Friday, June 18, 2010

Twin Bridges, MT

Three Dollar Bridge, Madison River
Emily and I did something that was pretty out of the norm for us - we went on a vacation. Destination: Stonefly Inn and Outfitters in Twin Bridges, Montana. The Stonefly is run by Dan "Rooster" Levens, and has emerged as one of the best deals in the 406 area code. We heard about the Stonefly by chance, while fishing up on Maine's East Outlet. I was talking to a guy that mentioned he was headed to Montana for 5 days of fishing, at a price that seemed like an average guy could afford. After a little checking around, we booked for 4 days in June, hopefully in time for the salmonflies on the Big Hole River.

Rooster's crew of guides work primarily on the Big Hole, Ruby, Jefferson, and Beaverhead, but they also cover smaller rivers and spring creeks as well as the Madison and Missouri Rivers when conditions call for it. They are some of the best guides that can be found in Montana, and they know how to put clients onto a bunch of fish, and some big ones at that. This was a pretty big deal for Emily and I, as we are not your typical "destination anglers," but this was a special trip, sort of a make up for a half-assed honeymoon 6 years ago (already!).

Our trip started early on Friday June 11th as we flew out of Portland at 6:30 am to Bozeman via a stopover in Chicago. We arrived in Bozeman around noon local time. Bozeman is an energetic college/mountain town in the heart of fly fishing central. A drive through the neighborhoods revealed more drift boats in front of houses than ATVs, which was weird to a guy from Maine where 4 wheelers are more common than hangovers in Lewiston on a Saturday morning. Main Street is filled with shops, restaurants, cafes, brew pubs, and yes fly shops. There was not an empty store on the drag- clearly Bozeman had managed to dodge the hard times that have settled on much of the rest of the country. After a dinner of fresh brews and bison burgers (of course!) at the Montana Ale Works it was back to the Super 8 for some shut eye.

The next day on Saturday we found ourselves heading over the pass for the short 25 mile drive to Livingston, home of the infamous Dan Bailey's Fly Shop. The boys at Dan Baileys were a little bummed, as most of the local rivers were pretty blown out from spring run off in the high country and the 3 weeks of epic rain that the area had received. Montana had a low snow fall this winter, but the May rain had more than filled up the reservoirs and most of the rivers were running big and brown.
The Yellowstone in Livingston... completely blown.
The Yellowstone River in Livingston was running at 16,500 CFS and real dirty. The guys at Dan Bailey's claimed that the river starts to fish around 7 or 8000 CFS. We were getting a little nervous when we looked at the river level board in the shop and it read "Blown" at the top with an arrow descending down through every river listed. We hoped Rooster had a plan.
The Gallatin.
The next morning we made the drive down 191 toward West Yellowstone, following the Gallatin River which was, again, brown and blown. A stop at a fly shop in West Yellowstone (1 of 7!) revealed that we might try the Madison. We fished right above Hebgen Lake. It was running clear, but high, and it wasn't long before Emily caught the first fish in MT, a nice little brown that slammed an olive Super Bugger on the swing.

Madison River.
What a beautiful spot, we fished for about an hour until we noticed a fresh set of bear tracks in the mud. We were pretty sure they were black bear, but still they looked like a set of sow tracks with a cub, so  we figured maybe it was time to move on rather than disturb a grouchy momma with her baby.
Mama Bear and Baby Bear.
After a quick map recon, I figured the fishing on the Madison just down the road below Hebgen Lake would be a good bet. As we came down the road, below the dam, we noticed a couple with a guide getting tight on fish. We pulled over and watched a bit and decided that there was plenty of room. As we wadered up the guide and his clients pulled out of the river. We chatted and found out that they were headed off the river for lunch. Then we got the hot tip - red Copper John's. I had only packed one box of flies because we were only planning on freelancing it on our own for one day, and I didn't have a red Copper in the box! So we went with the closest thing we did have, some red Serendipities dropped off a Jimmy Legs Stone. It did the trick, between us we landed a half dozen fat, healthy rainbows in about an hour and half of fishing.

Ennis, MT
It was getting late and we were due in to the Stonefly that night for dinner so we headed northwest on Rt. 287 following the Madison. We stopped by Kelly Galloup's Slide Inn and I bought a couple of Sex Dungeon and Boogie Man streamers from the place where they were born. Although we didn't meet the man himself, the dude manning the shop assured us that the fishing over toward Twin was really good on the Big Hole and that we were in capable hands with Rooster. Just past the Slide Inn we passed the famous Three Dollar bridge as we dropped the hammer on the 100 mile drive though the Madison River valley bordered by snowcapped 10,000 foot peaks.

We finally arrived in Twin Bridges, our home for the next 5 nights and four days. Twin is basically home to cowboys and fly fisherman. I guess you could count fly rod makers in there as well, it also happens to be the home of the RL Winston Rod Co. located just on the edge of town.

