The Middle Fork of the Flathead: cartwheels, but no mustard

This is Part 6 in a 6 part series of Weekly Drivel®, which you’ve all been anticipating, if for no other reason than it finally means an end to the series. Last week in Part 5 I left you hanging; wondering what it was really going to be like fishing with Trout TV’s own Hilary Hutcheson. Wait no more.

The Book of Morris.

Breakfast, and The Book of Morris.

The Rangers horked down a hearty breakfast comprised of raw meat and black coffee, did some one-armed pushups and put on our game faces: it was time to meet up with our guides at Glacier Anglers for the long anticipated day on the Middle Fork of the Flathead River. We were pumped.

We pulled into the parking lot at Glacier Outdoor Center, rolled out of the Ranger carriers and stormed into the shop. “Uh…may I help you?” inquired a pleasant young employee who was clearly taken aback by our assertive entrance. “Where is Hilary?” I demanded. The employee’s reply was unexpected, “I’m sorry, there’s nobody here by that name. Are you sure you have the right place?”

OK, it wasn’t quite like that.

The home of Glacier Anglers.

The home of Glacier Anglers.

We entered the shop and looked casually around. A few people milled about and we were greeted by a pleasant young person. “Top of morning,” I said, “We’re fishing with Hilary today. Might she be present?”

“Oh, right. She’s expecting you,” said the pleasant young employee. Almost instantaneously a short woman, sporting a camo Patagonia cap atop a mane of long black hair, materialized and blurted out a greeting that might have been better understood had I drank a couple more cups of coffee. The first thing you notice about Hilary is her energy—we half expected to see her perform a cartwheel right there in the shop (she didn’t, but would later). The next thing you notice about her is her height—at least that’s what I noticed. It’s not often I encounter adults upon whom I can look down. They say that TV adds 10 pounds to a person, and while I would never suggest that to be the case with Hilary, she does look much taller on Trout TV.

The introduction felt more like greeting an old friend than meeting a new one. Hilary quickly introduced the other two guides for the day, Darrell and his other brother Darrell brothers Jake and Tate. Both were considerably younger than Hilary, and considerably taller. Based on initial impressions they seemed like good dudes—typical young bucks living the life of a fly fishing guide in Montana; sleeping in tents pitched atop pallets (to stay drier) and eating canned beans, fishing on their days off. Soft-spoken but confident, these are the types of guys you want as guides: they have hungry eyes; probably because they haven’t eaten a good meal in a couple days, but also because they live to hunt for fish. Hilary, on the other hand, lives comfortably with two Hutchlings and her husband, Shane, in an actual house. With heat and indoor plumbing. I wouldn’t suggest that she’s a ‘hobby guide’ like my buddy Joe Willauer, but guiding isn’t her main source of livelihood. I wondered for a half second if maybe I might trade up for one of the Brothers. I quickly dismissed the idea—I had to see this through. After all, the auction I’d won was for a float trip with Hilary.

We piled into the Glacier Anglers shop rigs and headed upriver toward our launch site at Moccasin Creek. The rafts were launched (no hard boats as we would be fishing the whitewater section of the Middle Fork) and Hilary and the Brothers rigged up rods. As the hired hands prepared to get underway the Rangers stood awkwardly by, doing nothing and feeling rather worthless. When you consider yourself a fairly avid fisherman, it’s always a little odd to be coddled.

Goose doing absolutely nothing, pre-launch.

Pre-launch: Nash and Goose doing absolutely nothing.

The Rangers were divided into teams of 2 and given their boat assignments. Marck had offered the highest bribe and would be spending the day in Hilary’s boat with me. As she selected flies to start the day our guide offered a narrative on what we would expect. The first part of the day would involve mostly slow and flat water, followed later in the day by a series of pools separated by whitewater. The river was low so the whitewater wouldn’t be huge, but we could expect some bumps and fast water.  Hilary assured us that she hadn’t dumped a boat in several weeks as she strapped down all loose gear. We set off downstream, eagerly anticipating the first fish and thinking about what Hilary had said about dumping her boat. I was prepared to swim and had everything of value tucked safely into my waterproof pack. Personal Flotation Device. Check.  Buckled and secured. Check.

