The Journey Begins

 

I am hosting a week-long trip to Missoula, Montana where my guests will experience the wonderful and amazing fly fishing opportunities that the Rocky Mountain west has to offer from our home base of Missoula, Montana! We will be fly fishing for the West Slope Cutthroat Trout, Rainbow Trout and Brown Trout on the many beautiful rivers and streams in the greater Clark Fork Valley.  We will have the opportunity to fly fish on the Big Blackfoot River of “A River Runs Through It” fame, the Bitterroot River with the spectacular and beautiful “Bitterroot Wall” mountain range to the west, Lolo Creek where Lewis and Clark explored more than 200 years ago, the amazing hatches on Rock Creek and possibly a few alpine lakes in the Bitterroot National Forest along with the Clark Fork River that runs right through Missoula as well. There is potential for seeing Elk, Moose, Bear, Bighorn Sheep, Antelope, Bald Eagles, Pelicans, Swans, Herons and a number of other critters throughout the week. Missoula itself is a melting pot of interests including the outdoors, arts, music, culinary offerings and more! I am pleased to be able to share this once in a lifetime fly fishing experience with our guests from a beautiful home with a fantastic personal chef and a great guide service and flyshop to make the week an experience they will hopefully talk about for years to come.

 

Saturday, August 18th – Flying instead of driving… Oh brother! What did I get myself into?!

Saturday, August 18th

I am going out a week early to do some scouting for the guests to help with suggestions for fly fishing locations when they go off on their wade trips between the scheduled float trips with Grizzly Hackle fly shop.  The guests will arrive on Sunday, August 26th and stay the week departing on Saturday, September 1st. Instead of driving out the last two years I will be flying out and shipping my gear to the fly shop ahead of time. When driving my van out west I know that all of my gear, clothing and gadgets are with me without having to sacrifice shipping only some of it. (I also know that I can camp in my van if necessary without sleeping on the ground or if I don’t feel like driving all the way back into town for a hotel room late in the evening).

For those of you who have seen the movie “Midnight Run” with Robert Deniro and Charles Grodin here is one of my favorite scenes from the movie:

I really have no fear of flying in an airplane (I am not nuts about the idea of crashing) but I really don’t care for the before, during and after frustrations and challenges that we all have to deal with when we fly.

Example

Barbee dropped me off at 1:00pm at the Asheville airport after we dropped Natalie off at 5:30am that morning to catch her flight to Paris via New York (she didn’t go directly to Paris as her visa situation had yet to be resolved but that is a horrible story I won’t get into here).

I flew out of Asheville on a puddle jumper plane at 2:00pm to Atlanta to connect with my Delta flight to Missoula. The plane was almost on time but the small overhead compartments forced most of the passengers to drop their carry on bags at the bridge for the baggage handler to stow underneath the plane. Well, the baggage handler didn’t seem to care that it was pouring rain and allowed all of the bags to get wet. When we got to Atlanta to grab our bags out of the carrier everyone was complaining how wet their bags were. Most of my stuff was OK but some documents I had printed got wet (they were packed inside my bag), some clothes got wet and my laptop bag got wet as well although the computer was spared!

I got to Atlanta at 3pm with a supposed three hour layover. HA! After a six and a half  hour layover my flight from Atlanta to Missoula actually did finally take off at 9:30pm EST after five flight changes and six gate changes and I got to Missoula in four hours arriving at 2am Eastern time. I just barely got to the Enterprise car rental counter with five minutes to spare and got to my hotel at 3:00am EST. (1:00am Mountain time)

I do have to say that once I got on the big plane (Delta Boeing 727) the flight itself really was comfortable and the service was fantastic!  I watched the movie Bladerunner 2049  with complimentary headphones, ordered a charcuterie pack and they comped me two mini bottles of Cabernet! Maybe the flying part isn’t all that bad after all?

I stayed at the Hilton Garden Inn in Missoula which was a very nice hotel. I am hopeful that I will get a good nights sleep!

 

Sunday, August 19th – I made it to Missoula!

Slept till 11am EST! Felt like crap from the jet lag as I could not sleep on the flight due to crying, screaming and screeching babies almost non-stop for the four hour flight. Thankful to have the movie and the headphones !

I went to my favorite Missoula coffee shop, Black Coffee Roasting Company, on Spruce street to get the day started.

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This Ford Pinto wagon was parked in the exact same spot when I was here two years ago!

