It is hard to know where to begin. Or, how.
Montana is so large, scenic, and breathtaking in ways too numerous to tally. From the stunning sunrises and sunsets to the eager fish on freestones to the fickle trout on world-famous spring creeks, being out here can be overwhelming but in a good way.
I am on a Concord Outfitters trip, and we are heading back east as I write this. Store manager Dylan Callahan is our host and leader, and I feel like a trip rookie with many seasoned travelers in the group: Bob Callahan, Garry Crago, Peter Hill, Chris Kasper, Dan Keating, and Dave Wester.
We fished the Paradise Valley (and beyond), where underground springs and aquifers released clear and cold water during one of the most challenging droughts in recent memory. The landscape looked largely parched, with the grass yellowed and only sagebrush peeking meekly from the earth.
I would name the outfitter, but he specifically requested that I not do so, as he is sold out and says he doesn’t need any publicity. He doesn’t do any digital marketing.
We fished for five days, two of them at Armstrong and DePuy, where very light tippet and small flies ruled the day. The rest of the time, we fished private water on ranches, never seeing other anglers.
The guides broke us down into groups of two and drove us a good ways each day. We then unlocked gates and went on ranch land where we saw many deer, cattle, and antelope but no elk, which were still in the highlands and waiting for the fall rutt. At one spot, we jumped into an ATV and traversed narrow dirt trails to a canyon where we found a cold creek and hungry fish.
I don’t have any favorite moments, as they all were special in their own way. The sunrises and sunsets were glorious and made you feel so small and overwhelmed, again, in a good way. A 16” cutthroat on 8x at DePuy was a highlight.
And the afternoon hopper bite was usually good, and fish often jumped out of the water to pounce on the fly. A cook made us breakfast and dinner each day, which was a first for me. The days blurred from one to the next, and while not every day had lights-out fishing, many days did, leaving us feeling both drained and energized in a way that only fly fishing can pull off.
On one of our last days, Dylan and I were in the same group. We drove a long way on an old railroad bed and then found ourselves in a canyon. We told the guide that we each liked to fish independently. He gave us some flies, dropped off each of us at a honey hole, and then left us alone. He periodically checked in to leap-frog us to new water and to give some pointers. It was an 80-plus-fish day for me, and I also landed a good-sized rainbow.
The guide told us later that no one had fished that stretch in a week. What a day. You know it is a good dry-fly trip when a new bottle of Frog’s Fanny is nearly depleted after five days.
I am extremely grateful for the chance to be with so many thoughtful and kind anglers, to savor the Montana fisheries and landscape, and to think over six days that all in the world was again right and good.
I have fished Montana a few times, and it always has changed me in ways I didn’t expect. I leave a better angler, that’s true. But I come home feeling deeply awestruck at all that nature can offer. I feel more kind and full-hearted. It feels like a spiritual experience each time, like I somehow in a way I do not understand have been in the presence of something greater than me and which I cannot see.
Run, don’t walk, to the mountains and canyons of Montana. You will appreciate them as an angler, and you will leave the area with an armful of the sweetest memories.
Thank you, Dylan and Concord Outfitters. Thank you, men of the Montana 2021 trip. It was a week I will never forget. Peace and blessings to you and your families.