Our guide more a matching outfit that included a skirt.

Our guide wore a matching outfit that included a skirt.

The conversation came easily as Hilary explained a bit about the Middle Fork and surrounding area. She began her career at Glacier Anglers running whitewater rafts as a teenager (when Brothers Jake and Tate were still in diapers). Eventually she began working as a fly fishing guide which she has done on and off since she was 17. So she knows the water and knows how to put clients on fish. It was a beautiful and sunny start the day. The catching began slowly but we did get the skunk off the boat early enough that neither Marck nor I worried incessantly. While we did toss dries and pulled a streamer or two, nymphing produced first and most often as we landed several cutthroats that were feisty if not terribly large.

One of several Middle Fork cutbows.

One of several Middle Fork cutties.

Each fish was met with great enthusiasm by the oarsman girl rowing person on the oars. You see, Hilary loves fish and fishing. She clearly loves guiding, too, and her enthusiasm can be infectious. It should be noted that Marck is a fairly stoic fellow when he’s fishing—all business. And so it came as a great surprise that Hilary was able to charm Marck into actually kissing a whitefish.

Isn't that precious!

Isn’t that precious!

Throughout the day, Hilary would sporadically blurt out, in an almost Tourrette-like manner, random proclamations of unbridled joy: “This is the best day ever!” and “You guys are the best anglers I’ve ever had in my boat!” It’s hard not to get caught up in the whirlwind of energy when you’re a guest in Hilary’s boat. Even when the fishing got slow, and it did (because it always does), she offered hope with every new piece of water. A good guide keeps it positive and blends instruction with good humor. Hilary is a worthy opponent when it comes to verbal jousting and we traded more than a few good-natured jabs. We also made time for some meaningful, adult-like conversation about conservation issues on her home waters. When I asked Hilary about some of the biggest challenges facing the area she pointed to the train that was passing by above the south bank of the river.

Oil tank cars are a threat to the river.

Oil tank cars are a threat to the river.

Rail cars are a threat.

The Rangers in this boat are only a threat to themselves.

The Burlington Northern Santa Fe Railroad follows the Middle Fork Flathead and several trains rolled past us during the day. As soon as the loud drone of the train subsided Hilary explained that some of westbound trains are tankers carrying oil from North Dakota and Eastern Montana: antiquated tankers that are vulnerable to punctures and ruptures. Hilary is the first to admit that we need oil but that we also need railroads to address the very threats that they present. Until all the tankers carrying crude oil are updated the Middle Fork is one derailment away from disaster. While they might seem strange bedfellows, trains and rivers seem to go hand in hand because trains follow the relatively easy path through rugged country carved by flowing water. Speaking of rugged country, the Middle Fork is a crown jewel that forms the souther boundary to Glacier National Park. This beautiful, clear, and cold-running river is, in fact, designated a National Wild & Scenic River and thereby protected by law. It’s healthy now and I hope it stays that way. The Fall 2014 issue of the Fly Fish Journal featured an article by Hilary titled, “The Wrong Track: Oil Trains are a Threat to Rivers”.  It’s a great read, and a great magazine overall. I recommend you pick up a copy of  it HERE.

The beauty of the Middle Fork Flathead.

The beauty of the Middle Fork Flathead.

As people who love rivers and fish are prone to be, Hilary is passionate about her home water and is involved in efforts to make sure those waters remain pristine. Through Trout TV she is directly involved with American Rivers.  An American Rivers episode was shot in July (2015) on the Middle Fork to bring awareness to the Flathead River system, its Wild & Scenic designation and the potential threats to this resource. The episode will be aired next Spring (2016) and all online proceeds from the episode will be donated to American Rivers. As an ambassador of American Rivers, Hilary considers herself a “boots on the ground go-between” linking the national organization to her local river.

