“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.
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.
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.
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.