Peninsula Fly Fishers

Making A Mark In Memorable Montana,

by J.C. Poulton

Bobbi paces among the drift boats in anticipation of a day fishing on the Beaverhead.
Bobbi Armor ready and waiting to start a great day of fishing

The Madison River

It's only about an hour from Island Park, Idaho, to Lyons Bridge, Montana, a favorite put-in for floating the Madison. On Monday, July 6, the weather was cool, sunny, with a light breeze coming upriver. Gearing up that morning, twenty-three boats would launch before it was our turn. However, on the river we saw few boats. There wasn't a constant meeting of the boats ahead of us or even with those which launched after we did. There seemed to be enough water to go around, until we got ready to take-out. Then there was a line again.

As we started our vests hung over seat backs and the guide was in the middle with oars at the ready. We pushed off from shore and drifted under Lyons Bridge. Our rods had been rigged with indicators over bead-headed nymphs. Not my favorite way, but sometimes necessary. We caught a few whitefish before we switched to dries. The guide told us that there is less chance of getting a whitefish on a dry fly. Our guide spent a lot of time out of the boat holding us on the edge of pools or in the seams of riffles where we had a better chance of catching fish before lunch.

The trout, mostly browns with a few rainbows mixed in, were fourteen to sixteen inches. We were honing our reflexes, getting ready for the bigger fish that we were told would be encountered in the afternoon. We missed lots of strikes; saw some fish rolling over our flies. About one o'clock, we had the lunches that the Henry's Fork Lodge had made for us that morning: ham and cheese for me, shrimp salad for Bobbie, cookies and fruit. Mmmmm, good. It makes my mouth water just thinking back.

The afternoon started okay. Fish were rising all around us. They were taking what we offered and being released as soon as we got a picture. We both had thirty fish before three o'clock, when the wind came out of the North and directly into our faces as we floated the palisades area. It grew in intensity so that we couldn't cast or get a fly in front of the boat. Wavelets were coming off the water, splashing the boat and us. We finally gave it up as a lost cause, worked down the river to the takeout and were glad when we stepped off the boat. Out of direct contact with the wind, we found that the day had turned very hot.

That ended the fishing for the day. We headed back to Idaho, a hot shower to remove the sunscreen, and a cool glass of wine before heading off to a sumptuous dinner. A time to reflect on our adventures of the day.

Bobbi's rod is well bent under a Beaverhead trout.

Bobbie bent her rod many times from this one spot

The Beaverhead River

The week after the July 4th weekend we fished the Beaverhead near Dillon, Montana. It was warm to downright HOT weather. Our guide was Tom Smith of Backcountry Angler and we stayed at the Backcountry Lodge on Atlantic Street in Dillon.

Dillon lies at the head of a beautiful valley. Water in that part of the state is used mostly for irrigating grass and the town is typical of that area, mainly supporting farming and cattle. It's also a stone's throw from the Beaverhead, which begins ten miles south of town.

I think that as far as catching fishundefinedand mind you I don't really count after the first couple every dayundefinedon this trip I was probably close to being equal with Bobbie until we started fishing in the first riffle on the Beaverhead. Then it was no contest. We both caught fish, but as when fishing Smith Creek Ranch in Nevada or the Lower Sacramento, she just fishes harder and catches more fish than I do. I don't care how many I catch. I just want to have fun and improve my cast, my approach. . . and to be able to say I was there.

The Beaverhead is a tailwater fishery, much like the Henry's Fork River. It begins at the outflow of the Clark Canyon Dam. Cold, clear water runs undisturbed for ten miles before being drawn off for irrigation. In those ten miles, it cuts along the edge of the valley, cutting new channels or runs, meandering through fields giving meaning to its course. Long runs and lots of islands help spread the fisherman out. Starting times help some, too. Like other rivers in Montana, there have been lots of fishermenundefinedmeaning lots of fishing pressure.

The fish feed well on an abundance of aquatic life, frogs and insects, notably the grasshopper during the heat of summer and the crane fly for a short time in September. It is a great river for fly fishing. We spent three days learning more about the river. It is one of Bobbie's favorite places to fish. I heard that it was the first river she ever fished or something like that.

I like getting an early start. Don't want to burn daylight as the old saying goes. That means cool temperatures and mosquitoes before the sun comes up. A dry fly as an indicator and a dropper proved to be a very deadly early morning combination. Repellant is the order of the morning. I remember scratching big-time after just a few minutes on the water. The stream is small compared to the Madison or the Henry's Fork, but what actionundefinedpractically from the first moment a fly touches the surface.

One of the many sidelights to the river was the number of different animals and birds that we saw while gliding downstream. Two years ago, we saw two young moose and this year we spotted a full-grown moose foraging for willow branches or grazing on grass along the river edge. We gave him wide berth even though he was in velvet. You just never know. Beside, he is faster than we are on foot, so we stayed in the boat. There were also eagles and all kinds of ducks and geese with their young along the banks of the river.

The trout caught were mostly browns. Our guide, Tom Smith, told us there was about an equal mix of browns and rainbows, but I caught mostly browns, and most of them were eighteen to twenty-two inches. I didn't see any small fish, but was told that they were there. I wasn?t aware of them because I was spending my spare time rubbing sunscreen on face, ears, arms, and hands. It was hot after the sun cleared the ridges.

Guide and J.C. admire fish.

Does Tom want J.C. to kiss that fish?

There were places on the river where we wanted to be the first fishers of the morning. That meant getting up early and passing on some other places. We had one hole or run that was at least two-hundred yards long. It began below a slow, lazy bend. There was a barbed wire fence close on one side, some fallen willows and dead riff-raff on one shore, but the other side was clear with tall grass right up to the edge of an undercut bank. The first time I saw the run, there were as many as one hundred fish sucking yellow sallies from the surface. The time was 8:30 in the morning and I thought I had gone to heaven. I fished there every morning for three days and I caught thirty to fifty fish each day, though I usually lost track after the first ten. I'm sure I caught some over and over, but each day they fought just as hard as the day before. By the third day I was getting spoiled, but each day they got a little harder to catch.

We fished riffles and areas that we had passed up before. Fast water only a few inches deep yielded feisty fish. Seams held fish as did the water under overhanging branchesundefinedharder to get the fly to, but lots of fun trying. On our third day there we had many opportunities to sight cast to fish in the shade of the bank, waiting for food to float by in their lanes.

My memories are very vivid. They should carry me through he winter months. We left Dillon on the morning of the fourth day, vowing to come back for another round of fishing next year. Maybe you'd like to go, too. Think about it.

If you go

Montana fishing license note

Moose in river eating willow.

No fishing zone around moose

Tune in next month for the final installment of "Making A Mark In Memorable Montana, etc." as J.C. takes us into the Box Canyon section of Henry's Fork on the Snake River.

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