When I interned at Midwest Whitetail in the fall of 2016, one of my fellow interns was Michael Parente. For reasons that are too long for this particular blog post, he was given the nickname Mark, and I was given Elvis. Mike recently got a job working for the show Fresh Tracks with Randy Newberg, and moved to Montana two months ago. Since he moved out there I’ve been bugging him about when would be a good time for me to come and fish. We were talking early last week when he said the upcoming Fourth of July weekend would be ideal — we both had Monday and Tuesday off, runoff was dying down, and the salmonflies were in the air. After a couple minutes of searching, I booked my flight to Bozeman. I was pretty excited to say the least.
After flying in on Friday night, we hit the East Gallatin River just outside of Bozeman on Saturday morning. This was a smaller stream for Montana’s standards, similar to the Rush and Kinni. There were some caddis and PMDs coming off with a few rising trout, but I couldn’t resist drifting a couple nymphs through those riffles. It didn’t take long for me to catch my first fish of the trip, and what was also my first wild rainbow!
Mike started the day fishing dries but switched to nymphs as well.
Rainbows and browns were plentiful on this stream, with every run giving us a couple fish.
As the sun got higher in the sky the bite started to slow down, so we decided to turn around and work our way back to the truck. Mike spotted a nice brown rising to PMDs, and couldn’t resist tossing a fly over it. After two missed takes, the third time was the charm and I was able to net it for him. The 16-incher was the biggest of the day his first fish on a dry!
In the evening, we planned on fishing the Lower Madison, but the mosquitoes were so thick that we stopped fishing after about two casts. We ended up going back to the East Gallatin and caught a couple more fish before dark, but nothing picture-worthy. The Lower Madison had some great scenery though!
On Sunday morning we got up early and headed to the famed Upper Madison River. We went to an area that Mike had fished in the past and was an easier wade. Since we didn’t have a drift boat, our options were limited on this bigger river.
While most of the area was pretty shallow, featureless water, we were able to find a smaller side channel that held some deeper runs and structure. We got into a few small fish on both dries and nymphs, and managed to lose every good fish we had on before getting it into the net. At about 1:00 we decided to go into town for lunch and stopped at a fly shop for some local intel, a couple extra flies, and a new hat to change our juju. We then headed upriver a few miles to a wade-only area that was recommended in Mike’s book of Montana rivers.
A lot of people must have read the same book because the bridge was loaded with cars. Luckily, it’s a big river that can’t be waded across, had easements for miles in each direction from the bridge, and had plenty of structure, so there was plenty of room to fish.
Mike found a salmonfly within minutes of walking from the parking area, and I’ve never seen someone more ecstatic to see a fly. He’d been hunting this hatch for the past couple weeks and was happy to finally find them.
Mike tied one on and had a strike on his first cast, but didn’t move another on the salmonfly for the rest of the night. There was also a huge caddis hatch, but for whatever reason the fish just weren’t rising very much that evening.
After seeing the salmonfly, I tied on a Pat’s Rubber Legs and Copper John, and hooked into a nice rainbow on my second cast. Unfortunately he got into the fast current and broke off. A couple casts later I hooked into another, and downstream he went! Mike got downstream to try to net it, but the fish got by him and into the next run. The river had so many boulders that I had to climb back onto the bank to chase after the fish while it was ripping line from my reel. I was attempting to get my rod over a tree when I heard Mike yell, “let some line out!” I stripped some line off my reel and soon heard “got him!” About fifty yards downstream from where I hooked into the fish, we finally got it in the net. I was pretty pumped with this 17-18″ rainbow! Check out that jaw!
I got back up to that run and threw my nymphs behind the same boulder, and caught a nice brown a couple casts later. Great start to the evening!
I continued upstream and seemed to hook into a fish behind almost every boulder. Getting them in the net in the fast current was another issue. I ended up landing six or seven more fish, including another brown around 16-inches, before calling it a night.
It doesn’t get much better than this.
Big fish in some of the most beautiful scenery imaginable made this my favorite spot to fish during my vacation. I’ll be dreaming about the Upper Madison until I get back!
On Monday morning we began the day fishing Hyalite Creek, a small stream flowing through a mountain canyon just outside Bozeman. Hyalite had a lot of small, willing browns and rainbows eager to take both dries and nymphs. None of the fish we caught were really picture-worthy, but the area definitely was!
In the evening we decided to head to the Gallatin River. It flows through Bozeman, but we decided to drive about 20 miles upstream where the highway runs along the stream, allowing for abundant and easy access.
The first spot we tried didn’t have much for structure and surrendered just one fish in about an hour, so we packed up and headed further upstream, keeping our eyes peeled for good looking areas that we could pull off the road and fish. We spotted one such pull-off and tried it out. Mike and I quickly had fish on but lost them. Right after I lost mine, I heard Mike yell upstream that he had a fish on. The fish made a few big jumps and runs, but I eventually got downstream of it and got the biggest fish of the trip in the net!
After a while of not landing another fish in this spot, we packed it up again to go further upstream. We found another good pull-off point and decided to fish there the rest of the night. There were a ton of salmonflies in the air, so we both tied on dries. Mike quickly had a strike, but wasn’t able to get a hook in the fish. I guess catching fish on salmonflies wasn’t in the cards for us.
I opted to go downstream of the pull-off where there were more boulders for the fish to hold around, and hooked into and lost a couple decent fish before landing a couple decent rainbows. I kept throwing behind every boulder within casting distance until finally hooking into a good fish. As soon as I set the hook, he sent it (shout-out to Mike and his roommates for adding “send/sent it” to my vocabulary) downstream, ripping line off my reel. I again had to hop onto the bank to chase him down, this time having to net him myself since Mike was around the bend upstream and could see or hear me. After a long fight and a few swipes of the net, I was able to land the 16-inch brown!
That ended up being my last fish of the night. The canyon section of the Gallatin is a beautiful area that I’d highly recommend to anyone else visiting Montana — it is wade-only, has plenty of access, and plenty of fish!
Since I had to fly out in the afternoon, we chose to fish a section of the Gallatin closer to Bozeman. I bought a book on Amazon that we also used throughout the trip to research spots; it recommended a few bridges and luckily the first one we drove by didn’t have a car at it.
Mike quickly caught a good brown and I caught a sucker, and a couple runs upstream of the bridge had a bunch of fish rising to caddis and PMDs. Mike tied on a dry and soon had a nice brown on.
While he fished the dries, I went one run upstream and nymphed a few browns and rainbows out of a good seam, the biggest being around 14-inches.
We worked upstream with every run surrendering fish. I tied on a PMD and caught two browns and rainbows out of one run, while Mike switched to a nymph and caught a couple good browns himself. As it approached one o’clock we decided to hit one more run and each catch one more fish. It didn’t take long for Mike to catch another brown and I to catch a ‘bow.
After those two fish we headed back to Mike’s place so I could pack up for home. It concluded an awesome trip that I won’t forget anytime soon! I can’t thank Mike enough for hosting me at his place for the long weekend. It’s always fun to fish new areas with great friends that share a passion for fly fishing. I can’t wait to get back to these rivers again, hopefully with a drift boat or raft next time to fish some more areas.
Montana definitely lives up to the hype. I’ll be dreaming of this view until I get back.