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If you do much fishing in the American West, you almost certainly know that anglers in this region tend to "group up" on well known streams far too much. Shoulder to shoulder Mackenzie boats on the Yellowstone and Bighorn rivers come immediately to mind. And so do the crowds I’ve seen on a half dozen or so famous tailwaters and a handful of spring creeks in Paradise Valley. All of this is what made my recent trip to the northcentral region of Montana to what’s called Charlie Russell Country so special. It reminded me again just how much overlooked trout fishing there is in the Big Sky state, and how important a part relative solitude plays in a first rate trout fishing experience.
The first place I want to tell you about is a spring creek I fished this past July in Lewistown, a town located precisely in the geographical center of Montana. It’s called Big Spring Creek, and it offers some exceptional fishing that is very easy to get to (I counted five public access points in the short stretch I fished above Lewistown). In all, the creek flows for 16 miles from its source in the foothills of the Snowy Mountains to its confluence with the Judith River.
Big Spring Creek is different from most spring creeks in that it doesn’t meander slowly, but runs fast like a freestone stream. This makes the fish much less selective, yet they have the rapid growth rates and plentiful numbers spring creeks typically produce.
In the course of a day and a half of fishing the upper portion of this stream without a guide, I hooked and released scores of rainbows ranging from 10 to 18 inches. Delighted as I was, I was left wondering a bit when a local told me I would likely have been into one or two much bigger browns, and larger average fish all around, had I worked the lower portion of Big Spring Creek below Lewistown instead.
As for accommodations, there is ample lodging in Lewistown. I stayed at Yogo Park Inn (*). Prices here range from $49 per night single occupancy, to $56 and up per night double occupancy. Dale Pfau at Don’s Western Outdoor Specialists (*), just a couple of blocks from Yogo Park Inn, will be glad to help with information, licensing and equipment needs. I should not neglect to mention there are also a dozen or so other fishable streams in the area, along with many scenic attractions. You can get details from the Lewistown Chamber of Commerce (*).
From Lewistown, I traveled to White Sulphur Springs and spent a week with Doug Caltrider of Avalanche Basin Outfitters (*). Caltrider, like an increasing number of outfitters who once focused solely on hunting, has broadened his horizons by taking advantage of the access he has to some fine private trout water. He is a knowledgeable, skilled guide who is, admittedly, still learning about the fly fishing business.
One of the most appealing aspects of his operation is the variety of waters he has available, from big name rivers to little known streams and private lakes. To begin my six day fishing trip with Caltrider, I floated a section of the Yellowstone River and worked some private stretches of the well known Smith River. However, boats at every bend or dealing with the Smith’s notoriously fickle brown trout are not necessarily my chosen cup of angling tea. Small, freestone streams, with their ever changing moods and the chance they offer to get "back of beyond," are my preference. It is access to such creeks, along with spring fed lakes holding really big trout, that makes Caltrider’s operation special to me.
We fished two different freestone streams (both on private ranches) that were of a size that you didn’t need to wade deeper than your knees and that were narrow enough that you could cast easily from shore to shore. The results were gratifying. The first stream we fished was Sheep Creek, where I hooked and landed no less than 24 trout ranging from seven to 15 inches the first hour. After that, I quit counting. We then gained special permission to fish a second stream that Caltrider is hoping to lease next summer. Here, the results were even better, mainly because the average fish was considerably bigger. Looking back, I would have to say that in a lifetime of sampling trout waters large and small, from Alaska to South Africa and at many points in between, this was the most productive dry fly fishing I have ever enjoyed. Period!
The private lakes I fished with Caltrider held highly selective, two to five pound Kamloops rainbow trout. Considering the size of these trout, our hook up average of better than five fish an hour (my daughter was fishing with me) was quite satisfactory. Both of us were broken off more than once, but we each managed to land a rainbow in the five pound class, along with a number of 16 to 20 inch fish. Caltrider claims to have taken trout up to eight pounds in this lake. Currently, he has access to two lakes and is in the process of lining up a third.
Caltrider offers excellent streamside lunches. His rates are around $225 per day, but are less per person if more than one angler is involved. He will also help you make lodging arrangements at a bed and breakfast or motel in White Sulphur Springs. I stayed with Wilbur and Jeanice Gillette at Gillette’s Elkhorn Lodge (*) and heartily recommend it. Their rates run $38 per night single occupancy, which includes tax and breakfast. For two people, the cost is $48.