In addition to the beauty of the Middle Fork Flathead, another thing that stood out to me was the solitude. We saw a couple recreational rafts filled with tourists but no other boats carrying anglers. It was as though we had the entire river all to ourselves, except of course for the other two boats in our flotilla.

Glacier Anglers

Morris and Jimmy in Brother Tate’s boat.

Goose and Nash, with Brother Jake.

Goose and Nash, with Brother Jake.

We broke for lunch, and as the hired help set up for the midday meal, Marck and I had a chance to compare notes with the other Rangers. Under the guidance of Brother Jake, Goose and Nash had been keeping busy by catching a bunch of fish. Jimmy and Morris were fishing with Brother Tate and were also catching a lot of fish, including a trophy whitefish that had their young guide giddy with delight (although I don’t believe the fish was kissed). We may not have been catching quite as many fish, but we were having more fun, which is saying a lot because I think everyone was having a grand old time thus far.

Big Whitefish Middle Fork Flathead River

Jimmy’s Trophy Whitey earns approval from Brother Tate.

As we waited for lunch to be served, Goose grabbed his rod and plied the nearby waters, hoping to land just one more fish. He may have lost his footing in the shallow water and I may have made a snarky comment about his resulting wet shorts. The ensuing single digit salute was something I’ve come to expect from him on nearly every trip.

Goose flips me the gratuitous and undeserving  bird.

Goose flips me the gratuitous and undeserving bird.

Lunch was served and it was quite good despite lacking a key ingredient. Seriously—when you travel several hundred miles and pay good money to fish with professional guides—is it too much to expect mustard for the sandwiches? Mustard isn’t something one should even have to ask for—it should just be standard sandwich equipment. I made a note of the infraction, adding it to my penalty list that included earlier comments by Hilary about my advanced age and failing eyesight.

Hilary and the Brothers apologize for the lack of mustard.

Hilary and the Brothers apologize for the lack of mustard.

Suddenly, this happened.

Suddenly, this happened.

After consuming our sans-mustard sandwiches we resumed our downstream trek. Clouds had begun to blow in on a w#nd that ranged from annoying to downright ridiculous at times. Long, slow pools were separated by steep narrow chutes with names such as Tunnel Rapid (aptly named because it was like a w#nd tunnel as we approached), Bonecrusher, Washboard (named for my ads), Screaming Right Hand Turn and others, including Could Be Trouble.

Still photography doesn't capture the moving air.

Still photography does a poor job of capturing the moving air.

With the w#nd blowing upstream, at a much quicker pace than the current that carried us downstream, rowing became an arduous task and setting up the raft for the proper line through the fast water involved a great deal of physical effort. From the back of the boat I asked if perhaps Hilary wanted some help on the oars cheered Hilary on. We made it through each set of rapids without so much as a single dumping of the boat.


“Hey, you in the back of the boat–zip it!”

As we neared our termination point at West Glacier Hilary erupted, “I don’t want this day to end!” A gullible fool might have been lured into believing her; a naysayer likely would have thought she was merely bucking for a good tip. But after you’ve spent a day with Hilary you realize she means it: she has a seemingly insatiable thirst for fun. In the end our boat may not have won the Most Fish competition, but I think it’s safe to say that our boat had the most fun. Over the course of 10 river miles, and 9 or so hours (according to the ginormous white watch on Hilary’s left wrist), it was as though we had become the three best friends that anyone could have.

Wolf Pack

Wolf Pack.

We finally got the cartwheel we were expecting.

We finally got the cartwheel we’d been expecting.

Hilarious. A hoot to fish with. Genuinely a nice person. I might even be inclined to fish with Hilary again some day. As long as she promises not to forget one key ingredient.


