On our way to fish Silver Creek near Picabo ID, we took a road trip to Craters of the Moon National Monument and Preserve.  Talk about a unique landscape….wow!   When we first saw the sign welcoming us to the area, we’d already been noticing the landscape dotted with black lava rocks.  As we continued into the Preserve toward the visitor’s center, the landscape changed to something out of a sci-fi movie.

I won’t bore you with all the details about the Preserve, you can read about them here.  However, I would highly encourage anyone driving anywhere near here to stop and tour the area.  If you get a chance, take a guided trip into some of the “caves” which are really lava tubes.  Some are small as in the “Craters” landscape picture above and some are large enough to hike into (or crawl ?).

We had a great volunteer guide who took us into the Indian Tunnel lava tube and showed us around the lava flows.   Who knew there were different kinds of lava flows???  She also convinced us to try out another “cave”, Beauty Cave, which had walls and floors covered with sparkling rocks.

You will notice one of the pictures is of me, popping out of a hole in the ground.  In reality, we’d taken a secondary route out of Indian Tunnel which had us climb over two different sets of fallen lava rocks in the tube (see Barb’s pic), then up about 30 feet and out of a man-hole sized hole.  What we found exciting was that when we climbed out of the hole, we were in the middle of the lava flow, no trail, just some poles about 100′ apart which you had to traverse between to finally get back to the official trail through the area.  The only crazies who did this in our group were Barb and me, along with one other couple out of our tour group.   We’ll be talking about our “off trail” caving adventure for ages.  For now, we hope you enjoy these pics from our “road trip” to the moon.   Ramble On!

Bitterroot Chase

By TB

The Bitterroot River flows between the Bitterroot and Sapphire Mountains in a spectacular setting.  The Bitterroot is one of the Trout Unlimited Top 100 Trout Streams.  We had the pleasure of floating the river with Chase Harrison of The Missoulian Angler Fly Shop.   We started with small mayflies and ended with the usual summer rig of a dry/dropper with a Pat’s Rubber Legs below enticing a number of nice fish.  Chase discusses the river, its moods and its hatches in his “guide talk” interview along the banks of this beautiful fishery.  Enjoy!

We were blown away by the beauty and fish we encountered all along Rock Creek, from Clinton to Philipsburg MT.  And while the fishing was absolutely incredible, with fish rising to hoppers, ants, Purple Haze, caddis and even some “secret” flies…. the reminder about “Its Not About the Fish” kept coming back to us.

Our guide on the Blackfoot, Ben DeMers, surprised us by dropping off my fav area beer (Cold Smoke Scotch Ale, KettleHouse Brewing, Missoula) AND a couple of his super secret flies at the SaraLinda.  We were out fishing and missed seeing him but put the secret fly to good use as you’ll see in the video.  Thanks Ben!!!  He also turned us onto a great little bar and grill, Poor Henry’s in Clinton.  Awesome burgers and cold beer… what’s not to love.

Our great Bozeman friends, Sue Doss and Dud Lutton told us about Philipsburg  (MT) and its incredible candy store so we had to make that visit.  And of course, we also discovered a great little brewery, Philipsburg Brewing.   We also found the upper reaches of Rock Creek held some beautiful cutthroat trout.

We parked the SaraLinda at Ekstrom’s Stage Station in Clinton, right on Rock Creek.  This place is fabulous as a campground and has a superb restaurant on property.  They also have a bakery that concocts all sorts of goods including a gigantic cinnamon roll that you’ve gotta get if you’re ever here.  Right next door is the Rock Creek Fisherman’s Mercantile with everything you need for fly fishing Rock Creek, including flies and great intel on where you might fish.

As for wildlife, the bighorn sheep here were hanging out on the mountain when we left to drive up the forest service road along Rock Creek.   When we returned, they’d moved into the valley to graze.  Barb counted 24 in the herd we encountered.  See if you can count them in the pic included in the video.

Speaking of that video, we hope you enjoy the video highlights of our time on Rock Creek between Clinton and Philipsburg.  We’ll most definitely be coming back to fish with Ben again, stay at Ekstrom’s and enjoy the incredible beauty and fishing along Rock Creek.

