Category Archives: Big Hole River

Catching On – Fly Fishing in Montana

Rick Stockbridge, Fly Fishing, Georgetown Lake

Brother-in-law Rick Stockbridge fly fishing on Georgetown Lake. He had to borrow warmer rain gear from Ron due to the unusually cool weather we had in late August.

My brother-in-law, Rick, from Texas came to visit last week. Sister Marsha couldn’t make it because she’s not yet strong enough after major back surgery to correct scoliosis. She vows to come in December to go snowmobiling in Yellowstone.

We put Rick up in the Guest House – that’s our slide-in camper parked in the driveway. It offered privacy, a comfortable bed, shower, radio and microwave.

Then we took him fishing.

Sunday was supposed to be iffy weather, so we opted to take the little motor boat on Georgetown Lake. Although clouds obscured the surrounding mountain ranges and vast Montana skies, as we caught rainbow and brook trout (and one silver salmon), we could see Montana’s nature encapsulated in the spunky fight, vibrant colors and psychedelic patterns of these vivacious piscatorial gems.

Rick Stockbridge, Georgetown Lake, Rainbow Trout

After a little instruction and a lot of casts, Rick was able to land several nice Georgetown Lake rainbow trout.

Rick Stockbridge, Georgetown Lake, Rainbow Trout

Here’s Rick reeling in his last catch of the day at Georgetown Lake. Seconds later, Ron’s rod was bending too, and they simultaneously landed a couple of nice rainbow trout.

Ron gave Rick some basic instruction on fly casting (we were throwing shades of brown jigs, then retrieving), and near the end of the day the two of them landed double rainbows!

We saw a merganser duck with a fish in his mouth be flocked by seagulls before he swallowed it whole. We also broke the tip off a Sage rod and almost capsized the boat when we all went for the save. Oh, and we got the stink off our new Fishpond light-weight composite net.

Georgetown Lake, Rainbow Trout

Getting the stink off our new Fishpond net.

On Tuesday, we gave Rick a ride down the Big Hole River in the Saturn raft – a glorious late-August blue-sky day with temps in the 70s. We stopped in the fly shop to get a shuttle and bought a few of their new dry flies they said should work great on this particular day. They did not. I don’t think we got one fish on top all day. Ron’s clown worm and the bead head pheasant tail nymph were the winner winner chicken dinners of the day.

Rick Stockbridge, Big Hole River, Fly Fishing

T-shirt weather on the Big Hole River.

Fishing nymphs, we landed lots of native white fish. But Rick didn’t care – he was fly fishing. In Montana. On the Big Hole River. And the weather was fall t-shirt weather while it was 100 degrees back home in Texas. Plus, he had the company and instruction of both Ron and I!

We made the four-mile float from Jerry Creek to George Grant in about six hours. We stopped often to fish good holes. Ate sandwiches and Cheetos. Admired our surroundings. Rick’s casting continued to improve. As Ron rowed, Rick stood and cast off the platform in front of the raft, as I fished languidly in the back. Surprisingly, as we cast from side to side, our lines tangled just once. Rick’s stability in the front of the boat was also impressive. I only saw him bobble one time as Ron pulled back a bit aggressively on the oars. We fished each hole diligently and often went back up river to, of course, fish the other side.

Brown Trout, Big Hole River

Ron landed this beautiful brown trout on one of our newly-tied clown worms.

Throughout the day we landed browns, rainbows, lots of white fish, and even one arctic grayling. We saw a number of raptors soaring overhead. A large flock of black birds made a ruckus in one small tree, then rose and fluttered off as we floated past.

The river flowed cool and easy, with riffles and rapids around each bend. There was barely a breeze. The sky was sunshine bright blue. Puffy white clouds, high rocky crags, and riverside trees offered just enough shade.

By journey’s end, Rick had caught his share of fish, and lost twice as many. For him, it seemed casting was easier than catching. Ron complimented him, saying, “Rick, you’ve developed a natural pause on your back cast.” Rick only nodded and talked about coming back to fish next spring. I think he’s catching on.

Big Hole River, Fly Fishing

Ron, doing his own thing – hoping for a bite on the Big Hole River.

