NW Chronicles: Montana

I still have a couple of leftover grasshoppers in my fly box from when I was a kid. I loved fishing them in Michigan on hot summer days, but I have never used them out here in Oregon. Whenever I see them stuffed the box, however, a voice haunts me: Montana.

This September, the wife and I packed up the car and drove east to find out what the buzz was about. I’d heard of giant brown trout attacking hopper-dropper rigs on the epic Montana rivers surrounded by huge, snow topped mountains.

We spent the first night in Livingston, a classic old western town that seemed to be inhabited by drunks, fishermen, and drunk fishermen. We popped into the famous Dan Bailey Fly shop to get some info and licenses. Everywhere around town were images of fishing. I knew we had arrived in some sort of fishing Mecca.

On our first day, we hit the Gallatin river--a beautiful, crystal clear mountain stream. I managed to pick up a beautiful little rainbow on a BWO. There’s something about that first fish on a trip, you know? It’s a great relief to the soul and the pressure of getting skunked is shaken off. I always find at that point I can actually begin to enjoy the water, the scenery, and the spirit of a place.

Shortly thereafter, we were off to a friend's cabin on the Madison River. As we drove along the Madison for thirty miles, I was awestruck: it seemed to be one giant riffle. Miles and miles of choppy sweeps without a single pocket or back eddy like the rivers out here. The cabin was right on the river and the first evening I managed to pick up a football sized rainbow on a caddis pupa under a hopper.

The next couple days we poked around this amazing country. It hard to describe just how awe-inspiring it is--so vast that every moments seemed to reveal some new aspect from the light to the mountains to the wildlife. I can see why people never leave.

We spent one day driving around Yellowstone and another getting skunked in Yellowstone. I had the humbling experience of standing over about fifteen rainbows on the Firehole river for two hours going through every fly in my box. I’ve heard great things about the Lamar River in the eastern part of the park, but we weren’t able to make it over there. We were also a little early for the epic browns that come into the park to spawn.

We had another couple blustery days on the Madison. I found it very challenging to understand the lies on such a fast flowing river. I guess I feel I never really got dialed in. At the end of the last day, I passed a grasshopper over a little pocket about thirty times just for the hell of it. Out of nowhere, another giant football of a rainbow rose up and took it. Go figure. It made the trip though, what’s more classic than catching a Montana rainbow on a hopper?

Not if, but when I go back, I will definitely get a guide. It is challenging water and I feel I would have been more productive with at least a day of insider info and training. Also, I think next time I’ll stay for a month instead of a week. :) Until that day....

Fish hard.


  1. Love it!!! I think we should have our annual meeting at Montana.

  2. I miss Montana, especially Gallatin River and Madison River.
    We really should have an annual meeting there.

  3. Drifter – thank you for taking me to Montana through your writings & photos, both are excellent. You write as elegantly as you design. Keep warm.

  4. yes, we should go there. When is a "good" season to be there? You know when things are starting up or just calming down?

  5. I remember fall is the perfect season for big and aggressive brown trout,
    and also the right time to dry fly fishing.
    We should go that time.

  6. I will be there too friends. It looks like a beautiful place to fish.