A pandemic couldn't stop FF Ambassador Bre Drake from taking an annual trip out west. Scroll on to check out their dispatch. Photos and words by Bre Drake.
Travel & Lodging
Aside from mandatory “face coverings,” flying was more enjoyable than in pre-COVID19 times – cleaner and safer with more organized boarding and deboarding procedures. On Delta flights, the middle seats are left vacant. Be prepared to consume lots of almonds, Kind Bars, and mini bottles of Dasani water. Pro Tip: Free Fly’s Bamboo Breathe Sun Masks were 1000% more comfortable than traditional masks.
We flew into Bozeman Yellowstone International Airport as we enjoy spending most of our time in Southwest Montana. This year we spent our short trip in Ennis, MT. It is an hour drive from Bozeman. We booked a cozy cabin just a few blocks from town through Rainbow Valley Lodge.
Fishing with Jackson Bland of Ruby Springs Lodge
Originally from Charleston, our buddy Jackson Bland aka trout cowboy, has been guiding for Ruby Springs Lodge for over 3 years now. We fish with him in August every year. It’s been a pleasure to witness him growing as a guide – each year he is more and more dialed in.
This year, we showed up a little earlier – in prior years, we’ve arrived in mid to late August. The weather was warmer overall, which set up the ideal conditions for deceiving mature brown trout with hopper flies. Jackson rowed us down the Madison, where we targeted deeper holes along the banks trying to draw up healthy brown trout.
We had many slow-motion, topwater eats that made time seem to stand still, giving us ample time to remember to trout set instead of strip-set (the problem every saltwater angler faces). Several trout in the 10-15-inch range made it to the net, and we were more than content with that outcome. As the day lingered on, however, the hoppers in the grass were singing louder and louder with a few getting blown into the water, which is exactly what we wanted! About halfway through our float, Wilds’ hopper was sucked down like a vacuum from the surface which is the telltale sign that a unicorn brown trout has taken your fly.
I fortunately did not know at the time how challenging it can be to actually boat one of these larger brown trout, and I’m thankful for my ignorance otherwise my nerves would have been off the charts for a good 2-3 minutes. Wilds did get the trout to the boat, and Jackson swooped him up in the net. Upon hitting the net, the fly popped out and we later learned that the hook had broken! It was an impressive male trout measuring out at 23-inches long, and it clearly had never missed a meal!
It was a successful 10-hour float in 94 degrees with pure sunshine and 0% humidity. Trout were caught, beers were drank, and cannon balls were made.
Fishing with Nick Peterson of Montana Trout Stalkers
Our next float was booked with Montana native and seasoned trout guide Nick Peterson of Montana Trout Stalkers. He is a wealth of local knowledge and a talented guide and angler. We got started a little later with Nick – around 10am - and had an entirely different day weather wise. There was lots of cloud cover and we spent most of the day staying just barely ahead of a storm that was ripping its way through the valley.
Remember what I said earlier about how challenging it can be to boat a large trout? Well, on my second or third hopper drift of the trip, I hooked a large brown that went airborne upon eating. He ran upstream and I kept him hooked for two minutes or so before he popped off. That trout’s enthusiasm was a great sign of what was to come!
Each time the sun would peek out, Wilds and I got aggressive hopper eats on the surface – each one more exciting than the last. I’m not well-versed in freshwater trout fishing terminology, and fortunately I did not have to learn the hard way that when the guide shouts “Knee lock! Knee lock!” it doesn’t mean “lock your knees,” it means to get in the knee lock brace that keeps you from falling out of the boat if we bump into a rock. Noted!
Each trip I do get a little better at holding those slippery trout, but still have not mastered that one hand hold. Maybe next year.