The last leg of my trip was located in the Wise River Valley in southwest Montana, 12 miles off the highway. After I crossed the meandering Wise River, I pulled up to Big Hole Lodge, which is beautifully tucked in the base of the Pioneer Mountains. The founder, Craig Fellin bought the scenic piece of property surrounded by the national forest in 1984, originally accommodating just two clients. Today, the lodge has grown to hold 8 – 12 guests and has won Orvis Endorsed Fly Fishing Lodge of the Year in 2017 and was a finalist in 2016.
I was shown to my accommodations in the Beaverhead Cabin at Big Hole Lodge, a rustic lodge pole duplex that overlooks the dining area. The Beaverhead has a large outside deck, perfect for enjoying a cigar or sipping on wine that is provided in the mini fridge. Once I was settled in, I headed over to enjoy happy hour. I met Craig on the back porch; we shared fishing stories over a Big Sky IPA, fresh homemade salsa and chips followed by a fantastic dinner.
My first day was on the Big Hole River with my guide, Travis. I had the intention to fish streamers until we started to see noses sipping tricos. However, it wasn’t long until I put the streamer rod down and picked up my rod rigged with a ten foot leader. The trico hatch was earlier than we expected it to start, not that I was complaining. As we floated through a nice run, with a half of dozen fish to the boat, the hatch was in full force. Travis let down the anchor in the softest section of the run and I started looking for rising fish. For the next hour and half, we never picked up the anchor. There were so many rising fish, that if you got a refusal at the beginning of the drift, at least two other fish would give it a look or eat. After a tremendous trico hatch morning, we switched to terrestrials. Hoppers and ants were the best bet the rest of the float.
After a perfect dinner I talked to Wade, Craig’s son, to get an idea of what he had in store for me the next day. We decided to make the two hour drive to the West Fork of the Bitterroot River. Wade had fished it a couple of days before and referred to it as “bonkers.” The drive to the river went by in a flash as we compared and contrasted what our home fisheries are like. Wade has a similar story as myself, when it comes to fly fishing. Wade grew up on the water, being taught by his father, which I can relate to. Most adults think of fly fishing as an older generation sport, although we both agreed that is not the case. There is a new generation of fishermen, who are willing to push the limits and think outside of the box, and we are glad to be a part of it.
Once on the water, it took some time to figure out what the fish wanted. With Wade talking up his float from a couple of days, I thought this was going to be a “should have been here yesterday” moment. We eventually strung up a pair of dries that got the job done. After a great morning, in the afternoon we pulled over for lunch along a small feeder stream. As we pulled in, a herd of elk crossed just 30 yards from us, it was a sight to see.
The remainder of the float was full of action, Wade and I lost count after getting 20 fish to the boat. As the take out came in view and the best fishing day of my trip came to an end, I realized that the fishing was only a portion of what made this day on the water so great. Wade and I are close in age, but not in location, but we both had one thing in common. Our fathers introduced us into fly fishing at a very young age and because of that, we could share fishing stories and why we love spending time on the water until we are blue in the face. This was Wade’s first year taking over the lodge from his father and I am glad I got to spend a day on the water with him. I was honored to be able to fish with Wade, especially now that he manages the legacy that his father passed on to him. It was a perfect way to end my travels.
By: Derek Hathazy