Blog Posts In Wade Fellin

2016 Orvis Guide Rendezvous Keynote Delivered by Wade Fellin

Last weekend, Wade Fellin had the honor of delivering the keynote address at the annual Orvis Guide Rendezvous in Missoula, MT.  

As many of you know, in addition to managing the Big Hole Lodge with his father, Craig, and guiding the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Bitterroot, and Missouri, Wade is program director of Upper Missouri Waterkeeper, a water quality advocacy NGO based in Bozeman, MT. 

Wade's message was simple yet important: fly fishers must all work together to protect the clean water future of our fisheries.  We'd like to share his speech here and encourage you all to join and support your local watershed groups!

2016 Orvis Guide Rendezvous Awards Banquet Keynote 

Taking the Oars 
by: Wade Fellin

Before my father ran a fly fishing lodge, he enlisted in the Marine Corps to fight in Vietnam.  We’ve never talked about his experience, but his two best friends from his platoon found our Lodge online 10 years ago and randomly showed up with their own 17-year-old sons.

One of these men had a bushy gray mustache, curly gray hair and went by “Night-train.” After two days of calling him this, I finally gathered the courage to ask why.  He explained that in Vietnam, he was assigned to mortars, and it was his duty to light the night by firing illumination over the jungle. One time he slipped as he fired, toppling the cannon and sending a white, fiery ball horizontally at his team.  The commanding officer dove out of the way just in time. He later exclaimed that he thought he was surely getting run over by a goddamn night-train! The name stuck.

After the war, Dad pursued his passion for the outdoors, and Night-train moved to Lake Tahoe to pursue his passion for reading Mark Twain. He took to the water like Huck and Jim and became the Ghost of Twain reciting stories on Tahoe’s river boat, the M.S. Dixie. 

Now in his early seventies, Night-train has come to look like Twain, he is full of wisdom, and he’s a hell of a lot better speaking in front of a crowd than I am! When Orvis called me and asked me to speak tonight, I called Night-train the next day.

He said, “Just last weekend I was invited to speak to a bunch of fly fishermen in Redondo Beach. I am not a fly fisherman. But of course, as the Ghost of Mark Twain, I’m able to speak on the subject at length.”

The fly fishermen and women were everything I expected them to be: cordial but formidable, jovial but refined, and downright fly-fisherman-friendly. Show me a fly fisherman and I’ll show you a gentleman. Might be the river, the fish, the company, or the heavens above, but the recipe seems to attract and produce noblemen and women of the blood roy-al!

But, I’ve never been to an Orvis guide rendezvous. nor have I interacted with many guides. Good luck – I doubt they’ll want to hear fish stories!”

I don’t dare tell you all any fish stories. I can only tell you what I’ve learned, about the rivers I’ve fallen in love with, and what I think we need to do to protect them. 

But first, thank you all for being here. Thank you Orvis for hosting this wonderful event.  Thank you to the Perkins Family and the Orvis staff for fostering these friendships, facilitating these business meetings and creating a learning environment that has proven to be so helpful to each of our operations.

Not to mention, this weekend is a blast, and to that end, I want to thank Missoula for putting up with this beard and Carhart convention!

What I’d like to share with you tonight is my perspective on our world of fly fishing: where the sport was almost thirty years ago and where I think it’s going. My perspective has largely been shaped on the Big Hole River, which is why preserving my father’s legacy means so much to me. And the lifeblood of that legacy is the river.

My father moved here to Missoula from Pennsylvania in 1974. He working as a security guard at the airport and on his lunch breaks he hung out at the Streamside Angler, then owned by Frank Johnson and Rich Anderson.  They gave him all the advice he needed to hone his kills as a fly fisher and he fished between shifts in a white shirt, tie, and black slacks on these Missoula rivers.

He headed to Aspen in 1978 and guided for Chuck Fothergil along with George Odier. Both were famous for nymphing without an indicator and swore by the Western Coachman. While in Aspen, Dad met my mom, a Bozeman native, and they decided to start a fly fishing lodge. In 1983, with Fothergil’s blessing they headed north through Wyoming, Idaho, and Montana, searching for their perfect spot and founded their business on the banks of the Wise River, just up from the Big Hole River. 