Home of RL Winston Rods, Twin Bridges, MT.
After settling in and meeting our hosts we ate our first dinner at the Stonefly. Eric, the chef, knows how to get it done in the kitchen. Eric had cooked for some very exclusive restaurant's in Seattle before coming on board at the Stonefly. The food is gourmet, without pretentiousness. It's a place where you can eat Cuban style ribs with a PBR or a glass of your favorite wine. It's BYOB, but everyone brings some bottles of wine or spirits, throws some beers in the Yeti cooler and helps themselves to whatever. Dinners are served in the Roost, which had a recently added screened patio. Dinners are hearty, laid back, and filled with stories of big fish and the days adventures. Everything about it was A+.

The next day we headed to the Big Hole above Wise with Jeff "Braz" Brazda. Braz is one hell of a fishing guide, and one of the fishiest people I have ever met. Jeff hails from the west coast where owns Brazda's Fly Fishing and guides for steelhead in the spring and winter before heading to Twin for the summers trout season. Braz did not disappoint, we put a ton of fish in the boat including some really nice Montana browns. I won't reveal some of his sinister methods of catching these monsters, but you can bet I'll be using them back here.
Big Hole Brown.
Emily getting it done on the Big Hole.
Prince Eater.
The day ended with a flat tire on the High Road back to Twin. The High road is a 25 mile dirt road the cuts over a pass and is apparently famous for eating tires. Braz, being the pro he is, was ready with compressors, spares, and after some monkeying with a ball peen hammer the tire came lose and we were rolling back to the Roost for some more great food and cold beer.
High Road Flat- a minor inconvenience of getting to the good water.
The next day we floated with the Rooster, again on the Big Hole looking for salmonflies. Rooster figured we would hit a stretch of river that hadn't been fished yet that year, the only catch, we might need to clear some downed trees and maybe drag his Headhunter skiff around some debris. Which led to the question, "how do we clear trees?" Which was answered with, "a chainsaw"... of course - only in Montana.
Only in Montana.
Rooster riggin'.
After burning some big fish, including a monster brown that put me into the backing on a dead drifted Bow River Bugger and catching my first arctic grayling we headed to a gated spring creek. This place was completely ridiculous. After swinging by the shop at the Stonefly for some flies and cold beers we re-rigged with some long leaders and scud patterns- then it was game on. The creek meandered through a meadow on a private ranch and the water was digital clear.
The Creek.

I was amped up about sight fishing to huge browns. Rooster told us the drill and it wasn't long before Emily and I were tight on a double. What a day! My first grayling, Emily and my first spring creek, and got tight with a bunch of big fish! This place was insane.

We fished the next day again with Rooster and boated a bunch of fish on salmon fly dry-dropper rigs. We saw our first adult salmonfly of the trip, which we captured as a pet for Rooster's 4 year old daughter. These are the giant stoneflies that make their appearance once a year and the trout line up and gorge themselves on these monster bugs. It is sort of Maine's equivalent of the Hex hatch.

Double down on a spring creek.
That night, it rained like hell, and the Big Hole doubled from 4000 CFS to 8000 CFS. Game over on the Big Hole. The next morning, Wednesday, we were privy to the guide meeting as they made alternate plans to find fishable water. Apparently the Beaverhead was still fishable, but it is a small river and would see a lot of boat traffic since it was the only game in Southwest Montana at the moment. Braz gave us the option, fish the "Beav" and fight the traffic, or 2.5 hours of window time to head up to Craig, MT for monster rainbows on the the Missouri, a tail water sometimes called the "worlds largest spring creek," boasting fish counts as high as 6000 trout per mile. Missouri bound we were.

The long drive from Twin to Craig, MT and the Migthy Mo'
The "Mo" (Missouri) did not disappoint. It was the icing on the cake. We nymphed in 10 feet of water with super long leaders and small scud and egg patterns. We boated one monster 'bow after another. These fish were so strong and sometimes pulled the tiny hooks out as we battled flows of 16,000 CFS to land them. After losing a couple of toads, Braz landed the boat at Craig, ran to Headhunter's fly shop and came back with a few up sized scud and egg pattern's which held better against the weight of these giants that would leap and run enough to make any landlocked salmon proud. It was epic. Big fish after big fish. We floated with two other Stonefly guides, Greg Bricker and Brett Seng and they all agreed it was one of those unforgettable days on the Mo. We were just glad to be there.
Stick It!
Missouri River Bow
Jeff and Emily with another fatty.
Bow on the Mo'.
The Braz.
It had been 5 days in paradise, with some super people, wonderful food, and incredible trout fishing. If you get a chance to go to the Stonefly, do it. You will not be disappointed. Rooster and his crew will make you feel at home and put you onto a bunch of fish.

Thanks Rooster and the crew at the Stonefly... We will be back.

That's it? It's over?

The Stone Fly Inn

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