bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montana

Staying on the Railroad Ranch: Harriman State Park

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montana

Elk, moose, griz, swans, loons, wildflowers, and  alpine vistas barely begin to describe Harriman State Park, several miles south of Island Park, Idaho.  Also known as the Railroad Ranch, this eleven thousand acre property surrounds the Henry’s Fork of the Snake and the adjacent countryside for miles on either side of the river.  Owned in the early nineteen hundreds by railroad investors, this retired ranch is now a designated state park and vacation destination for those seeking solitude and world famous trout fishing.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montana

Now, fortunately us weary travellers find ourselves in the finest company with an invitation to stay at the historic Harriman ranch for a couple evenings.  We give a big thank you to Garth; Stuart; Trouty; and Doug who made this all possible, hosting a weekend getaway of old time college compadres and allowing us youngsters to tag along and drink all their beer.   And fish.  Fish our asses off.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaRailroad Ranch was still closed to fishing, seen in the upper photo meandering towards the front of the ranch where we stayed.  Poking around on public roads downstream of Osborne bridge, we found some classic dry fly water to test our 6X skills on wary risers.  Smooth wide water with Osprey working above, we found one fish rising cautiously on about a two minute cycle.  Thinking I’ve got this, I slip down way above him through the sage and sneak out on the shoreline.  Without a cast, the wake at 100 ft tells it all… Fail.  Not wanting to waste the day on pissed off impossible fish, we roll downstream past upper and lower Mesa Falls to check out the Warm River, some fifteen miles downstream.  From the campground at the bottom we stroll upstream to find beautiful dry fly runs, compliment with much more cooperative rising fish.  Mostly little browns ate our caddis bugs, and occasionally a better fish would sip here and there only to vanish at the feel of our drifts.  Mending drifts into the dark, we finally hiked our way back to the rig and dodged elk for the twenty miles back to the Ranch.

bitterroot river fly fishing guides hamilton montanaOur final day of fishing takes us back downstream to the Warm river access on the Henry’s Fork, where those two rivers join forces.  Headed down to Ashton for the day, we set off to figure this thing out.  I’m going with the bobber. Screw it.  Throwing streamers burns up too much water, and even though there are ten million caddisflies in the air, not one fish can I see eating them.  Slow but steady, we nymphed up fish throughout the float with mostly little guys shaking the rod tip.  The dry fly bite came on in the afternoon, and we started picking up hot rainbows that ripped pretty good for their size.  Eventually we came into Aston and had to wrap this journey up.  With six hours of driving and four mountain passes to get behind us, we turn her north and head home to Montana after three killer days of chasing wild trout on the road.

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