Trip Report The first trip report-check out the reply at the bottom

Apr 30, 2003
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Chris, Sparse Grey Hackle, and I just got back from an awesome trip to Montana. The trip was six days and due to the pre run-off conditions, we were forced to do a lot of driving between rivers. The original plan for the trip was to set up base camp in Dillon and fish the Beaverhead, Big Hole, Poindexter Slough, and Ruby River. However, the trophy sections of the Big Hole and Beaverhead were closed, and the water levels on those two rivers were largely unpredictable. We made due instead.


Day 1: Driving, 9 ½ hours to Missouri River, night fishing on the Missouri, no fish caught.
Day 2: Float trip Missouri, caught around 15 fish, dries and nymphs, hooked a big fish but lost it.
Day 3: Float trip Missouri (upper section), the fishing was average, Chris landed a 23” brown, I caught some nice bows.
Day 4: Bear Trap Canyon, Madison River, caught a few fish, hooked and lost a big dog. Sparse and Chris did well fishing skinny water.
Day 5: De Puys Spring Creek, awesome fishing, fished a dry all day, landed 5 fish to 18” (bows), broke off 7 fish on 7x, LDRed 5 fish.
Day 6: Fished Warm Springs on the way home, multiple 18” browns, one 22” brown, one 24” brown, Sparse landed a bow over 26”.


Day 1

Met Sparse at Ellensburg and left Ellensburg heading East at 11:00 AM. I slept through most of the drive to Missoula as I had worked the night before. Stopped in at the Kingfisher fly shop in Missoula to pick up flies and materials. Met up with Mike Hillygus from High Plains Drifters and talked about some patterns and techniques for the Missouri. Got to our campground at Mid-Canyon on the Missouri at around 9:30 PM or so. Camping fees were $7 per night, and the campground was primitive, but great. Luckily I had brought some firewood, as there was none to be found, and nowhere to buy it at that time of night. We night-fished for about two hours or so, swinging large streamers, but had no luck.

Day 2
Missouri River

We were supposed to meet up with Mike to do a float, and we wade fished in front of the campground while waiting. I landed a brown around 16” on a double nymph rig. Mike showed up around 1:30 pm and said he couldn’t do the float as he was settling on some property for building a lodge. Chris had brought two pontoon boats with him, and since I am looking into buying a Water Master, he dropped off his proto-type Water Master for me to use. We floated from the campground down to the next take-out, which I can’t recall the name of. Mike drove us along the stretch and pointed out some good water, which side of the river to be on, etc. We found a large female bull snake that Mike kept to breed with his males at home. While driving up to the pull-out, we found a huge pod of fish rising, but managed to contain ourselves long enough to get the boats and put in.

Just above the first bridge we found a huge pod of fish rising to BWOs. I managed to jump off a nice bow and miss a few strikes, but landed only one dink around 8”. Downriver we found an island and pulled off. I caught a nice bow around 16” on a Skwala pattern at the top of the island, then moved to the bottom of the island. I grabbed my six weight rigged with a double nymph rig, a size 22 red brassie and size 20 regular brassie. On the first cast into a nice current seam, the indicator went down, I set the hook, and though I was snagged. Then the snag proceeded to slowly swim away; I felt the weight just long enough before the tiny hook pulled. I landed a total of around four or five fish out of that seam, mostly bows and one whitefish with a cherry red cheek. Sparse and Chris moved down and fished, Chris caught a nice bow swinging a streamer through the seam.

Then next mile or so of the drift went pretty quick, switching back and forth along fast flowing banks. The Missouri can be at times a huge river, and with so much water to cover, it can be daunting. On a rocky bank of the river I found a large fish rising, pulled the boat over, walked back upstream, made one cast, hooked and landed an 18” bow. The rainbows in the Missouri were very long, but very skinny, mainly because most of the fish were just done spawning. We were told we wouldn’t catch any rainbows because they were all spawning, but that’s pretty much all we caught. Chris picked up a couple of fish working a streamer along the rocky bank.

Under another bridge, we came to a large island in a slack water. The fish were on the surface and the pods of fish feeding was amazing; you could look at the current seam and see fifteen rings at one time. I landed another three or four bows on a BWO parachute pattern, before heading downstream. Sparse and Chris stayed at the island, parked their boats, and walked around to fish. They apparently caught quite a few fish.