Making Memories with Family
August 23-27, 2014

Arctic Grayling, Big Hole River

Fluvial Arctic Grayling, Big Hole River

We caught (and released) this very special Fluvial Arctic Grayling in the Big Hole River on a #16 bead head pheasant tail nymph.

Grayling from the Big Hole River! We caught this little gem (on a #16 bead head pheasant tail nymph) between Jerry Creek and George Grant Memorial on the Big Hole River. This is just the second Arctic Grayling I’ve had the pleasure to catch and release.

At this time, the last viable native populations of these Fluvial (river-dwelling) Arctic Grayling are found only in the Upper Big Hole River, so they are extremely special trout. Their outstanding characteristics are the large sail-like dorsal fin and black spots on the body.

For the past many years, they’ve been considered for the Endangered Species List, but through cooperative efforts their numbers have been sufficiently restored, according to the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service.

Trout Tuesday, Big Hole River Brown Trout

German Brown Trout, Big Hole River

Spots of a German Brown Trout.

There are two types of brown trout in Montana – the German Brown and Scotland’s Loch Leven. Ron says German Browns have black spots as well as red or orange spots, often encircled by pale halos. Loch Leven do not have colored spots.

The territories of these two strains are also different. Again according to Ron, both can be found East of the Continental Divide, but only the German Brown can be found West of the Divide.

When I asked Ron how he knows all this he just said, “Well, I was born and raised in Montana!”

German Brown Trout, Big Hole River

German Brown Trout caught and released on the Big Hole River.

Trout Bums on the Big Hole River

Big Hole River

Big Hole River in July.

We had a couple of weekends in July when we fished the Big Hole River hard on Friday, caught our breath on Saturday, then hit it again on Sunday.

We “endured” heat, cold, wind, mosquitos, and even some periods of slow fishing.

We saw a gaggle of geese riding out low water rapids like buoyant little boats holding their heads high.

We traveled with three fly rods loaded with streamers, nymphs, and a dry/dropper combo.

We hit a spot one day, 50 yards from put in, where we landed over ten fish – boom, boom, boom.

There was the one cast I’ll never forget. Ron was on the oars through a string of rapids. I was up front, looking, casting, holding on. I threw behind a large bounder, and the fly landed perfectly. Oh it was like an impeccable 300 yard drive on the golf course. But this one was smacked by a mighty brown trout, and the fun was only beginning! The hope, then pride, then excitement. The appreciation of beauty and ultimate understanding that we were simply at the right place, at the right time, with the right everything …

We go to the river to feed something intrinsic within us. The fact that fly fishing offers eternal hope and a thrilling challenge only makes the water that much more alluring. It is a miracle everyone in the world is not a trout bum!

Big Hole River Brown Trout

A handsome Big Hole River brown trout caught on the cast of 1,000 dreams!

Rough Start to an Epic Night of Fishing on the Big Hole River

Editor’s Note: To our surprise, one of our friends wrote the following story about his own outdoor adventure on the Big Hole River with Ron a couple of years back.

Rough Start to an Epic Night of Fishing
By Jeremey Conlan, 06/11/14

The night started a couple of days before, in the lunch room at work. Ron Watt, Chad Heath and I decided to go fishing on the Big Hole. We were going to go right after work, so at 5:30 we set off for some fly fishing and floating.

The evening began with Ron’s first experience with Twisted Tea. Most people who live in Butte know how far it is from Butte to Maiden Rock access on the Big Hole. The drive does not take too long, so when Ron was on his fifth Twisted Tea, I knew it was going to be a good night.

As we pulled up to the Maiden Rock put in, after a long shuttle, and feeling pretty good, we got out to get the raft ready. The moment we stepped out of the truck the mosquitoes were thick, so we were hurrying to get the boat in the river. After a run and gun session, we were ready to push off. Ron climbed in to row and Chad jumped in the back. Ron grabbed the oar to get it in the water and smacked Chad in the back of the head knocking his sun glasses off. I almost pissed my pants I was laughing so hard. After a long laugh we were off, and within 50 yards it was fish on! I had caught the first fish of the night – a vibrant-colored rainbow.

Green drake hook in ring finger. Ouch!

Green drake hook in ring finger. Ouch!

