Last Chance

JJ Heames

 After watching the weather and making a few calls down to the Trouthunter in Last Chance, Jonathon Heames and myself hopped in the truck and went for it.  It was cold, windy and not quite the conditions we were looking for, but none the less, we needed to get out of the house.   We met up with Tom and Zac who have been fishing this river all winter long.  They too were looking for Blue Winged Olives.  Yes, the Henry’s Fork has been open all year, except for the Harriman Ranch section below the Log Jam – that is still closed.   The hatch was somewhat weak, but a few rainbows rose to eat the little duns which rolled down the river.   Refreshing it was to see mayflies hatching, even in the small numbers we observed.  A few good trout rose, but nothing consistent.  I chose not to fish as the knee is still healing  and wade fishing isn’t in the cards just yet.  Instead, we fished together and I acted as the watchman, looking for other trout to rise while Jonathon watched one particular rainbow who was eating mayflies every five to eight minutes.  Jonathon has been testing a prototype fly rod, that neither of us can talk about at this time.  Said rod is sweet and should be on the market this summer.  More on that later.

Jonathon about to release a rainbow.


Looking West to Montana

“There are four lines which twist and turn their way through this part of the country mirroring each other along the way.   From this little spot in the world, one can see all four at the same time.”  
–  E. Tips on Howard Creek Ranch
 An old friend of mine pointed this out to me around the campfire, late one evening at this very place in October of 1999.  After my Missouri River years, college and a short stint guiding in Utah; I found myself back in Montana working for a flyshop again.   It was getting on into Fall and I had lived out of the shell of my pick-up all summer long, only paying for a storage unit and gasoline.   Pretty damn cheap way to live and since my rig was my home, I wandered around SW Montana and Eastern Idaho spending the night at boat ramps, flyshop parking lots, the A Bar, the Burnt Hole, $3 and various other locales.  The cold weather had already arrived and the truck bed was getting a little nippy at 6600 feet.  Joel B and I had been fishing the park all day and since he was living at HCR and we worked together, I was offered the couch by the wood stove for night…..which ended up being a week.  This place was hard to leave, as I was made to feel at home right away.

Centennial Field


The Ranch had to close down for the winter before it froze up, so I headed into West Yellowstone to spend the next few weeks couch surfing in a buddy’s trailer and swinging flies on the Madison in YNP.   Trailer life is a requirement which all fishing guides fulfill at some point in their career, especailly in this neck of the woods.   It took 6 seasons  in West Yellowstone to get trailer life out of my system.   The big brown doublewide above is where I laid my head  at Howard Creek.   Wiffle ball is still a past time at the ranch.  Yep, hit it over that brown wall and ya got a dinger.  That old wooden spool was the strike zone and the hole was filled with two empty beer cans, which if rattled while at bat, meant you were out….for good….back to shaggin’ balls or sitting on the fence drinking beers.

The old Cruiser and Lavro. Great rigs.

Over the years, Howard Creek Ranch became more of a Home for Wayward Fishing Guides.   If you know someone who lived at the ranch at anypoint in the last 20 years, then the door is always open.  The ranch is 15 miles from the Madison, 15 from the Henry’s Fork, 15 to Hebgen, 13 from West Yellowtone, 16 from Last Chance and 2 miles from Henry’s.  The perfect distance from everything.   Every flyshop in the area has at least two employees who did their time here…..some more than others.   There isn’t one night during the summer months that a beer isn’t cracked open, horse shoes aren’t thrown, flies aren’t tied and stories aren’t told.   The daily fishing reports coming out of the horse shoe pit are something to be in the presence of, especially of you are trying to make a living from the rower’s seat of a driftboat.  I planned many a guide trip on the advice spewed out while throwing shoes, comparing notes and drinking beers. 


Summer colors on the ranch.

 There was always something going on, some kind of project, something to learn while at the ranch.   We have redone the White House, raised chickens, fashioned a potato launcher, buried bird dogs and helped keep the place looking clean and loved.  The only thing that might top all the projects would be a wedding on the ranch.  Big ideas of flyshops and lodges have been dreamed up, but never fully hatched.  Most of my business was created while living here and those plans have worked out thus far.   The lessons learned around this place run deep and most likely molded all who spent time here, whether they knew it or not.   After my departure from living on the ranch, there isn’t day I drive by that place without stopping in for a beer or staying on for dinnner and horseshoes.  Life has changed very little around Howard Creek.  Maybe that is why is still feel like home… us all.

