For more than 10 years now, I have travelled to eastern Idaho and south-central Montana chasing trout on the fly. It all started when I was exploring a relationship with Grand Targhee Resort and their music festivals. After receiving an invite to attend the Grand Targhee Bluegrass festival in 2003, it immediately occurred to me that I would be amongst some of the finest trout fishing in the lower 48. I needed to build in some time on the water.
Fast-forward one decade and the annual trip has burgeoned from six days to twelve. This year, for the first time, I decided to trade out the bluegrass festival at Targhee (the second weekend in August) in exchange for three more days on the water and a significantly different trout menu: namely, salmon flies.
What follows from this point on is detailed report on this year's trip. Planning these types of excursions, and especially trying to do so economically, can be a challenge. The goal of these trip reports, beyond that of my sharing my trip experience with others, is to provide a blow-by-blow look at the planning and execution. The hope is that, for those of you that are endeavoring the plan a similar trip for yourselves, these trip reports will serve as a helpful resource.
If you happened to read the DIY New Zealand article published here some time ago, you may remember that while I’m down for a bunch of nights in a tent, I do require a comfy bed and a shower at least every third night. Here’s how I did it this year.
Networking was a significant part of this adventure as well: more on that later.
What to Take
Fortunately, we covered this part in advance: see the checklist article we published back in June.
Two nights at TroutHunter 7/3 and 7/4 ca: $300, one night at the Corral 7/5 ca: $80, three nights camping, 7/6 – 7/9 ca: $20, one night at Silver Gate Cabins, 7/10 ca: $80, one night at the Murray Hotel, 7/11 ca: $100, three nights out, 7/12 – 7/14 ca: $20, one night at the Modern Hotel in Boise, 7/15 ca: $100. One rental car, ca: $350, round trip airfare: I used award miles for this trip, but call it $450 for Atlanta to Boise and back. Food, fuel, and terminal tackle for 12 days, ca: $700. Estimated total: $2,200 - $2,400.
July 3 – Atlanta to Boise on Delta with a quick stop in Salt Lake City. I chose Boise because I have an industry friend there, and unlike Jackson, Wy., Bozeman or West Yellowstone, Mt., the airfare is more reasonably priced and the rental cars at BOI are significantly less expensive. If you’re interested, I can put you in touch with my buddy, Bobby Burns, who is an expert in award mileage use. He charges a nominal fee for his services, but he managed to sort out a way for me to fly back to Atlanta in first class for only 2,500 additional miles. Win.
I’m normally averse to the “up-sale” of vehicles by rental agents, but when I was offered a small SUV for an additional $5 per day over the smallest car I had arranged, I caved in. Score one for value there when I discovered a 2013 Ford Escape EcoBoost 4x4 in the assigned slot. I averaged 24.8 MPG over nearly 1,900 miles complete with modest 4x4 capability/peace of mind, room for all of my gear and room to safely wait out the thundershowers and sleep with the rear seats folded nearly flat.
As planned, immediately upon arrival I sucked it up and made the five-hour run to Island Park. That made for an obscenely long day of travel, but I got to spend the evening (and the next) at TroutHunter on the Henry’s Fork. Score.
July 4 – The highest priority reason for being at TroutHunter on July 4 was for the Larry Keel and Natural Bridge performance in the restaurant/bar. I’ve known Larry and his wife Jenny for nearly 15 years. I’ve known and loved their music even longer.
The fishing wasn’t bad, either. Five HF rainbows scored in the evening, following five misses or breakoffs during the morning session as I knocked off the rust was successful enough for me. PMDs and Flavs, rusty spinners were the ticket. Oh, and I got to meet legendary fly fisherman and author Rene Harrop. The concert that evening: an absolute riot. No one had a more enjoyable Independence Day celebration than we did.
July 5 – Uncertain as to my lodging or camping arrangements for the evening, I headed just a little ways downstream from Harriman Park intending to seek out a little payback on a fish that broke me off last year and set up my tent in an acceptable area for the night.
