ditch" and float to the "Eight Mile" takeout. The river was getting hit hard with lots of anglers as it was about the only act in town. The fishing still was decent with browns and rainbows mixed in with about three times as many whitefish. The float from Varney Bridge to Ennis is a beautiful float with braided channels, lots of undercut banks and drop offs. A size 14 golden stone was the hot fly for most days. We fished that on the tagg end of a superfloss rubberlegs.

We decided that maybe we should give the Madison up on the last day we floated it. We showed up and there were 20+ trailers parked at the Varney Bridge. We said to each other "How the heck can you catch a fish when there are twenty boats on the river?". Heck if I know. I guess the fish still have to eat. Believe it or not we still caught fish, not that many, but more than I thought we would. It was time to try the Yellowstone River.

The Yellowstone was clearing up so I called The Rivers Edge, a well equipped fly shop in Bozeman, and asked for Zack's favorite guide Nathan. We had hired Nathan last summer and had a great time.

Zack and I hooked up with Nathan for an afternoon float on the Yellowstone River. We floated from "Grey Owl" to the "Loch Leven" take out, which is about 5 to 6 miles. The river was just starting to clear at the edges with visibility of about 18 inches.

Nathan rigged us up with a medium sized thing-a-ma-bobber,we were in Montana after all,

yah-all, with about 3 feet of 2x to the tippet knot. He tied a "McCunes Sculpin" about 12 inches below the shot and then extended a tag 16" off the hook bend of the sculpin to a soft hackled hares ear. We used the sculpin in olive and tan. I really think this is a streamer that everyone should have in their box. It is an Umpqua pattern that is used up and down the west coast, BC and Alaska, That should tell you something.

This rigg was hot! Not only was the rigg fishing well dead drifted about 6 foot off the bank, but it was great to cast to the bank, strip three or four times and then dead drift it. We hooked and landed some real nice browns stripping this way. I fished the Yellowstone two more times with my mom and dad with this rigg and it continued to fish well.

The technique was to set up dead drifting the flies about 6 to 8 feet off the bank and if you saw tempting structure along the bank, pick the flies up, straight line the cast to the bank and start stripping. If no one was home just let it dead drift until you saw the next tempting spot. I hooked some big browns on the strip. They would hammer the sculpin. Set and hold on!

The biggest fish went about 24-25" and was hooked in water that was about 6" deep. I saw a wake as the fish chased the "McCunes Sculpin". I set the hook and the fish exploded. We landed a ton of whitefish, rainbows and browns. Quite a few browns and a few rainbows went over 18".
This was one of Zack's best days fishing, ever. He landed 20 fish +/-. Although most of them were whitefish, Zack thought, a fish is a fish, especially on a fly rod. There was also a small feeder creek where I caught a rare yellowstone cutthroat. It went about 18". There are a lot of cutts in the Yellowstone, but they typically are further upstream towards Gardiner. All in all it could not have been a better day.

This picture tells it all. This is what it is all about. Spending time with friends, children, grand children, and grand parents. Sharing the day floating a river in a beautiful environment. Seeing bald eagles, otters, and deer. Catching and releasing fish to be enjoyed on another day. Making "traditions".

My mom, Geri, with a nice rainbow caught on the Yellowstone. Way to go Mom!

If you're in the Bozeman area call "The Rivers Edge" for good fishing information, flies, guiding etc.

Call The Rivers Edge and if you're looking for a guide ask for Nathan and tell him Zack sent you.

2012 N. 7th Ave, Bozeman, MT 59715 • Phone: 406.586.5373 •

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Have any Questions or Comments? Let me know, Clay.