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.

IMG_1832

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.

IMG_1852

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.

IMG_1844
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.

Advertisements

Cures for Cabin Fever

Near the end of January a phenomenon hits many Montana residents known as “Cabin Fever.”  Google defines cabin fever as: irritability, listlessness, and similar symptoms resulting from long confinement or isolation indoors during the winter.  These symptoms began to settle in last week following recent weeks of sub-zero temperatures.   Thankfully we had a break in the brutal cold and I took advantage by seeking out open water on Rock Creek and booking a Forest Service Cabin getaway for my wife and I.

img_0003

As I headed towards Rock Creek last Wednesday, conditions seemed to be perfect for a productive afternoon on the water.  Temperatures were hovering in the mid 40’s, the sun was trying to peak through the partly cloudy skies and I had a new supply of hand tied flies to demo.  As I reached the creek I was discouraged to see that most of the ice from our sub-zero cold snap still choked the banks of the river.  After driving downstream and discovering that the ice situation just got worse, I settled on the most open water that I could find and began stomping through the snow towards the partially open water.  With water temperatures hovering around freezing, the fish weren’t exactly in a feeding frenzy.  After dodging a few glaciers coming down stream, I did find a hole with a few cutthroat that sampled my homemade San Juan Worm.

img_0034

On Thursday afternoon we packed up the truck, loaded up the dog, and headed to the Moose Lake cabin just a few minutes outside of Philipsburg.  Forest Service Cabins have become one of our favorite winter getaways because of their wood burning stoves, peaceful settings and lack of cell phone coverage.  When we reached the Moose Lake cabin I was determined to rally the truck down the quarter-mile snow packed road to get to the cabin.  With the warm temperatures, my hefty Toyota Tundra quickly sunk into the slushy snowpack and we were stuck.   Given the consistency of the snow, my tires were unable to gain traction.  Using some “redneck” ingenuity,  I shoved my floor mats under the front tires and eventually got the truck back on solid ground.  Following the embarrassment and excitement of getting stuck, we finally packed all of our gear into the cozy cabin and we settled in with hot toddy’s and good books.  Our relaxing evening was highlighted by a hearty dinner cooked over the wood stove, a good bottle of wine and schooling my wife in Texas Hold’em.

With this vacation from cabin fever, I can now return to the fly tying vise and patiently await the coming spring , or better yet, the next winter adventure.

img_0011

img_0028

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.

IMG_1192

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.

IMG_1217

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.

IMG_1199

IMG_1209

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.

IMG_1244

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!

IMG_1226