At that time there were very few lodges in the mountain west: Lonnie’s Three Rivers Ranch in Idaho, (congratulations to Lonnie for her lifetime achievement nomination tonight!) The Firehole Ranch near West Yellowstone, the Crescent H near Jackson, Wyoming and The Complete Fly Fisher just down the river on the Big Hole. 

Mom and Dad spoke with Phil and Joan Wright, the owners of the Fly Fisher to explain their intentions of starting another lodge just 8 miles upstream.  Phil responded by taking Dad down the river to teach him how he fished it.

Back then the caddis hatches looked like snow storms. The salmon fly hatches were so thick cars would slide driving through the canyon.  There were very few people on the water.

I came along in 1988. Mom and Dad used to strap my bassinette to the fourteen foot avon.  I spent my childhood fishing the Wise River and my teens learning to row the Big Hole and West Fork of the Bitterroot. Now, after 10 years of guiding, I’m partnering with my father in a business he has spent 33 years nurturing, a business that has brought so much joy and knowledge and fulfillment to so many clients and employees and to both of us over the course of more than three decades.  Orvis once wrote in a Trout Bum of the Week article that my life was a charmed one as fly fishing goes and they were absolutely right. I’m almost embarrassed talking about how lucky and spoiled I am.

But I am immensely grateful for this incredible opportunity.  And I realize that with it comes a significant set of challenges. My generation, the majority of us now in this room, is inheriting a very different world of fly fishing.  Though each generation before us has had a responsibility to protect fisheries for succeeding generations and many in this room have done great work, we are now facing a much more urgent call to act.

Moving forward we are all going to have to work together.  I realize we guide and operate in a much more competitive business environment and throughout the industry many of us work in rather isolated spheres. But camaraderie exists in this room more so than anywhere else I’ve experienced in the fly fishing world. It’s similar to the camaraderie Phil Wright and my father shared. 

We have to work together now because our fisheries are on a slippery slope. Our climate is warming, our population is growing, and our rivers are suffering.

Bozeman, where I spend my off season, is booming as tech companies move in; many of these new residents spend little to no time on the water. Wisdom, Montana, where my mother’s family homesteaded, used to be full of multi-generation ranch families. Fewer and fewer of my generation are staying home to run the ranch. These family ranches are then being bought by corporate cattle companies who don’t have the same connection or appreciation of the unique landscape or know how to be good stewards of our special river valleys. 

The landscapes of the West are changing, and changing quickly, and though trout are often resilient to change, their ecosystems are not. There are no longer snowstorms of caddis on the Big Hole or the Jefferson. You’d be lucky to catch the salmon fly hatch for more than two weeks in June.  Moving forward, we must be proactive in protecting the quality of water that sustains these organisms. 

Over 40 years ago our nation’s leaders recognized that the waters of the United States were in trouble, and they set forth a strong system of rules based on science to reverse the degradation and pollution of our waterways.  That system has largely been viewed as red tape and in many cases, ignored all together.

To make this more concrete, here in Montana, less than half of our rivers get surveyed to assess their health every 10 years, as is required by law.  If a river is found to be unhealthy or hurting from some type of pollution, it can take up to 15 years for a clean water improvement plan to be created, much less implemented.

The reality is, although Montana is widely regarded as one of the Last, Best Places for fishing, its prize blue ribbon streams are at risk from the change we talked about.  It took a Montanan suing the state over 15 years ago to get the state to take the business of protecting–and restoring–rivers seriously.

Some of you know my dirty secret—I spend my off-season working with…gasp…hippie lawyers.

But they’re not as bad as they’re cracked-up to be—they’re worse!

I work for a Montana-based water advocacy organization called Upper Missouri Waterkeeper.  We’re focused on protecting and improving river and community health in the headwaters of the Missouri River Basin. For those of you not familiar with the area, I’m talking about the Big Hole, Beaverhead, Ruby, Jefferson, Madison, Gallatin, Dearborn, Smith, and Sun, and the main-stem Missouri out to Fort Benton.

