Montana’s Rock Creek is hardly a secret, which is why you’re seeing its name in print (don’t expect similar treatment of upcoming locations).
Rock Creek from the “Hogback” overview. Lots of stones – and trout.
The first stop on the Underground’s Tour of Montana’s Fishy Fleshpots, my fly fishing host [name redacted] and I arrived on Saturday for the last three days in the drift boat season.
Last three days?
On July 1, drift boats are banned from Rock Creek (flows are typically too low to comfortably float anyway), and the river becomes a playground for wading fly fishermen.
Yes Undergrounders, the wildflowers are out. You almost don’t need trout.
While I was just in time for the end of the drift season, I should have been several weeks too late for the stoneflies.
Helpfully, a late winter intervened in my favor, and the salmon flies and Golden Stones were out in force (given all the â€œyou should have been here last weekâ€ stories I’ve heard, I’m accepting this as my due).
The stoneflies were late — good news for me.
In simplest terms, we arrived in big bug heaven.
[name redacted] and I broke out our big bug fly boxes, argued that the other guy’s patterns were obvious crap, loaded [name redacted]‘s small Santiam Drifter, and pushed off.
I wasn’t really ready for what followed.
Rock Creek flows like the government spends. It was the fastest float I’ve ever experienced, and there were few places to pull over and take a breather.
And while you wanted to drop the big Golden Stone dries right next to the willows and overhanging branches, breaking off a fly meant missing a hundred yards of good trout water – a heartbreaking thought even now.
God help you if you broke off a chunk of leader.
The result was an ongoing exercise in Risk Assesment; bigger trout would come to tougher casts, but no trout were caught if you were tying on a fly and the bank wizzed by.
While the bite varied over the three days, it was almost always good, often crossing the line into great.
Browns by the dozens jumped our dries (mostly Golden Stones as the Salmon Flies weren’t working as well).
Other patterns worked better, but the Stimulators worked (and floated) well.
In one side channel, we stopped and I caught my first pure strain West Slope Cutthroat, though it turns out the things are hard to hold and we didn’t get a picture.
Most of the fish we caught were Browns, the biggest of which might have pushed 16â€.
A fair number of Cuttbow hybrids also made an appearance in the net, though true Cutts were rare.
Neither [name redacted] or I are exactly fish counters, but I’d guess our best day resulted in several dozen hookups (and a bunch of misses).
[Name redacted] and a rare cast delivered outside the drift boat.
The pace of the float was intimidatingly fast; I took damned few pictures on the water, unwilling to sacrifice a shot at prime holding water (I’m greedy that way).
And nobody was surprised to hear we’d broken a rod setting the hook into a big Brown Trout. Manly stuff, but not unusual given that Rock Creek claims a couple drift boats and rafts every season.
These things were big enough to skewer and eat (we didn’t).
It’s a nice place to fish, but don’t show up thinking you’ll learn to row on the river. You’ll mostly learn to hit things.
The Camping Comedy Twins
We camped at the Stony Creek Campground, were we lived through the Harrowing Blown Radiator Hose Nightmare and also found trip mascot Stony: a roadkilled, dehydrated snake.
When a whole day’s float is at stake, you fix stuff.
It’s frightening to contemplate, but [name redacted] and I share a similar sense of humor, so the off-river time passed quickly.
In short order, we solved the fly fishing industry’s woes, heaped piles of scorn on those responsible for our environmental troubles, speculated as to Martha Stewart’s sexual potential, and yeah – managed to squeeze in a little talk about fly rods and bugs.
Trip Mascot Stony. Say “Hi” to everyone, Stony.
The culinary highlight of the trip (the lowlight comes in a later report) was [name redacted]‘s Dutch Oven Pork Chops, which combined simple ingredients into unbelievably tasty camp food, all cooked in a single pot.
Why it didn’t attract bears and other wild animals amazes me still (when we cooked it at our next stop, fly fishermen poured out of the woodwork looking for a free meal).
Meet your campground — and its friendly inhabitants.
Despite the great fishing, we broke camp and moved onto our next stop; Georgetown Lake.
You’ll hear about those adventures (including a new entry in the Ultimate Hot Dog Wars) when I get them written.
Lots of interesting pictures too (the lake moves considerably slower than Rock Creek).
A side channel; sometimes these fished better than the river.
Until next time, see you in Montana, Tom Chandler.