Paying to Play: My Experience at DePuy Spring Creek and Whether or Not I’ll Be Back

“Find the moving water.” A culvert outflow at DePuy (“duh-PYOO”) Spring Creek in Livingston, Montana.

This past summer, I was lucky enough to spend five nights in Western Montana with little in the way of obligations. What was supposed to be a family trip turned into a personal vacation after my daughter was running a fever the day of our flight. My wife insisted that I still go, and I eventually relented and ended up having a great time.

For the first three nights I stayed by Rock Creek south of Missoula and fishing was slow. Rock Creek was beautiful however, and I’d like to go back, though I will say it was the hardest wading I’ve ever had to do as others I’m sure can attest. My last two nights were in Bozeman, and fishing picked up. I hit the Gallatin in a couple spots, DePuy Spring Creek, and finally a small tributary of a Yellowstone tributary that I learned about from Montana Angler. I made some purchases there and asked for help, and they were gracious in return. I recommend visiting their shop!

The DePuy map. Check out the bridges if you’re looking for culverts and moving water.

I was at DePuy on a Sunday in July. Space is limited to 16 anglers per day, and they do sell out. I had booked the trip two months earlier after Registered Maine Guide Scott Whitaker of Bucktail Guide Service (who also guides in Montana for part of the year) suggested it. (Scott is great by the way and I 100% vouch for him.) If Scott hadn’t mentioned it I doubt I would have visited, but I’m glad I did. It was a different experience and a new yet familiar trout fishing challenge: fooling fish in slow-moving clear water. Fishing and failing at the Swift River in Central Mass. had prepared me for it.

However, it was actually the advice I had gotten from Lou Zambello for how to fish DePuy (pronounced “duh-PYOO”) that proved the most prophetic: “find the moving water.” This is how I had success, by Euronymphing the inflows and outflows of culverts where there were small pools that gathered fish in currents between sections of flat water.

DePuy is not free – rates are $40-$120 depending on the time of year. I paid half up front after giving them a phone call and then half in person. The day started with me showing up at 8:00 am, 30 minutes after they had opened for check-in. I expected to see other vehicles and that I would surely be one of the last people there. Surprisingly, I was the first! I pulled up to a large white building with tall columns where soft-spoken owner Daryl Smith answered the door, took the rest of my payment, and handed me a map with some scribbled recommendations.

The awkward way I started my day – there were no signs and I didn’t know if I was in the right place.

I don’t have any great stories or tips from the trip, other than that I shocked myself with a couple brown and rainbow trout while Euronymphing Perdigons, stoneflies, and midges with a 10-ft. #4 rod on 6x tippet. Parking was easy, there was plenty of space, and other anglers were friendly. I did patronize the small, one room Spring Creek Specialists fly shop located on the southern end of the property once Buzz Basini eventually rolled in later that morning. I bought small, lovely white, yellow, and green dry flies, none of which I actually used that day.

Brown trout in the net!

With the words from Lou echoing in my head and no anglers around to influence me otherwise, I merely waded in as far back as possible in pools where I found moving water, then crept towards the head of the run where I could drop my deep nymph. I did see spooky fish in other places, and on my way out saw a fellow landing a fish in one of the flatwater sections, but by that time I was satisfied and it was getting hot out.

My best fish of the trip ended up being at DePuy, so I can’t complain.

If I ever make it out to the Livingston area again I would be happy to take someone else who has never been there with me, but I don’t know if I’ll make the solo trip again. There’s so much water to explore with a Montana fishing license, and the density of fish and trout per mile is staggering in many of the blue ribbon streams. DePuy Spring Creek is arguably the best known pay to play spring creek in the lower 48 that’s open to the public for fly fishing. My understanding is that others, such as Nelson’s Spring Creek, are restricted to those staying at certain lodges.

Brake for livestock!

If you’ve fished the Swift River in Central Mass. before, you understand the experience of seeing uncatchable trout. Truthfully, I thought that was going to be my DePuy experience. It wasn’t, and for that I’m grateful. But there are just so many other rivers and lakes to explore in Western Montana that I’m not dying to return. Let’s be honest – if I had gotten skunked I’d probably be itching for revenge, but sometimes you’re lucky, and those tungsten beads on my jighead nymphs worked their magic for me this time.

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4 thoughts on “Paying to Play: My Experience at DePuy Spring Creek and Whether or Not I’ll Be Back

  1. Great article, Dave! I both hate and love that experience of seeing lots of trout and being unable to catch them. I’m glad you were able to prevail!

  2. Great review, David. I was visiting friends in Livingston last December and spent a couple of short days fishing there. Being December, I had the place to myself. Wonderful experience as the fish were mostly on midges. The flies I purchased at the local fly shop did absolutely nothing. Luckily, I brought some “homegrown” dry midges tied by my father-in-law, Bob Gancarz. One of his #26 black chironomid patterns, for the Swift and Farmington Rivers, proved magical! Had a great couple of days of native cut-throats and wild rainbows.

  3. Great review, David. I was visiting friends in Livingston last December and spent a couple of short days fishing there. Being December, I had the place to myself. Wonderful experience as the fish were mostly on midges. The flies I purchased at the local fly shop did absolutely nothing. Luckily, I brought some “homegrown” dry midges tied by my father-in-law, Bob Gancarz. One of his #26 black chironomid patterns, for the Swift and Farmington Rivers, proved magical! Had a great couple of days of native cut-throats and wild rainbows.

  4. I’m glad to hear that DePuy’s creek gave you some satisfying fishing. Two of us used to go there every year from Connecticut, but we stopped a few years back. When you patronize a place like that, for 9 or 10 years, you might expect a heads-up if conditions go sour, especially when traveling that far. Our last trip, again, this was years ago, was more than disappointing. Flooding had persisted into the summer. After we arrived, we discovered that the only section of the creek that wasn’t blown out or silted over was the last stretch as it returned into the Yellowstone. Again, that was years ago, but unfortunately, it soured us. No hard feelings. Weather happens. But we could have rescheduled if we knew. — Regarding catching trout in slow moving, clear water, I thought the creek offered some of the easiest fly fishing I’d ever done, once I got the hang of it. A pheasant tail nymph, one tiny split shot, and a strike indicator. Worked every time. One of the most memorable days ever was on Armstrong’s. Drizzle, and a pale morning dun hatch had seemingly every trout surface feeding. A small light Cahill was all that was required. We were lucky to be there on a morning when the trout got stupid.

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