To hear more you might consider listening to The Open Fly Podcast, on which Hilary was a recent guest. The conversation is lively, as one might expect.

Fishing with Hilary

This is Part 5, which follows Parts 1, 2, 3 and 4 (which I believe were collectively read by only one person: Howard Levett of Windknots & Tangled Lines —thanks, Howie).

So the Firehole Rangers finally found ourselves in Columbia Falls, Montana, faced with the long-awaited opportunity to fish the Middle Fork of the Flathead River.


It all began with an online auction to benefit Casting 4 a Cure. I wasn’t able to make it to their annual fundraising event in Victor, Idaho, this year, but I wanted to do my small part to help support this great organization. One particular auction item caught my eye: a one-day, guided trip with Glacier Anglers guide and TroutTV co-host Hilary Hutcheson. Before entering my bid I put out a group email to the Firehole Rangers and suggested we take a September trip to the Flathead Valley of northwest Montana. We had been pondering where to go for the last Ranger excursion of the year and since none of us had ever fished the area around Glacier National Park my suggestion earned collective approval.


With that I threw my hat into the ring and, for several days, enjoyed the peaceful confidence that accompanies a lack of bidding competition. Being that this was a fundraiser I was disappointed that there wasn’t more interest in the float trip. On the other hand I was pretty stoked that I might be able to pick this trip up for less than retail. With each passing day that the auction attracted no other bids I began to suffer from bidder’s remorse and wondered if perhaps others knew something I didn’t. Maybe Hilary was all smoke and mirrors—a hack guide—not worth the price of a bid? If that was true, how could I have missed that?

Social media is a strange and interesting facet of today’s society; a ‘place’ where we strike up ‘friendships’ with people whom we’ve never met and may never meet. We get a sense that we kinda know people without really knowing them and that’s pretty much how it was with Hilary. I’d had some limited professional correspondence with her going back a few years as she does some media work for Montana Fly Company, with whom I had an Olive the Woolly Bugger merchandising deal. I had also had a wee bit of personal interaction with her on Facebook and Instagram, but as one might imagine she has lots of Facebook friends and even more Instagram followers (Twitter, too, although I don’t do much on Twitter—in case you hadn’t noticed I tend to be a tad long-winded and Twitter only allows for 140 characters, including spaces, in which to state your message). But I digress. In short, in the fly fishing world, Hilary is a celebrity of sorts: she’s kind of a big deal. I, on the other hand, am just another average joe and a below-average, unaccomplished angler. I’ll certainly never grace the home page of Patagonia, that’s for sure.

Patagonia Hilary Hutcheson

Cover girl.

From my social media standpoint Hilary seemed like a good person and I assumed she must be a good angler as well. After all, she does galavant about the West, fishing and filming, with the crew of TroutTV. And despite her busy media schedule she does still find time to guide on her home waters in Glacier country. So why wasn’t anyone else bidding on this trip? My wondering didn’t persist as another anonymous bidder had the nerve to enter into the game.

The NERVE...


Mind you I am not an overly competitive person, I just prefer not to lose. Tension mounted as the auction went back and forth, $25 at a time, until there was only one day left. At that point I decided to put an end to the jousting and dealt a final blow to my anonymous competitor by upping the bid by $50. It was, after all, for a good cause.

After a victory like this I often give pause for reflection as I consider who my competition might have been. For half a second I surmised that it may have been Hilary herself, driving up the bid, trying to discourage me from winning so that she wouldn’t have to fish with me. Could she really be that type of person?  I didn’t want to think so. She doesn’t come across that way in the virtual world and I’ve watched enough episodes of TroutTV to assess that she actually seems to be a rather shy, reserved person engaging personality—some might almost say, fun.

Trout TV Yakima River

Hilary catches big fish on the Yakima River.

