Category Archives: Fly Fishing Montana

March in Montana

Montana, March 7-9, 2020

 

I used an excuse to pick up some fly-fishing equipment I had ordered to go visit my son Mark in Montana. When I saw the long weekend airplane flight of $250 I grabbed it.   The plan was to fly into Bozeman. Fish DIY with my son and his buddies, then make the drive to the Clark Fork River Outpost to fish with my buddy Mike Hillygus. Then fly home from Missoula.

March 6th To get the cheap airfare I had to fly out of Ontario International airport. It’s an awesome little airport, but 90 minutes from where I live in Carlsbad. Well, I got to Denver just fine, but my incoming plan was delayed 6 hours out of Newark. So, I had to spend the day in the Denver Airport and missed the opportunity to fish the Gallatin with my son. He worked that night, but I did get to take his roommates out for dinner at Montana Ale Works (my favorite restaurant in Bozeman).

Mark Huckaby with a big rainbow in spawning colors

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 7th With Mark on 3 hours of sleep because of work, we were joined by Mark’s Roommates: Burnsie, Bovoso, Jacob & Carter. And we were joined by legendary Cuban Fishing Guide, William, who is credited as one of the 2 guys that invented the Avalon Permit fly. We headed East on the 90 toward Livingston. then we followed the Yellowstone River South, upriver, towards the park and into the Paradise Valley. We had rod reservations at the Spring Creek at Armstong’s ranch (directly upstream from Dupuy’s). I love fishing the spring creeks of the Yellowstone River and if you catch the timing right, it can be epic. The boys got a 30-minute jump on me because I had a couple conference calls. By the time I caught up with them I expected them to be doing well and they were not. I fished dries mostly all day with a little nymphing and streamers mixed in. I didn’t catch a lot of fish and certainly nothing worthy of a trophy shot, but I did get to fish with Mark alone for a stretch and he nailed a beautiful male rainbow staging himself for the spawn. It was a fun day, of course. The sun was out and weather was in the 50s so totally comfortable. But the wind just killed us. We had sushi together that night and, exhausted, turned in as early as possible.

Mark Huckaby in Battle on the Armstrong Spring Creek

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

March 8th In order to get a full day’s float in Mark and I had to leave his house at 6:30AM. As nice as the day was the day before it was not this day. After my alarm went off I peaked outside to find it snowing with 4” already on the ground. Well, I scraped all the snow off Mark’s little Honda Civic and he slept while I drove. When I got on the 90 heading west towards Missoula it was a bit hairy. To be safe I was going 45 in an 80. It didn’t get safe from weather until I crossed over the Continental Divide. On the other side of the continental divide it was sunny, dry, but really cold.   Mike Hillygus of the Clark Fork Outpost (CFO) met us at the Missoula airport where we stashed my son Mark’s car. We hopped in Mike’s Suburban towing his drift boat and off we went headed north-West, following the north flowing Clark Fork River to the town of Saint Regis and then another ~5 miles into the wilderness to the lodge. It’s about an 1:15 drive to Mike’s Lodge. We launched the drift boat right from the Lodge and did my favorite float of the area. I have done that float so many times now I feel like I could guide it. I pretty much knew from memory all the “fishy” spots, the big foam patches in the eddies, etc. What I cannot do is row the rapid that is in that float. That rapid is a pros only deal. We caught fish nymphing and on dries. It wasn’t crazy good, but it really shouldn’t be in March. It was, however, snowing; bitter cold at points. The biggest excitement of the day wasn’t the big west slope cuttroat I nailed on a dry feeding in the foam. It was cruising by a large herd of rocky mountain sheep that just stared us down. Mike said we were super lucky to see them. This the same float we ran into a bear cub in a tree a few years back. It’s in the middle of the wilderness. No cell phone signal. Super fun day spent with my son and my good friend Mike at the oars. We hit the closest restaurant, Quinn’s at the hot spring resort and had a great time.