“In our family, there was no clear line between religion and fly fishing”.  Thus begins the greatest novel written concerning fly fishing, “A River Runs Through It” by Norman Maclean.  If you’ve not read the book, here is the link to get a copy.  If you have, you know that the book is about a family, life, religion and fly fishing along the Blackfoot River.  If you’re more into movies, make sure you watch the movie directed by Robert Redford and starring Brad Pitt, Tom Skerritt and Craig Sheffer.  You’ll love it, I promise.

We had the distinct pleasure of taking our first trip down this legendary river with Ben DeMers who we booked out of The Missoulian Angler in Missoula (MT).   Ben is a former 5th grade teacher who got called for summer work guiding along the area rivers.  Ben was also a member of the 1974-75 Montana Griz basketball team who made the sweet 16 of the NCAA tournament, falling in a squeaker to UCLA.  We could not have asked for a better guide than Ben.  He kept us on fish, provided great insight into the river and its history and most importantly, kept us laughing the entire day.  Make sure if you come to Missoula to get Ben to take you on a fly fishing adventure.  For now, please enjoy this interview we did with Ben along the banks of the Blackfoot River.

Our “go to” fly shop along the Gallatin River is Wild Trout Outfitters (WTO) in Big Sky, MT.  JD Bingman is the owner/guide at WTO and has helped Barb and I find and catch fish for over 12 years.

We first got to know JD years ago when he helped out our future son-in-law Chris Drake with his fishing Suburban.  I cannot remember if Chris had a name for the Suburban but if you’ve ever spent time out west near rivers, it was the poster child for a fly fishing vehicle.   In one instance, it needed assistance to get going sitting right in front of WTO and JD came to the rescue.

Since then we’ve been coming to see JD and his WTO team every time we’re in the area.  He knows what’s catching fish and where to find them.  Just take a look at the pictures that line the wall behind where we interviewed JD.  You’ll see some of the impressive fish (and fishermen) that have been landed along the Gallatin.   If you stop, spend some time in the shop and listen, you might even hear about some “Nunya” spots along the Gallatin and its tributaries.  You may have to hike a ways to get to them, but its worth the effort…. trust us!

We had a chance to sit down with JD this week and talk about his start in fishing as well as all things Gallatin River…. how best to fish it, what kinds of hatches to expect and what kinds of fish you’ll find.  You’ll also see a cameo by his dog, Hopper!   Hope you enjoy this “character” from one of the TU Top 100 trout streams, JD Bingman.

The Gallatin River is our “home water” here in the Bozeman MT area.  Its headwaters are in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.  It flows for nearly 120 miles before it joins two other rivers to form the Missouri River near Three Forks, MT.   Along the way, it flows through the area known as Big Sky which is often our launching point for fishing, rafting, hiking and just enjoying the area.  Its also home to our “go to” fly shop along the river, Wild Trout Outfitters.  Owner/guide JD Bingman has been helping Barb and I for at least 12 years and continues to put us on great spots with great flies.  You’ll see some of our fish from this year in the video.

Big Sky is also an area where we take friends and family who come out to visit.  The easy access to fishing along the river coupled with numerous things to do at the Big Sky Resort make this a destination of vacationers worldwide.  In winter, Big Sky proudly markets their ski area as having the most skiing of any resort in the US.

Whether in the canyon, the meadows or up in the Yellowstone section, the Gallatin River truly is our second home. We hope you enjoy this music video highlighting our time along the river and in the area.

Every time we’re in Montana we try to schedule time to head down to Yellowstone National Park.  If it’s summer, it’s usually to fish the streams in the Northeast part of the park.  One of our favs is Soda Butte Creek which is named after an unusual geologic formation.

Soda Butte Creek sits in the Lamar Valley which is home to bison, bears, badgers, wolves and more.  Every time we are there we end up in a bison jam.  This year, there were herds and herds of them.  They’d even started to pair up for the rutting season.  We’d never seen so many bison “couples” as we did this year.  Love was in the air!

Unfortunately, all the bison meant we had to pick and choose where to fish to avoid these gigantic creatures.  Lucky for us, our “honey hole” was bison free.  We had two great days of fishing on Soda Butte and caught several of the native cutthroat trout that inhabit its waters.  These are strong, wild, beautiful fish.  We had to put our dry fly ants right next to the bank to entice them to rise.  When they did, the fight was on.

