A few years ago my neighbor Julie & I, frazzled by the seemingly never-ending heat of a Texas summer, decided to go fly-fishing. Nothing is more appealing to me in the midst of the summer scorching than the idea of standing in a cold cold river – I think that’s mostly why I love fly-fishing.
(I would kill for my casts to look like hers.)
I had fished several places in Colorado – Telluride, Durango, Crested Butte – & Jackson Hole as well as Idaho. (In Jackson I used a guide group called Reel Women – only women guides, & it was so fun.) For this trip, I wanted to try somewhere new, so we agreed on Montana.
We stayed at the Rainbow Ranch Lodge. It’s right on the Gallatin River, made famous by the movie A River Runs Through It with Brad Pitt (& Tom Skerrit, who I love).
I can’t remember just how we chose Rainbow Ranch, but it might have had something to do with the restaurant being named one of the top 100 wine restaurants by Wine Enthusiast magazine. I like nice wine, but Julie is a connoisseur. She goes to wine auctions in France with a group of friends every year, where you buy barrels of wine & don’t get them for something like 8 years. I’m too lowbrow for that.
After dinner many guests would hang out in the lodge, getting acquainted. We met a group of older men who were on a motorcycle trip from Texas, & they were Scotch connoiseurs, too, apparently. Never a Scotch drinker, I learned that a good one makes the difference between loving it & wanting to spit it out. Balvenie, 15 year aged, neat, is my pick.
But we really did fly fish, too. Our guide was the cutest guy. His name was Chris, & he had a master’s in forest rangery – I can’t remember if it was environmental science or what. We fished the Gallatin wading, upstream from the lodge, at one point under one of the most picturesque bridges I’ve ever seen. I have regretted not getting a picture there.
We also did boat trips, on the Yellowstone River as well as the Madison River. I love fishing from a boat; it’s such a treat. You can pick half day or all day – I always love the full day because the guide brings a picnic lunch, which you eat on a blanket spread out on the bank. It’s just a lovely experience.
Another reason boat trips are so fun is that the guide knows all the good fish hidey holes, & it’s his (or her) job to make sure you hit them as you float down the river.
Then if you’re good enough (or lucky enough) to catch a fish, he takes it off your hook & identifies it – brook trout, rainbow trout, brown trout. He holds it only long enough for you to get a measurement (if it’s big enough to be worth it – more often than not it isn’t, for me anyway!) & a picture, then he throws it back. Guided tours are almost always catch & release.
Another great thing about guides is that they know what the fish are biting for that particular day, & bring the appropriate flies. When you cast, the idea is that the line is supposed to lie gently on the water & the fly lingering near the top making the fish think it is whatever insect it is desirous of right then. That’s the goal. Execution is a different conversation. Plus the guides ties your flies on the line, too. There are all kinds of flies – wet flies, dry flies, nymphs, streamers, & more I am sure. They have names, too, like Hare’s Ear, Mickey Finn, Gray Wulff, Humpy, Silver Doctor – the science behind it all is fascinating. I have dreams of tying my own flies one day, but that would require fishing trips to be a lot more frequent than I can do now!
Chris was a really informative & interesting guide. We were surprised by the lasting effects of the big fires in Yellowstone over a decade ago as we drove to set in for our day on the Yellowstone River. He filled us in on all the beneficial effects of fires in the forest on nature; it was a great lesson in the science of forestry.
The day we fishing the Madison River we were rewarded with all kinds of wildlife sightings. We saw bald eagles, osprey, beavers – they slap their tails on the water at you as defense if you get too close to them – buffalo crossing the river ahead of where we were fishing, & a black bear cub climbing a choke cherry tree for an afternoon snack on the bank. I was in awe of nature the whole day.
Once your float is finished, a jeep or truck awaits you to return to your put in location, to drive back to the lodge.
Next Montana trip I want to fish Whitefish. In August. Where it’s not Texas.
I wish the photos were mine, but I am a terrible picture taker on trips. Boo.