Montana Fly Fishing Trip

Today is January 1st of 2014. 2013 was a busy year, and I know it has been a while since my last post. I was out on the water only twice this whole year. The good news is, this was the year of the “big trip” for me. A co-worker gave me some information on a fly fishing retreat in Montana months ago, and once I heard that the camp included a float trip, and Gary Borger was one of the speakers, I jumped at the opportunity.

My plan was to rent a car, and fly into Bozeman where I would hire a guide to do a half day wade trip on the Gallatin. From there I would drive to the camp, knowing at least one day would be a float trip on the Yellowstone River. Whatever time remained would be split between the retreat and fishing the Boulder River that flowed just past the camp.

Day 1:
I was set to arrive in Bozeman, Montana late at night, and wake up early for the half-day walk and wade trip on the Gallatin River. I booked the wade trip through Wild Trout Outfitters based on a recommendation from a seminar given by Dirk Fischbach of the local fly shop Colton Bay Outfitters. I was also planning on staying at this really cool hotel called the C’Mon Inn, which has a cabin-like feel.

Instead, there ended up being huge storms delaying flights across the country. This was the storm system that caused the major flash flooding in northern Colorado. Luckily, the airline was trying their best to hold the connecting flights for the passengers. Unfortunately for me, it was a mad dash getting off the plane and because of my incorrect interpretation of the flight data posted on the flight status screens, I went to the wrong gate. I missed my connecting flight, and headed to customer service along with half my plane. The next flight available with the airline to Montana was over 24 hours away. Taking this flight, I would miss my guided trip and the first evening of the retreat. I immediately started checking other airlines, and even considered the possibility of driving. I was able to get one of the last seats on a flight into Bozeman the next morning, at about twice the price of what I saved from sleeping on a airport bench instead of my hotel stay. I would be a couple hours late for my wade trip, and I was able to get a hold of the fly shop. Luckily my guide was not booked for the afternoon, and was able to still head out even though I was a couple hours late.


Arriving in Bozeman was jaw dropping for me. I stepped off the plane, and Bozeman is surrounded by mountain ranges on every side of the city. The scenery was just amazing. I picked up my car rental, and headed towards the city of Big Sky where my guide was waiting at Wild Trout Outfitters. Before this trip, I had only seen mountains in northern Pennsylvania, and the entire trip I just would stop and stare at mountain after mountain in every direction.

After picking up my car rental, I headed towards Big Sky. I happened to glance over and saw that I was in front of the Simms Headquarters. I didn’t have much time to spare, so I snapped a quick picture and continued on my way.


I drove along the Gallatin River until I reached Big Sky, and the fly shop. I discovered my guide was not only an avid angler, but also a big game hunter. We suited up and headed down the road to a nice wide open spot. It looked like something straight out of the movies…


The guide provided me with gear because I had shipped all of my gear directly to the camp, so I did not have to deal with it on the plane ride. That was probably one of the best decisions of my trip planning. I used an indicator setup with two very small nymphs. Within minutes I had my first strike. We waded up and down the same whole for almost two hours, because the fish kept playing nice. I ended up with at least seven fish on, and two that came to the net. I took the standard toothy-grinned “trophy” picture with this nice Cutthroat Rainbow hybrid fish. This was the best fish of the trip.


I had to cut the wade trip short a bit to make it to camp before dark. I stopped at a store to pick up some basic supplies and some food to eat (Bozeman is a college town, and I was lucky enough to get some Jimmy Johns). A couple hours later I was at Big Timber Montana, and I passed through town and headed for the camp.


For a city slicker, it was somewhat nerve racking to drive through such an open space, and then drive straight into the mountains. The road went from paved, to dirt, to worse, and from what I was told eventually would turn into two-tracks up into the mountains about 10 miles past camp. I made it to camp in time to meet a few of the fellow fishermen and grab the tail end of dinner. We were given a run down of what the weekend would look like, and I found out I would be floating the yellow-stone in the morning. That night I met Mark, and found out he liked to fish cane. He showed me some cane rods, and explained that he knew Glenn Brackett. Yep, I was in Montana alright.


Day 2:
My second day in Montana I floated the Yellowstone River. I made some new friends at camp. Sitting in a boat for eight hours with someone will do that. Being a fly fisherman may make it even easier. There were four of us from camp that floated the Yellowstone. Two of my fellow fly fishing floaters were Montana natives, and another was from a remote town in Northern Alberta Canada. I seemed to be the outsider from the “big city” and quickly was given the nickname “Detroit”, even though I am from the burbs of Detroit.


Something happened that day to the fish. It was like a switch was flipped. The storms had just passed through, and maybe the fish had bellies full of worms. Maybe the new front switched off internal “feed-ometer.” I’m not sure what happened, but we had a very slow eight hours of fishing on the Yellowstone. Moving from dries, to nymphs, to streamers, we moved a few fish here and there. Once, I even had a huge trout follow out from behind a boulder, only to turn around head back. My only fish of the day was a Montana whitefish:

Between the two boats, we ended up with around six or seven fish total. It seemed like we did have the better day however, because the fishermen scheduled for the float the following day had waves of heavy rain pass through, and other than the experience of floating the Yellowstone, they came back skunked.

That night the camp setup a movie screen and played “The Movie” (aka “A River Runs Through It”), but I was too tired from my float trip to stay awake to watch it.

Day 3:
My third day at camp, I became quite popular. My coffee snobbery finally paid off, as I provided several of my fellow fisherman with a great cup of morning coffee. (I had brought my Aeropress along with a brick of Lavazza Italian espresso.) As I sat down for breakfast with a few other gentlemen, Gary Borger sat down with us. It was quite surreal seeing Gary Borger across the table from me. I learned to tie flies by watching a Gary Borger VHS cassette I checked out of the library when I first started fly fishing. Gary Borger was the consultant to Robert Redford for the “The Movie” and his son Jason was used in the film as the stunt-double for Brad Pitt. Ironically, as I was flying into Bozeman I was ready a book I bought with me specifically for the trip. I brought Kathy Scott’s “Brook Trout Forest”, and while flying into Bozeman I read a line in the book that said I wish I knew as much as Gary Borger had forgotten.


That morning, I sat through some “basic training” with Gary, and later that evening I purchased one of the books from his new series, so that I could have him sign it. He really is a “professor” of fly fishing, and has been trained through experience. After our morning seminar, we had lunch, and had the choice of attending a casting workshop or fishing on our own. I chose the latter. While I watched Gary giving an on-stream demonstration a bit downstream, I was casting upstream. I ended up catching a nice little brook trout.


Later that day, the weather took another turn, and it started raining on and off the rest of the day. Sometimes rain can be a good thing, and this time I think it helped. Just before dinner I had my “Montana Moment.” I was standing on top of a boulder, casting into a deep hole with a hopper dropper setup. I watched as the hopper drifted across a riffle, and I felt the rod twitch. I set the hook, and a nice rainbow leaped into air. I quickly brought the fish in, snapped a picture, and released him back to his rocky home on the Boulder River.


Later, Mark let me fish with his cane rod. Awesome.

Chapel Time:
Throughout the weekend, I also attended the scheduled chapel times. Our chapel-time speaker was Steve Mathewson. He took a deep dive into the Word, and drew connections between fishing and Christianity. This was combined with his own writings from what I believe was an unpublished collection of short stories about fly fishing and life in Montana.

Added to the various preaching and teaching was awesome praise and worship music as well. The organizer and worship leader for the weekend was Scott Brownson. He was previously in the group Pivitplex, and is a very talented musician. Check out his web site here.

I could probably go further, but I will end with saying it was an amazing trip…