Most of the rest of the float I was by myself, and the river got quite large, closer even to huge. I sat back in the Water Master and floated silently along, playing with the boat to see what it would do. Getting used to fishing with fins was difficult. I found to large log jams that created eddies, and managed to catch a few ‘bows sight casting to rising fish. The rest of the float was generally uneventful for me, I worked nymphs and streamers and couldn’t find anymore rising fish. Chris landed a nice brown, and Sparse managed a couple while dead drifting a wooly bugger.

Day 3
Missouri River

We decided to do the upper float from the Dam to the town of Craig. After getting our usual late start, we hit the water around noon. While pulling line out through his rod, Sparse’s loaner Scott S3 (his last rod was broken and hadn’t been replaced in time for the trip, so Scott had sent him a loaner) exploded near the tip. Not a good way to start out the float! Chris lent him his 3 weight custom rod.

Shortly after leaving the boat launch below the dam, we floated towards a large log jam. The spot was so perfect, and I told Chris, who was in front of me, “There is going to be a big brown there.” We were both rigged with large streamers, and Chris was soon hooked up to a large fish. We pulled over to land it, and I somehow caught a photo of the fish tail walking! It was a nice brown around 22-23”, in excellent condition and beautiful colors. I thought someone said browns don’t jump?

The next few miles of the float were decent water, just large and intimidating to fish for those of us that are used to smaller streams and rivers. Sparse landed a bow and hooked into a few, but otherwise it was slow for a few miles. I was starting to get a bit annoyed with attempting to cast into the incredible wind and trying to control the boat from being blown off the water. I finally drifted into a back eddy with a large pod of rising fish, and managed to land three rainbows on a dry, but that as about it for fish for us for the day. The rest of the float was long, with some nice sections but generally a lot of large flowing currents. We fished streamers a bit but mostly just paddled downstream in the wind. We made it back to the pull-out just in time to unpack with a little bit of light, and that’s when Sparse broke the news to Chris. He had been casting a double nymph rig with the three weight, and it had shattered. I was amazed with how well Chris handled the whole situation, he just blew it off and made a joke about it. In Sparse’s defense, he wasn’t doing anything with the 3 weight he shouldn’t have, he was just casting it and it broke. Bad luck!

After packing up Chris’s suburban, we drove back to camp, packed up, and headed towards the Madison. Along the way we stopped in at Helena and searched for firewood, but couldn’t find a single stick anywhere. The trip from Mid-Canyon to Ennis took about 2 ½ hours, give or take, but we stopped for dinner at Burger King along the way, and I didn’t write down the mileage. We camped at the Ennis campground just across the bridge from town.

Day 4
Bear Trap Canyon, Madison River

It was snowing as we broke camp and drove into Ennis to find a fly shop. We had hoped to float the Ennis Campground to Ennis Lake on a tip from David Keller of Water Master. When we stopped in at the Madison River Fishing Company, however, they informed us that that section of the Upper Madison was closed. Instead we decided to head back down to the Bear Trip Canyon and fish that section. After a big breakfast at Aunt Jenny’s, we headed back in the direction we had come.

As we strung our rods in the parking lot at the entrance to the Lee Metcalf Wilderness area, none of us knew what to expect. We had heard that if the weather held, we would find a large blue wing olive hatch, but with the wind the way it was developing, we rigged up double nymph rigs. As we began hiking the trail into the canyon, the snow began to fall, and the deeper into the canyon we went, the harder it came. After two minutes of walking, we’d have to knock the layer of snow off of the front of our jackets. Chris, unfortunately, had forgotten his rain jacket, and despite the fact that his fleece was starting to soak threw, we continued deeper.

After we deemed we had walked a considerable distance more than most people probably would have, we began fishing. The Madison through the canyon is fast, high gradient pocket water. On my first cast into a large pocket, the indicator hesitated, I set the hook, and was tied into a large fish. I never saw it, but managed to get it on the reel, got the leader wound up to the first guide, and the hook pulled.

We worked our way upstream through pocket water, I landed a small bow, Chris broke off two large fish and landed a couple, and Sparse tied into a few. We fished until the large boulders that were forming the pocket disappeared and the water became undefined. We hiked further into the canyon, despite the late hour, in the driving snow. As we reached the confluence of the Madison River and Bear Trap Creek, we found a couple huddled around a fire, and joined them for a few minutes to thaw our hands.

Soon after, fishing where the creek dumped into the main river, the snow stopped and the sun came out. Chris commented how he thought that it wouldn’t snow hard again, and within 15 minutes we were in complete white-out again.