I’ve subscribed to TroutTV for a year or so and I enjoy the episodes (yes, even the ones that feature co-host Rich Birdsell). On three different occasions the show has ventured to Washington to fish the Yakima River. In one episode Rich struggled early but did finally manage to catch some respectable fish. On the other hand, Hilary made it look easy, catching many and sizable trouts both times she was on the Yakima. In one particular episode (which you can watch for free, HERE) she proclaims, as her rod is doubled over, “So. Cool. I love this place! Washington state rules!”

Trout TV Yakima River fly fishing

Hilary catches more big fish on the Yakima River.

Right out of the blocks, on another Yakima River episode, Hilary makes short work of a really nice fish (nicer than I’ve caught on the Yakima in many years). “That was kinda easy,” she says. “Can I sign up for the advanced course?”

Oh, puh-lease.

The Yakima River never fishes like that for me, nor for most of the people I know who fish it. I’ve always resented Hilary for marching into Kittitas County, kicking ass and taking names and making it look so easy. I’ve oft wondered if I would ever get a chance to air my grievances in person and now it appeared as though I might finally get my chance.

When it was confirmed that I had won the auction I reached out to Hilary and inquired about possible dates that might be available for the trip. She refused to return my attempts at contacting her  She pretended to know who I was She was very accommodating and booked two more boats with Glacier Anglers. The Firehole Rangers would be floating the Middle Fork Flathead on September 13th.

And I began accepting bribes to determine who would share my boat with Hilary.

Not this Hillary.

Not this Hillary.

Stay tuned for Part 6 in this 6 Part series of Weekly Drivel®. And remember—every time you leave a comment on the blog, a puppy in a third world country escapes starvation. 


But first, the North Fork of the Flathead

Question to those of you reading this: Did you read the previous, related stories first? Because this is technically Part 4, meaning that there are 3 previous, related stories: Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3.

The road north.

The road north: the North Fork Road.

Armed with just enough information to be dangerous, the Firehole Rangers headed out of Columbia Falls on Saturday morning in search of a few spots from which to pursue some cooperative fish on the North Fork of the Flathead River. We were told not to expect big fish in the North Fork, but more fish perhaps than what we might expect in the Middle Fork Flathead (where we would be fishing on Sunday). The North Fork forms the western boundary of Glacier National Park so beauty was in no short supply as we proceeded north on a road that went from paved, to packed and dustless dirt, to very dusty gravel. Despite evidence all around of a large wildfire in the not-so-distant past, the mountains were coming back to life. There’s something particularly awesome about a new forest emerging from blackened devastation. We continued north on the North Fork road until we were 34 miles from the Canadian Border.

Another 34 miles and we'd have found ourselves in Canada.

Another 34 miles and we’d have found ourselves in Canada.


Our first stop was at Great Northern Flats, where we geared up and spread out up and down the river. That’s the one drawback to fishing with a group of 6 guys: it requires space to accommodate the entire Ranger brigade. It should be noted that we were also joined on this day by Young Bill, the eldest child of Sir Lancelot. Likely you won’t recall, but Lancelot wrote a guest blog HERE at the Unaccomplished Angler years ago, and joined the Rangers on a trip to Yellowstone in 2013. He wasn’t invited back after refusing to never again wear his cantaloupe pink fishing shirt. Ever. Young Bill is not only far better looking than his father, but he’s also a much more agreeable chap and has a much more gender-appropriate sense of fashion. Our young charge was in the early stages of a multi-week trout bum trip, living out of the back of his truck and traveling where the roads took him in quest of new fly fishing waters, before returning to the real world where he will sit behind a desk in a cubicle for the next 40 years of his life (hopefully not).