If you would like to custom plan a trip to this region, a good place to get general information is Russell Country, Inc. (*), a non profit consortium that represents the northcentral region of Montana, one of the six tourism regions in the state. They will send you a 40 page "Travel Planner" that describes each town within the 13 county region, including location, history, any fishing that is available near the town and local tourist attractions. The planner also has a calendar of events; telephone numbers of motels, restaurants and other businesses in the region; a list of all the visitors’ service offices; and much more. The agency also offers a free fly fishing kit, which contains a list of all the licensed fishing guides in Russell Country and a brochure describing fishable waters, including a rundown on which species are found in each. Jim Casada.
The Missouri River in Montana is well known among fly fishermen as an outstanding tailwater fishery with prodigious insect hatches and large, cooperative rainbow and brown trout. Though a number of outfitters provide excellent guide service on the river, there is one operation here which stands out from the rest. It is the Fly Fishers’ Inn, located some 35 miles south of Great Falls off Interstate 15 in the town of Cascade. So what makes this lodge so special? Well, in addition to excellent guiding, they provide ultra fine dining.
The Fly Fishers’ Inn is operated by Rick and Lynne Pasquale. Rick guides clients and manages a crew of six assistant guides while Lynne does the cooking. Her typical five course dinner entree might include crab and cilantro stuffed chicken breast accompanied by nutted wild rice; or pork tenderloin medallions with plum sauce and linguine with spinach sauce; or beef tenderloin filets with mild green peppercorn, horseradish and cognac sauce, accompanied by saffron rice with currants and pine nuts; or an unpredictable variety of other delights. This is definitely not an "….if this is chicken it must be Thursday" operation!
Minted green soup, chilled cherry soup, Danish crab soup, salad Fabbro, sacher torte, white chocolate mousse, brandy cream napoleon or cranberry chocolate tarts may begin and end your dining experience. Varied granitas will cleanse your palate, and a variety of foccacia breads will delight you. Of course, the appropriate wine is always served.
Breakfast? Well, one morning we had Grand Marnier french toast, along with….you get the picture.
Despite the gourmet nature of the food, Lynne, who creates all of her own recipes, is extremely health conscious, and takes great care to keep the fat and sodium content of each meal to a minimum. This is a comfort to those of us watching our intakes of cholesterol and salt.
As for the fishing, it is just what you’d expect of a large Blue Ribbon river in Montana. A mixture of very large rainbow and brown trout roam the waters here, and the insect hatches are prolific. An especially good time to be on the Missouri (along with predictable crowds of other anglers) is from mid July through August, during the fabled trico hatch. However, fly fishing is usually excellent throughout the season.
Rick Pasquale is an excellent guide with long experience on the river. Like everything else he does, his guiding is first class. If you find the river crowded, you can take pleasure in knowing that no one else there is eating nearly as well as you!
The lodge can accommodate 14 to 16 guests, and there is no minimum length of stay. Lodging and three meals per day cost $125/person/day, and guided fishing floats on the Missouri, which are available but are not required with the stay, are an additional $275/day for two anglers. Package prices are available for multiple days. For reservations, contact The Fly Fishers’ Inn (*). You won’t regret it! Dave Engerbretson.
Occasionally we get calls from Angling Report subscribers seeking information on outfitters in the Rocky Mountains who can provide private, personalized fishing trips to suit their own needs and wishes. Well, it certainly seems like we have come across such an outfitter, although we can only say this from what we read in their literature (and hear from people we trust) and not from personal experience.
The outfitters are Chip and Francine Rizzotto, and the name of their company is High Country Outfitters. They are based some 30 miles south of Livingston, Montana, near the town of Pray. The thing which intrigued us the most about the Rizzottos is that they offer what they call "single party exclusivity," which simply means they only take one angling party at a time on their ranch, with a maximum of four anglers. The itinerary is adjusted daily to suit the angler’s schedule of fishing and relaxing, and meals are planned around that schedule.
To insure the utmost personalized attention, there is no other staff. Chip does the guiding and Francine does the cooking, which consists of gourmet meals supplemented with fresh vegetables from her own garden.
As regards the fishing, guests can choose from a variety of waters, including the Yellowstone River, high country lakes and spring creeks, plus all open waters within Yellowstone National Park, which is only 25 miles from the Rizzotto Ranch. Anglers can stay on the water as long as they choose. Lodging is in a guest cabin complete with a double bed and bunk beds, bath, a fly fishing library and fly tying bench, refrigerator and coffee machine.
If this trip piques your curiosity, you can get more information by contacting Chip and Francine Rizzotto at High Country Outfitters (*). Rhonda Hartzler.