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…..to us all.

Ready for the day. Madison River.


The gulper fishing has been good to great for the last month.

Having been way to busy to fish Hebgen much at all this summer, I finally got out there a couple of days ago with my good buddy Brian Worely.  He lives on Hebgen for most of August guiding clients.  Since BSA doesn’t have the proper GNF permit to outfit the lake, I don’t guide Hebgen anymore.  However, I am on the hunt for a lake boat and by next season we will be in business on Hebgen once again.  BSA can put the lake boat in at one of two marinas on Hebgen and gain access to Hebgen Lake.  I acutally found a great boat down in SLC, and once I get a chance it will be mine.  With a little help from ER, this boat will become THE vessel for Hebgen. It will have bow and stern casting platforms, oar locks for rowing and a full camo paint job.  We might even smoke a few ducks from it.


B Worley on Hebgen Lake

Later today I am headed up to Craig to guide the Missouri along side of Dane Huzarsky owner of Montana Trout Wranglers.  Dane is an old friend and asked if I would come up to help him out…..”of course”  was my answer.  This will be a short trip up to the Mighty Missouri, but it will be nice to hang around and see my friends at Headhunters Fly Shop. 

Another nice one of the brown flavor.

This past week has been a tough one, mentally that is.  A good friend, fishing guide and fellow archery partner, Mike Seim, passed away suddenly on August 18, 2010.  You will be missed.  Vio con dios, amigo. 

Ohhhh the wind & rain…

A view of YNP from the Madison Arm

On May 1st, 2010, the gravel roads around Hebgen Lake were opened back up to vehicular travel.  The Madison Arm is free of ice.  The bison have been using these roads for over a month, so watch out!  Have I been on the lake you ask???  Hell no, well a little.  I drove out two days ago, fished a black streamer, and the wind was ripping. White-caps, three footers. Total bullshit.  Didn’t touch a fish. I did however drink a few beers and play Chuck’it with the hounds. Right now at 5:30 pm, the wind is kicking hard.  70 mph was recorded earlier this afternoon around Ashton, ID. The lodgepoles in the backyard are bending into their trunks….like a flyrod loading.

one more time....

We are only 12 days away from the General Season Opener here in southwest Montana.  When the Madison opens on May 15th, it should still be clear and super fishy.  These trout ate flies extremely well this past winter, even dry flies, so get ready for an amazing couple of weeks.  IT WILL BLOW OUT AT SOME POINT……but who knows when. Even in the mud, the Upper still fishes.


Molly will be glad when the pile of gear in the garage is gone.  Laying out my shit before a long trip is definitly a trait that I inherited from the male side of my family.  I call it,” just being prepared for the worst.”  Afterall, snow is in the forecast for next week too.  Thank god for new waders, I have a feeling that we are going to live in our gore-tex day in and day out.

still not tired....



Mo River Double

 I am now back in West Yellowstone after 8 days on the Missouri River.  I hated to leave Craig, since the shitty weather – meaning BWOs – was in the forecast.  Staying in Craig to fish dry flies and streamers meant that I would not hunt with Huckleberry for ducks or huns……..I also need to sight in my rifle for the opener on the 25th.  So many things to do. 


Layouts on the mudflats.

Today I spent the morning on Hebgen Lake hunting ducks with Drew and Tommy.   After motoring across Hebgen before daylight and setting up the decoys, we got in the layouts and waited.  A few teal came in as well as some mallards.  The wind was tricky and we didn’t quite have the right setup, but there were plenty of big ducks working.  The giant rafts of ducks in the middle of the lake are hard to compete with, but watching them get up, fly around, cup their wings and land again was worth the price of admission.  We sat in the wind and rain till about 12:30 heading then to thebar for chili and baseball.  Thank god for 2 out doubles in extra innings.  I really hate the Yankees. 

A few days off…..much needed.


Dad, fishing dries on Grayling Creek.

As we quickly cruise through the month of August, the Madison  has continued to fish really well up and down the entire river.  Although I haven’t been below Story Ditch in a while, I have heard decent reports of quality hopper fishing through Cameron Flats.  The crowds are gone, we still have a few mayflies and the ant fishing has been almost unreal at times. Spruce Moths are around in certain sections and there are caddis as well.  While you won’t catch fish all day long, ramp to ramp, you will encounter sections where the trout congrigated.  Take advantage of this while in the boat – make good casts, drift your flies and let the fish eat it……PLEASE let the fish eat it. 


Stripping streamers on the South Fork……

Yesterday, my Dad fished Reynold’s Pass for just a few hours and rose a bunch of good fish on a #12 Trude Ant.  The Trude Ant works and is very simple to tie.  This fly will work almost everywhere there are ants.  It floats like a cork, is visible as white on black and won’t fall apart.  What more can you ask out of a fly?

September is going to be great.  We have water, the river never got too warm during August and BWOs have already begun to hatch on cloudy days.  There are tons of hoppers in the banks and ther seems to be a bunch of extra large ants hills along the river. If you are thinking about coming out, make the decision and get your plane tickets. Give us a call and we’ll set up a date.


She said YES!

Gunwales, Gulpers and Goodbyes


The Gunwale Bar…coming soon to town near you.

After 11 weeks of constant guiding, fishing and relatives most fishing guides will sit back, take a drink or two, and fish Hebgen…..or float the Madison and actually stand in the front of the boat. After all it is August, but not the August most of us are used to. It was 35 degrees this morning and two days ago there was a fresh skiff of snow in the Madison and Centennial Ranges after a hail storm, putting every drifter on the bank. So much for summer…..by the first of July it felt like we were a month behind, now it feels like we are a month ahead. There is warm weather on its way and the highs for tomorrow in the Madison Valley are in the high 80’s.


Please let me swim through the risers……..please?

Hebgen has had moments of greatness this past week, with only one day of rising fish till 4……pm. Yep, all day gulpers on the lake. Three mornings ago we were fishing a spot called the Gunwale Bar. For about 40 minutes the fishing was unreal…PacMan comes to mind. But of course the wind came up and ruined everything. Yesterday, was Coach Campbell’s last day. We arrived early at the Gunwale Bar, 8:00am, to find the wind blowing….again. We thought that it would glass off, so we launched the Deville off the trailer. After pushing around and looking for a cruiser, we anchored out to bob the noid…..hanging midges under a bobber suspended about two feet off the bottom. Super deadly and considered cheating by some. We didn’t care, the wind was blowing and the swell was about 12-18 inches. F*@$ing Wind. Hebgen trout remind me of Missouri River trout. Their hot, jump often and average about 17 inches……if thats not fun I don’t know what is.


Coach Campbell bending it on Hebgen

Our trout are healthy, but a tad bit tricky. They will rise, but they might refuse your flies only to flash them again three feet downstream and then finally hammer it……maybe that was different more uneducated trout…probably not. Ants are working, hoppers too. We still have a few mayflies and caddis around, but the mass quantities of Spruce Moths have yet to arrive. I personally think that its too wet and cool, they’ll hatch, but we need a bit more time.

Really though, the fishing has been pretty darn good.