Ready for the day. Madison River.

Big Bugs – Henry’s Fork

Wood and water

Yesterday, a bunch of us floated Warm River to Ashton in search of Salmonflies.  Our weather lately has not been too conducive for the big bugs, but since the forecast was for warmer weather and a bit of sunshine, we headed on down to Idaho.  Oh ya, it was birthday float for Drew too.  He is old and blind and missed quite a few on big fluffy dry flies. 

That's a good one........for you!

Out of the gate, the fishing was pretty good.  Then the sun popped out and big bugs started flying.  There was only about an hour ana half of really good salmonfly fishing and some big trout were looking up.  We fished dry flies for the most part, but also managed to catch a few on streamers.  JJ Heames just got back in the country from Argentina and since he had been fishing dry flies all winter, he was craving the streamer……..the rest of us on the other hand thought he was crazy. 

Hudgens releases a nice one

Our good friend and fellow fishing guide, John Hudgens (rear with trout) built this low-side Ray’s River Dory this past winter.  Obviously it is for sale.  This boat is built from Marine grade Mahogany, comes ready to fish on a Eddins galvanized trailer and could be yours for $8700.  This was the first and only float this bad-ass vessel has seen.  Wood and water is a great combo.

John Hudgens – 406 640 2552

We’re Trout Fishing…..what are you doing?

p1010031.JPG     G. Falls and Kevin with a 21 inch Mo River Bow

The past three weeks have been filled with countless hours of fly fishing.  The Madison, the Missouri and the Henry’s Fork are all fishing very well with nymphs, streamers and dry flies.  The dry fly fishing on the Madison is not quite there yet, but the other named rivers are fishing well on top.  This is THE time of the year to come out west and fly fish.  The trout are not yet educated, the crowds aren’t here….yet, and the fishing really doesn’t get any better.

missouri_june_2009_027a.jpg  Martin & Joe with a chunky 19 incher…..Mo River

The Missouri is the hottest spot in the state right now.  Sure, you could go to the Horn, but why?  The Mo’s scenery is superior, there are 35 miles of trout filled bliss to fish and the average trout is 16 inches…….oh ya, I almost forgot to mention the wonderful grub at Izzaks.  John and Melanie, the owners of Izzaks, really have their shit together and offer what I believe to be the best food in any trout-town in MT.

missouri_june_2009_007a.jpg   PB & Kevin with a fat Mo River Brown.

p1010063.JPG   JC with a Fork fatty….

Yesterday I floated the Henry’s Fork with the new head soccer coach of West Lake Highschool, Austin, TX – Johnny Campbell.  JC and I go way back and he just arrived for his 15th summer on the Fork.  If he is not slinking around Harriman Ranch with his custom Birkhiemer in hand, you’ll find him working behind the counter at the Trouthunter……or at the bar with a Shiner.  Since I was off work, we floated from Ora to Chester and saw every type of weather imaginable.  The river was a little off,  and since we didn’t want to stare at a bobber, we only hooked a few trout.  The first emergence of Green Drakes arrived and the bugs didn’t come off in force.  The trout were rising, but not consistently.  It was like a bad day on Hebgen Lake…one here, one there and very random, but it is ofcourse better than grading papers.

PMDs, Flavs, Grey Drakes, Golden Stones….need I say more?

Even though Big Sky Anglers is not permitted to guide the Henry’s Fork, we love to take full advantage of the dry fly fishing on the Fork this time of the year.  The Madison is a little off color and ripping through the valley and since I am tired of looking at bobbers, 2 boat loads of us took a drive down to Ashton, ID yesterday and floated from Ora down to Chester Backwater.  The lower Henry’s Fork is in prime shape and the hatches are prolific.  Mid day we threw on a bobber for Kielly’s wife, Paige, and daughter, Bridgette (11yrs).  Neither of them had ever fly fished before so we got them going with nymphs.  Nothing makes an 11 yr. old  smile like a trout on a fly rod. There was a #18 Caddis emerging and swinging an olive soft hackle proved to be winner for the new anglers.  Around 6 pm fish started rising mid river and busting the Grey Drake spinners as they floated helplessly in the surface film. We did not hit Chester until 10:30 pm. What fun we had.  Tonight a few of us are headed down the Harriman Ranch for a evening with the Brown Drakes.  My Mom and Dad have arrived for the summer and I believe my dad, Tom, will be joining us for the evening. 

 Stay tuned for more reports on the Fork and Madison as it comes in to shape ove the next 10 days.