As we floated another 150 yards, Chad and I were mid-cast when Chad’s green drake hook landed in my ring finger. As he went to back cast, I tried to grab the line so my finger wouldn’t get ripped off. Calmly I said, “Look at this Ron,” and he busted out laughing. To the bank we went, all three of us laughing – them more than me. But it was still funny until Ron asked Chad if he pinched the barb. The look on Chad’s face was priceless – let’s just say the barb was not pinched. So we tried to push the hook through, but it was buried in my knuckle. Ron said, “I know how to get it out.”

Hook Removal Technique

As he explained how we were going to remove the hook I thought to myself, “No way that will work.” Chad was all for it because it involved him pulling as hard as he could. This is how it was going to go – Ron was going to push down on the barb in my finger with some hemostats, Chad had 20 lbs. line around the butt end of the hook, and on the count of three Chad was to pull. I was certain that this was a bad idea. After a long drink of Twisted Tea the countdown began. “One, two,” and Chad pulled, no three, just pulled. The hook popped right out, no blood, nothing. It was pretty cool. After another Twisted Tea we were back on the river. *

We floated for about half an hour with not much action with the green drakes. Ron pulled to the side. “It’s time to change the flies out,” he said. He handed Chad and I a fly I have never seen before, and he called it a “purple chubby.” After we tied the PC on we started down the river, and let me tell you it was epic. It was like someone turned the light switch on. We were hooking fish left and right. It was unreal.

We came around a bend and there was a straight stretch in the river. Ron said, “Throw to the bank, just about a foot off.” Chad and I threw to the bank, and at the same time, fish hit both. Ron yelled, “Set!” but we came up with nothing, so we cast back to the bank. Within seconds two hits again, and again nothing. This went on for about five more casts. For about 200 yards we cast, the fish would hit, we would try to set, but nothing! Then quiet. All we heard was, “You two are @#$! killing me.” We had missed every fish in that stretch, and Ron was about to kill us. So we gave him another Twisted Tea and kept going.

We hammered the fish until dusk. As we floated in the twilight, Chad was turned around in the seat with his line behind the boat. In the darkness all you could hear was splash! He yelled, “Fish on!” This was the biggest fish of the night – a big fat brown!

That was the best fishing I have ever experienced. Being on the river with Ron is like playing poker and knowing the other people’s hands. He knows what to fish with and where to be. It’s like watching Picasso paint, a true artist. When I say epic that’s what it was – good friends, great fishing, and Twisted Tea. Could it get any better?!

Big Hole River brown trout

Chad with a Big Hole River brown trout.

* Never try this hook removal technique if hook is in the head or face area. Under those circumstances, see a medical professional. Also, it is a good idea to always wear some kind of eye protection when fly fishing!


Early June Fishing on the Upper Big Hole River

Upper Big Hole River

Fishing on the upper Big Hole River in June.

This time of year, the Big Hole River is still running full, fast and dirty down low. Higher up, though, there’s a good probability that some hungry trout are holding in the slower waters near the bank. The salmonfly hatch will be popping any day now, too, so Ron and I figured we’d best get out there and see who’s taking what where.

Last Friday, we floated 11.6 miles from East Bank to Jerry Creek. We threw everything at ‘em – stonefly nymphs, San Juan worms, streamers, wooly buggers, bead headed pheasant tails – but it was a slow day. Eight fish in all – four white fish and four lovely little rainbows.

Nothing of great size … oh, except for the one that got away. Ron is still talking about a 20” brown he saw take my fly. As the line zipped out, Ron couldn’t slow the boat in the fast current. I let the fish have his head too long, and soon enough that wily old bugger just spit the hook out.

Upper Big Hole River

Big Hole River between Jerry Creek and George Grant Memorial accesses.

Sunday we were back at it, on another stretch – 4.1 miles from Jerry Creek to George Grant Memorial. We milked this short float for all we were worth and made a six hour trip of it in high water. That’s probably why, again trying a number of different bugs, we caught 14 fish. Only a couple of white fish in this section, mostly rainbows and a couple of browns. Again, nothing of great size, but a good time nonetheless.

Ron’s out again tonight, scouting the section between Divide and Maiden Rock. I’m pretty sure, since I’m not aboard, it’ll be a hundred fish night!

George Grant Memorial access on the Big Hole River.

Waiting for our shuttle at George Grant Memorial access on the Big Hole River.