It’s always interesting fishing here, because, as much as you are watching your dry fly as it drifts against a cut bank, you have to be aware of your surroundings.  If you are quiet and focused, you’ll never hear a herd of bison meander up the valley and cut off your path back to your car, or perhaps, a grizzly bear that is coming to the water for a drink.  Luckily, we fished away from bison herds but I did have a badger that, well, kept badgering me. It followed me along a favorite stretch of the creek and kept me looking up regularly to see where it had moved next.  Needless to say, while it was roaming the bank with me, I caught no fish.

We were lucky again to snare a “rustic” cabin at Roosevelt Lodge in the northeast corner of the park.  This allowed us to be on the water fishing early and late in the day which are usually the best times for fishing.  Rustic is code for no bathroom in the room, one full size bed, one desk/chair and fortunately, a wood burning stove for heating the cabin.  It was in the 30’s both nights we were there,   which meant that we “wadered up” in the morning for warmth.   After lunch it was back to “wet wading” which we far prefer.

We celebrated our 44th wedding anniversary with dinner at Roosevelt Lodge.  They even made a small cake for us… white cake with huckleberry ice cream filling…. YUM!   We highly recommend if you are ever in Yellowstone to come to the northeast corner of the park;  it is far less crowded, has great fishing and the best wildlife viewing in our opinion.

We’re off to fish the Gallatin River, another of the TU Top 100, next.   Ramble on!

Buy Local

By TB

Buy Local

As we embarked on our “River Ramble” tour of the TU Top 100 Trout Streams we vowed to immerse ourselves in each community we visited.   Part of that process was to always “Buy Local” as our friends at Simms put it.  To that end, we always frequented the local fly shops, the local grocery stores, the local breweries, local restaurants, the local music scene and so on.   We always tried to avoid the “chain” businesses.  Nothing wrong with the chains and big box stores, but we wanted to support the local communities wherever we could.  While there are numerous highlights of this perspective on our journey, here are a few that stand out so far.

Yeti

Our hometown is Austin, TX so Yeti was a natural to handle our cooler needs.  We’re traveling with a 30qt “Hopper” which has saved us on numerous occasions.  Forget the fact that its kept our beer, sodas and water ice cold along the way…. we’ve had a couple of refrigerator breakdowns in the SaraLinda which caused us to make the Yeti our primary frige.   Many thanks to the Texas Apple team who gave us a going away gift certificate that led to our Yeti purchase.

Simms

Our second hometown is Bozeman, MT, headquarters for Simms Fishing Products.   Simms is a quality company making the best waders, boots, jackets and other gear to keep you “dry, comfortable and protected from the elements – no matter what the conditions”.  Barb and I both wear their waders and boots and given how much we’re fishing (over 135 days so far this year), they’ve held up incredibly well.  They also are the sole wader manufacturer in the US…. not just a local company, but local waders too!

Local Fly Shops

I really want to give a big shoutout to all the fly shops we’ve visited so far (see full list at end of post).  It started at Unicoi Outfitters in Helen (GA) and most recently, the Bighorn Trout Shop in Ft. Smith (MT).   Nothing can replace the local knowledge these shops have concerning safety on the rivers, the best spots to fish that match your abilities and what flies you’ll need to catch fish.  They also employ great guides that provide memorable trips on the local waters.

What has impressed us most has been the feeling of community and even family in these shops.   Of course you come in and tell fish stories after a day on the water.  But we were also invited to local TU dinners; into shop owner’s homes for drinks, dinner and more fish stories; told of numerous “Nunya” streams to fish; and gone out to local breweries with shop staff and guides.   These are local folks with a passion for fly fishing, their local fisheries and their local communities.  Of course, we want to support them at every stop along our ramble.

Straub Beer

We’ve had so much fun asking guides and shop owners what their favorite local beers are.  I think we’ve tried every recommendation and more along the way.  There are so many we could call out but so far, one stands out in particular, Straub Beer in St. Mary, PA.  Since 1872 Straub has been brewing the finest beers and has been designated an American Legacy Brewery.

We first encountered Straub in Slate Run PA.  We had the pleasure of meeting a member of the Straub family at the Slate Run Tackle Shop.  Later on, we were invited to dinner at Tom and Deb Finkbiner’s place and when we opened the fridge, every single type of Straub Beer was there…. and yes, I sampled them all.   Awesome beers!  Furthermore, Straub is a major supporter of fly fishing and in particular, the on-going efforts establishing Pine Creek as a world class trout stream.  Given the beautiful brown trout we caught (and released) there, they are well on their way.

