Another smoky, but enjoyable fishing trip to Montana

Recently three local fishermen and I took a 10 day flyfishing trip to fish some famous rivers near Missoula, Montana. The other three flyfishermen were Allen Gray of Pittsfield, Paul Knauth of Hinsdale and Michael Shepard of Dalton.

Upon arrival, we learned that the rivers there were at a 30 year low water flow due to the drought and some of them had restricted fishing hours to avoid stressing the trout. The Bitterroot River had “hoot owl” restrictions, meaning that one could only fish it from midnight to 2:00 pm.

We stayed in a cottage along Rock Creek, which was still open, but running low. Each time we drove upstream to fish it, we passed nearby forest fires. We came across many firefighters, including the “Hot Shots”, specialized firemen brought in to fight the fires. The sights and sounds of helicopters carrying large containers of water to and from the fires were common.

One time, Allen was trying to fish a large pool in Rock Creek, but that was where the choppers were filling their buckets which disturbed the water and scared the fish. He related a sight where Paul was fishing a part of the river and directly uphill from him a chopper was dousing the fire with water. Temperatures were around 95 degrees that day and Paul was disappointed that some of the water didn’t fall on him to cool him off. The temperatures remained in or near the 90’s every day but amazingly, the water temperatures of the rivers we fished never got above 62 -64 degrees. I presume the combination of cool nights and cold springs feeding the rivers kept them cool.

The mountains there are so steep that the firemen could not climb them to reach the fires. Even if a chopper dropped them in, the slopes are so steep that they would just slide off the mountain. All they could do was build fire lines below and let the fire burn until they reached them or Rock Creek. Incidentally, we learned that some firemen who were fighting the fires at the nearby Lolo National Forest were from the Berkshires.

We traveled a long way to fish these rivers and we went out every day. Once, we were prevented from fishing one area on Rock Creek because the firemen feared that the fires would cause rock slides which could bury us.

On Labor Day, the hoot owl restrictions on the Bitterroot River were lifted, but then the Blackfoot River was completely shut down due to water temperatures and low flow. Fortunately, we had spent the three prior days fishing it. After that, we concentrated our fishing on the Clark Fork River and Rock Creek.

Don’t get me wrong, we had a wonderful time and caught lots of quality fish – rainbow, cutthroat and brown trout, some reaching near 18 inches. Of course the largest fish got away, at least mine did. One time, while Allen was reeling a decent sized rainbow trout, a large bull trout snatched it away from him. These are big trout which are endangered and it is illegal to fish for them.

But it’s not all about fishing. We saw some memorable sights: bald eagles, a herd of 24 bighorn sheep eating grass in someone’s sprinkled lawn, whitetail deer with their fawns frolicking near our cottage, mule deer, moose. the beautiful mountains, and more. One sight I will never forget occurred when Mike and I were returning to the cottage before dusk when we saw a doe teaching her fawn how to cross a shallow section of Rock Creek. The fawn appeared unsteady but its mom was very patient as they slowly crossed the river,

The towns of Rock Creek and Clinton are small and rural, about 15 miles south of Missoula. Imagine our surprise when Mike and I stopped at a watering hole and found that the bartender grew up in Dalton and lived in Lenox for a while. On another occasion, we met a couple in a fly shop and the woman was raised in Adams. Mike met another guy on the stream from Braintree whose good friend lives in Dalton. Amazing, eh? *****

Unfortunately, while in Montana, I learned that a close friend passed away – Gordon Leeman of Lee. I first met Gordy in the fall of 1963 when he was a game warden. A friend and I were on furlough from the service and we decided to go hunting without a license and during a time when the woods were closed due to a severe drought. Gordy and another warden nabbed us. The judge ultimately dismissed the case (long story).

In the 1980’s we both were members of the Taconic Chapter of Trout Unlimited and became friends. For the last dozen years or so, we also belonged to the ROMEO’s (Retired Old Men Eating Out) a group of older sportsmen who get together for lunch at a local diner once a week. He will be missed. *****

Before leaving for Montana, I neglected to mention that the early Canada goose hunting season opened on September 3 and runs to September 25. The daily bag is 7 and possession limit is 21. The regular goose season opens on October 14. The 2013-14 migratory regulations can be found on the following website: http://www.mass.gov/eea/docs/dfg/dfw/regulations/2013-14-waterfowl-abs. *****

People in kayaks and canoes must wear their life jackets or personal floatation devices (PFD’s) from September 15 to May 15 while boating. According to the Massachusetts Environmental Police, most boating fatalities in Massachusetts are due to boaters who fail to wear PFDs while in small craft in cold water or cold weather situations. Waterfowl hunters using canoes or kayaks are reminded that this law also applies to them.

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