Lessons Learned: A Montana Fly Fishing Adventure

By: Rick Crawford

In September 2011 my fishing buddy, Benjy Duke, and I headed to Montana for a week-long fly fishing adventure.  We were living in Jackson, WY at the time and had spent the summer working for the Wyoming Game & Fish Department as Aquatic Invasive Species Technician’s.  We spent an entire summer parked on the side of the road next to Flat Creek in the National Elk Refuge inspecting boats for aquatic hitchhikers to protect our waters.  Needless to say we had hours of downtime, so we spent the summer of 2011 planning our trip to Montana.  We had both fished Montana, but neither of us had spent more than a couple of days there.  This trip was going to be my epic send-off before I took a job back in Savannah, GA pursuing a career in sustainability working in a bio diesel manufacturing plant.

I kept a journal on this trip and below are some excerpts accompanied by some photos:

September 19, 2011

We stopped at Angler’s West Flyfishing in the Paradise Valley and got some info on the Yellowstone River and decided to camp on a tributary, called Mill Creek, for the night as it was getting dark and we still had to set up camp and wanted to squeeze in a bit of fishing.

Yellowstone Cutty on Mill Creek. Paradise Valley, MT.

Yellowstone Cutty on Mill Creek. Paradise Valley, MT.

September 20, 2011

After an unsuccessful morning wading on the Yellowstone River, we headed to the Old Saloon for a couple of cold beers before heading to Livingston, MT to stop by Dan Bailey’s   The Old Saloon was a really cool bar that has been around since 1902.

Old Saloon. Emigrant, MT

Old Saloon. Emigrant, MT

“The mountains are calling and I must go.” – John Muir.  Fly fishing and camping in the mountains has embedded within me my connection with nature and all she has to offer.  The old saying that fish live in the most beautiful places is absolutely true and the trout on the Gallatin River are no exception.

Gallatin River Rainbow. Near Big Sky, MT

Gallatin River Rainbow. Near Big Sky, MT

September 22, 2011

Yesterday we packed up camp and headed to West Yellowstone, MT and stopped in Blue Ribbon Flies.  It was a great shop and the owner, Craig Mattews, along with Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) were founding members of 1% for the Planet, which is very cool.

Blue Ribbon Flies. West Yellowstone, MT

Blue Ribbon Flies. West Yellowstone, MT

After fishing the Madison River later that day…I suppose that’s one of the things I love about fly fishing.  You have days where you get skunked, days where the wind howls and you spend the day untying wind knots, but that’s life also.  You have to take the good with the bad, appreciate your surroundings and thank God you are alive…and hopefully fishing!

Madison River. West Yellowstone, MT

Madison River. West Yellowstone, MT

September 23, 2011

We booked our guide through George Goody’s Montana Fly Company in Melrose, MT and headed to camp alongside the Big Hole River.  The fish were rising like popcorn right along the bank and we fished #18 & #20 Parachute Adams until dark.

September 24, 2011

We met our guide, Wes, in Dillon, MT and headed out to float the Beaverhead River.  It was our best day of fishing with somewhere between 30-40 fish to the boat and the weather couldn’t have been better.

Benjy with one of many nice Brown's from the Beaverhead.

Benjy with one of many nice Brown’s from the Beaverhead.

A buttery Beaverhead Brown.

A buttery Beaverhead Brown.

September 25, 2011

We fished the Big Hole today and had a slow morning but the afternoon was much more productive catching several rainbows and browns on #20 Parachute Adams.  Benjy and I have had much discussion about what we love about fly fishing, and for me, it’s about connecting with the mountains and rivers.  It’s also the cold mornings, campfire coffee and fresh mountain air.  The sound of the river, the crunch of the rocks under your wading boots, and the absolute thrill and delight of having a trout on the end of your line.

Fishing the Big Hole River.

Fishing the Big Hole River.

September 26, 2011

We fished the Big Hole all day with mixed results, but overall, it was a great day.

Big Hole River Rainbow.

Big Hole River Rainbow.

September 27, 2011

We saw a lot of beautiful country, caught some gorgeous trout and fished new water…camping all the way.  I will never forget this trip and hope to fly fish for trout as often as money and time will permit.  Now, back to Jackson to pack and move to Savannah.

Howdy Stranger. Yonder is Jackson Hole. The Last of the Old West.

Howdy Stranger. Yonder is Jackson Hole. The Last of the Old West.

I hope you enjoyed reading about this little adventure in Montana…I know I enjoyed re-living it!  Much has happened since this trip five years ago when I dreamed of pursuing a career in sustainability, including a couple of failed start-ups and being laid off, but that’s all part of the adventure.

Since launching Emerger Strategies in 2016, I am proud to say that we are providing a service that is helping our clients to minimize their environmental impact, which directly affects climate change, and therefore, fisheries.  Climate change is causing less snowpack, resulting in low water flow; and warmer water temps, which puts stress on fish and leads to stream closures.  In fact, the recent closure of the Yellowstone River was a direct result of climate change because the parasite responsible for the thousands of fish that died were able to thrive in the aforementioned environment.  I can think of no better way to spend my time than to help others find ways to mitigate their impact on climate change.  Selfishly, I want to protect what I love so that I can continue to go on fly fishing adventures, but also feel a responsibility to future generations to have the same opportunity to go on their own Montana fly fishing adventures.

I look forward to what the future may hold, but I think I got it right back in 2011….I suppose that’s one of the things I love about fly fishing.  You have days where you get skunked, days where the wind howls and you spend the day untying wind knots, but that’s life also.  You have to take the good with the bad, appreciate your surroundings and thank God you are alive…and hopefully fishing!

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