By: Nick Sciubba, Brooklyn, NY
In the weeks leading up to my brief Montana vacation, I was sure to check the water temperatures and flows on the Big Hole River several times a day like a mad man. I would sit at my desk and daydream, yearning at the thought of immersing myself in the back country of the land adequately titled “the treasure state.” It was worth every second of my abrupt 2:30 am wake up call and seemingly endless subway ride to the airport. I found myself singing the lyrics of renowned mandolin player and songwriter, Mr. Drew Emmitt… “Get me outta this city, take me back where I belong.“ Soon enough, I would be right at home in the Big Sky country.
Listen to the trip theme song: \"Life is better there\"
A landscape painted with enchanting meadows, sprawling foothills and majestic canyon walls, seemingly every aspect of the picturesque Big Hole Valley catches the eye. Whether it was the clear visibility of the mountains in every direction, the free roaming wildlife, the miles upon miles of pristine terrain or simply the spruce trees shuddering in the wind, my experience in Montana left me with simultaneous feelings of tranquility, excitement, intrigue and even bewilderment.
When I arrived, Wade- My good college friend and fishing buddy, was out guiding. I spent a lovely afternoon casting to the tumbling pockets and flat pools of the Wise River. Any easterner will tell you that you’ve found a true gem when wild brook trout like the below are the norm. To have such a gorgeous little stream with such gorgeous fish running through your back yard is truly priceless.
After spending several hours in the water I decided to head back toward the lodge where I was greeted with a wonderful dinner. The first class people at the lodge who provided me with better hospitality than I ever could have asked for will not soon be forgotten.
I saw Wade for the first time in over a year the next morning. After a quick greeting and catching up period, we both expressed the mutual thought…”Let’s go catch some fish!” Lucky for me, Wade is a bit of a mad man himself, and he was eager to show me the Big Hole. That day he successfully conquered roughly twenty miles of water, an ambitious venture at this water level.
I could not have asked for better conditions. Whether it be clouds of tricos in the morning or spruce moths blanketing the canyon, I was optimistic about the thought of landing some nice fish. Shortly after getting situated on the raft I found that the trout were eager for a quick meal, opportunistically rising to my offering. After more missed hook-sets and snapped tippets than I’d care to admit, I eventually caught up to the speed of those vivacious, yet delicate Montana wild trout.
Between tricos in the flats, attractor patterns in the riffles, hoppers and ants along the banks and spruce moths throughout the diverse terrain of the canyon, The Big Hole has the characteristics to entice every type of angler. The canyon particularly was quite impressive, and I was in awe of the number of fish rising.
I sat at the front of the boat, ingesting the scenery as if it were palatable. I took notice of the braids of water slowly trekking towards the Jefferson one cubic foot per second at a time and thought to myself of the big fish that were likely residing within its depths. The plight of my divulgement was often validated upon casting to my desired location, whether I successfully set the hook or not.
Throughout the trip, I was surprised by these guys…
Among the many large and beautifully colored fish, one thing that stood out to me was the rainbow trout in the canyon, most of which had a bright white colored belly that just looked simply gorgeous.
When I decided to take a little break, I’d encourage Wade pick up the rod. With the grace of somebody who has spent more time on the river than on land, he just made things look so effortless.
We awoke bright and early on day two and plotted our plan of action. Wade laid out our options which allowed for an easy decision “We can go here and catch a lot of small fish, we can go there and maybe catch some big fish, but nothing certain… OR we can go right back to the Big Hole and catch a lot of big fish!” We elected that option.
Given the splendor of the canyon on day one, we started right back there and picked up right where we left off. The spruce moths were out and the fish were well aware.
As we pressed on, the inviting allure of the Maiden Rock canyon consumed us. It wasn’t difficult for one to find solace before the presence of the gleaming cliffs that ascended overhead. Here, the characteristics of the river yielded an amicable and seemingly homogenous blend of cascading riffles and long, quaint pools.
As the canyon gradually conceded to a large, serene meadow, the river contained many of the same qualities. Riffles gave way to even larger pools, followed by even larger riffles, illuminated by the Montana sun dancing across the horizon.
As day two came to a close, an opportunistic little ‘bow snatched my offering, and the mild force of my hook set nearly pulled him right into the boat. I quickly removed the hook and tossed him back. I thought to myself “go on, keep growing… I’ll see you when I return next year when you’re much bigger.”