“8:00 am, Wise River Club, definitely bring waders. When you get into Wise, I’ll be in the blue Dodge diesel with a blue NRS parked at the bar. There’s two bars but only one surviving at the present so I shouldn’t be hard to find.” These meeting instructions have been muttered from my lips countless times in the past ten years and nobody has ever screwed them up. And when I’m telling this to two ex Army Rangers I know they will be precisely where I’ve determined and not a second late. They actually beat me there, ten minutes early, which is to be expected from guys of this caliber.
Throwing in the upper Big Hole as the first boat on a rainy morning got my blood pumping fast. These guys can fish and handle weather, and probably most anything myself or mother nature can throw at them, so I’ve got myself some good sticks for this one. And sure enough, bam!, big browns right out of the gate to get these guys pumped to fish hard for me today. Busting ass through rain, wind, cold, and altogether rotten weather conditions, my fishermen held in there to fish a long hard day with me barking casting and mending orders on every bank and slip stream.
Sometimes buggers, sometimes drys, never really nymphing, we put together one hell of a day on our fourteen mile journey down the Big Hole. Fishing slowed considerably during the afternoon, but just when I’d get desperate some PMDs or drakes came to save me from the slump and bring a few trout up to the surface. Nothing like a heavy overcast and some bad weather to get the bugs and fish going for the weary fisherman out there toughing it out. When those clouds dip low and dark and cold drizzle fills the skies, line up the six weight and wader up cause this might just be that day when things are gonna bust loose.
Well the season is upon us. Months of tying bugs and day after day of scouting and preparing, we find ourselves wrapped up in the midst of it once again. Fishing has been good, fishing has been downright shitty, fishing has just been what it is: out on the water with good folks and bugs hatching while trout rise on the edges, waiting for the right cast and the right mend and all that other stuff that makes fly fishing.
I’ve personally been all over the place the last few weeks. One day I’m roaring down Rock Creek looking for sweepers, then a long muddy journey home and pack it up to get my ass over to the Big Hole to meet clients at 8:00 am at the Wise River Club. Five straight on that river and pack it up to get back to the Bitterroot to meet a client at 8:00 am who I’ve only spoke with on email because we’re both out of cell service. The life of the Montana fishing guide.
This is one hell of a life, though. Through all the headaches, backaches, long days, and perpetual poverty, us guides are a lucky bunch. We get to experience this life and this environment to the fullest potential available. Driving over Lost Trail pass at 6:00 am yesterday morning, I watched a sunrise that could take your breath away. Moments later I’m dropping down the Big Hole glassing velvet antlered bull elk grazing in the Trail Creek meadows. Popping out past the Battlefield, antelope line the fences while the Beaverheads rise to my south and the wild Pintlars rise to my north, deep green and shadowed in the early light. This right here is what I’m talking about. This is it. Rolling into some unknown with someone I’ve never met to take them on an adventure of a lifetime floating and fishing on another wild Montana river. I’ll do my best to teach them what I can and show them a great day on the water but in the end, it isn’t about me or the fish we catch or the lunch and all that other bullshit, it is about this wild place a few of us are lucky enough to be a part of. This is why we guide.
Over eight miles of water and not another soul in the boat ramp. This is definitely how I like to start a guide trip no matter what the river. You’ve gotta love this time of year around here: while the crowds chase salmon fly dreams on Rock Creek and tour over the hill to the Big Hole looking for the big browns, our sweet Bitterroot river teams with healthy fish with hardly anyone bothering to throw them a bug.
So we just figured we’d brighten their day and give them some company. What a fine day out there with the whole thing to ourselves. From the moment we set out to the time we rounded the last bend, the fish cooperated wonderfully with whatever rig was in the water. Buggers and nymphs mainly, and we even stumbled into a little early salmon fly dry action. For the second time this year I’ve witnessed adult salmon bugs well below the upper forks, and this time the fish were eating them in select spots. Always keep a heads up for those pockets of activity instead of just bobbering right on your merry way and not even seeing whats going on: protected river bends, back channels, and log jammy areas can have their own little micro hatches going on among the high water. Actually, I take all that BS back, just keep your eyes on the pink orb and nevermind that slough mouth we’re watching closely.