The hike out was three miles long and we got back to the truck about an hour before sunset. We drove further east through Bozeman, across the pass, and into Livingston, MT. The only campground marked on the map in the Paradise Valley was Pine Creek, we wound our way up into the mountains on the east side of the Yellowstone River, only to find the campground closed and all the sites close to the road full. Back down in the valley, we found a KOA close to the river and paid the $15 per night fee.

Day 5
De Puy’s Spring Creek

My alarm went off at 5:30 am, and I somehow managed to drag myself out of my tent and into the frozen morning. Ok, I’m exaggerating. It was beyond frozen. After a couple of cups of coffee, breaking camp, and running to the ATM in Livingston, we arrived at the De Puy ranch around 7:30 am. As we followed the driveway down to the massive white mansion, it was hard not to feel like you were entering a sanctuary or sorts. In front of the large white house was a large pond, which was actually just a dammed section of the creek.

While we signed a waiver and the guest book, we were informed that only one other angler was booked to fish the creek for the day. I was ecstatic at that news, as De Puy’s has a rod limit of 16 rods per day, and is often booked out. On a tip from Mrs. De Puy, we headed to the lower creek for the morning.

I started with a size 20 Bead Head Pheasant Tail with a CDC wing, with a size 22 Miracle Midge below it. I added one small piece of split shot, and an orange pinch on indicator. I began working some nice looking shallow riffle water, and saw a small brown rise to something on a beautiful looking seam. The creek in the lower section was fast flowing, and looking like a cross between a freestone stream and a spring creek. The bottom of the stream had patches of bright green grass, yet the majority of the stream bottom was a medium size rock substrate.

The morning was perfect, and more beautiful than I could have asked for. The sky was clear blue and the Absoraka mountain range sparkled brilliantly with fresh snow. We explored downstream, and I found a large back eddy with a perfectly round island in the middle. We saw a few fish rise in the back eddy, and I knew it would be a great place to catch a midge hatch. I didn’t make it too much further downstream before the sun warmed the water enough to trigger the midge hatch. I stood on the remnants of an old road bed, smoking, watching the trout rise sporadically. Carefully I re-rigged, double checked all my knots, stretched, and mentally prepared myself. My pattern of choice was a size 22 Black Midge pattern, and I decided to keep with a single fly.

In order to find a decent position to cast to the fish from, I had to walk all the way around the entire back eddy, through the cattails and mud. This took about 15 minutes, but I finally made my way to the back side of the island, breaking fresh ice off the shallow water as I did. Creeping up on hands and knees, I got a fright as a large goose jumped up; she was protecting her nest on top of the island. I held my ground, mainly because it was the only shelter I could find, and she flew to the other side of the pool and proceeded to make a heck of a lot of noise.

The feeding trout were in such shallow water they left v-shaped wakes behind them as they cruised the flats. I sat and watched for so long one of my legs fell asleep, but finally I found one fish rising consistently, daintily sipping, his nose breaking the surface but hardly making a ring. On the fifth careful cast, the nose smothered my fly, and I set the hook. It was a beautiful bow of around 18”, and I yelled for Chris and Sparse to take a photo, but they never came. A great warm feeling came over me: I had caught a fish on one of the top technical dry fly waters in the world. I had stalked this fish for over a half and hour, and I had one. Shortly after releasing him, I was stripping the midge back towards me when I hooked and immediately jumped off another ‘bow of around 16”.

We drove back down the highway to the entrance to the Upper Creek, where Buzz Basini had his fly shop, the Spring Creek Specialist. I was eager to meet Buzz, as I had talked to him via email quite a bit, and we all needed to buy some flies and provisions.

Buzz was standing at the back of his truck when we pulled up, sorting through his fishing gear. His shop was small, but filled with toys, most of them fly patterns. He has the good fortune of being able to fish the creek every day of the year, and consequently has developed quite a few fly patterns specifically for the midge and baetis hatches. After dropping $50 and collecting a wealth of knowledge from Buzz, I decided to head up to the PHD pool, where we had seen rising fish on the way in. The PHD pool is world famous for it’s technical fishing, the water in the pool flows slowly, is crystal clear, and the fish are exceedingly spooky. Sparse headed downstream to nymph some riffles, while Chris followed me up to watch as he re-rigged. I was fishing a size 22 CDC Comparadun Biot Baetis, one of Buzz’s favorites for both midges and beatis. On the third cast I hooked and immediately broke off a nice fish that I was sight casting to. Shortly after, I broke off another one. When you’ve been fishing heavy tippets all winter, it can be hard to get used to how light 7x tippet is. Not feeling confident anymore in the Airflo tippet I was using, I borrowed some of Chris’s Rio fluorocarbon.

