The annual Orvis Guide Rendezvous occurs every April and it's been a Number of years since I last attended, so I really looked forward to the trip. Even more fun, we planned to go with new guides and friends, Jim and Janine Young, take our boat, and fish along the way.
We left Saturday morning and arrived in Fort smith, Montana about dinner time. We stopped off at one of the local fly shops, Bighorn Anglers, and got the lowdown on fishing conditions as well as the weather forecast, and picked up our licenses and some suggested flies - mostly sow bugs and red midges. We had rented a 3-bedroom cabin, River Bend Resort, overlooking the Bighorn River, complete with a stocked kitchen, big comfy couches and lots of space.
After a good night's sleep, Sunday morning we arranged the shuttle, and headed down the Bighorn in a light drizzle. I caught the first fish of day just before the rain began in earnest. We floated by several great holes that already had boats and anglers, so pulled into the hole known as “Corrals”. We all did well fishing here, but the storm had ramped up and I can honestly say I can't remember being so cold! My outer layer didn't do the trick with pelting rain and wind and my hands were icicles. Janine and I sat low in the front, Jim in the back, while David rowed us against the wind downriver until we finally got to the takeout. We were the ONLY boat floating the last several miles, as everyone else had taken the earlier take-out... Smart people! The temp had dropped to 36 degrees and the rain turned to snow on our way back to the cabin.
Monday morning we awoke to 7 inches of snow! We decided frozen guides, not to mention hands and boat ramps, would make fishing undesirable so we packed up and headed to Bozeman. We stopped off at Dan Bailey's fly shop in Livingston just as big fluffy flakes began to fall. We arrived at the Gallatin River Lodge in Bozeman in the late afternoon. The Lodge was a breath of fresh air - with beautiful and comfortable accommodations, fabulous food, and personal service. We would highly recommend it to anyone visiting the area. With the sun shining and temps in the 40's, we walked down to the river to get a look at the Gallatin. It was a beautiful freestone river with large rounded rocks and some nice runs and pools. At dinner at the lodge, we asked Keith, the fly fishing manager, about conditions, shuttles, and recommendations for the next day.
Tuesday morning we awoke to an even nicer day and headed into town to visit the Simms operation. I will cover this in a separate post, but I must say it was impressive and the people are the best! After a quick lunch, we headed out on the Gallatin for an afternoon of walking and wading. This is a beautiful river and we had a nice day- a big improvement over the Bighorn day. We were told to try golden stones and San Juan worms, but after only a few bites David and I seined the stream to see what was in that part of the river on that day. We saw lots of very small dark midges and some smaller stones. We weren't seeing any rises and not much landing on the water, so I switched to a size 16 prince nymph with a 22 black zebra midge dropper. We found some great pools and I started catching fish after fish! Running into about two dozen deer and scaring them silly rounded out the fishing trip and we headed back for a quick shower before dinner with the Simms owner, K.C. Walsh and V.P., Diane Bristol.
Wednesday morning we awoke to snow and quickly changed our plans from fishing the Madison to pushing on to Missoula. Just shy of Missoula we hit Rock Creek, a favorite for Covey friends we fondly call the three amigos: Mark Mahler, Paul Martinez, and Neil Luehring. In fact, they had texted us that they were already there fishing, on their way to the Rendezvous as well. We found a nice spot, seined the river, and headed out. The weather was mixed, as was the
fishing, but we all landed fish. Janine was the heavy hitter this day, finding some nice deep pools and catching one after another! David and I hiked upstream and found some good spots as well, while Jim fished below with Janine. Her "go to" fly was a prince nymph, while I was using dark pheasant tails with a disco midge dropper.
After fishing we headed to the Holiday Inn in Missoula and unpacked. We confirmed our fishing plans for the next day by landing a local guide with a boat so that we could take Kirk Deeter, editor of Field and Stream and Trout magazines, out on the river with us. And Thursday morning, we did just that. After fueling with gas and coffee, we hit the middle section of Clark's Fork with Bryce from The Grizzly Hackle fly shop. He had us rig up with huge Chernoble ants with purple and green flash with Pat's Rubber Legs droppers. It wasn't long before we were hooking up and all had a great day!
At one point, Janine hooked into a big rainbow that took her on an adventure. He fought hard, then dove for the river bottom. David rowed hard to get upstream to him. We weren't sure if she still had him, but then we saw him flash again and she was able to land him. When she did, we saw that the dropper was gone and we think it probably got caught on the bottom when we thought he was lost, but she kept him on and got him to the net! Jim and I finished the day with a a double - I actually thought at one point both fish might tangle and break off because they hit our flies behind a rock at the same moment and maybe a foot apart! It was the perfect end to our last day on the water.
The Rendezvous began that night and the Montana fishing adventures came to a close. But it was a memorable first trip to Montana and fishing four of her rivers was a blast! I will definitely be back again.
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