Young Bill, Nash and myself headed upriver while Jimmy, Morris, Marck and Goose headed downstream. Here the river was broad and shallow with very little interesting-looking water. The streambed was rather uniform and devoid of significantly large rocks to provide likely haunts for fish but I found a current seam that looked better than anything else around. I put a Purple Haze through the run, a 12 inch rainbow came easily, and I was falsely lured into thinking this might be a pretty productive day. Above me, Young Bill also got into an early, small fish. Nash, not so much, despite crossing the river and putting forth an honest effort. In retrospect, by crossing the river, Nash may have actually been fishing within the boundaries of Glacier National Park. If he was, he was doing so without a National Park fishing permit, which is actually not required as it is in Yellowstone, so he was breaking no laws. Which was a good thing because Nash is not the rule breaking type.

North Fork of the Flathead

North Fork of the Flathead

I left Young Bill and Nash behind as I moved downstream, changing flies occasionally, and wondering where the rest of the fish were. To make a long story short, I fished a long ways and while the day was heating up the fishing was not. By the time I caught up with the others I was in full despair mode.  They hadn’t been doing much better, although Marck had managed a few small fish out of a particular spot. Overall the catching was sparse. We all met back at the white vans and agreed to drive back down river to another couple of recommended spots.

Beauty, but no fish.

Beauty, but no fish.

Jimmy and I stopped along the way and surveyed the river from various vantage points. It remained broad and shallow, without many bends and very little to no woody debris structure. Runoff here is obviously a major scouring event and any logs that get caught up in the current must get washed far downstream. We passed up a few places and decided to make our last stop at Glacier Rim. We were not the only ones to stop at there—the launch access was busy with non-anglers frolicking on the riverbank. we waded upstream a ways to get away from the crowds and fished for about an hour without so much as a bump from fish. Jimmy vanished—I had no idea where he went off to—so I kept fishing, trying to make something happen. I fished a small streamer and various dry patterns. I finally managed a rather unimpressive 10 inch fish before deciding that it was too damn hot to be walking around in waders. I headed back to the Man Van and that’s where I encountered Jimmy, sprawled on the gravel taking a nap in the shade. He had caught so many fish that he was spent, had called it quits earlier. We groused over the lack of fish and decided to head back to the porch at the Glacier Inn, where cold beer awaited.

Within an hour or so the Rangers rolled up. They had found a spot where the fishing had improved a bit, particularly for Marck. Young Bill had not caught another fish after his first of the day. He remained rather quiet, his traumatic experience on the North Fork evidenced by his 100-yard stare that persisted well into the evening and even through dinner at the Glacier Grill and Pizza.

The 100 Yard Stare of Despair

The 100 Yard Stare of Despair

Young Bill would be departing early the next morning for Canada where he planned to fish the Elk River and a small tributary where we assured him he would catch nice fish. Based on Instagram photos he posted, Canada welcomed Young Bill with open arms and fish that are as agreeable as its citizens. I’m sure he got over this North Fork Flathead rogering rather quickly.


Not the North Fork of the Flathead.

The Rangers would be finally fishing the Middle Fork of the Flathead the next morning. It was the reason we were here, and our expectations were high. The Middle Fork had to be more welcoming than its little brother to the northwest had been. It just had to be. If not, we were close enough to Canada that we might catch up with Young Bill.


The Rangers arrive in Glacier Country

Although not labeled Part 3, this really is a continuation of the previous 2 stories. And while Part 1 and Part 2 require that each be read (in proper succession) in order to gain a full appreciation for the whole story, one could theoretically read Part 3 without having read parts 1 and 2.

Sportsmobile 4x4

After our slight error in judgment on what should have been the Thompson River Road, Jimmy and I arrived in Columbia Falls at around 3:30 PM and checked into our lavish suite at the Glacier Inn Motel. Not long after our arrival the remainder of the Firehole Ranger detachment stormed into town. There were now two white vans marking our positions. Marck, Morris, Nash, Goose, Jimmy and I were all gathered here on this day to ultimately fish the Middle Fork of the Flathead on Sunday. Between now and then we had a day to kill on the North Fork of the Flathead River.

