Over a few cocktails at Finn & Porter last April at the tail end of his last trip out, we were discussing plans for his next trip, in September. Dad said he loved fishing in Missoula and appreciated all the local insight, but he really wanted to go somewhere different for a change of pace, and so that I could get a break from working while he was here. I really don't mind guiding my Dad...it's stressful, but at the same time very enjoyable and rewarding. He's the reason I'm an outdoorsman, and it's a pleasure to be able to return the favor in at least some small capacity. I'll never be able to repay the big guy in full, so the least I can do is put him on some trout.
Anyway, we decided to revisit Livingston this fall, a place where we had fished together years ago as tourists and really enjoyed. Dad flew to Bozeman; I drove in from Missoula and picked him up at the airport. I'm not a huge fan of "Boz Angeles" (lo siento, mis amigos de Bozeman), and even less keen on the Bozeman/Belgrade airport. Place is out in the middle of gotdam BFE. So, we got the hell out of Dodge ASAP and made the short drive over to Livingston and Paradise Valley.
First things first, we stopped in to Sweetwater Fly Shop south of town for some bugs and insight. This is the newest shop in the valley and those boys have a good thing going. How is it that, after all these years, I still gravitate to the fly bins of every fly shop I walk in to like a bear to honey? For a couple of years I managed one of the fly shops in Missoula that I now guide for, and I could probably pick out a selection of effective flies from that shop in my sleep. Yet every morning I walk in there, I find myself hovering over the fly bins, perusing the exact same bugs that were there yesterday. I suppose the flies themselves are one of the more alluring and fascinating aspects of our sport, and I just can't help myself when it comes to scoping out the latest and greatest "fisherman catchers" out there. Sometimes I even find some new, tasty flavors and bring them home for my clients to fish.
We left the shop and headed out to wade fish the big river above Carter's Bridge. It was hot, sunny, windy (the forecast through the weekend....where's our September weather??), and 4 o'clock in the afternoon. Ideal. Regardless, Dad was itching to wet a line in Montana and we figured it was a little early to start drinking already. As a float fishing guide who is very familiar with his home water, let me tell you how frustrating it can be to wade fish a big, very unfamiliar river. But it's summer in Montana, and trout are trout, so running a hopper/dropper through good-looking riffles seemed to be as good a bet as any. Over the course of a couple hours I caught a few small trout, farmed the big ones that ate my hopper (what else is new?), and thoroughly enjoyed myself. Hey, it's fishing, and it sure beats the alternative: not fishing.
The Yellowstone River through Paradise Valley
We stayed at the Murray Hotel in downtown Livingston, an old, classic hotel where up until recently you could sit in the lobby drinking a cocktail and smoking a cigar with your dog at your feet. Times are changing, even in Montana, but the Murray is still a very cool hotel and I highly recommend staying there if you're ever in need of a clean bed in Livingston. You can still smoke your cigar on the front porch, the dog is still welcome, and the place is crawling with fishermen. After trying some of the other restaurants in Livingston, including the Livingston Bar & Grill (which used to be one of our favorites, but has now changed hands and lost much of its character/quality), we also decided the new restaurant in the Murray is one of the finer places to eat in town. It's a sweet spot.
The Murray Hotel
The following day we fished Nelson's Spring Creek on the east side of the valley. Dad and I had fished Depuy's with good results a few times in the past, but Nelson's was new to us and we had heard good things. Rest assured, as soon as you walk up to the first run from the parking lot, it becomes apparent that the place is loaded with big trout. We were dealing with more hot and windy conditions, which is far from ideal on a spring creek in mid-September, but we lucked out and had bugs and rising fish most of the day. The fishing was extremely technical and challenging, as spring creek fishing usually is (and should be); because of this it was also very rewarding. It had been a long time since I sight-fished to a large, rising trout with a #20 dry fly on 7x, and to be honest I wasn't sure I was still up to the task. But at the end of the day, Dad and I had both raised, farmed, hooked, lost, and landed several nice fish between us. It was tremendously fun and unquestionably one of the most enjoyable and rewarding days I have had on the water in recent memory. Sharing it with Dad only made it that much more memorable.
20" Brown, #20 PMD Cripple, 7x. Yikes!
Dad fighting a big one on Nelson's while Nima supervises
First fish of the day, taken on a CDC midge emerger
The next day we floated the Yellowstone with an outfitter and friend that we had fished with many years ago. Being guided, for trout much less, was bizarre! I felt like an absolute jackass standing in the parking lot of the boat launch, holding my rod while our guide rigged the boat, and generally feeling like a helpless gaper. Now I understand a little bit more why clients always want to help you do stuff! Conditions were, again, far from ideal, with 30-40 mph winds and bright, unobstructed sun. To quote our guide, "Well boys, your timing isn't exactly the greatest." Where are our fall clouds? In short, fishing was terrible, but we caught a few and had a great time on the water. And the beer sure tasted good on the ride home. As they say, "A bad day of fishing beats a good day at the"...oh wait. This is my office!
Enjoying the ride on the Yellowstone
On our third and final day of fishing around Livingston, we opted to fish Depuy's Spring Creek at the recommendation of our guide from the previous day. They had rods available on short notice, and we figured that by fishing a spring creek we would at least be sure that we were fishing over fish. The weather had changed dramatically overnight, the temperature had dropped significantly, and we arrived at the creek under solid overcast skies. Fishy weather, and thoughts of baetis were certainly on both our minds. Unfortunately, the bugs and the fish didn't share our same level of optimism, and we had very tough fishing. I caught a couple of nice fish in the morning during a short-lived PMD hatch, but after that it was tough going all the way around. The wind picked up in the afternoon, and after sight-fishing to risers became a non-option, the hoppers, droppers, and even nymph rigs (!) were brought in to action. To no avail, however, and when a big storm blew us off the water about 4 o'clock, we called it a day.
Dad trying to solve the puzzle on Depuy's Spring Creek
I drove Dad back to Bozeman, and after a quick bite to eat at one of the local breweries, I took Dad to his hotel, said goodbye, and headed west towards Missoula. It was a long drive home after a tough day on the water, but copious amounts of caffeine and outlaw country kept me focused and between the lines. Difficult fishing to say the least, but a great trip by all accounts, and Dad and I both agreed we would gladly do it again tomorrow, if only to spend more time on the water together.