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Afterwards I went to Grizzly Hackle flyshop to pick up the gear bags I had sent through UPS ahead of time at about 1:30 and met Matthew and Nathan who got me squared away with suggestions for flies to use and a few places to go.

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It is located in a wonderful area downtown with Caras Riverpark behind the store on the Clark Fork River and Tamarack Brewing Company next door.

Clark Fork Missoula

It would be difficult to get any work done at this shop with the river and the brewery so close!

Headed out to Rock Creek to fish the Norton area for a bit.

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Stopped in to see the folks at Rock Creek Mercantile for the latest fishing report.

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Caught some nice fish with a 15” Brown topping the list.

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I got a grand slam of a Rainbow, Brook, Cutbow, Westslope Cutthroat, Brown and a juvenile Bull trout all in one afternoon! Wow!

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Got some on top water but most on the dropper.

Fished until dark.

Ate dinner at the Iron Horse Brew Pub in Missoula. They serve until 11:00pm!

They have a very creative Pub Style menu bordering on the gourmet side of things at reasonable prices.

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Hung out there for a bit to watch some football then went back to the Hilton Garden Inn for the night.

Monday, August 20th – Time to get out and scout…

Monday, August 20th

It was quite a nice drive down highway 93 south of Missoula through the Bitterroot valley. Went through a bunch of the little towns along the way including Hamilton and Darby.

Hamilton Montana

Darby

 

 

 

 

Missoula’s elevation is approximately 3200 feet and, going upstream, I began fishing the Headwaters of the Bitterroot above Conner at 4400 feet. I haven’t fly fished here since I lived in Missoula in the 90’s.

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It is a medium sized stream that is fairly easy to wade with a fair number of public access points along the way.

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The weather was definitely not “summerish” as it was 49 degrees and raining with overcast skies.  From what I understand this storm moved east and dumped a bunch of snow on Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks. Glad I didn’t see any of the white stuff!

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Caught a fair number of fish, the largest Westslope cutthroat on a hopper dry fly (16”)

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and the largest Brown on a nymph (18”).

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Some pretty wildflowers along the streambank.

Fished until dark…again.

Headed back to Missoula and ate dinner at the Iron Horse brew pub…again.

Tuesday, August 21st – Entering “The Bob”!

Tuesday, August 21st

Stopped in to Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop and spoke with our guide coordinator Rick Marcum. He was very helpful in getting me oriented to fly fishing in the Missoula area. Rick made some great suggestions on where to fish and what flies to use. Also met flyshop owner Brendan Bannigan who is originally from Atlanta, GA. I forgot to ask Brendan if he thought there were more Rock Creeks in Montana than there were Peachtree streets in Atlanta. Everyone working at the fly shop was quite friendly, knowledgeable and very helpful  throughout the two weeks I was in town. It’s the kind of fly shop where you feel that they truly care about you and your fly fishing experiences.

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Traveled to the headwaters of the Big Blackfoot River today to fish in the backcountry a bit. The Bob Marshall/Scapegoat Wilderness in the Lewis and Clark National Forest is known for it’s Grizzly Bears so I packed the pepper spray just in case.

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The river looked just like I remembered it from years ago. Lots of big boulders and lined with pine trees along the way. The water was so clear it almost looked like there was no water at all. Beautiful colored stones on the river bottom.

Water temp was COLD! 49 degrees at the end of August? That was a surprise. Air temp was 60 degrees and the sky was overcast – perfect fishing weather!

Started out slow but found a pool that held a good number of fish. Caught a 16” Cutthroat on a nymph rig for the first fish of the day – not bad at all!

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My next fish hooked was about a 14” Cutthroat and as I was reeling him in a HUGE Bulltrout tried to eat him off the hook. I was so hoping for a two for one upgrade! That Bulltrout must have been 28” long! After all the fish calmed down a bit I spied another 16” or so Cutthroat and presented my streamer to him.  After a number of drifts the Cutthroat approached the fly and just as he was about to eat it the Bull Trout came back out and took it from him. Five seconds… that was all it took for that fish to turn downstream, rip off 150 feet of line and backing and then say goodbye.

EXCITING STUFF!

This is what a Bull Trout looks like (courtesy of the Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited Chapter) seeing as I was not able to land the beast.

Flathead Valley Trout Unlimited Bull Trout

Fished up the river for the afternoon catching a good number of Cutts between 10 and 16 inches. Some on dry flies and some on nymphs.

