Our second full day started early and we were all three hung over from the amazing high of dry fly action the night before. Another day of guided fishing awaited us but this time a walk wade trip with a Montana native named Ron. Ron is my new hero and one of the most interesting people I’ve ever met. He was older and filled us with tales of fishing trips passed as we headed for our first spot of the morning. We started on the Gallatin but Ron took us deeper into the country and to a stretch of the river we had not explored yet. As a retired veterinarian with an undergraduate degree in wildlife management, Ron named every bird and rock and flower we passed. A good guide can get you on fish, a great guide can fill the down time as well. The day started well with beautiful rainbows and browns happily hitting small pheasant tail nymphs hung of the back of, you guessed it, Chubby Chernobyl’s. After landing fish pretty consistently for a few hours, Ron decided it was time to move on. We loaded up and tried to find a few more of Ron’s favorite spots but had been beaten there by other anglers. Earlier in the day I had mentioned to Ron that I really wanted to try and catch a cutthroat while I was in Montana. He informed us that he might know a good stream, but it was a decent ways away and involved a small mountain road that was under construction and could possibly mean long delays behind a pilot car. I honestly don’t think we heard much after he said high mountain stream with cutthroat so we all readily agreed. We stopped alongside a lake for lunch and again, Montana took our breath away with her unbridled beauty. The lake was formed millions of years ago by glaciers and rested among some of the most gorgeous snow capped mountain peaks I’ve ever seen. That’s right, I said snow capped in July. Crazy. But after our lunch we pushed farther up the mountain to a place called Hyalite Creek that fed into the lake we had just left. Ron led us through a moss covered forest with soaring alpine trees and mushrooms the size of my head, and trust me I have a huge head! The forest opened up to a small stream, not more than 30 feet wide at the most. The shallow crystal clear water revealed stealthy cutthroats gently swaying back and forth in the peaceful current. Every so often they would effortlessly turn their fins and slowly float to the surface to sip the surface before sinking back down to the bottom. I tried to position myself to be able to cast without my rod or shadow or breath spooking these fish. My heartbeat thundered in my eardrums and my hands trembled as a made my cast and gently tried to mend my line. I couldn’t believe that 24 hours before this I was ready to give up, and now I’m sight fishing cutthroat in high mountain streams with two great friends. My inexperience led me to believe my eyes and think these fish looked rather small. That belief was shattered as I held my breath and watched in slow motion as a fish began to turn himself and line up with my fly. His rise was painfully slow and he sipped my fly like and English gentlemen sipping his afternoon tea. The calm and silence was broken as I set the hook on an 18” cutthroat that had more fight in him than any brown or rainbow trout I had ever caught. I landed the fish with Nick on the net and was overwhelmed by the deep browns and reds and flashes of orange that shimmered in the mid day sun. A more beautiful fish I have never seen. Nick was up next and followed up with another perfect specimen that was easily pushing 20 inches. None of us could believe this was actually happening and we finished the day stalking and admiring these amazing fish. Needless to say we did not feel the urge to pursue more fishing that evening and our plans to finally catch up on some sleep were foiled as we relived every moment and every take late into the evening.
Check back for Day 3 soon!