**Video by Nick Duke**
Friday was day 3 and our last full day in Montana. Our new friends at the fly shop gave us directions to the Madison river about an hours drive away and the idea of trying out a new river intrigued all of us. The sun rose as the highway led us through mountainous farm land and cut through cliffs with a beauty that forced Nick to hang the camera out of the window for most of the drive. We knew without video proof that our families would not believe the splendor of this place. Our arrival placed us overlooking the most stunning river I have had the pleasure of seeing. The walking path hugged a steep drop off leading down to the banks of the river. Accenting the rivers natural elegance were small islands with lush grass and trees. The low valley continued for what seemed like miles until mountains rose in the distance, just a faint shadow in the morning mist. For any of you who know me, this is rare, but I was speechless. It has taken me many years but I have finally reached the point that I no longer feel a need to fish fish fish like a madman. I have learned, or rather fly fishing has taught me, to enjoy the moments that this sport provides outside of the fish themselves. Don’t get me wrong, I wanna catch fish! But I also am able to sit on the side of the mighty Madison river for hours as my friends fish and just watch as nature displays a beauty that no artist or photo could recreate. The temperatures were rising as the morning went on and Nick and Brandon had both managed to land a few nice fish, so the plan was a success and we loaded up to head back towards Bozeman and into the mountains that provided some shade and cool dry air that us Georgia boys had grown to love.
We ended up heading back up into the mountains outside of Bozeman towards the lake that Ron had shown us the day before. Instead of going above the lake into the streams that we had found the cutthroat in, we decided to fish below the lake where Hyalite Creek wound it’s way down to the valley below. This was a new experience for me as the technique here was picking apart the creek looking for pocket water. The creek was not very big or deep but moved incredibly quickly over large rocks and boulders creating almost white water conditions. Every so often there would be a slick spot behind a fallen tree or behind a large boulder that we would drift our flies through as we prospected for trout. If you did not get any takers after five or ten minutes then you would move on and look for more pockets. I am admittedly not strong or confident in my wading abilities, especially in swift water with slick rocks. Nick and Brandon however hopped off like mountain goats with an ease I wish I possessed. After a short time Brandon made his way back to where I was and showed me pictures of the most beautiful rainbow trout any of us had ever seen. We actually thought it might be a different species or some sort of hybrid until we sent the picture to the guys at Troutfitters and they informed us that wild high mountain rainbows look like that. It brought me an indescribable joy to see the look on Brandon’s face as he triumphantly made his way back to me. Brandon was by far the greenest member of the group and had actually only taken up fly fishing a matter of months before this trip. He was new but had worked his tail off to learn and be as prepared as possible for this trip. His biggest fear going into this experience was slowing Nick and myself down but to my enjoyment, Brandon out fished us every day and on every excursion except for the afternoon of cutthroat fishing. Some call it beginners luck, but I call it hard work and preparation, with maybe a sprinkle of luck. By the time the three of us met up again we had all landed countless exquisite rainbows and were ready for dinner and our final outing to wrap up this life changing trip.
In some ways the decision of where to end this trip was difficult, but I think deep down we all knew where we needed to go. We returned to public access area on the Gallatin that had saved our day a few evenings prior with dry fly action that I will never forget. As we made our way down the now familiar path we began to see that two anglers were already in the spot we had come in search of. Our spirits sank but we knew there was plenty of river left below that run. We found an exposed rock bank at the end of a deep fast run that looked promising but was very deep. I positioned myself at the top of the run, one because it looked fishy, two because I could see the other spot we wanted up river and would know if the anglers moved off and we could book it back up there. One fly I had not tried yet was a small caddis nymph under my Chubby Chernobyl so I rigged it up and made a few passes out in to the deep fast run. I instantly knew that was a fruitless endeavor and decided to cast my nymph directly up river from myself and allow my flies to follow the small sliver of slower water hugging the bank above me. I watched as my flies made their way towards me until my dry fly suddenly disappeared in a violent swirl. I set the hook and immediately yelled for someone to grab the net. When Nick made his way to my position I was surprised to see a gorgeous 18” brown trout in the net. As I released the fish and looked up, the skies had parted and our spot we had come in search of was open. Brandon and I were in such a hurry to stake our claim that I tore my waders as we hustled up the bank. We settled in to our now familiar spots and although my feet were numb from ice cold snow melt pouring into my now open waders, I could have cared less. The fishing was ok but nothing like our last experience there and we yelled out fly patterns to each other as we tried every small dry in our boxes. In true fashion, Brandon was out fishing us and night was quickly falling. Just as I was ready to call it a night and try to regain feeling in my feet, a familiar hole opened up under my Chernobyl and I couldn’t believe my eyes as line flew through my hands. I was rewarded with another 20” brown that was a masterpiece of electric blue cheeks accented by fiery red spots. I again knew better than to push my luck and felt an instant warmth come over me as I realized that Montana had exceeded any expectations I had and truly changed me.
This trip started with a simple phone call from Nick’s wife wanting to plan a surprise trip for his 30th birthday. Somehow I had the good fortune of being included on this trip and am still in awe of the place we experienced and how lucky I am that I was part of it. I learned that you don’t always need a guide to experience a new fishery. I learned that good friends trump good fishing no matter where your travels take you. And I also learned that sometimes you need to put the fly rod down and sit in awe of the people and places this sport exposes us to. We had almost a week of being disconnected from phones and work and any form of distraction other than fishing. But the memories I will keep forever is the friendships that were strengthened and the realization that nature will reveal to you the most stunning and magnificent beauty that you could ever hope for if you are just willing to slow down, take the cards you are dealt and don’t try to constantly push for more. Allow nature to dictate the pace of your day and always remember to pause and appreciate where you are. Trust me, a picture won’t do it justice.