I saw what I think were three Merganser ducks hanging out together on a rock in the middle of the river. Walked out on a game trail and back to the parking area.

One last look down at the river from the trail above.

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Drove back to Missoula through the Big Blackfoot corridor to check on some good spots to fish for the coming week.

Got back to Missoula a bit before dark and ate dinner at….. the Iron Horse brew pub… again!

Wednesday, August 22nd – A new creek for me…

Wednesday, August 22nd

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I fished a smaller creek west of Missoula today. This is a creek I never fished when I lived here in the mid-90’s. A beautiful classic Montana fly fishing stream suited for wade fishing and dry fly action.

 

A good number of fish and most on a dry fly only.

Easy to read this water to find the fish. There were a good number of Stonefly shucks on the rocks and branches along the stream. Water temp was perfect at 56 degrees. Some beautiful wildflowers along the streambank.

I was surprised at the size of fish taking the dry fly! While most fish were in the 12″ to 14″ range a few were caught into the 16″ range as well. Beautiful Cutthroats with the brilliant red slash on the jaw.

I worked my way up the creek past 4000 feet and fished a bit more.

The creek got a bit skinnier up here.

I made my way to Hwy 12 to Lolo Hot Springs were Lewis and Clark stopped in the winter for a dip. I went up Hwy 12 three miles further, crossed into Idaho (now in Pacific Time zone) with a stop at the Lolo Pass Visitor Center on the border of Lolo National Forest and Nez Perce/Clearwater National Forests . Saw a fox run through the parking lot just as I got there.

Checked out the Lewis and Clark info and artifacts.

Also checked out the Trail of Sorrow exhibit about Chief Joseph and the Nez Perce tribe.

I fished a bit on Lolo Creek, on my way back to Missoula, which I used to fish on quite often when I lived here and was somewhat disappointed as the access is much more limited and the fish were quite small at 6-7” – still a bit of fun anyway.

Ate dinner at the Lolo Creek Steakhouse. The steak was fantastic!

After dinner I drove back through Missoula and on to Rock Creek to camp overnight at Norton campground setting myself up for a trip to the headwaters of Rock Creek on Thursday.

 

Thursday, August 23rd – Exploring more of Rock Creek…

Thursday, August 23rd

Woke up early and packed up camp at Norton on Rock Creek and headed to the upper section of Rock Creek. Slept in what Barbee refers to as my “sarcophagus” tent. I think it is a very comfortable, fantastic little 1.5 lb tent made by Nemo which I purchased along with the Western Mountaineering 1.5 lb Down sleeping bag and Nemo sleeping pad at Diamond Brand Outdoors in Asheville.

 

Stopped in Drummond for gas and came across this amusing sign:

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Drove though Philipsburg (a very nice somewhat touristy little old mining town).

 

Made a stop up the Middle Fork on Moose lake for lunch and some lake fishing using small cream mayfly emergers to cutthroat trout. A beautiful little lake indeed.

 

Fished some on the Middle Fork of Rock Creek.

 

 

 

Then fished the main river downstream of Gilles bridge working my way back down the river to I-90 and Missoula.

 

Caught a good number of trout on a dry-dropper rig.

 

Drove down the gravel forest road and had to slow down for the free range cattle crossing the road and some other critters as well. (Mule Deer)

 

Saw this float trip get started at the concrete bridge – quite a few people for one boat!

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Made my way down the road stopping and fishing a bit at Morgan-Case Ranch, Microburst and the Dalles. Saw a few more critters – more Mule Deer and some Bighorn Sheep.

 

Went back to Missoula and got a hotel room at the Hilton Garden Inn and had dinner at The Depot restaurant. It’s been a Missoula favorite for over 40 years. Tomorrow I will take it easy a bit and not schedule much of anything – I’ll see what comes my way.

Friday, August 24th – Time to explore a bit

Friday, August 24th

Went to the National Bison Range and got up close and personal with some quite large animals.The visitor center had a very nice exhibit.

The beautiful Mission Mountains in the background and an Antelope on the loop drive through the preserve.

Some big beasts and right along the road!

A Bison ran across the road in front of my vehicle just like in Yellowstone last year (Barbee and Natalie still give me a hard time about that as they say I was trying to run it over) – are they trying to mess with me like the squirrels do?

I even fished a bit on Mission Creek that runs through the preserve and caught one small trout. I made a point to watch my step as I walked up the creek!