Herd of Rocky Mountain Bighorn Sheep

 

 

March 9thWell, between several conference calls I had to do and Mark simply catching up on sleep we got a late start. And that was a good thing. With overnight temps in the teens there was no reason to rush out to a cold river. In Fact, when the sun came up there was fog on the river because the river temp was much higher than the air temp. We put in up stream and did another fun float I love to the town of Saint Regis. It is there that the Saint Regis river enters the Clark Fork. That confluence of the Rivers has always produced in all times of year, so we had that to look forward to in ending it. For the first time ever…and I have fished this river a lot over the last many years… it was slow. We couldn’t get anything to move in all the spots that usually produce. We tried several tactics from dries to nymphing to streamers. Nothing was rising and we were not fooling any trout; not even nymphing. Then to top it off the sun disappeared, it snowed lightly, and the wind was howling. It’s undoubtedly that drop in the barometer that caused the fishing to slow down. They have a saying in Montana: “It’s Montana”. That means you never know what you are going to get from the weather. The forecast said sunny in the high 50s. I have to admit it did cross my mind that even at the confluence we were not going to do well and it simply would be my first poor fishing day ever on the Clark Fork river. Oh was I wrong. Right before the confluence we pulled over to the side and Mike rigged Mark and I up both with fresh nymphing set ups. As we pulled up to the confluence, I got a tug, then lost the fish to a head shake. 10 seconds later I hooked up with a big fish that we landed, pictured and released. Mike pulled across the confluence so we could fish the run (the mix of the two rivers) from the inside. That is when it started to get nuts. For the first hour at the confluence, we basically did laps in that run with Mike back-rowing so we could fish it over and over. Mark caught so many big fish (West Slope Cutthroats, Cut-bows, and Rainbows) that he lost count quickly. From the back of the boat I was railing fish too; big fish. Then, for the 2nd hour we basically anchored, caught a group of big fish, moved the boat 20 feet downriver and did it again. All in all, I bet Mark landed ~15-20 fish over 16” in ~2 hours. It was absolutely nuts. I learned later from Mike is that all those big trout were simply staging. They were waiting for the Saint Regis to get big enough so that they could swim up and spawn. Which totally explains the spawning colors of many of the males we caught and released. Epic Day.

After hitting Quinns again (which honestly if Mike is not cooking; he is formally trained, is the only decent restaurant for miles) we tried to hit the sack early but, between cocktails and packing and the excitement of the day….well, lets just say the alarm at 345am was brutal. And now I’m on the trip home already in the reality of work and wishing I was in Montana with my youngest, Mark Huckaby, who has turned out to be an outstanding fly fisherman. Epic trip.

If you want to:

  • fish the middle of the Montana wilderness guided by the best
  • catch and release a bunch of wild trout from the comfort of a drift boat
  • Stay at lodge that is a fraction of the price of the “normal” high end lodges of Missoula and Bozeman

Then contact my buddy Mike Hillygus at: http://stillwaterriveroutpost.com/ or 406.721.2703.

 

Lower Madison River and Glow in the Dark Huck Flies

January 14, 2019

Who in their right mind fishes mid-January in Montana in 36-degree water with 28-degree air temperature?!  Well, me, my son Mark and my buddy Eric do.  And the best part is: we had success!  We fished two different stretches of the lower Madison River.  if you are familiar with the Lower Madison, we first fished the launch at Warm Springs which is close to the entrance to Bear Trap Canyon.  And then we tried a session farther downriver by the bridge.  We only fished 2.5 hours or so; mostly because we waited for the warmest part of the day.  But, also because it was so frickin’ cold.   I swear by the time it was done not only were my feet numb, but the numb went up all the way up to my knees.

If you are a frequent reader to this blog, you are well aware that one of my top 5 fun things to do is fishing with my son Mark; now 23.  Mark is a stick.  He reads the water well and his overhead cast matches up to the best of ‘em.  And he’s only 23!  Well, the reason we were in Montana is that Mark has moved back to Bozeman to complete his degree at MSU.  Clearly that is pure joy for me because visiting him is such a “sacrifice” for me.  😊   I drove with him in his car with all his stuff all the way from Carlsbad, CA to Bozeman.  1200 miles in two days.

Rounding out the group was my buddy Eric Schmidt who is quite the stick himself.  I met Eric on a fly-fishing trip to the Bighorn a few years back, put together by a mutual friend, and we have been friends ever since.  Eric lives in Bozeman.  He’s a professional photographer and filmmaker and director.  By staring at the pictures in this post you can see why that makes sense.  Check out Eric’s work on his site here: Eric Schmidt Photography

I wish i was 23, good looking, an expert level fly fisherman with a season pass at Bridger… Photo by Eric Schmidt https://www.ericschmidtphotography.com/

I only saw one rise all day.  Eric saw a handful of heads.  I really tried to induce a rise, but with 36-degree water temperature it just didn’t happen.  Interestingly enough we did experience a midge hatch; just not the rises that went with it.

There’s one thing I’ll never get used to when fishing in Montana in January: sheets of ice floating down the river, smashing into me, and startling the bah-Jesus out of me.

