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Montana FIshing Trip - Day 3

Blog by: Tom McInerney , Colorado 7/4/2015
Continued from Part 2

Originally, I had been told it would just be me, Blake, and a buddy-guide of his floating the famous Blackfoot River. I was stoked. Then I heard it’d be a two boat trip and the others would be another guide and two experienced fly guys and for everyone except me, this would be there second or third trip on the river this season. I felt a bit inadequate in experience but told myself to relax and have fun. Regardless of what happens, I was fishing the Blackfoot with a friend.

We started in the North Fork, putting in not far from Ovando, Montana. Being a summer Sunday, the put-in was packed. In the 30 minutes we were there putting our own boats in, I saw eight other boats put in. Thankfully, most were just drifting and not fishing. While drifting down to the junction we got a couple hits on dries, but nothing was boated. Our rower said this wasn’t too big of a deal as the best fishing would be past the junction in the canyon. But the views were fantastic, and not just looking up, but looking down. It was easy to see the bottom of 25-30 foot holes and the brilliantly colored rock surely camouflaging some toothy monsters.

Besides some beautiful cutthroat and rainbows, the Blackfoot has native bull trout, a giant protected predator. But stories had been shard about how while reeling in a smaller fish, a bull would clamp on and be incidentally caught. I have to say, this would’ve been fun to see.

Both boats stopped at the junction to figure out the rest of the float. A couple of us worked the deep pool there with some pretty big salmon fly nymphs. And wouldn’t you know it, I caught the first decent sized trout of the trip, 16-inches. But while reeling him in, as I saw him come out of the pool into some slacker water, he was followed by some massive dark shadows, seemingly nipping at this tail… Bull trout no doubt, I was told. Maybe next time, I’ll have to keep catching fish.

The float was amazing. Beautiful views, beautiful fish, big bugs. The night before, Blake and I also spoke of our hopes to see some true to life big orange salmonflies (Pteronarcys californica). In the afternoon, we were lucky enough to drift through a small hatch of them. I was truly impressed. These are some three-inch monster bugs. We immediately put some on, unquestionably the largest dry fly I’ve ever thrown. Blake was dared and ate one, a big one, that he hand caught like a zen master. I’m beginning to understand why he outfishes me all the time: experience and fishbrain.

By this time I was in the back of the raft. Blake had let me fish from the front for the first half of the trip and now it was his turn. This again took some getting used to. The back chair on a raft is basically hanging off the back of the boat. If you face backwards, your feet will be in the water. So it was a bit awkward for me, but not too bad and after a while I thought I had gotten used to it…

So with a size 4 salmonfly on, I made a decent cast and hit a good looking seam exactly where I wanted too. Our rower was doing a great job allowing us to get some great drifts. About half way through the seam, a large head quietly took my fly. Waiting for it to disappear, I set the hook. Then this fish decided to get splashy. With a couple jumps, we could tell that this rainbow with an incredibly bright red stripe down his sized was at least a 20-incher. My heart raced, I brought the line to the reel, leaned back a bit to adjust myself for the fight… and fell off the chair, out of the raft and into to river. It was only waist deep and was able to (relatively) quickly recover, find my footing, and check the rod to see if I still had the fish on. Apparently, I was able to keep the rod high all through the ruckus, but had popped the fly out of the fish’s mouth with the fall.

“What the hell happened?”
“I don’t know, I guess I got too excited…” Disappointed and with a bruised ego, I got back in the raft and we kept fishing. After a couple minutes I was able to laugh at myself and keep fishing. I was lucky to hook and see the fish in the first place, and not to break my rod during the fall in the second place. But damn it, I wanted to land that fish.

There were lots of little fish caught down stream of the canyon. Blake took over rowing for a section and our rower was able to boat a 16-inch cutbow, a beautiful fish. We were off the water about 8:00pm and back at Blake’s place a bit past 10, which meant we couldn’t fish anymore. Damn it.

It was a great trip. I fished two of the most famous rivers in the country and caught fish. Success. It wasn’t always pretty or graceful, but I did it. And now, all I want to do is buy a new dedicated dry fly rod and get back there again to do it all over again, hopefully with more fish. Something to work and save up for.

If you are interested in fishing the Missouri, do it. You will not regret it. This time of year is the best. Or do it right, and plan ahead for next year. You can visit Cross Currents for reports, trips, advice, etc. I’ve read about Montana dry fly fishing in magazines a lot, always thinking “Yeah, yeah but we have good fishing here too.” And we do, but having seen and experienced this, it’s pretty flipping great. Catching 18-22 inch fish on a dry fly is something everyone should experience. You can do it without a guide. All it takes is a 12 hour drive to Craig, a 5-weight, some caddis and PMDs, and patience.

Blog content © Tom McInerney