Brown Trout or Rainbow, Fly-Fishing is Magical in Montana
I always love fly-fishing in the Midwest. There’s something still raw in the natural world out there, uncontaminated and free. The spirit of the country panning out in sweeping vistas, rugged mountain peaks painted on the horizons, and blue skies stretching to the edges of the earth and beyond. It’s still pioneer country, in a way. For me, Baker Creek was a time of pioneering as I learned to fly-fish and came to love it.
Introduction by Way of Marriage
My in-laws have a place up on Baker Creek in southwest Montana, outside of Bozeman. Of course, when I was introduced to the area my wife and I had just started dating, so they weren’t in-laws yet. But I knew they would be. You could say I was already hooked.
What I wasn’t hooked on, though, was fly-fishing. Before that trip to Baker Creek, I was a conventional spin and bait-casting fisherman. Truth is, I’d just never really fly-fished much. Sure, I’d tied flies as a kid, playing around a bit in my backyard out in Sacramento, but it never took root for me. It was a little more difficult, a bit more of a challenge, and frankly I was content catching fish after fish with conventional equipment.
But then I learned to see the light.
When we got up there to Baker Creek for the first time, my father-in-law handed me a 4-weight fly rod he’d gotten for me to use around the property. It was time to dive in.
Wading in to Baker Creek
When you hear talk about fly-fishing for brown trout and rainbows, I’m sure everyone has their own body of water they prefer, especially in Montana. They all have magic in their own right. For me, this introduction to Baker Creek made me fall in love. It set the tone for all future fly-fishing.
Now, Baker Creek is just one of many waterways flowing through their property, but it’s the one that sucks me in whenever I go out there. For 8-10 hours at a time — basically all day — I will stay out there and just be part of the natural world. It’s become a sort of quasi-religious routine for me.
Waking up early with the sunrise, I watch the light pour across the countryside from its burning source on the horizon. The deep shadows of night melt away and colors explode into life — reds and pinks, rich yellows and sky blue. This continues as I bike out to one of my spots I’ve come to love on the creek. The water is frigid as I wade in slowly. It pulls at me as I carefully set my footing on the smooth river rocks.
It’s such a balanced, peaceful time. The world is in perfect harmony. So much so that it sustains me; some days I barely even eat while I’m out there, just soaking it all in, whistling with the choir of birdsong and the soft burbling of flowing fish-filled waters.
Baker Creek is private along that section, and the river-keeper has done a great job keeping it up, putting in logs and rocks for the foraging fish growing larger and larger over the years. You can have 60-70 fish a day sometimes. Large brown and rainbow trout, practically leaping out of certain holes.
The Magic of the Hopper Hatch
Without question, my favorite time of year is hopper season. To get to the creek, you have to walk through these fields of tall grasses and light shrubs. During hopper season, there might be thousands or millions of grasshoppers, just flitting about and jumping everywhere, exploding in bursts and clouds as you go by. It’s amazing.
And the fish think so, too.
During hopper season, those hungry brown and rainbow trout come right up to the edges of the water on the overhangs and just wait for grasshoppers to fall into the water. That’s when they strike.
And so that’s when we typically choose to visit that part of Montana, if given the choice. During the hopper hatch, you can use dry-flied hopper patterns and just wade along the banks, finding little inlets and coves that just look like there’s fish hiding there. In many cases you can actually see them and sight-cast for them. If you can put a hopper right ahead of one, you can watch it float down, watch them respond, and watch them smash into it.
A Lasting Impression
It’s really one of my favorite, rewarding ways to fish and places to fish. It’s a great place to learn to fly fish, and a great place for experienced fisherman, too. That’s probably what my father-in-law had in mind when he gave me that 4-weight fly rod, and since that day I’ve explored as much of Montana’s beautiful fly-fishing waters as I could — check out Madison River or the Gallatin River, too.
Beyond the artistic nature of fly-fishing as a sport, the fish themselves in this part of Montana really stay with you. We’re talking about trout that are speckled gold and red like shimmering, precious metals. Shades of black so subtle and deep that they move through midnight blue and navy, almost like the texture of the star-studded Montana sky at night.
Take a name like “brown trout.” These fish actually sometimes have blue around their faces, with dark yellow hues rippling down their bodies. They aren’t always monsters in size — typically they average 12-22 inches — but there are some big ones out there to be sure. And every single one you catch is unique in the way it shines, gleaming through the clear waters. Definitely some of my most colorful fish have come from Baker Creek.
Colorful fish are also just a foundation for more colorful memories. The wildlife in that ecosystem is vibrant and rich — there’s a reason I can stand in the water for 8-10 hours and barely need to eat. It’s so fulfilling. I’ve walked along Baker Creek and nearly bumped into a foraging moose, massive antlers and all. Sometimes I’ll look back and see a bald eagle watching me intently from its nest. Coyotes and deer flit through the brush, leaping and occasionally splashing through the waters upstream.
In reality, it’s a microcosm of ancient America, unspoiled and somehow still thriving in the modern world. It’s a place you can get lost, sitting on the bank of the creek, taking a nap like Huck Finn on a hot summer day, when grasshoppers are crawling through the air in thick swarms, and the smell of fish is greeted by the quiet, white noise of moving water and a soft breeze stirring in the leafy foliage above.