As I slowly creeped up the pool, I found another fish rising consistently, and managed to hook and land him. He wasn’t particularly large, maybe 15-16”, but was a beautiful yellowish color. I spent the next hour or two casting to one particular fish that kept consistently rising every 5 seconds or so. I managed to pull the hook out of his mouth three times, but never put a hook in him.

About this time the sun was getting hot and I was getting hungry. Frustration was also part of it, these fish were certainly more technical than anything else I’ve ever seen, even the brown trout taking trico spinners in Cheesman Canyon on the South Platte River in Colorado. Back at the truck I had a quick lunch and a beer, and Chris and I headed downstream to find some more rising fish. Along the way, we passed the other angler on the water, and also stopped to talk to Buzz, who said he had landed a few and broken one off. The water continued at a decent pace, but the current was unbroken and unbelievable smooth. Fish rose everywhere, the water was no more than a foot deep and with polarized glasses and bright sunlight, it was sight casting to rising fish, my favorite type of fishing.

A couple of thousand casts later, I had broken off five fish, pulled the hook out on four, and landed one medium sized rainbow. One particularly large trout had bugged me for the last three hours, and I finally hooked him on a small turkey biot winged midge pattern. As soon as I set the hook, he came straight out of the air and spit the hook. I was crushed.

Chris was having similar problems just twenty feet away from me: he broke off several fish and pulled the hook on a few. 7x tippet is more fragile than you think, but he finally managed to land a fat rainbow that gave him a huge fight, even on his five weight. Sparse had taken off downstream to explore, and I finally had lost all my good midge patterns to cattails and trout. I headed back to the truck, only to find Buzz’s shop closed, so had a beer instead. It was so warm I had to remove my waders and take off a few layers, I also noticed the other angler had left. We were alone on De Puy’s.

Soon Chris walked up, and we drove down to get Sparse. We explored the upper section of the creek above the PHD pool, up to the O’Hare Ranch property line and the beginning of Armstrong’s Spring Creek. There wasn’t much activity and we didn’t feel like nymphing, so we headed downstream to the middle section. De Puy’s is three miles long, and has excellent access along its entire banks. The middle section was over run by the Yellowstone River during the ’96 flood, and the De Puy’s got permission from the Army Corp of Engineers to rebuild the banks.

We parked at the Angler’s Hut and soon after walking down to the stream, I found fish rising. Sparse and Chris continued upstream, I sat down on some dead fall and watched the water. Luckily, a break in the wind came, and the fish began to rise consistently. I tied on a size 20 Adams, clipped it into a Thorax tie, and began making casts over the rising fish, trying to time a few of the larger looking ones. After about twenty casts or so, a fish finally took, and I landed another 16” bow. Sparse and I explored the upstream section that along the rebuilt banks and the upper beaver dam, when we returned just before dark we found Chris hooked into a fish he’d taken on a nymph. We snapped some photos, jumped in the truck, and drove back to the pond in front of the mansion to try and catch a midge hatch.

The pond was full of rings when we pulled up. Float tubing is allowed, but unfortunately none of us had a tube, and we didn’t have enough time to assemble the pontoon boats. I started off casting my tiny adams to rising fish, but soon became bored with waiting. Switching to a small black bunny leech, I began casting to rings and stripping when it hit the water, a technique that had worked well for me in the past. Sparse walked around the western side of the lake, and I eventually joined up with Chris on the dam, sight casting to some large rainbows.

Chris eventually gave up and headed back to the truck. Thinking that these fish had probably never seen an Olive Willy, I tied one on with a small piece of split shot, and on the second cast hooked and landed a nice bow. I was tempted to keep casting, as there was still another fifteen minutes of light left, but I stopped myself. It had been a good day, and I was thirsty.

Our plan was to drive to Warm Springs that night and camp out in the parking lot. Chris had fished it before, it’s a series of settling basins, at the base of the spillway large brown trout collect. It was a bit like Rocky Ford style fishing, but is good for a quick big fish fix. We spent a few hours driving around trying to figure out where the turn-off. While going 90 down a dirt road, the road ended abruptly in a barb wire fence, and Chris luckily managed to stop the suburban three feet from it.