I truly believe we can protect our rivers, our fisheries, our businesses—before it’s too late. Local advocacy provides the catalyst for change that I believe every western river deserves. There’s a distinct need in the West for all of us who care about our rivers and fisheries to take the steps necessary to protect our most vital resource.  We can do this.

Here’s a tangible example of a small act going a long way:

Last summer, a fellow Big Hole River guide floated a new landowner past his property. The guide pointed at the eroding bank and said, “So now that you own this ground, what do you think about a fence?

“Why?”

“Keep the river from ripping away your property every year when the ice comes out.”

“How’s that?”

“The cattle that run on that property in the spring took out all the willows. Now the ice takes out the bank, making the river wider, shallower, warmer, more prone to algae and less conducive to insect life.”

Based on this conversation, the Big Hole River Foundation is temporarily fencing this mile-long section of river with grant money, and with a little willow planting, that section will stop getting wider, shallower, and warmer. Those willows will suck up a lot of nutrients that algae would otherwise flourish on, leading to a healthier, colder, cleaner river for fish and bugs.

We fishermen and women are lucky enough to be on the front lines of these issues with the opportunity to effect the most positive change for our rivers.  Rather than sitting back and using the resource while our home states ignore the problems and continue to rely on largely unsuccessful traditional practices in the face of a changing environment, we need to be steering the boat. This means not only educating ourselves on the issues in our watersheds, but also communicating our knowledge and suggesting solutions from the fly fishing community to the government decision-makers.  It’s too late to rely on slow moving bureaucracy.

And the future of our fisheries needs us to do more than “keep fish wet and clean up our tippets.”  We all need to get involved, and get our clients involved, in protecting our rivers. We don’t have to fight these battles alone.  One of the best ways to do this is by joining and supporting the local watershed groups working on the rivers we love.  The Clark Fork Coalition does incredible work, and the fruits of their labor benefit the entire Columbia Basin. And if you don’t have a local watershed group, form one. Guides in this room have and I’m sure would be more than willing to offer advice. Derek Young started a Trout Unlimited (TU) Chapter on his home waters in Washington. Mike Geary resurrected a TU Chapter on the Ruby and Beaverhead. 

In closing, we have the best job in the world and an incredible opportunity to spend our days on rivers, teaching people how important tuning out and connecting with nature truly is. We can turn a New York minute into ten minutes seated on a bank studying a rising trout. That transformation makes every day guiding worthwhile for me. As the boots in the water, we have the duty to raise awareness about threats to these fisheries. We are the voice for the voiceless.

Just as my father built Big Hole Lodge by hand and has shaped it into what it has become today, many of you in this room have spent your lives on rivers helping shape the fly fishing world into what it is today—a world exactly like Night-train described, a community of classy people who are deeply connected to the sacredness of nature.

Many generations before us have been forced to answer a call to action in protecting our country. We aren’t being sent to war. We have a choice to fight this battle. I’m going to do my best to help protect these fisheries so that our fly fishing community can flourish and I’m honored to do so alongside all of you.

Thank you Orvis for your proud commitment to protecting our rivers and clean water! And thank you. Thank you all for your time.

 

Orvis commits 5% of pre-tax profits to protecting nature.
Upper Missouri Waterkeeper is exclusively focused on protecting and improving waterways and community health throughout Montana's Upper Missouri River Basin. 
 

 

BOOK YOUR SPRING STREAMER SPECIAL!

Join us in April for Ice-Out on the Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Missouri Rivers!
Our guides are on the water chasing huge fish, join them for an unforgettable experience!

Big Hole Lodge will be open from April 1st until spring run-off in May so call and book today!

SPECIAL SPRING RATES

- Day Trip for Two: $450

Include flies, gourmet lunch, hot coffee and cold beer!

- 10% Off All Packages: 

6 Nights/5 Days Fishing
5 Nights/4 Days Fishing
4 Nights/3 Days Fishing
3 Nights/2 Day Fishing 

For prices and availability visit our website

Includes lodging, gourmet meals, and flies

GUIDES ARE FISHING IF YOU AREN'T!

BIG FISH ON BIG FLIES

Come rain, snow, or gorgeous sunshine one thing is sure - these trout are hungry!

IF YOU DON'T LIKE THE WEATHER...

