Airstream Time

Exploring North America in an Airstream

Posts from the ‘Flathead National Forest’ category

Spotted Bear River

Monday, September 4, 2017

We realized somewhere driving in yesterday that we had not bought fishing licenses, and it was a long, rough drive back to town. Besides, the fly shop would be closed for Labor Day weekend. Well, we would just have to show them our lifetime fishing licenses from Virginia and the yearly license we bought in British Columbia. Then tell them we were just old farts who forgot to get a license when we went to the fly shop.

We drove south toward the Spotted Bear River stopping to take pictures at a beautiful overlook of the South Branch of the Flathead River. The big river was down considerably, as was the reservoir. They haven’t had rain measurable rain for 78 days. We saw a sign for a ranger station and wondered if they would sell a license. As we parked in front of the station, I checked for a wifi and found they had one. If they didn’t sell it, we could go online and get one.

We walked in and met Terry He was retired from the Forestry Service, but had come in to help while others were busy fighting four fires. I thought about Jane-Ashley’s warning about not getting trapped by a fire. We were certainly in an area where you could get trapped. There is only one way out. Well, you can go back on either side of the reservoir. The fires were on the other sides of the mountains. I was comforted knowing this busy ranger station was working hard to fight the fires. If this valley was in danger, they would clear us out.

Terry apologized for being slow, which he wasn’t. He had to answer the phone as he went online to fill out the licenses for us, along with a conservation fee and an ALS number. Then he pulled out a map and marked areas to fish Spotted Bear. We thought about how lucky we were to stumble upon this guy.

Kelly’s friend, JC Hanks, had gone in at mile 1, telling us it was a 45 minute hike in. We passed that one and went to the next at mile 7. The bumpy road stopped at a cliff overlooking the river. This was a perfect area to camp with a fire ring and a beautiful overlook of the river. There was a lightly-traveled trail going in both directions, but we didn’t know if either went to the river. After walking it a bit, we opted to try another easier spot. That made it the falls, behind a horse and mule staging area. There were some nice-looking, fit mules in there. Apparently trail rides were a popular thing here. It’s also hunting season, and I’m sure they use these animals to ride into remote areas. My GPS showed trails going everywhere for miles and miles long after the roads stop.

The falls were not really a waterfall as I had expected, but they were beautiful with clear, bluish water rushing over, around and through solid rock. One pool in the middle looked like a swimming pool. In another there were probably 200 trout, so we started fishing. These had to be stocked trout as I have never seen that many fish in a pool, but we could only entice the little ones to bite. We fished up and down from the falls with minor success. Surely this was one of the most fished areas on the river. You can keep two fish under 12”, but we didn’t find dinner.

Then we went back down and fished behind another campground, another area that is heavily fished. We had the similar results, but it is a gorgeous area where Spotted Bear meets the Flathead. Kelly kept two small fish that wouldn’t be enough to feed two.

Fernie to Hungry Horse Reservoir

September 3, 2017

We got off to a leisurely start. Taking the trash and garbage to the disposal area, we found a man sorting recycling into different bags. Kelly struck up a conversation with this lean gentleman, probably in his 60’s named Holmes. He is an retired engineer, who had to go back to work because his pension wasn’t doing well enough. He comes to sort recycling, takes it to a center and then gives the proceeds to a senior center charity.  Once I told him I was from Charlottesville, like everyone else we meet, he went on about how we were still fighting the civil war. I had to set him straight. He is from Newfoundland, and talked extensively about its politics and history. I told him that is where I would like to go next summer. We probably talked for an hour before we left. It would have great to talk more over cocktails as he is s very interesting guy with a great sense of humor.

Then we went by Elk River Guiding Company to buy some flies. They have a huge collection of beautiful flies. Leah helped us and told us to stop at Larry’s Fly Shop in Columbia Falls, which is owned by a girl named Hillary, and to tell her hi. We thanked her, headed out and picked up a Starbucks coffee for the road.

Smoke clouded the mountains as we drove south toward the border. The grasses were dry and brown. There were only two cars in front of us at the border, and the crossing was easy with a nice young man telling us where the fires were – all over, but we should be OK at Hungry Horse Reservoir.

In Columbia Falls, where there are no falls, we found Larry’s Fly Shop, went in and again bought a few flies. Disappointed Hillary wasn’t there, we talked to a nice fellow who gave us some good information. Spotted Bear River was really low, but the Flathead was fishing good. We thanked him and after crossing the dam, drove a rough road for 45 miles.

We found a beautiful campsite next to the reservoir. Once we got set up, we took a drink down to the lake as the sun sunk behind the mountains. The water was crystal clear as small fish broke the surface. To the south was a huge grassy plain. I searched for bears or elk, but didn’t see any. It’s a little spooky, but cool at the same time to be in a remote place all by yourself with bear warning signs all around. As the evening went on, a full moon lit the smokey sky.