The first order of business was to stop by Larry’s Lary’s Fly & Supply for some river information and flies. Per instructions by the shop’s owner (with whom we would be fishing on Sunday) we found Lary’s in the corner of an old brick building in the heart of downtown Columbia Falls. We were a bit surprised to discover the shop locked up and dark but we reasoned that it was late on a Friday afternoon and the shop had probably closed early for a staff meeting or something like that. With our noses pressed against the window we peered inside: Lary’s appeared to be well-stocked despite its diminutive size and, aside from what you’d expect to find in a fly shop, one could also purchase Salomon trail running shoes if one were so inclined. I won’t say whether or not we would have been so inclined as to purchase said trail running shoes, but had the shop been open who knows what we may have bought?

Lary's Fly & Supply, Columbia Falls, Montana

This is not Larry’s Fly & Supply

Right next door, astonishingly, was the office of Outside Media, which also appeared to be closed for the week. Outside Media is co-owned by Shane and Hilary Hutcheson. Outside Media sponsors TroutTV, of which Hilary is a co-host. Hilary is also the proprietor of Lary’s Fly and Supply.  It was all becoming very clear now: the Hutchesons are like the First Family of Columbia Falls. If not that they are at the very least a pretty big deal on this block of Nucleus Avenue.

Outside Media and Trout TV, Columbia Falls, Montana

The offices of Outside Media, and home base for TroutTV

Despite the lack of new trail running shoes the next order of business was to run around town in search of a place for Goose to get his Montana fishing license (the rest of us had previously purchased annual licenses earlier in the year). We stopped by the next closest fly shop in town and although we were unable to purchase a license at Arend’s Fly Shop, we were able to gather some intel on the North Fork of the Flathead River, which we would be fishing the next day. We also dropped some coin and picked up a few flies while in the shop (it’s the right thing to do when requesting free information on where to fish). While perusing the selection of different flies and discussing what weight tippet to fish with, Goose may have mentioned that he couldn’t cast worth a shit. The result of that comment was a 5 minute lesson on the parking lot casting pond.

Goose gets some coddling and a casting lesson.

Goose gets some coddling and a casting lesson.

We were finally able to track down a fishing license for our newly-certified master caster at the local grocery store. Since the grocery store also sold beer it seemed a prudent thing to pick up more. Content with out supplies we headed back to the Glacier Inn for happy hour on the front porch. We were happy to be in Montana again.

There's more to fishing than actually fishing.

There’s more to fishing than actually fishing.

Dinner followed at The Back Room of the Night Owl restaurant (tasty food, by the way), after which, like moths drawn to porch lights, we returned to the porch of the motel. It was a beautiful, warm evening in Glacier country as we sat around pondering Goose’s curious lack of leg hair. It’s always a good time Nobody is safe from ridicule at a Ranger rendezvous.


Almost like sitting around a campfire.

Later that evening we were graciously joined by Shane Hutcheson and a half gallon of R&R whiskey. Having not previously met Shane, it was a pleasure to shoot the bull with him and learn about the area we’d be fishing the next two days. He’s quite the likeable fellow and we wondered if perhaps we might swap him for one of our guides in particular on Sunday. Unfortunately Shane had weekend commitments that prevented him from doing so, but he cautiously wished us well with regard to one guide in particular. The porch session could have gone on all night but we had fish to catch the next morning and Shane had a roof to replace. We bade Shane farewell as he walked off toward his nearby home, under the cloak of darkness, cradling an empty bottle of R&R.

Actually I’m kidding about the empty whiskey bottle: it wasn’t anywhere near empty. The same may not have been said about the bottle of Pendleton. I may be kidding about that, too.

Next up, a  day on the North Fork of the Flathead.


A road less travelled (and poorly marked): Part 2

As is often the case here, at the long-winded Unaccomplished Angler, this is a continuation of Part 1. It is always recommended that readers indulge themselves in the first story first. Ultimately, however, that is your choice.