...WAIT FIVE MINUTES!

PACK FOR THE ELEMENTS

On cold days guides will have hand warmers, extra clothing and can build a bankside fire.

CALL AND RESERVE YOUR SPOT TODAY!

Space is limited during this pre-runoff window. 

Don't miss your chance for the fishing adventure of a lifetime!

(406) 832-3252
email: info@bigholelodge.com

WORLD FISHING NETWORK TO FEATURE BIG HOLE LODGE THIS SUNDAY!


Friends,

We are pleased to announce that this coming Sunday January 18th, Big Hole Lodge will be featured in episode 2 of "Fifty Places to Fly Fish Before You Die," a new television series on the World Fishing Network based on Chris Santella's book of the same name.


In this show fly fishing celebrity and host of World of Fly Fishing, Conway Bowman, floats the Big Hole guided by our own Wade Fellin and Rudy Ketchum.


Though there are plenty of beautiful, wild trout netted and our incredible scenery is highlighted, the main emphasis of this segment is the impressive conservation work being done for the river by the Big Hole Watershed Committee, Big Hole River Foundation, donors like The Orvis Company and through state and federal grants.

This is truly a success story of what can be accomplished if everyone pitches in and works together for the benefit of the resource. The Big Hole River is a great fly fishing river and one of the Blue Ribbon Streams of Montana, but it is also a good example for other watersheds to emulate in their efforts to improve their own local rivers and streams.


For show times click here and to find out if you get the World Fishing Network click here.

We hope you’ll enjoy the show and please email us your thoughts-we’d enjoy hearing from you!

Best,

Craig Fellin

50 Places To Fly Fish Before You Die

We are proud to announce Big Hole Lodge will be featured in episode two of Fifty Places To Fly Fish Before You Die, a television series on the World Fishing Network based on a book by Chris Santella. Click the photo to watch the promotional video and tune in Sunday January 18th to watch the show!

Promo Video Promo Video for episode two: Big Hole River

"The Big Hole River in southwestern Montana is a study in contrasts: running through high mountain country, sprawling valleys, and rugged canyons. We launch near the town of Wise River and our timing couldn’t have been better, the much sought after salmon fly hatch is in full swing and the trout fishing is really heating up. We land a very nice brown trout in the eighteen inch range and catch some rainbow trout as well. While here we meet with Jim Olsen, the biologist on the Big Hole drainage and Harold Peterson, a rancher in the valley. Together, they provide great insight on how conservation efforts to keep adequate water levels in the river benefit both man and wildlife."

Wildlife Showcase of a Healthy Southwest Montana

The most spectacular and rewarding aspect of fly-fishing in Montana is knowing each time you step into the river there is a chance to intimately interact with the wildest and most beautiful creatures in the Rocky Mountains.  This summer has been particularly spectacular and we at Big Hole Lodge want to close our season by sharing a few of our favorite moments from our untamed backyard. Southwest Montana is healthy and flourishing!

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10561685_10152402255722620_2068055718875606242_n  10348999_982165704929_3341163921119875100_n10629666_985057474799_1806484717480844367_nDCIM100GOPRO

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unnamed-1_MG_410210460262_10152404138197620_515361497023343886_n 10368215_10152475696012620_2520147587230546517_n   10653332_10152475693327620_8187220504057801051_n 10675521_980314399959_3255294140442966892_n 10696162_980001716579_5080249296106258490_nThank you to all who joined us this summer! We are deflating the rafts, battening down the hatches for the coming snow, and eagerly awaiting an even more incredible year in 2015. We hope to spend it with you!

Tight lines,

Craig, Wade, Lanette, and the entire Big Hole Lodge staff.

Logo

"When am I gonna catch a fish like that?!"

Tales of a Fly Fishing Lodge Chef suffering from Trout Addiction

Our Chef appeared agitated after serving the final breakfast of Big Hole Lodge's 2nd Annual Spey Casting Clinic.   She opened the door to the Trout House and her ten-year-old jack russell, Kali, rocketed through the log cabin and up the stairs to wake up Wade.  Lanette Evener plopped into her recliner, flipped on the San Francisco Giants game, and grabbed her computer to check the area fishing reports.  The employee digs weren't always so plush.  In fact, Lanette weathered her first 15 summers out here in a one-room cabin without running water or electricity and had to share it with more mice than she could set traps for.  She will spend her 19th summer half a mile downstream from the Lodge in The Trout House.

