Montana Stay-cation

FINAL - MICKINNIE - LOGO - HORIZONTAL

For a few months I have been day dreaming about a week long float on the Smith River this spring.  We successfully drew a permit for the float, my wife and I both got time off work and the I had planted the seed about the adventure with my best friends in Colorado months ago.  Everything was falling into place…

As our launch date approached the weather forecast turned south, friends had a change of plans and just like that my dreams of a week on the river crumbled.

Fortunately, I live in Montana and there is an abundance of vacation options just outside my backdoor.  To salvage our days off we took a “staycation” by spending a couple of days on Rock Creek about a half hour from our house.

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Rock Creek can sometimes be overlooked with all the other fishing and camping options around the state, but this recent trip reminded me of why I fell in love with this gem on my first trip to Montana years ago.  Rock Creek is a Blue Ribbon Trout Stream with a healthy population of willing Cutthroat, Rainbow and Brown Trout.  Being a small steam, it is only float and fishing option during the spring and early summer.  Float trips during this time of year can be unforgettable experience; great scenery, awesome fishing and all while having the river to yourself.

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Rock Creek is not only a great fishery, but it offers dozens of great camp sites and a handful of Forest Service Cabins available for rent.  On this springtime trip we chose to stay at one of our favorite cabins.  The four or five cabins along Rock Creek vary in size and accommodations and can be perfect for any getaway.  The Stony Creek Cabin has a convenient location, great outdoor fire pit and is the perfect size for us and our dog.

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Gabe knows a good Margarita when he sees one
As we were headed home we both remarked about how we both take the beauty of Rock Creek for granted since it is so close to Philipsburg.  Sometimes the best vacation is close to home.

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Guides Day Off

“Make hay while the sun shines!”

This is the old saying for farmers, ranchers and fly-fishing guides around the west.  During primetime guide season days off are few and far between.  Near the end of August I ended up with few unexpected free days in a row.  Instead of using the days to refuel and relax on the couch; I decided to take the opportunity to explore the backcountry and Glacier National Park.

First, I made the expedition to a beautiful alpine lake in the Anaconda-Pintler Wilderness Area.

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After a long hike, approaching the base of Warren Peak, I found the lake with lots of big Cutthroat cruising, rising and searching for food.  I quickly got geared up and tied on a size 10, Olive Woolly Bugger.  On the first retrieve I watched a healthy 18 inch cutthroat follow my streamer all the way up to the bank.  With the crystal clear water, I watched the fish take my bugger about 2 feet away from my feet.

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After releasing that first fish I decided to tie on my favorite ant pattern to see if these beautiful cutties would eat a dry fly.  After landing a few more big fish the echo of my childish giggles rang throughout the basin.

Once I got back to the truck at the end of the day I was extremely exhausted.  Thankfully, I had my first trip to Glacier National Park upcoming the next day to keep me motivated.  Gwyneth and I had an amazing trip exploring Glacier, Polebridge and the surrounding areas.

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She is not only beautiful, but is a much better writer!  Checkout her full description of the journey:  One long drive for a bear claw.

Salmonfly Frenzy

Set, set!  There it is!  Fish on!  Bam!  Oh yeah!  Fish off!  Son of a #&*$@!

These are the echoes that fill the air through the canyons of Rock Creek as the annual emergence of the famous Salmonflies cause both trout and anglers alike to go into a frenzy.

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The trout have endured the long winter and the spring run-off, and they are now feeding on the buffet of stoneflies that have just started to hatch.  Just imagine someone tempting you with a t-bone steak or large pizza after you have gone hungry for weeks.  It is really hard for trout to resist the well placed dry fly during this hatch.

For anglers, this mythical hatch is really the first time all season when you can fish big dry flies.  We have survived months of watching the bobber, or twitching the streamer, and the thought of drifting a fluffy foam bug raises the blood pressure and the adrenaline gets pumping.

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This combination of ferocious takes and excited anglers can make for some of the most memorable and thrilling fishing of the summer.  You can have the opportunity to land dozens of fish, but in my experience, you typically miss more than you get to the net.  I have the bad habit of seeing the fish coming for the fly, getting anxious, setting the hook early, and pulling the fly out of their mouth before they eat.  Sometimes the fish aren’t really eating your bug.  Either they are slapping at it, rolling over it, or just trying to stun the bug as it floats by.  Other fish you set the hook and connect with, but because of the timing of the hook set, it comes un-buttoned.  Regardless of getting the fish to the net or not, it is hard to beat being able to see hungry Brown and Cutthroat Trout chasing down a big dry fly.

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Even though this hatch can be epic, you still need to be aware of some other factors that can effect your success in a stonefly hatch.

High Water

Receding river flows and water temperatures increasing trigger these big bugs into hatching.  The water levels may be dropping, but the flows are still very high and fast.  The high water makes wade fishing very difficult and non-advisable in some areas.  Fish are typically held really close to the banks hanging out under bushes and trees and these spots can sometimes be impossible to fish by foot.  Even if you are floating, you still need to be cautious of the swift flows and downed trees that have accumulated through the run-off.  Either way, being safe on the river is more important than catching fish.

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Crowds

Rumors of salmonflies travel very quickly.  Especially, in this day of social media the word of stoneflies crawling around can attract anglers from hundreds of miles away.  For some, this can detract from the serenity and peace of the outdoors, but there is plenty of river for everyone to enjoy.  We are all out there to have fun and it can be enjoyable as long as we are all courteous.  Share the river, share the road, and share the boat ramps.

Finally, the window for this hatch can be very limited.  Depending on the season, the salmonfly hatch can last anywhere from a couple of days up to a week or two.  This is when the phrase “should have been here yesterday,” can definitely ring true.

This is the time, get to the creek now before the salmonfly frenzy is over!

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