As the Labor Day weekend neared, I decided what would be a better way to spend the holiday than to travel to some excellent blue ribbon fishing waters near the Bozeman area, and fish with my cousin Jacob. I packed the car up with a few things, all my gear and hit the road for a weekend of relaxation and visions of catching some big fish.
Our first outing was to a spot where less than a week before, Jake had battled and landed a brute, the biggest of this year for him, a large beautiful, bronze brown estimated to be about 21 inches. The story and the pictures were enough to weaken my knees at the thought of maybe having a chance to hook into one these guys. Excitement and fear mixed together is a crazy combo, I long for the moment, yet fear I will screw up and lose what could be a fish of the year or lifetime. This spot is relatively under-fished, not thought of as a spot to fish below the blue-ribbon section; this is merely red-ribbon territory that is said to hold larger fish than the average 12-15 in. ranging sometimes up to 20 inches, yet in smaller numbers than the upper sections. As long as the chance of catching a brute was possible, I was willing to sacrifice quantity in exchange for this possibility alone.
It was about 3:00 in the afternoon on Saturday as we loaded our rods and a cooler into the truck and got on the interstate to fish our asses off. We were ready to hit it hard and long, whatever it took to catch the big ones. We waded out into the waist high water to cast back into the banks where the current steadily swept along at a medium pace. It was still early with the sun high in the West; I decided to cast a hopper/dropper set up. After working a couple hundred yards of bank, my first hook-up came around a small run off an outside bend. The fish fought hard and I immediately knew this was not an average size fish. As the fish drew near, I could see the fat side of the rainbow and was excited to see the girth I was not used to seeing. Meanwhile, Jacob had run from downstream to capture the action on the camera as I reeled in the trout to the opposite bank.
This fish had been caught or struggled out of being landed before as it had a massive battle scar on his right flank. The fish was heavy, yet only taped out at a healthy 16 inches. I was pleased as it was the first fish all summer that had been duped by a hopper floating along the surface.
It wasn’t 10 minutes later that Jake had one on a streamer upstream less than 100 yards from where I had landed mine. I ran up to view the battle as he was able to land the nice 15 inch rainbow near the bank.
It was nice to see some heavier fish than the skinny creek trout I have been used to seeing for most of the summer.
We worked a few more stretches as the day began to dwindle away. Still no monsters, but we were not about to quit. Jake ended up having a couple more hook-ups, only to have them shake loose quickly. As 7:30 rolled around we headed back to the original run where the 21 inch brown had once lurked only a week before. A few casts in, a 15 inch rainbow snatched my Sculpzilla streamer after two strips and a few feet from the bank.
It was quite a tug and sweet to feet the powerful take, as this was my biggest fish hooked on a big ugly streamer. We're not talking about little old bead-head woolies or cone-head rubber legs, the Sculpzilla is an all out rabbit hair/marabou combo built for catching big fish in deep runs and pools. It was my first time fishing one and was satisfied by the results.
Again, less than 10 minutes had passed and Jake, just upstream from me had a fish on, which could have been the catch of the night! He battled it for a minute before the rascal slipped off the hook and back into the depths.
Darkness was now fully set in as we worked our way back upstream casting blindly to the banks with streamers, hoping to coerce an unsuspecting, appetite ready trout to our grips. No such luck. The day was spent, as were we. After 100s of casts and a few fish to show for it, still a good day in my books. I was just glad to have the smell of fish on my hands again.
The next day we decided to hit up the gorgeous freestone, wild and scenic, Yellowstone River.
We hit the river at about 5:30, the wind was a little nasty which made throwing our lines a little tough, but we weren’t going to let that stop us, not even Jake’s 7 year old boy Noah was phased.
We got to a small side channel and Jake hooked into a small brown on the fly rod, which in turn, let Noah reel in the little guy.
Though Noah, a fan of fly fishing, has still been learning to cast and has yet to land his own fish on the fly, brings along his spin rod and like a pro, catches all trout of all sizes including a fish just over 17 inches on the Yellowstone earlier this year and recently a 4 pound Cutty out of Yellowstone Lake.
30 minutes later as Jake and I were swinging streamers through a nice deep run, Noah outta nowhere hooks into a healthy 10-11 inch rainbow right out from underneath us on his spin rod. I was pleased to see the little guy effortlessly reel in his prize and gleam like a boy in a candy store.
We moved our way over to the larger section of the river, to a run that was deep and quick and all the way across the river, which was difficult to cast to with wind and all. I had on a double-bead head stonefly nymph with a flashback PT dropper. I was able to get a dozen or so drifts in without results.
