A Common Name for a Not so Common River – The Smith

With today’s technology constantly expanding, it is getting harder to totally unplug while on the water. Isn’t that one of the reasons why most of us fish? To let our minds wander away from sales, calls, emails, and texts—it often feels therapeutic. Now, imagine being unplugged for over four days while experiencing the best scenery Montana has to offer. Oh, and the fishing is pretty good, too. Myself and Frontiers Marketing Manager, Anthony Conti, joined one of the four-night/five-day floats that Lewis and Clark Outfitters launched in mid-June with five other anglers of various ages from all over the country. There is 59 miles of blue-ribbon trout fishing and no cell or Wi-Fi service, just what the doctor ordered.

This float trip launches at Camp Baker (two hours northeast of Helena, MT) and ends at the bridge in Eden (30 minutes south of Great Falls, MT). The Smith River flows south to north and borders Lewis and Clark National Forest. The Smith is a regulated river and has a limited number of permits, making this trip highly sought-after by a great number of fishermen and campers. The float takes eight anglers, four fishing guides, and three gear boaters.

Each day, we woke up to birds chirping, the sound of the river right outside our tent, and feeling refreshed. This was often my favorite part of each day—enjoying a warm cup of coffee and watching nature come to life as the sun started peaking over the tall canyon walls. Breakfast typically consisted of fresh fruit, eggs, blueberry pancakes, thick bacon, and French toast as we identified birds that would sit perched above us or other wildlife that would pass through. After breakfast, anglers, guides, and gear boaters packed up and started the extremely scenic 10-16 mile float to the next campsite.

Once on the water, we had consistent dry fly fishing for about two hours and then would switch to subsurface tactics with streamers and nymphs. Fish were often holding tight to the canyon walls, so flies had to be presented within 6” of the rock face. The fish would typically eat the dries very early in the drift, as they don’t have much time to decide whether or not to let a meal pass by! We had most of our dry fly success with yellow sallies and salmon flies. After the dry fly fishing slowed down, a rubber-legged stonefly under an indicator would typically move fish in all the susceptible water (riffles, pools, and drop-offs).

As with any trout stream, fishing tended to slow down mid-day once the sun was directly overhead. Instead of continuing downriver, our group would meet for lunch onshore and discuss the first half of the day over wine, crackers, and sandwiches. By the time we finished eating, the fishing would start to pick up again. In fact, the streamer bite in the afternoon was frequently great! Targeting the edge of fast/slow water was the name of the game. Most of the fish that wanted a larger meal were browns in the range of 16”-20” with some bigger ones in the mix.

At the end of each day on the water (5-6 p.m.), guides would anchor at the banks of the next campsite, which the gear boaters already established by floating ahead of the fishing guides. Once on land, we chose our tents, freshened up, and sat around the fire, observing the locals (mule deer, bald eagles, golden eagles, western tanagers, swallows, and owls). We then enjoyed a flawlessly prepared riverside dinner and dessert.  My favorite meal was a large steak that was grilled to perfection over the open campfire. After dinner, everyone would slowly make their way back to their tents to prepare for the next day on the water and a restful night’s sleep.

The massive canyon walls, wildlife, and fishing, obviously makes for an unforgettable experience. However, the fact that no one could check emails or make phone calls played an equal role in what made the trip so enjoyable. There were plenty of times throughout the trip when I had no idea where my phone was (safely packed in my dry bag), and it was great! Not being accessible by phone for five days of fishing and four nights of camping reminded me to enjoy my surroundings and enjoy Mother Nature at its best.