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Wade stopped wrestling with Kali upstairs when he heard a sharp, "Oh, come on! When am I gonna catch a fish like that?"
"What's the river look like?"
"Flattened out last night and dropping this morning. Supposed to be off and on rain today."

This time of year, a high mountain rain can wash out a mudbank and blow out the Big Hole overnight, but it has been cold at night in the valley and a falling river is perfect.

"You got your waders on yet?"
"No. Why, are we going?"
"Yep. I'm up. I'll go get the boat, you get ready."

Wade could tell by her tone she was legitimately envious of the fish on someone's blog and didn't even need to see the pictures. Employee float trips are few and far between once the summer gets rolling and will be even more rare this summer while Wade is away studying for the bar exam. Lanette didn't have to be in the kitchen until 5pm to cook steak dinner, and with these spring flows they could cover a lot of ground in a few hours.

When Wade returned with the boat, Lanette had the cooler packed, her flies picked out, and her waders on. Every guide knows it's bad luck for a guide to leave a boat seat open on a free day, so Wade invited his friend, Katie, to hold down the fort and play clean-up from the backseat, DJ, and row a bit. As a fisherman, it's always a good idea to allow everyone ample rowing practice time.

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Nine miles up the Big Hole, Wade realized he'd forgot his net.  Nets take a beating in a raft over the course of the summer, but his would have been better than nothing after a bit of tippet patchwork.  It was too late to go back, so they opted to go without.  Wade pulled into a fly shop for a shuttle. Lanette quietly went to the back wall and picked out a beautiful rubber telescopic boat net, complete with a floating foam handle.  To Wade's protest, she said, "Shut up, Jr., this is a graduation present. Now go find me a fish to put in it."

On her fifth cast, throwing a three-inch yellow and orange sex dungeon, Lanette smacked the fly into the bottom of a small riffle right on the bank.  The fly sat on the rocks, just under the surface and only a few inches off the bank.  The fly line caught current, pulling the fly right over the drop off along the seam.
"FISH!"
"He's not hooked, that was a subtle take, hit him again to the side!"
"He's hooked!  And coming right at the boat! Row Jr., row!! Oh my God, he's a monster!"

Ten minutes later, Wade extended that new net under the biggest fish Lanette has ever seen on the Big Hole River.  She has suffered through story after story of "wall-fish" as clients come beaming into the dinning room for 19 years, each time high five-ing the angler and celebrating with them, but in the back of her mind, time and time again she's asked, when am I gonna catch my break? When do I get a wall-fish?  And it has not been for lack of paying her dues.  Wade, Lanette and their good friend Laurie have fished rain or shine, through big water and low water, and have fished hard for the last 15 years.

She could hardly breathe, her voice was high pitched, and she nearly fell headlong into the river as she clamored onto the bank to admire the beauty.

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"Oh my God, this fish just made my season. Hell, it made my career! Look at this thing!"

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After reviving the old boy, Lanette turned him on his side for one last optical feast before sliding him back into the beautiful river that raised him.  The three looked up and out into the Pintler Mountains and smiled and sighed. Then they erupted into high-fives and hugs.

Congratulations, Lanette! You definitely deserved it!

Life is better there!

By: Nick Sciubba, Brooklyn, NY
In the weeks leading up to my brief Montana vacation, I was sure to check the water temperatures and flows on the Big Hole River several times a day like a mad man. I would sit at my desk and daydream, yearning at the thought of immersing myself in the back country of the land adequately titled "the treasure state." It was worth every second of my abrupt 2:30 am wake up call and seemingly endless subway ride to the airport. I found myself singing the lyrics of renowned mandolin player and songwriter, Mr. Drew Emmitt... "Get me outta this city, take me back where I belong." Soon enough, I would be right at home in the Big Sky country.
Listen to the trip theme song: 
\"Life is better there\"

A landscape painted with enchanting meadows, sprawling foothills and majestic canyon walls, seemingly every aspect of the picturesque Big Hole Valley catches the eye. Whether it was the clear visibility of the mountains in every direction, the free roaming wildlife, the miles upon miles of pristine terrain or simply the spruce trees shuddering in the wind, my experience in Montana left me with simultaneous feelings of tranquility, excitement, intrigue and even bewilderment.