Jake Swung his Streamer pattern diligently through the tail out of a quick riffle with no such luck. We worked hard to cut our flies through the wind, though our perseverance was not about to pay off. After a good hour pressing the run we decided to move on, back downstream to the bridge where we had parked. Unbeknownst to Jake and I, Noah had rounded up about 20-30 minnows into a pop bottle hoping to bring them home to raise them to “big guys” in his bedroom aquarium. It’s the little things like this that bring back the childhood memories of growing up fishing on this river.
We worked some good looking water on the way back with no luck. I cast to some small risers along a short section, but no takes. Picky fish and small, but any action would have saved the day. By the time we reached the bridge it was dark, only enough time to swing a few streamers through in hopes of a tug. It was dark and we were hungry and tired. A little Arby’s and a 30 minute ride home to reflect upon our day was satisfying, yet disappointing. Better luck next time!
The following morning, Monday at the crack of dawn, literally, Jake and I decided to give it one last go. This time it was to the East Gallatin. The wake of the morning was a bit chilly, but we were ready to hit it again and give it our all. The stretch we hit was nice blue-ribbon water that meanders through grass fields of private property. A small bridge gained us access into the relatively low-pressure fishing territory. It was slow the first couple of hours, no hatches and no risers. I fished an attractor/dropper setup as Jake chucked streamers along the banks. After passing textbook riffles and runs with no action we came to a spot where a flurry of risers gorged plentifully in slow moving water. Just 10 minutes before I had noticed a hatch that appeared to be tiny blue-winged olives. I immediately tied on the pattern and slowly moved my way to the section downstream. It was a frenzy! After a dozen casts a not a single bite, Jake made his way by my side and became exited and tied on a similar fly. 3-4 casts later and I had a small little rainbow take the bait. It was tiny, but finally after a day and a half of fish-less fishing, I had landed something.
A few casts later Jake accomplished the same feat. We giggled at the moment and decided to keep moving.
About a hundred yards downstream, Jacob was drifting a Copper John through a riffle and had on a nice fish. I ran up to net it for him and noticed the fish had been hooked in the side. It was funny because the whole time Jacob had figured it was a good size fish, but realized it had only felt like a big one because of the fouled hook. Still it was nice to see a good 15 inch fish come out of his hiding place.
On the walk back, I cast to a few more risers on our way back, only to hook into some petite fish. Jake ended up belly hooking a brown, about 12-13 inches with a dark muddler. Don’t know what the odds of that are, but two in a row is pretty rare I assume. We both thought it was a monster, and it was funny to see just an average brown as the culprit. Again, we chuckled to ourselves and moved on.
Overall our trip out to the meandering waters of the East G was a great way to end my trip to Bozeman. We made our way back to the truck to head back home. But I wasn’t done yet…
After saying my goodbyes, I packed up and headed back to Great Falls and decided to stop along the Missouri to finish off my weekend of fishing. I fished some nice runs near Mid-Canon. I tried a little bit of everything, nymphing, streamers, and was even able to cast to a brute, sipping insects off the surface along the bank. I drifted an Orange Stimulator right over the top of him a dozen times without any interest. Picky fish I figured and decided to drive down further and stop at the famous “Untouchables Bridge”.
Boy was I glad I did! After hiking down to the waters edge and tying on a Caddis Pupa emerger and bead-head flashback PT dropper, my first cast landed me a seventeen inch brown from just 6 feet off the bank. He had only one eye and was surprised he was able to take the size 18 PT dropper. I was ecstatic. It was at about this point I witnessed the river come alive! Dusk was just setting in as sloshes and splashes were in every direction. I quickly changed to a Caddis dry fly and kept on the PT dropper. I was able to successfully hook 4 more fish after this fly change, but unfortunately was unable to land any of them due to the ungodly amount of weeds floating the surface. Talk about frustration! These weeds were like Swamp Thing entangling himself in your fly, tippet, leader, fly line, the whole nine yards. I found out that night that for once I was human and that the patience I can usually portray went all down the drain. I became flustered with every cast having to clean weeds from my line. Spent from weekend, I packed up and made the rest of the trip home, just happy to have had one of the best weekends I’ve had fishing in a long time.
It is funny how 4 days of fishing will wear you out and break you down after only catching a handful of descent fish. Yet all I could think about that night while laying in bed was that I couldn’t wait to go out and fish again! I guess that’s why I wouldn't call it an addiction or an obsession, but a passion, MY passion. And it is this passion that drives me to pursue the endless, unknown fishing rivers and streams I’ve yet to encounter in my lifetime. Thus, “I WILL FISH ‘TILL I DIE!” and let the Goodtimes roll!