Dublin General Store

When we pulled into Irons RV Campground in Michigan, we asked where the nearest grocery store was.  I’d done a little research and found about 30 miles away was an IGA.  However, our campground host said we had to go to the Dublin General Store.  OK… wanting to stay true to “Buy Local” we took the 15 minute drive to the store, sitting pretty much in the middle of nowhere and were blown away.

It’s been in operation for 81 years and if there is one thing its know for, its jerky.  What caught our attention was summer sausage infused with morel mushrooms…. WOW!  And it didn’t stop there.  We found gourmet cheeses, a full service grocery store, a full meat market, a phenomenal beer selection and more.   Half of the store is devoted to food and the other  was essentially a hardware store.  What we learned from some of the other shoppers was that the store is a destination for many in Michigan.  One couple indicated they came up each year specifically to buy jerky, summer sausage and meats.

There are many more we could have mentioned, but to just give you some “local” flavor, these stood out.  We are excited as we continue our ramble to discover even more of these local gems along the way.

Cheers!

Local Fly Shops We’ve Visited and Supported (so far in 2016)

Unicoi Outfitters; Helen GA

Blue Ridge Fly Fishing; Blue Ridge GA

Brookings Cashiers Village Anglers; Cashiers NC

Hookers Fly Shop; Sylva NC

Tuckaseegee Fly Shop; Bryson City NC

Davidson River Outfitters; Brevard NC

Hunter Banks Fly Fishing; Asheville NC

Four Seasons Outfitters; Richwood WV

Backwater Angler; Parkton MD

TCO Fly Fishing; Boiling Springs PA

UpCountry Sportfishing; Pine Meadow CT

Housatonic River Outfitters; Cornwall Bridge CT

Hungry Trout Fly Shop; Wilmington NY

Ken Tutalo’s Baxter House; Roscoe NY

Slate Run Tackle Shop; Slate Run PA

Kettle Creek Tackle Shop; Renovo PA

TCO Fly Fishing; State College PA

Savage River Outfitters; Swanton MD

Old Au Sable Fly Shop; Grayling MI

Père Marquette River Lodge; Baldwin MI

Bighorn Trout Shop; Ft. Smith MT

Bighorn Blast

By TB

Our time in the Bighorn River area near Fort Smith MT was an absolute blast.  We toured the Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area, sampled local food, stayed in a campground of nothing but fly fishermen and had an epic fishing time on the Bighorn River.  Our trip with Merritt Harris of Bighorn Trout Shop was beyond amazing.  Big, wild brown and rainbow trout were in every run, riffle and pool.  We sampled indian fry bread at our usual stop near the Little Bighorn National Battlefield Monument.   Cottonwood Camp served as our basecamp for our time in the area.  It was a stone’s throw from the Bighorn so each evening we’d fish until we couldn’t see our flies anymore.  Then we’d throw a streamer hoping to feel one more tug before heading back to the SaraLinda.  We hope you enjoy the short music video of highlights of our trip.  For now, we are on to Bozeman MT and the Gallatin River.

Oh Montana!  For our first stop in our adopted home state of Montana, we hit the Bighorn River near Ft. Smith.  We’d heard stories and had read about how great a fishery the Bighorn is, but we’d not fished it here in the Ft. Smith area where it is most well known.   What we know firsthand now is that all the stories are true.

Epic is a word that gets thrown around a lot in the fishing world so we try not to use it freely and save it for the truly amazing days.  For us, epic doesn’t mean biggest fish ever, or even most fish ever (although that certainly helps) but means a day of great fishing and fun.  So….. our trip on the Bighorn with Merritt Harris of Bighorn Trout Shop was truly EPIC!

We started out just below Afterbay Dam and fished our way down to the Three Mile Access takeout.  In between, we fished from the boat but waded in certain holes along the way.  In both cases, big wild brown and rainbow trout were fought and netted.  More importantly, we had a guide, Merritt, who made the day not just productive for sure, but so much fun.

Merritt is one of the most requested and hardest to get guides on the Bighorn.  Not sure how we were so lucky to have him as our guide, but we’ll definitely be back to fish with him again.  I’d highly recommend that if you’re coming to fish the Bighorn, call the Bighorn Trout Shop and ask for Merritt.

For now, enjoy this interview we did with him parked in some shade along the Bighorn.  If you look closely, you’ll even see a fish rise to eat a black caddis.  Enjoy!