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Afterwards I drove to the headwaters of the Bitterroot River again and fished until dark with mild success.

After dinner at a diner in Hamilton I went to Lake Como Campground just down the road to camp for the night and when I got there the sign said campground full. Bummer! So I had to stick to my original idea of driving up to Twin Lakes camping near the Selway-Bitterroot Wilderness on the Bitterroot divide. Twin Lakes Campground is located at an elevation of 7,200 feet within the Bitteroot  National Forest in southwest Montana near the Idaho border. I really didn’t plan on driving 20 miles up to 7200 ft on a very bumping pothole ridden gravel road in the dark. It took me an hour to get there. Set up my tent and got in my sleeping bag about midnight. One thing about getting there when it is dark is that you don’t know what you will wake up to the next morning.

 

 

Saturday, August 25th – Alpine Lakes and a beautiful creek…

Saturday, August 25th

Woke up at 6am from the cold – it was 35 degrees!! Glad I had my down sleeping bag with me. Laid back down until 8am. Wish I had some coffee to warm me up as I got ready to fish the lake.

What a beautiful alpine lake it was!

Fish rising in front of me as I walked down to the lake and it just so happened that the camping area is located near and inlet stream to the lake. I was so glad I ended up camping overnight here as it was such a beautiful place.

Water temp in the lake was 60 with the creek temp at 42. The steam/fog coming from the inlet was beautiful. I figured out the hatch pretty quick with a cream midge size 24 on 7x tippet. Caught a good number of fish in the two hours I fished it. Lots of small cutthroat trout to play with – amazing colors on some of them.

Drove up to the other Twin Lake where the trailhead to the Selway-Bitteroot Wilderness area begins. It was so beautiful and made me want to go backpacking into the backcountry for a few days but, alas, I had another agenda.

Then drove down the road and fished here and there along Lost Horse Creek and caught more Cutties on dry flies.

Went back to Missoula after getting coffee at Big Creek Coffee Roasters in Hamilton. Went to Grizzly Hackle for more flies and supplies. Flyshop manager Matt Bryn was very helpful with some great fly selections. Checked into my hotel, the Hampton Inn, and waited for Ernie, Joyce and Jeff to get to town to meet up for dinner. We ate at The Depot.

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A very enjoyable meal – Walleye!!!! Yum! Afterward I walked around the downtown to discover that Missoula had a major festival going on that night with the River City Roots Festival spread throughout the streets. A very good band, The Infamous Stringdusters, was playing on the mainstage with other acts on smaller sidestreet stages. Went to Plonk for a glass of wine before heading back to the Hampton Inn for the night. Love the downtown of Missoula almost as much as downtown Asheville.

Sunday, August 26th – Getting things started…

Sunday, August 26th

Met Ernie, Joyce and Jeff at the Black Coffee Roasting Company for breakfast and headed out to Rock Creek to fish a bit for the day.

On the way to Rock Creek I spotted the Sinclair Dinosaur – memories from my father and mother taking my brothers and I on vacation.

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Stopped at Rock Creek Fishermans Mercantile to get the latest info on hatches and conditions and stocked up on some flies. Although we didn’t get to see Carolyn and Strider I thought it would be nice to put up a pic of them.

We were lucky to see the herd of Bighorn Sheep on the drive up the river.

I fished with Ernie, Joyce and Jeff for a bit on one of the pull outs and we had some good success.

I left them to fish on their own as I headed back to Missoula to check in to our rental house and meet our chef for the week, Alan Brown.

John and Katie were parked outside waiting for me when I got there and we hauled all of our bags and gear into the house. They brought along four Racine Danish Kringle pastries with them from Wisconsin made by O&H Bakery!

A cinnamon, blueberry, cherry cream cheese and Wisconsin Kringle were the four flavors. They usually bring a few for Barbee, Natalie and I when they come to fly fish with me in Asheville and we look forward to it with great anticipation.

What a beautiful house it was!

Chef Alan loaded his gear and supplies into the kitchen and once he got going the house instantly began to smell wonderful!

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He cooked us a quite memorable steak dinner with salad, grilled T-Bones, Portobello Mushrooms, grilled veggie kabobs and rice that everyone thoroughly enjoyed. A toast was made: May all your fly fishing stories from the week require no embellishment!

Here are pictures of Alan and a sample dish from his website:

The whole gang enjoyed the great food and conversation throughout the evening.

Time for bed to prepare for the first full day on the water!