Having seen fewer than six rises in the first three hours, I considered my options and headed north. I had arranged a rendezvous in Big Sky on Saturday, so why not get a jump on it?
After getting my bearings for the rendezvous point near Big Sky, Mt., I ponied up again for a room at the Corral.
July 6 – After connecting via Twitter, I met Jesse Bussard and her friend Chris for breakfast in Big Sky. Chris is a retiree and Forest Service volunteer. We thought about the main stem of the Gallatin, but ultimately decided on another option. Anglers familiar with the area will likely suss out where we were, but I will decline naming it here. I scored a few fish in the morning before Jesse and Chris bailed, set up camp downstream from where we’d fished and settled in. A couple of hours on the water in the evening and a welcome conversation with a couple from Bozeman via California capped off a great day.
July 7 – Convinced the stream was playing coy the previous day, I jumped back in and gave it hell. It was nothing short of phenomenal. Well over 20 to hand in around four hours, including a tail-walking 18-20” three pound brown that gave me and my 5 wt. Redington CP and Voekler reel a run for my money was the tally. Another in the same run broke me off on an upstream run. That fish was bigger. Anything bushy worked. Royal Coachmen and a couple of dead-sexy triple hackle peacock humpies I acquired in New Zealand did the trick. Absolute bliss.
I had made plans to fish the Madison with Jake on the 8th. So I called it good around 2:00 p.m., ran toward Ennis and set up camp at one of my favorite campsites along the 50 Mile Riffle. (Protip: Avoid “The Gusher” pizza and sandwich joint in West Yellowstone. The place is an absolute cave of depression, especially after one has been enjoying the amazing surrounds the area offers).
I arrived on the Madison in time to catch the evening caddis hatch and scored four good fish in an hour after jumping in 20 feet from my tent. What. A. Day.
July 8 – Jesse rejoined me, and Jake brought along his TroutHunter compadre JB for a day on the Madison. Salmon flies were still around and doing the trick on the beats we chose. While I would describe the fishing as “hot and cold,” the 60 minutes of hot action to big, well fed, fit browns and rainbows all rising to the big salmon fly imitations was intoxicating. Enough said. One more night in the tent and it was off toward Livingston early the next morning.
July 9 – With reservations at the Murray Hotel on the 10th, I headed up to Livingston not certain what I would do for the day. I was tired and needed a leisurely day of whatever fate would bring. The Yellowstone was a possibility, some kind of event had clouded it up significantly and wasn’t an option.
About that time it occurred to me that my buddy Nigel had suggested I come visit him at an operation he has a hand in over in Silver Gate, Mt. I hemmed and hawed for around an hour. I really didn’t want to get back in the car. But in the interest of a little business development and seeing my buddy, up through Paradise Valley toward Gardiner I went.
And then I missed the turn for Silver Gate. This didn’t occur to me until 30 miles and two 15-minute construction delays later, happily adding 90 minutes to a three-hour drive I had hoped would be shorter.
After doing an about-face I encountered what I thought was the westbound bit of construction delay. Nope. Grizzly bear. And those silly, silly gawkers. (Protip: When traveling through Yellowstone do not expect to get anywhere quickly. Just enjoy the view.)
I finally made the correct turn and headed up the Lamar Valley. Another word of advice: mind the 45 mph speed limit. The bison and elk are everywhere and can pop out of the sagebrush with zero warning.
My dear friend is part owner and operator of the Silver Gate General Store and Cabins less than one mile from the northeast entrance to Yellowstone Park – www.pineedgecabins.com. Out of necessity, he always wears bear spray on his hip. We had dinner a couple of miles up the road in Cooke City. After availing myself of the fireplace in front of the general store and shooting the breeze with a few fellow travelers, I retired to one of the property’s five motel rooms. More than 20 cabins are part of the property as is the Range Rider Lodge: a huge circa 1938 structure that holds a music stage, dance floor, dining area, full kitchen, bar and 24 rooms upstairs. Rumor has it, the building was once a brothel and that Hemingway drank at the bar. If you’re within reach, book a night there. Magic place, magic setting.