When I arrived, Wade- My good college friend and fishing buddy, was out guiding. I spent a lovely afternoon casting to the tumbling pockets and flat pools of the Wise River. Any easterner will tell you that you've found a true gem when wild brook trout like the below are the norm. To have such a gorgeous little stream with such gorgeous fish running through your back yard is truly priceless.

After spending several hours in the water I decided to head back toward the lodge where I was greeted with a wonderful dinner. The first class people at the lodge who provided me with better hospitality than I ever could have asked for will not soon be forgotten.

I saw Wade for the first time in over a year the next morning. After a quick greeting and catching up period, we both expressed the mutual thought..."Let's go catch some fish!" Lucky for me, Wade is a bit of a mad man himself, and he was eager to show me the Big Hole. That day he successfully conquered roughly twenty miles of water, an ambitious venture at this water level.

I could not have asked for better conditions. Whether it be clouds of tricos in the morning or spruce moths blanketing the canyon, I was optimistic about the thought of landing some nice fish. Shortly after getting situated on the raft I found that the trout were eager for a quick meal, opportunistically rising to my offering. After more missed hook-sets and snapped tippets than I'd care to admit, I eventually caught up to the speed of those vivacious, yet delicate Montana wild trout.

Between tricos in the flats, attractor patterns in the riffles, hoppers and ants along the banks and spruce moths throughout the diverse terrain of the canyon, The Big Hole has the characteristics to entice every type of angler. The canyon particularly was quite impressive, and I was in awe of the number of fish rising.

I sat at the front of the boat, ingesting the scenery as if it were palatable. I took notice of the braids of water slowly trekking towards the Jefferson one cubic foot per second at a time and thought to myself of the big fish that were likely residing within its depths. The plight of my divulgement was often validated upon casting to my desired location, whether I successfully set the hook or not.

Throughout the trip, I was surprised by these guys…

A Brookie

A Cutbow

Even a rare Big Hole Cutthroat

Of course you had your usual suspects…

And plenty of these familiar faces as well

They were not ready to go to sleep after the sun had set either. This big guy decided he wasn’t coming to the boat without a fight, definitely my longest battle of the trip.

Among the many large and beautifully colored fish, one thing that stood out to me was the rainbow trout in the canyon, most of which had a bright white colored belly that just looked simply gorgeous.

When I decided to take a little break, I’d encourage Wade pick up the rod. With the grace of somebody who has spent more time on the river than on land, he just made things look so effortless.

We awoke bright and early on day two and plotted our plan of action. Wade laid out our options which allowed for an easy decision “We can go here and catch a lot of small fish, we can go there and maybe catch some big fish, but nothing certain… OR we can go right back to the Big Hole and catch a lot of big fish!” We elected that option.

Given the splendor of the canyon on day one, we started right back there and picked up right where we left off. The spruce moths were out and the fish were well aware.

After the canyon the game turned back to attractors and terrestrials, and these patterns got the job done just the same.

As we pressed on, the inviting allure of the Maiden Rock canyon consumed us. It wasn’t difficult for one to find solace before the presence of the gleaming cliffs that ascended overhead. Here, the characteristics of the river yielded an amicable and seemingly homogenous blend of cascading riffles and long, quaint pools.

As the canyon gradually conceded to a large, serene meadow, the river contained many of the same qualities. Riffles gave way to even larger pools, followed by even larger riffles, illuminated by the Montana sun dancing across the horizon.

As day two came to a close, an opportunistic little ‘bow snatched my offering, and the mild force of my hook set nearly pulled him right into the boat. I quickly removed the hook and tossed him back. I thought to myself “go on, keep growing… I’ll see you when I return next year when you’re much bigger.”

