Monday, August 1, 2016

Off My Chain

Attempting to migrate past Hungry Horse reservoir
I got up at 5 AM Sunday morning and drove 2.5 miles away to the Middle Fork of the Flathead River for casting practice.  On the way back to the Mobile Hotel®, I stopped for milk and donuts.  The Offspring were already eating when I returned so I showered and finished my coffee.  When I saw the bottom of my mug, the Warden Mrs. Fading Angler arrived with news: parole was granted, I was free to take the truck and leave for a day of solo angling.

My plan was to take a LOOONG drive (nearly 3 hours each way): the South Fork of the Flathead River.  This river flows from the Bob Marshall Wilderness northward into Hungry Horse reservoir.  The Hungry Horse dam prevents rainbow trout, brown trout and other invasive non-native species from migrating up into this fork, protecting the native West Slope Cutthroat trout and also native but endangered Bull trout.  I'm a bit of a purist: Scotch should be single malt, trout should be native.

This water is color magic
(Click any photo to enlarge)

I sought counsel from the experts at the Glacier Outdoor Center.  I shared my plan, asking if there was a better option that didn't involve crowds (some Flathead River access points had been overflowing with more than 75 vehicles parked.  I was advised to stick with my plan, to avoid people (always a plus!)  When I asked for pattern advice, my advisor made it simple: think big, red, and fluffy.  I procured a few flies fitting that description and embarked on the 3 hour trek past Hungry Horse reservoir.

Many Forest Service roads resemble a gravel goat path carved precariously into the steep face of a mountainside.  From my youth, I learned two rules of survival on these roads:
  1. You must be able to stop in half of your visible distance (probably less, since the @$$#*&% hauling the fifth-wheel around the corner in the MIDDLE of the road had no intention of slowing.)
  2. Never force the vehicle on the outside to crowd the should (hear that, idiot camper hauler?!?!?)
I also learned that anyplace worth going was at least 2 hours away.  Still true.  It's late, so I'll keep the dialog to a minimum from here.

How am I gonna get down there?
There were no well-trodden angler trails here, just pack trails that go nowhere near the water.  I had to bushwhack quite a bit, resulting in lots of little leg cuts and one nasty fall.  There was some sliding involved, and even a bit of rock wall scaling.  I guess I am still the same stupid kid I was 20 years ago...
Notice the reverse S-shape?  I wonder where that came from?

Sage reels have made a impression on me...

Down in the canyon

It doesn't take much depth to bring out the turquoise color
Take a closer look at the photos of my first catch.
Cutthroat trout live a hazardous life here, due to hungry Bull trout

Look close - this wild, native specimen is wearing a nametag:
"Hello, my name is Lucky"
Go easy on me.  It's my first trout selfie, and the right hand is the Parkinson's hand
Another cutthroat customer

Who says Mother Nature doesn't paint in straight lines?
In the tradition of the Maclean boys, I sank a beer to chill
on the hike upstream, for later refreshment


  1. Now that's what I call epic my friend. I thoroughly enjoyed the guided trip...and fall. Pardon the pun. That is certainly God's country Chris. Take care, don't do dumb things and I await the rest of the story.

  2. The man sitting next to that river is enjoying a conflicting moment. He understands that at that moment, he's the luckiest man alive. He also knows he'll probably never be able to make the hike again.

    But he did it!

  3. That is some awesome country to be exploring for sure. I doubt if the hike down would have been easy on me either. But, the rewards are those beautiful fish you landed. Great idea to take some time and soak in the whole experience!

    1. I think you nailed it, Mel. I drove six hours roundtrip not for half-dozen smallish trout, but for a unique experience. I'm not usually the type who's confortable exploring on his own, but something inside me said that's where I needed to be that day.

  4. Nice report and photos. I especially liked the selfy or the "selfish" as I like to call them. I'm looking forward to our rendezvous in the Bighorns next week.

    1. Me, too, Eddie. Very cool that a couple of folks from Minnesota randomly end up on the same small water in Wyoming on independent vacations!

      I'm trying hard to duplicate your selfie techniques, but it will take decades to reach that level of mastery...