September 7, 2017
We drove to the Grizzly Hackle Fly Shop in Missoula, about 30 minutes away. As we drove south, the smoke intensified. Rick greeted us in this large shop with everything. I looked at flies while Kelly asked about a guided trip, what streams to fish and what to use. Despite the smoke, they are busy with guided trips. We decided to go get a cup of coffee and think it over. Since Rock Creek was another 30 minutes away, we decided to fish that today and go to Fish Creek tomorrow. We agreed on a guided trip on Clark Fork on Saturday, when his best guide was available. We bought the flies he recommended and headed out, while a couple came in and cancelled a trip tomorrow because of the smoke.
Walking back to the truck, I noticed a parking ticket. There were no meters, but looking around, I saw the place you pay and put a ticket in your window. Shoot! Opening the envelope, there was a ticket, but also a note forgiving it for a first offense. Nice touch Missoula!
A mile or so after turning on Rock Creek Road, there was a fly shop, so of course we stopped to ask what to use. He recommended October Caddis, so I bought four and four Prince nymphs. The road follows this beautiful, medium-sized stream for maybe 50 miles, but the road is closed 19 miles up. The stream is the border between two fires, and they had just opened it back up. There is a restaurant beside the fly shop that JC Hanks recommended to Kelly. We went in to see if we could get a sandwich at Stage Station Restaurant. Lisa was carrying out four big plates with the best-looking breakfasts I have seen. One with big, beautiful pancakes, another with a big omelet, sausage and toast. Man! She asked what we wanted, then put these big sandwiches, a big cookie, chips and an apple in water-proof bags. Then she told us what was for dinner.
Maybe because the stream had just reopened, there were lots of people fishing, one couple coming from Connecticut. It’s all catch and release, barbless hooks. There were farms and houses along the first part, and another fly shop! There were fishing camps and rental places. We weren’t exactly the first ones on the stream, but we stopped at the first pool without a car parked and caught a few. It was tough walking in this slippery stream. Cleats were a better choice. I messed up one Caddis removing it from a small cutthroat. I was on the far side of the stream fishing upstream as Kelly cursed on the other side. He kept missing fish, a couple of them pretty big. Finally he looked at his fly to discover a broken hook.
Moving up to about mile 16, we found another good area. Kelly went up and I went down. I hooked a 16” powerful fish in the middle of the river downstream from me. I had my 7’ 4-weight rod, a little rod, and I wondered if it was enough to hold this fish as it stripped line running downstream fast. I have never seen this reel being stripped like this and didn’t even know if it had backing on it. The line is really old too, so I got over to the rocky bank and started walking as quickly as I could downstream, reeling line in. He jumped and spit the October Caddis out, but somehow it hooked in his tail. Now I ran to catch up with him, grabbing my net. With a plunge of the net, I missed the first time, but caught him the second. Looking at this magnificent fish, I put the net in the water to let him catch his breath. The fly was no longer attached to the fish. I took a couple of pictures and set him free.
We caught a few more in this pool before moving up for one more pool. We fished this area up and down for about an hour. Watching a big fish rising in the middle of a huge pool, I could barely get close enough to cast to it. After a couple of tries, I put it in the right place and wham! In one quick strike, he took my last Caddis and broke the line. It had a two-pound tippet on it. Surely he wasn’t two pounds, but he hit it with such force that it broke it. I’ll change to a four-pound tomorrow. I hate losing them, not so much for losing a fish, but that he has a hook in his mouth. I know it’s barbless and he’ll probably shake it out, but I hate it.
We were tired now, and Kelly was having a terrible time with felt-bottom boots in this slippery stream. He almost fell several times. It’s not so easy climbing out with felt either. No doubt, we are not as spry as we were on our last trip four years ago, but it was a good day. Driving back down the road, a bunch of Bighorn Sheep crossed the road. Back on I90, the smoke looked heavier. Missoula looked like a smog-choked city. With a million acres burning in Montana, it remains on the front page of the papers. but also the Missoula paper is the only one I have ever seen with a whole page on fishing conditions on all the major trout streams. There is also a festival here this weekend celebrating “A River Runs Through It”. They moved it from its original location because of smoke.