Trips to Montana in early October can mean a possibility of cold and snow. But then again, an October trip to Montana means a chance to see the autumn colors and wildlife, and an opportunity to fish for spawning brown and rainbow trout.
My wife Terri and I made the trip out to Bozeman to visit our son and his family. I drove, she flew in – and we met at the airport. After a weekend with David and Jamie and our granddaughter Bridget, we drove south to West Yellowstone.
Our first goal was the Henry’s Fork.
We stopped at Henry Fork Anglers for flies and information. The guys told us it had been tough fishing, and our time on the river near Wood River Road proved their opinion. Not one grab.
As it was, however, we had the only sunny, relatively warm day of the trip (mid 50’s). But the wind was really blowing and it felt much colder than the 50s.
The next day, after a night in West Yellowstone, we drove into the park. I had considered joining the crowd at the Barn Holes, where there is a good chance of catching the browns and rainbows migrating from Hebgen Lake to spawn on the Madison.
But I thought we’d have more fun with less stress by getting away from the conga line that is the reputation of the Barn Holes: cast and retrieve and take one step downriver, as the fly fishers both down and up river do the same.
The day was cold (mid 30s) and gray with some mixed rain and snow. We drove up near the source of the Madison, which is formed by the Firehole and Gibbon rivers. The wading was easy but neither of us were having much luck.
The previous evening we had stopped at Big Sky Anglers for some flies for Terri. While there, we were told the Firehole had been fishing well. So after some time on the Madison we made our way up above the falls on the Firehole. Again, we got skunked.
It was getting a bit frustrating so we decided to drive south to the Old Faithful area for lunch. After getting warmed up we decided to head back and give the Firehole another shot – this time a few miles upriver.
We started to see fish sipping the surface and I made one cast across the river and dead drifted a nymph into the area.
I got a strike and starting working hard to bring the fish in. As I got it to the net I saw it was about a 16-inch brown trout. I was in heaven. My goal for the trip was to catch a brown trout – my first one. (The Firehole river has a population of resident brown trout above the falls). Terri was excited as I was.
We fished a bit more with Terri having no luck and called it a day.
But she wanted to go back the next day, which was our last day fishing, and we returned to the same spot. Terri caught three smaller browns (8 – 9 inches) in about fifteen minutes. Seeing the joy on her face made me as happy as I had been the previous day.
I took a break from fishing while she continued, and I spent a few minutes talking to a visitor from Xi’an China. He asked me about the flies I was using and he said he left his fly fishing gear in China, but had brought his bass rod for their trip. As he and his family drove away, I reflected on the obvious truth: people in spite of different cultures share the same humanity and can always find a way to reach common ground; if only governments could do the same.
After fishing, we decided to drive around the park a bit and encountered once again the same small bison herd that we had seen on the road. Bison on the road means stopping and wait for them to pass. As the bison passed – most within a couple of feet of the car, it was humbling to look into a large brown eye of each bison.
Soon we were on our way again. Leaving the park we spent a night in Ennis, which many consider the spiritual home of Montana fly fishing.
The next morning we did a tour of the Winston Fly Rods. I had done the tour three years ago, but wanted Terri to see how fly rods are made. Adam Hutchinson was the tour guide again. But the tour had changed a bit. Rooms that were previously closed off from viewing were now open to see – particularly the room were the graphite is rolled on the mandrel. Adam also pointed out several new very expensive machines Winston had just purchased.
As we then started our trip back, we reflected on all we had seen and done.
While we hadn’t seen a grizzly bear, we had seen a large moose in Idaho; big horn sheep and elk along Montana highways, wild turkeys in Virginia City Montana, and a small deer herd in Ennis.
As we arrived home, we began talking about next year’s trip.