Gallatin Valley
The Gallatin Valley. Prime grizzly country.

Editor's note: This is the second part of a two-part series. If you haven't already read part I, please do so here.

The Trip (Continued)

July 10 – At last it was time to get to Livingston for real. I had a happy hour appointment at the Mint Bar with a dear friend, a room at the Murray Hotel, and enormous lust for dinner at the 2nd Street Bistro. First: a stop in Paradise Valley to wet a line in the Yellowstone River.

The water was still off color, but fishable. In the heat of the day between 1:30 and 4:30 p.m., I managed a slew of small rainbows, but nothing to write home about. My snobbish dry fly tendencies kept me from the biggies, but that was just fine. I was fishing a small dropper with it, but that wasn’t doing the trick, either.

The Murray and the 2nd Street Bistro didn’t disappoint. For the budget-minded, the Murray Bar offers up fantastic pizzas prepared in the 2nd Street Bistro kitchen.

July 11 – Two networking events in Bozeman (30 miles west of Livingston), and then I started my southern trek back toward Boise via the Big Hole and Salmon Rivers. I set up camp about halfway between Divide and Wisdom, Mt. The section of the Big Hole I fished was low, flat and warming quickly. I managed a couple of good rainbows and too many brook trout to count on the evening of the 11th and morning of the 12th, but nothing to write home about. It wasn’t really tickling my fancy. Around noon on the 12th, I started my run for Stanley.

July 12 – ANOTHER missed turn: this one at Salmon Id., had me headed toward Idaho Falls instead of Stanley. Another hour and two gallons of fuel wasted later and I was back on track.

I had a very specific destination in mind that required at least 30 miles of Forest Service roads I was desperate to reach before dark. The only thing I will divulge about this location is that it’s popular among rafters. That’s enough.

I snagged one of the very last campsites available among the 30 or so within a mile of my location. Being Friday evening, the place was packed with folks starting their weeklong floats through “Idaho’s wild heart” the next morning.

I managed to set up camp by 8:00 p.m. and got in an hour on the water. Two amazingly colored, pure strain West Slope Cutthroat came to hand via a #14 Elk Hair Caddis. That was what I’d come for. There would be more the next day.

July 13 – A full day on the same river. After walking 45 minutes downstream from the raft launch, I started fishing back up. The high water volume this tightly hemmed in section of river carries ensures that the rocks are scoured smooth. This is a place that calls for felt soles and/or studs. I had neither.

Within 30 minutes I had to break out the first aid kit. Watch. Your. Step.

The day brought nine hours of intense wading, scrambling, casting, dabbling, and high-sticking for those native cutthroat. I think the score was six or eight of them in the 12-16” class with too many steelhead smolt to count. It was worth the effort. The valley is gorgeous.

One more night in the tent and one more stop to make before making my last night’s reservation at the Modern Hotel in Boise.

July 14 – I believe it’s ok to name places that are very well known. So my trip down the valley through Hailey and Ketchum to Picabo and Silver Creek Preserve is mentionable.

I have put in a couple of days on the technical spring creek each of the last two Idaho trips. I think they were shutouts, so vengeance was on my mind for certain.

If you’re not capable of a downstream, drag-free presentation on long, fine leaders, this isn’t for you. This is the kind of place where trout will rise three feet from you as you wade. It is the kind of place where your offering will meet with flat refusals if you have the wrong fly, wrong size, or drag on your drift. It is the kind of place where you can sight fish to trout well over 20 inches and four pounds. It’s thrilling. It’s infuriating. It’s immensely satisfying when you get it right. It’s Ph.D. level fly fishing for big, selective, spooky fish on a gin clear spring creek in the high desert of Idaho.

Last cast, last fish in the net. Perfect. I would do it all again in a heartbeat.

Madison River Brown Trout
A pretty Madison River brown, the very reason you fish the Madison.

Lessons learned or further affirmed

Be prepared to be sleep deprived at the end of your journey. I’m so happy I moved this trip up due to the extra 90 minutes (it seemed) of daylight in early-mid July versus mid-August. This is a place for anglers that daylight can never come soon enough. And in early July, it comes around 6:00 a.m. and doesn’t depart until at least 9:30 p.m.

Spend at least a night or two at TroutHunter: great rooms, great food, great bar and zero pretention. Rich Paini and his crew do it right. You just might get to meet Rene Harrop, too.

Avail yourself of the variety of water: the HF, Madison, Teton, South Fork, small streams, native cutthroat, Silver Creek, back country adventures: it’s all there. Try to make a friend who can get you onto water you haven’t fished before and then get into it all.

Just because you can chuck a salmon fly imitation fifty feet or more does not mean you’re going to be able to manage the drift to successfully come tight on a big fish. Test the drift and use stealth to get into a position that increases the odds of hooking up. JB can attest to this on a large fish we suspected was hanging under a rock that made a spectacular offering at JB’s fly. It was thrilling to watch, but no joy.

Wade (and wear waders) with caution. A wading staff is advisable in many situations. I choose to wade wet these days after a particularly scary incident in the braids of the South Fork near Swan Valley.

Get up to Livingston and spend a night at the Murray Hotel. Have dinner at the 2nd Street Bistro. It’s a little spendy, but the enjoyment is worth almost twice the price especially after spending a couple of nights in the tent.

If you don’t mind spending the time in the car, and if the routing works for you, swing through Divide, Mt., follow the Big Hole, and work down back south through Stanley, Id., via the Lewis and Clark Trail en route to your examination at Silver Creek. I hadn’t been that route before and though the drive was long, I’m glad I did it.

When in Boise, stay at the Modern hotel, have a fantastic cocktail at the Modern’s Hotel Bar and have breakfast at Big City Coffee.