The alarm went off at two thirty in the morning, but if I’m honest I wasn’t really asleep. The sheer excitement coursing through my body and the millions of scenarios dancing through my head simply wouldn’t allow it. Today was the day. We were headed to Montana. The land of milk and honey for any avid fly fisher. We hit the road for the Atlanta airport at 3:00am seeing as our flight was a mind numbing 6:00am departure. Nick, Brandon and myself did not know what to expect but were all pretty sure it would be life changing and this anticipation alone propelled us down Interstate 20 at such an ungodly hour.
The only check mark in the plus column for leaving so early was that we landed in Bozeman at about 11:00am mountain time. After grabbing our rental car, an F-250 turbo diesel, thank you Montana, the GPS was immediately set for the local fly shop. Montana Troutfitters was our shop of choice and I could not recommend it more highly. The staff was friendly and helpful and loaded us up with flies and drew so many circles and stars on our map that it more closely resembled an astrological map. Following their suggestions, we bobbed and weaved through a breathtaking canyon following the Gallatin River through one of the mountain ranges surrounding downtown Bozeman. The rolling meadows were accented by soaring peaks and sheer cliffs. We missed the first few turn offs for public fishing as we were gobsmacked by the overwhelming beauty we encountered around every curve. Once our focus had been regained we landed on a turn off just below a small bridge and rigged up as quickly as we could. After wading for a few hours we had all managed a few decent rainbows on dry flies and happily called our first outing a success.
The next morning was our much anticipated guided day taking drift boats down the Yellowstone River. We met our guides at the shop and took off through another canyon pass that just made conversation in the truck difficult as we took in all the beauty this place had on display. If I’m being honest I was probably the most excited of the group for this day. Being the only one who had fished with guides in drift boats before, I saw this as our best chance to really put some numbers up and get big fish in the boat. Boy was I mistaken. The Yellowstone took my lunch money, punched me in the gut and laughed at me as it walked away. We didn’t go home skunked, but with low numbers and mostly small fish, I felt defeated and more than anything, felt responsible as the drift boats were mainly my idea. We arrived back at our house around 5:00pmexhausted from a previous day full of travel and a hard days float. I planned to turn in for the night and told Nick and Brandon to go on without me if they had any other plans for adventure. Nick looked me in my eyes and told me to put my big boy pants on, quit whining and get in the truck. We are in Montana! Wiser words have never been spoken and I was immediately snapped out of my pouting spell. We changed hats and did any kind of ritual we could think of to get the bad juju off of us and were off for another round with this beautiful temptress we had become obsessed with.
The decision was made to head for a spot we had seen in our haze of gawking admiration the night before on the Gallatin River. It was a well marked public access spot not far from Bozeman’s main drag so at the very least it would be quick and easy. As we rigged up our gear and tried our best to shake off the days disappointment, Nick walked down to look at the river and get a lay of the land. He came back almost giddy with a smile I hadn’t seen much of that day. He said there was an amazing evening hatch starting and he thought it looked like a spinner hatch. For the second time in a short period of time I chose to listen to Nick and it paid off in spades. We followed a trail down river until we saw a small run that looked as if it had been created just for us. A large shallow riffle opened up into a deeper channel on the far bank with a nice shallow rocky bank closest to us. It was a large enough run where the three of us could all fish so we staked our claim and went for it. Immediately we started to land rainbows and browns on small spinners trailed behind larger Chubby Chernobyl’s that served as an indicator for the tiny dries. We giggled like school girls as fish were landed, lost and missed and could feel the disappointment drift away as perseverance was rewarded. After fishing for an hour or so the sun was sinking low and the chill of evening swept down the canyon alerting us to the coming end of our evening. I made another pass with my flies and as my attention started to turn to my next cast, I saw something come up and slam my large Chubby Chernobyl like it owed the fish money. I instantly knew I had a good fish and the lack of jumps told me it was probably a big brown. Brandon came to the rescue with his net and the dance was on trying to coax this fish into the small net. The brown darted upstream between me and the bank and then made a dive back out for deeper water forcing me to pirouette like a ballerina with my rod above my head. The fish gods were smiling on me as Brandon was waiting to head the fish off and netted the most beautiful 20” buttery brown trout I have ever seen. The vibrant colors and spots on this fish made the tail water browns I have caught in the past just seem dull. I knew my fortunes had turned and knew better than to push my luck. I put my rod up and watched as the sun set and Nick and Brandon continued to land fish in our new favorite spot.
Check back soon for the adventures of Day 2 and Day 3!