I had been struggling to catch a steelhead in the Rogue all summer (with little success) and found myself really NEEDING a trout trip to Montana.
Last year I had the pleasure of spending two nights on the Yellowstone with one of our favorite outfitters, Tom Jenni. Tom is a true professional with great guides, gear, and attitudes. He worked hard for our group and I was so impressed with the quality of his float trips. He had mentioned I should check out his Missoula programs so this year I invited a few of my favorite fishing friends for a few days on the Clark Fork and Blackfoot Rivers. Our guides met us in front of our hotel that first morning ready to go. After a short drive with drift boats in tow we made it to our put in on the Clark Fork River. We all had to reprogram ourselves as we were now fishing 6X tippet with size #20 tricos. It was awful at first since I have been fishing 10 lb maxima for steelhead all summer. I managed to break off the first two fish as they came up to sip my fly. We encountered pods of fish eating tricos most of the morning. Then we switched to nymphing because the hoppertunity never really surfaced. We caught some nice fish and ended that day back in Missoula hitting one of the local establishments. Missoula is a charming college town with nice restaurants and shopping, and we were all happy to do what we could for the local economy.
Mary and I choose to float the famous Blackfoot the next day and had the river to ourselves. Norman McClean made this river famous with his novel River Runs Through It and the Blackfoot has been on my list for many years. It truly is the perfect trout river with great pocket water and good populations of rainbows, browns, and native cutthroat trout. We had an incredible day of pocket water hopper fishing and Tom impressed us with his low water boating skills.
We then made our way to Crane Meadow Lodge, after a mandatory stop at the Patagonia outlet in Dillon. This was our second year in a row going to Crane Meadow and Cody and his staff were really wonderful at making us feel at home and fishing us hard each day. The ranch was teeming with plenty of deer and bird life especially the musical cranes. I enjoy Crane Meadow because it is a down home and intimate lodge right on the Ruby river with a superb fishing program.
Each morning our guides would pick us up out in front of our cabins and take us to our desired locals… the Ruby, Madison, Upper Beaverhead, Lower Beaverhead and some special spring creeks. Everyone did well and we had one extra large brown that was caught by Mary that impressed us all. It struck on the Madison and was at first thought to be a log. Both the guide and client were gleaming when this 26 inch fish was landed.
My best personal day was on the Ruby (again this year). The Ruby is a magical small stream home to brilliant browns who love to eat dries. It is easy to wade and around each bend is endless trout habitat. I fished my favorite hopper pattern, Quiqley’s Stacker Stone fly under the perfect undercut grassy bank and had a monster mouth open up and slurp my fly. He showed himself and then turned back into the bank and disappeared. Luckily Judith and Bob witnessed the size and how special this fish was to me. J
After four days of fishing at Crane Meadow we were all smiles. Our last day had us scraping ice off the windshield, yet it was another great year in Montana and I was lucky to share it with so many wonderful people.
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Truth be told, I am one of the lucky few who loves travel just as much as fly fishing. Those closest to me know that traveling in Asia, multi day wilderness whitewater trips and swinging flies on rugged rivers are very high on my list of preferred activities. This fall it seems that all the stars have aligned in my favor as I will be getting a healthy dose of all of the above.
I started by traveling in September to China and Mongolia, which I will report on below. Then in early November I was off to India and Nepal for a ten day rafting expedition to chase the Himalayan Mahseer which I will report on soon.
It had been four years since my last trip to Mongolia. On my previous trip I stopped in China but was too rushed to take the time to see some of the famous sights. This time I built a few extra days into my itinerary to give me time to hike on the Great Wall and tour the Forbidden City and the Summer Palace. Should you find yourself in Beijing, I would highly recommend these sights as they are physically impressive and culturally fascinating as well. However, there were a few downsides to this part of the trip. First, as we all know China’s industrial revolution is in full swing. One result of this is that we did not see the sun the whole time we were in Beijing and it was not because of cloud cover. Second, it seems that Air China has decided that it does not need to honor flights as scheduled. The result was a 36 hour delay for our flight to Mongolia and the worst and most bizarre customer service that I have ever experienced. Luckily our schedule was such that even with travel delays we were able make it to camp in time to get in just under six full days of fishing.
The main Taimen camp is as idyllically situated as one could imagine. Guest stay in gers (traditional Mongolian tents) that are arranged in a semi circle, on a grass infield, along a long, easy bend of a low gradient river. The rolling hills in the foreground and gentle mountains in the distance are covered in pine, larch, alder, and birch trees. The fall season is particularly scenic with the grass green from summer monsoons, combined with birch and larch trees in their fall colors of yellow and orange.
The rivers were in perfect shape, running low and clear. We had a week of ideal weather with crisp mornings giving way to sunny, clear afternoons. Our group had a number of experienced anglers and the guide staff was comprised of the most experienced Taimen guides in the industry. By all counts I would have expected this to be an outstanding fishing week with a number of memorable fish stories being told over evening meals. As it turned out there were many stories of massive explosions on surface flies, big tugs on streamers and giant black shapes swirling around flies. Unfortunately the photos of happy anglers holding the fish of their dreams were few and far between. My own luck mirrored the groups with multiple fish over forty inches coming to my surface fly, two of them seemingly hooked quite solid, only to come unbuttoned in the end. This wasn’t to say that we did not land any fish. Along with the opportunity at bigger fish, each day the group landed good numbers of Lenok in the 20” to 30” range and a decent number of Taimen in the high 20” to low 30” range. Our guides worked hard to keep us on good water and in the game and hopeful of the big strike right to the end of every day. I just can not say enough about the talent and dedication of these guys.
While we all would have liked a few more monsters to hand, in the end we knew that all of us would likely be back to try our hand at landing the mythical 60 incher in a place that we all consider one the most magical fly fishing destinations in the world .
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