By Chris Ferguson
For The Register-Herald
Last week we were roaming around the Rocky Mountains near Dillon, Montana. We spent two days floating the Beaverhead River which can best be described as non-stop big fish catching action. Tara and I have grown to love the ‘Beav’ as it’s full of big brown and rainbow trout.
The Beaverhead River is said to have the most and biggest fish per square mile than any river in Montana. It’s a tailwater fishery and its main purpose is to provide irrigation below the town of Dillon to the huge sprawling ranches. The Beav flows out of Clark Canyon dam down through Dillon and merges with the Ruby and Big Hole rivers to form the Jefferson River near the town of Twin Bridges.
Along its way the river passes a rock formation that looks just like a beaver’s head from a distance. Lewis and Clark named the Beaverhead River after this rock and I can see why they did. Both of our float trips started right below the dam with our guide and friend Cody.
Cody was born and raised in Dillon and grew up fishing the Beaverhead and other rivers in the area. I always enjoy talking about hunting and fishing with Cody and can’t wait to hit the river with him again. Both float trips started out the same with big fish in the net not far below the dam.
We caught three fish that were 21 inches, a couple in the 20-inch range, and several in the 17-18-inch range when all was said and done. We both caught big browns and rainbows and of course Tara had the big one that got away. It was at least 24 inches and when she hooked it the big fish took her into the current and down river. It never stopped and took Tara into her backing before the hook pulled loose.
At the end of both floats we were greeted and had our licenses checked by the Montana warden. He was a nice fellow and even took our picture with Cody beside the river. I thanked him and told him I didn’t mind him checking my license at all because it made me feel like I was getting my money’s worth and reassured me the reason why I always buy a license.
We had a day in between the float trips where we ventured over into the Madison River valley. The Madison is well known and a beautiful river to fish. I wanted to try a section of river that we had never fished below Ennis. I found the access with no problem as it was well marked.
The parking lot was full of vehicles and since it was a new place for me I decided to ask a couple guys where the trail was. I approached them and said, “Excuse me, could you tell me if there’s a trail going down the river?” He pointed and said, “It’s beside that sign, where are you guys from?” I always get that out there when I open my mouth and love to be asked that question. “West Virginia,” I replied with a big smile.
“We’re from Ohio,” the man went on to say. Even though they were Buckeyes, I didn’t hold it against them as they were nice guys. He went on to tell me that he’d been coming out to Montana for 18 years now. His father was a big fly fisherman and started bringing him out there when he was young. He gave me some great information on how far to walk down and where to fish. He also warned us about a bull moose as well. I never get tired of talking about fishing and was glad I ran into those buckeyes.
Taking his advice, we walked down 20 minutes and cut through the willows to the river. I looked up river and sure enough there was the bull moose standing there. He was too far for a good picture but we watched him walk over onto an island before disappearing into the willows. The wind was whipping as a storm was blowing in over the mountains.
We only fished for a couple of hours and caught a few brown trout but they were on the small side. On the drive back to Dillon we were treated to another gorgeous sunset over the Tobacco Root Mountains. The next morning we drove back toward Bozeman for our last full day.
It had been several years since we fished the Gallatin River and I wanted to give it another try so that’s where we went. A lot of my favorite movie ‘A River Runs Through It’ was filmed on the Gallatin. We drove toward the ski resort of Big Sky and pulled off at a wide spot to fish. The river follows the road and is very popular as there were several other fishermen on the water.
It didn’t take long for Tara to find the first fish, which was a feisty rainbow trout. The spruce moths were hatching and that was the only fly we used the whole time. I learned that several years ago on the Gallatin as I didn’t realize until then that trout ate moths. I never forget stuff like that.
We finished up fishing that section of river and then drove above Big Sky and tried another spot. Tara caught several rainbows, which are the main fish in the Gallatin, and I missed just as many. I finally got dialed in and connected with three nice rainbows before calling it done. On my last cast I was literally reeling my line in when a small rainbow crushed my spruce moth. I ended on that note and Tara and I drove up Spanish Creek through Ted Turner’s Ranch as the sun set on our last day in Montana.
We had an early flight back and everything went smooth other than a short delay on our flight into Charleston. There’s something about the west that always draws me back but there’s no place like home. It was a great vacation and now it’s back to life and reality. And getting ready for hunting season!