Montana rivers hit primetime in fall

fly fishing rainbow trout

With glowing yellow orbs and mid-70s in the forecast, we hatched a weekend plan. Off to the Yellowstone we’d go, camping on islands along the way, somewhere between Gardiner and Livingston. T

he cooler was stocked, raft rigged, fishing friends alerted about rendezvous points, when suddenly a U-turn was necessary. A glance at the Yellowstone webcam showed muddy waters from a quick and furious rainstorm the day before. The mud plug would likely take a few days to clear out, so we needed an alternate plan. One of the innumerable beauties of living in Montana is that plan b is just as good as plan a. Thus, plan b came to be.

We set out on an hour-and-a-half drive from Bozeman to Madison County though the golden hours of early evening. Driving past rolling fields of fresh cut and baled hay, dozens of antelope, and the mighty Madison River (the next day’s destination) that mirrored the sun’s glow in its clear blueness, we arrived at the Grizzly Bar and Grill. The last thing I expected from this fishermen and locals’ favorite was an array of gluten-free options but there I was, devouring a gf beer and burger (bun) while my husband enjoyed the more savory versions. Afterward, we set up camp at nearby Wade Lake.

In the morning, we trolled the lake with a bait caster and sinking line, hoping to find a long lost descendent of the legendary, state-record 29-pound brown trout caught in 1966. No such luck. But 10-14 inch, naturally produced browns are always nice too. At midday we left the tropical colored waters of Cliff and Wade Lakes to get to the Madison for a late afternoon float. We headed back north, making a quick stop at Beartooth Fly Fishing to set up our shuttle from Burnt Tree to Clute’s. Luckily, the jaunt took us through Ennis, which meant a milk shake at Yesterday’s Soda Fountain.
With yellow aspens and orange scrub oak above and browns lurking below, all our senses were heightened.

Throwing streamers in the bigger waters and dries in the smaller channels, we brought in some nice-sized browns. The biggest surprise was a healthy rainbow that must have made its way up from Ennis Lake.
One thing that made this glistening day unique was the route itself—rowing from the calm waters of the Madison into the more lively Ennis Lake was exciting, not to mention expansive views at the end of the day. By exciting I mean wind, waves and both of us on the oars—one pushing, one pulling—into the home stretch of Clute’s Landing. Our dog’s ears can tell the end of the story.

girl  fishing in boat

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