2011 Montana Fishing Trip
Hey gang, I’ve been away from the forums for a while but wanted to post my vacation Trip Report. Returned from my annual Montana pilgrimage a few weeks ago and have just been two dang busy to post a TR. My apologies if it’s too fishing-heavy, but I hope fellow anglers out there will appreciate it! Thirteen days backpacking and car camping in and around the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and Yellowstone NP is just what the doctor ordered for relieving the stress of work and nights spent under a roof not made of silnylon or cuben fiber or no-see-um bugnetting. As always, I returned rejuvenated and ever more confident that we were not meant to spend our lives within office walls or condo communities with weight rooms and swimming pools and HOA rules.
I began my trip in Custer National Forest outside of Red Lodge, MT, with a couple of nights hanging next to and fishing the West Fork of Rock Creek. This was my first real extended trip with my Lawson CF tarp; it took me a day or two to get the tension right on it and, once I did, it performed flawlessly. Didn't quite have the tension right here:
The W Fork produced two personal bests this year: a nice fat brook trout...
...and a VERY surprising cutthroat. Folks I talked to didn't even know the W Fork held cutts in this section, and certainly not of this size:
Then, it was off on a backcountry trip for a couple of nights in Quinnebaugh Meadows, five miles upstream in the A-B Wilderness.
This hanger's ubiquitous trail lunch.
The ‘meadow’ turned out to be more of a marshy bog, so I was a bit disappointed that I was unable to test out my go-to-the-ground Blackbird setup for a night. I did find a good hang site along the edge of the meadow not too far away from some fantastic fishing. I was a bit too close to the only other folks camping out there at the time—a couple with three yapping, unleashed dogs who were constantly being called back to the campsite. I also all but walked up on the young lady in mid-squat, only alerted to her presence and compromised state of undress by her shrieking “Don’t come back here!” It was not to be my only encounter with random nudity on this trip...
All in all, though, it was a sweet place to spend a few nights in the backcountry. Here’s my site and view of the meadow. I didn’t realize until I was pitching my tarp that I was hanging over a popular moose…er, depository. I contemplated a move but, as it was getting dark, I adopted the ‘lightning theory’ to cope with my scatological dilemma. (Moose don’t poop in the same place twice. Or maybe they do.)
My view of the meadow:
The next few days saw me taking my favorite all time drive up and over the Beartooth Pass towards Cooke City and the Yellowstone NE entrance. I must’ve made this drive a dozen times now, but still am just completely awestruck by its beauty every single time I do it.
After a night of cleaning up and fine dining (and beer, lots and lots of beer) in Cooke City, I headed into the Park for a few nights at Pebble Creek CG just inside the NE entrance. I snagged one of the last remaining walk-up sites, and learned that evening why it was unoccupied. My next door neighbor was a fine Kentucky gentleman with the apnea of an asthmatic giant. His snoring was already quite legendary among my fellow car campers, beginning precisely at 7pm and lasting through about 5am when he got up to (loudly) make breakfast and head out to fish.
I got my first curious onlookers here, and the inevitable questions such as “You actually sleep in that thing?” And “Do you stay dry/warm?” And “Aren’t you afraid of bears?” That last one always gets me. Like a tent is some sort of lead-lined bunker. I show them the BB shelf, complete with my arsenal of bear spray and K-Bar for those what-the-hell-was-that-just-outside-my-tarp-at-3am moments. You know the ones. This also marked my first interactions with a ranger or camp host since I began hanging last Fall and neither gave me or the hammock as much as a second look, which answered any doubts I had about the legality of hanging from Park trees. So, hang away in Yellowstone!
Fishing in the Park was somewhat average this trip; the waters I planned to fish were blown out upon my arrival and I had come down with a cold, so I took it easy and relaxed in camp, read a little, tweaked my gear, fiddled with my stove, and listened to a fat man saw an entire jungle down to pulpy stumps. When the rivers cleared, I landed some nice cutthroats in Soda Butte Creek, but got skunked on the Slough (as I always have). To be honest, though, I wasn’t really trying very hard on Slough Creek. That’s my story anyway. Not a single bear sighting in the Park, though I did narrowly miss running down a young grizzly on the road in to Cooke City to pick up some NyQuil one afternoon. My last day fishing Soda Butte, I noticed an older gentleman parking along the road next to my vehicle and running down towards where I was fishing. Strange, I thought. Then he disappeared behind a bush about twenty yards from where I was fishing. And then, I swear...I heard clucking noises. Like a chicken. "Weirdo," I said to myself, and I went back to casting to a finicky cuttthroat sipping invisible mayflies near an undercut bank. The clucking became squawking, and I became concerned. I glanced back over and my gaze was greeted with the whitest butt you could possibly imagine. Did he not see me? Surely he saw my rental car. "Ahem. A-HEM!" The guy just kept clucking, but now he started strutting and...preening like he was trying to attract an avian mate. He never looked my way, either (I was thankful for that, actually), and eventually he put his clothes back on, climbed back up to his car, and sped off. The capper of the story was that there was a woman waiting for him in the car. Does she condone this behavior? Does she merely accept his eccentricities? Does she mentally block them? Or encourage them? I was giving this way too much thought...so it was back to fishing. And yes, I landed that sucker, no thanks to Birdman:
Soda Butte Creek at sunset:
Then it was back over Beartooth Pass and on to East Rosebud Creek. This year found me in my favorite spot on Labor Day weekend. I usually have the entire place to myself, but this year’s timing was a bit…off. The normally quiet campground was jam packed, and alive with the hum of generators and multi-family gatherings. I guess I probably should’ve expected that, though. I was able to secure my same site (for seven years running now!) and enjoy some peace the first two nights there, and even got a chance to try out my brand new 2QZQ UQP, as a creepy misty fog blanketed the entire valley for about 36 hours.
The UQP performed as advertised and certainly was/is a welcome addition to my pack (thanks T&D!!). Met some more nice folks, all curious about my hanging gear and of course the kids all wanted to try out my “tree tent.” Hey, start ‘em young right?
East Rosebud Valley
A handful of E. Rosebud rainbow
Moon hanging among the Beartooths:
As I was breaking down my campsite, a young bull moose trotted by. It took me a minute to locate my camera and he was a good ways off before I could get a decent shot off.
East Rosebud marked the end of my hanging in Montana this year. I spent the last day fishing with my guide on some of his secret spots on private ranch land on the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River upstream of Belfry, MT. Our annual float trip got cancelled due to a badly shredded boat trailer tire. I was certainly bummed about that, but did manage to catch my personal best brown trout (19”)
Of course, the one I hooked at the very end of the day, the very last cast…got away. Easily over 20” (so says my guide and good friend Pat), he broke my 3X leader when he shot across the river on a long run that had my reel screaming like I’d never heard before. He’ll be even bigger next year, and I’ll be back to try him again.