With months of conversations and planning behind us, it was time for Aaron and I to take off to Montana in search of the kind of fishing we all dream of. San Francisco isn't exactly around the corner from Montana so we knew we had some quality time in the car together. Time for sunflower seeds, fishing podcasts, and general musing of what was to come.
After nine hours of driving, Aaron and I finally stepped out of the car. We stretched and turned our attention to the setting sun. With just over an hour until complete darkness, we didn't debate whether to set up camp or lace up our rods. Within minutes, we had unpacked the puzzle pieces of my car: cooler, rods, sleeping bags and tying materials spilling out of the tailgate as we frantically pulled out our waders and fishing packs.
And so began 10 epic days of fly fishing. As we stepped onto the banks of a river that was brand new to both of us, rising fish dotted the surface of the river in every direction. They were stacked up in the tail outs, next to boulders pushing current, and lined up in the riffles. Aaron and I looked at each other with utter disbelief, we’d never seen so many fish actively rising in one place. We found a stretch of river that wasn't being claimed by other fishermen and started throwing small dries in hopes of fooling a few fish before the impending darkness made it impossible to see a size 18. Aaron stood high on a rock and shot casts far into the slow moving water of the tail out. Within a few minutes and after changing flies a few times, he was hooked up to a nice brown, fish on! I wasn't having the same success, so I moved up river to a complex braid of currents moving across the surface of the river. Trout were poking their noses into the cool evening air in rapid succession and I was convinced I could make my fly drift down the river mimicking the naturals. The trout weren't impressed. I waded upstream and found myself standing on a mid-river rock. From the new vantage point I could see about two dozen fish feeding in the far seam, game on. A quick fly change and I was ready to make my attack. It took less than a handful of casts before I had a 19" brown testing my 6x as he thrashed on the surface, dove to the deepest part of the run and shook his head with authority. The fatty slid into the bottom of my net and the weight had been lifted from my shoulders. With the sun almost completely set, we landed a few more fish before begrudgingly heading to the campsite to set up those tents.
The next day, we wolfed down coffee and oatmeal before heading down the trail from our campsite straight to the river. I usually prefer to get as far from the campsite as possible to fish, but the run behind our tent was too tempting to admire from afar. Starting at the back of the tail out, we worked our way upstream, casting dries and swinging nymphs under the overhanging sage bushes. Before we knew it, we both hooked fish in the 16-18" range and had huge smiles on our faces. Our morning session was already a success and we hadn't left the confines of our campsite. After landing some really nice fish and snapping some photos, we decided to move up river to find new water.
Driving upstream, we found a little riffle that dumped into a big pool. From our roadside vantage point high above the river, we could see fish rising to emerging insects in the riffles and creating rings in the pool below it. We scurried down the cliff and found ourselves at the top of the pool. For hours we stood there trading fish after fish up to 21". It wasn't even dinner time and we'd each landed nearly 20 feisty brown trout. Our arms fatigued by the constant pulling of big fish, we stopped and game planned for the evening session. Normal, right? Three sessions a day makes sense to me! The evening session was more of the same. Big fish rising to small dry flies and we topped it off with a few streamer fish to make things interesting.
Over the course of the next two days, we fished 12-15 hours a day with short breaks for Clif Bars, chips, and ice cold beverages. Our priority clearly had nothing to do with health or hydration. We fished from sun up to sun down and caught fish using every technique in our repertoire: nymphs, dries, bobbers, streamers, dry-dropper rigs, and Aaron even had a hit on a mouse pattern that night. The only downside to our road trip pitstop was the crowds; Aaron and I both prefer finding those out of the way places that hold native, wild fish. With that said, this little high desert trout factory was just what we needed to get the trip started on the right foot. The average fish size (close to 18"), number of insect hatches, and the tug of healthy fish had us warmed up for our trip north to Montana!