Day 6
Warm Springs

Following the theme with the rest of the trip, it was freezing when we woke up at the parking lot of Warm Springs. Sparse hurried into his waders and rigged his rod, I was much slower about it. It was nice and warm in the truck, and doing any sort of moving at that moment didn’t sound appealing. Shortly after watching Sparse fish for a few minutes, I grabbed my rod and headed down. Chris had said the trout below the spillway were used to eating scuds from the settling basins, so I tied on a size 8 gammarus scud, and a size 16 flash back scud. I used 3x tippet, and placed two pieces of the largest split shot I could find between the two flies. This is a technique that has worked well for me during the winter or while fishing heavily pressured water, the split shot between the two flies keeps them on the bottom, where the fish are.

Shortly after I walked up, Sparse hooked and lost a nice fish. My blood was starting to flow, and I began fishing the faster water looking for fish. Sparse headed downstream to explore the water down there, and I positioned myself on the far side of a hole that Chris had described as the best hole in this stretch. On the first cast I landed a 22” brown, on the second cast I landed a 24” brown. Sparse was downriver outside of shouting range, and Chris and his suburban had mysteriously disappeared. With no one to take the photo, I quickly released the trophy and continued to catch fish. The fishing wasn’t exactly combat fishing, but it was not my style of fishing. Just as Chris had said, it was good for a quick big fish fix and that’s about all.

By the time Sparse returned, I had landed four and jumped off two. Chris came back and began fishing, I landed a few more fish, and Sparse got into a couple. Sparse hooked into a nice fish and pulled the hook, thee casts later he hooked in another large fish. This one, I could tell, was big, very big. When it rolled on the surface, I saw the thickness of his tail, and immediately cross to take a photo. It turned out to be a rainbow, a massive rainbow, and Chris barely managed to get his head in the net. We snapped some photos and quickly released him for someone else to catch. I estimated the fish to be between 27 and 28” and very thick. Sparse wins the Fish of the Trip award.

Driving Times

Keep in mind the average driving speed was between 80 and 90 mph. Yes, we got a ticket on the way home J

Day 1

11:00 AM PST: Left Ellensburg
12:45 PM PST: Passed Harrington Highway 23 exit
1:15 PM PST: Arrived at Spokane
1:30 PM PST: Idaho border
2:35 PM PST: Montana border
4:05 PM PST: Arrived at Kingfisher fly shop, Missoula MT
5:10 PM PST: Left Missoula
5:20 PM PST: Arrived at exit 200 off I-90
7:09 PM PST: Left gas station at exit 200 after talking with Mike Hillygus
8:34 PM PST: Crossed Rogers Pass (subtract 10 minutes for stopping to check out a small trip of the Blackfoot)
8:43 PM PST: Wolf Creek turn off
8:58 PM PST: Turned onto I-15 at Wolf Creek

Day 6

12:30 PM PST: Left Missoula, MT
3:45 PM PST: Coeur D’Alene, ID
4:00 PM PST: Mile marker 298 from Seattle, just outside Spokane
6:00 PM PST: Vantage, stopped for gas
6:45 PM PST: Arrived in Ellensburg


Since I’m trying to save for a big trip, I had to try and do this trip on as tight of a budget as possible. Here were my original estimations before the trip:

Gas $141.75
Food $50.00
Beer $35.00
Camping Fees $10.00
Fishing License $52.00
Rod Fee – Spring Creek $75.00
Shuttle Fees $0.00
Miscellaneous $40.00

Total $403.75

The budget turned out to be pretty spot on. I ended up spending $470.00 total on the trip. The actual cost of the trip was around $420, but at the Spring Creek Specialist Shop on De Puy Spring Creek, I spent $50 on a dozen size 26 midges (despite the fact I had tied three dozen already), replacing lost floatant, and a hat.


Calling Fly Fishing a hobby is like calling Brain Surgery a job.
-Paul Schullery
Ryan Davey

“An invasion of armies can be resisted, but not an idea whose time has come.”

Victor Hugo...
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Idiot Savant
Apr 30, 2003
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Now that, my friend, is a damned fine report, Thanks!


Good things come to those who wade...
"...they were looking for a Cadillac with Tennessee plates..."


Active Member
Great and detailed report. From 2003? I hope those guys are still able to rent and car camp like that in 2020! I remember those days and travel was so much simpler! Even in 2003, I would have blown the budget at the first beer/liquor stop.

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