Glow in the dark flies

Part of the reason we caught trout in mid-January on the Madison river had to do with some conventional fishing reading I stumbled into on the internet over the holiday break.  Long story short, conventional fisherman, especially in salt water, have been using glow in the dark materials in their lures with success for 50+ years.  I thought to myself that glow in the dark would translate to fly fishing; especially in winter when the trout are hunkered down in deep pools.  So, a little internet research later I had made a number of glow in the dark materials purchases; from flash-aboo, to larva lace, to foam, to blah  , to the actual tying thread.   And I started tying the flies I already knew worked in winter (like the Huck-midge cripple and the Huck-bow warrior with glow in the dark wing cases and abdomens.  And guess what?  After sending samples to some guides and advanced fly-fishing buddies they proved the glow in the dark flies worked in the field and practically begged for more.   In addition, on the Madison in January we proved that glow in the dark huck-nymphs kill. So, after some more perfection through testing i will probably offer those on my site.

But the story gets better.  I read about fly fishing constantly.  I’m obsessed.  And I love learning.  I read that all in the fly-fishing competitions the professional fly fisherman from all over the world only use squirmy wormy patterns in competition because they are so effective.  Like a San Juan Worm, a squirmy is a pattern that imitates a worm; just with a more realistic worm like material.

Trout love worms.  We all know this.  We were all kids at some point.  Now, I’m not a big fan of making fly fishing into a competition in the first place… especially if none of the professionals are throwing flies that imitate bugs on top or below the water.  But, if every professional is fly fishing worms then what is the point?  I guess that is a discussion for beer. But, being that said, when the fishing gets tough, especially with beginners, I don’t know a single guide (including myself) from here in California to Montana and everywhere in between that doesn’t turn to a san juan worm when things are slow.  Or when a river is blown out.  Or even more effective, the squirmy wormy.  This is why I’m afraid to unleash what seems to me like cheating: A squirmy Wormy tied with glow in the dark materials.

Here is how it went down: On the interweb, I stumbled into a company in china that makes what looked like the squirmy wormy material, but really bright green glow in the dark.  I figured for 10 bucks if they stiffed me it wouldn’t be that big of a deal.  When the material came from china I almost fainted.  It took it into a dark room… my God.  It is awesome.  My next dilemma was finding or inventing a squirmy wormy pattern that I like.  The problem with fishing Squirmys is that they are one fish flies.  They just are not durable at all.  in many scenarios, for me, that is acceptable.  But, for many guides durability is important.

All the flies I sell on my site I have invented either with my ideas or by taking a grouping of techniques from the masters, adding my own ideas and calling it good.  Well, the Huck-Glow-Squirmy is very close, if not identical to a pattern I found on the internet called “The Durable Squirmy Wormy”.  It was created by a professional fly tier named Clark “Cheech” Pierce; he really does deserve the credit for the pattern.  I don’t use all the same materials for different reasons, but, it is similar.  You can find how to tie it here: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=6RE0G8pJg7w.  You can find Cheech and his amazing work on his Fly Fish Food site here: http://www.flyfishfood.com/p/about-us.html. I have not met Cheech, but from his bio he sounds like a hilarious guy I’d love to fish with one day.

So, after some initial testing of the Huck-Glow-Squirmy I have to tell you it’s like cheating.  I will not fish with this fly.  It’s too effective and I’m too advanced a fly fisherman.  But, if I am to guide a kid or beginner this is the fly for when the trout are hunkered down in deep pools… and in many other winter or low light scenarios.  This thing is going to kill in the deep pools of the upper kern.

Here’s a great story of how effective Huck-Glow-Squirmy is.  The day after I left Montana my son ran out to the Gallatin.  It’s only 10 minutes from his apartment.  Even though all the fishing reports said the Gallatin is too cold, all the edges iced, and the middle a slush and unfishable, he went to check it out.  And sure enough it was unfishable where the only castable water was total slush in the middle with icebergs floating by.  So, he said to himself, “I’m out here.  what the hell.”  He tied on one of the Huck-Glow-Squirmy I left with him to battle test in the field.  he casted to the moving part of the Gallatin into the slush and the fly didn’t sink though the slushy ice.  It drifted for a 2 count on top when a big brown came up from ten feet on the bottom and hit the Huck-Glow-Squirmy on top!  Mark battled the brown to his net over the ice and quickly figured out how to get it back into the river unharmed.  My guess is he had to toss it.

So, with this blog post I’m going to make the Huck-Glow-Squirmy available for purchase on my site.  Just be responsible with it because I feel like I have invented a nuclear weapon and consequently am going to regret it because of my “narcissistic” ethical structure.  😊