Montana: Setting the Hook

Montana: Setting the Hook
Written by Will Peterson On August 16th, 2011 courtesy of starting six ski blog

I arrived in Montana determined to become a better fly fisherman.  While I had done some fishing before, the trips had been sporadic and I was still very much a beginner.  By working at the Big Hole Lodge, I hoped to learn more about casting, tying my own knots, and being able to fish without the guidance of more experienced fisherman.  The lodge is located on the Wise River, perfect for wading and developing these skills.  Though there were plenty of guides around, they were guiding during the day and therefore could only offer verbal advice.  I found a teacher in Lanette, the Big Hole Lodge's long time chef and a seasoned fisher.  From knots and casting, to fly selection and approach, Lanette helped me through the entire process.  In fact, she was with me on the Wise River when I caught my first fish, and she made sure I followed tradition by kissing my fish before I released it (chased with a nip off the flask). 

After gaining some experience on the Wise River, lodge guide Chuck Ravetta suggested I tag along on a float trip on the Bitterroot River that Wade Fellin was guiding.  The Bitterroot, located about an hour and half from the lodge, is smaller river than the Big Hole, winding through with the Bitterroot Mountains off in the distance.

As we put in to the river, we knew we were in for a great day

As we started the trip we floated along right bank…

And immediately felt a strong tug, I began to pull in the line and was surprised to see a fish much bigger than expected on the line.  As I continued to pull in line, the fish fought hard to break free.  After a few minutes I was able to get the fish into the net, and it turned out to be 18″ cut throat trout!

As we continued to catch fish, the day was shaping up to be one of the great ones. While I was taking a break from casting, I saw a huge bird headed our way. As it flew over, it turned out to be none other than our nation’s symbol, the Bald Eagle.  The eagle landed just above us and opened its wings to dry them out.

Wade got into the action too.  A little break from guiding, can bring a lot of joy.


As temperatures rose into the 80's, I hopped in the water to do my best fish impression

As we finished up the day, the mountains in the distance made a return trip during the winter for a bit of skiing a strong possibility.

Trapper Peak, Bitterroot Mountains


Overall the day was a great success, with nearly 50 fish landed and countless others just missed (mostly due to slow reflexes on the setting of the hook). Tons of fish, great company, beautiful weather, mountain views, and great food…who could ask for more?

On the way home, we stopped by one of the guides' cabins for a few beers.  While there, I had the chance to tie my first dry fly. The fly tying practice is one of precision and patience -carefully building each aspect of the fly, first adding the body, then the thorax, and finally the wing, considering in each step what a fish will be viewing from below.  While there are thousands of types of flies that can be purchased, constructing a fly allows for variation of more common flies and a more personal connection with the sport.  As I tied the fly, in a small log cabin, within view of the Wise River, and supplies surrounding the work space, I felt like a craftsmen trying to crack the always changing mystery of the fish.  The process was difficult, as fly-tying is an art that takes years to learn and even more to master, but with the guidance of Wade and Matt I was able to produce a fly that I hoped would look appealing to the fish.

Wade tying a Spruce Moth

With a little help from Matt, I also finished a Spruce Moth.

A few nights later, I had the chance to use my fly.  I was nervous to use it, afraid that I would get it stuck in a willow or the knot would come lose, but I went for it.  After a few casts, I suddenly saw a fish coming up from the depths of the Wise straight towards my fly.  I held my breath, waiting, and hoping.  I saw him go for it, and set the hook and felt him pull back just as hard.  I gave the fish some line, and tried to contain my excitement, as I slowly worked the fish in.  I lifted the fish out of the water and couldnt help but smile…my Montana goal of learning to fish had exceeded my own expectations.  As I stood in the river, with the sun setting behind the mountains, I understood the addiction that comes with this sport and knew that fishing would remain a part of my life.

Later that night, we grilled a couple brookies that Matt and Wade had caught out back. As we sat around the fire, talking about the day, and listening to the fish simmering over the fire, I listened to Matt and Wade, both longtime guides, tell stories about fishing, compare their approaches on different rivers, and tell of the improvements they saw in clients.  While their stories may have been different, both talked with an unmistakable passion for the sport.  This sport wasnt just some way to make a living, or take up the weekends, it was a way of life. I couldnt help but wonder how soon I could get back out to Montana.