We awoke moderately early the next day, dressed in shorts and puffy jackets, and cooked breakfast in the chill of the morning. Cold? No, but Fall was definitely in the air. We made short work of our meal, stowed gear in the Man Van, and bade farewell to the longest picnic table we’d ever had the pleasure of sharing camp with.

We once again hit what we assumed to be the Thompson River Road and headed upstream in quest of some fishy looking water. The road had turned to gravel shortly after leaving camp so we were confident that we were on the right path. On the opposite side of the river, which was no more than 20 feet wide in most spots, was another road. In our pre-trip planning we had read that there are two roads that parallel the Thompson so our confidence, that we were where we were supposed to be, soared.

We saw plenty of decent looking water but continued a few miles until we came to a bend in the river where the sunlight was just beginning to hit the river. We donned our waders, strung up our rods (I’d opted for my 3 weight) and hopped down the bank to the edge of the river. The water temp hovered just below 60 degrees and it took a good while before the fish would move to a dry fly. Jimmy and I each managed a single fish from this first run: mine was a healthy rainbow in the 12 inch range; Jimmy’s a bit smaller. We decided that we wouldn’t spend too much time in any one spot because we had another 40+ miles of river and road ahead of us: we could milk that much water all day long. And since we knew we were on the right road we had nothing to do but drive, stop, fish, and repeat.

Thompson River Road LIttle Thompson River Road

We were on the right road, which was actually the left road.

We were the only ones on the Thompson River Road aside from the occasional log truck that kicked up thick plumes of white Montana dust. The road on the opposite side of the river carried a few more vehicles, but nobody seemed to be stopping to fish despite that the other road seemed to more closely follow the river and offer perhaps more ready access. We kept driving and passed by a lot of shallow riffles in quest of some deeper runs. As the mile markers increased, eventually we came to a junction where we found the first indication that we had, indeed, been on the correct road. We stayed our course.

At a point further on we came upon a major fork where the main road appeared to continue mostly straight but slightly to the left; a smaller road veering slightly to the right. Again there were no signs and all research had suggested that once we were on the Thompson River Road that’s where we would remain until we arrived at Highway 2. We hesitated only briefly before determining that the obvious choice was to stay leftish, on the larger of the two roads. The road now began to climb a bit, leaving the river for several miles. The trees grew smaller and the land became more arid, trading a variety of conifers for pines. It didn’t feel quite right, but again, we had to be on the right road. Right?

Internet maps that we’d consulted hadn’t indicated any forks or major junctions, nor was there cell coverage such that we might pull up a map on our phones (note to self: pick up a Montana Gazeteer before the next trip). Onward we proceeded, debating with each passing mile whether or not we should have taken the right fork in the road miles earlier. About the time I began to consider a U-turn, the road dropped into a broad meadow. The river came into view once again, but it had completely changed personalities since last we’d laid eyes on it: instead of a gently tumbling freestoner, here it resembled a meandering spring creek, lined by tall grassy banks with nary a gradient. We pulled off the road to survey the water’s glassy surface and immediately spied the rise forms from a nice fish on the opposite bank. That was all we needed to give it a shot.


The Thompson River takes on a whole new personality.

Jimmy hopped into the water and slowly waded downstream. He kicked up clouds of silty mud and spooked several large fish in the 15 inch range that darted from beneath a sunken branch. I walked along the bank until I came to a spot where it looked as though I might have a decent perch from which to cast toward where we’d seen the rising fish. Just one. More. Step. It was a bad decision that would have been disastrous had the water been another foot deeper. Fortunately the water was only 4 feet deep where my foot broke through the matted grass that had given the false impression of solid ground. I didn’t go over the top of my waders and climbed back out on the bank with only a minor blow to my ego. It didn’t take an intelligent person to know that any fish within close proximity were now on high alert: the Unaccomplished Angler was in town.

We’d each done a pretty respectable job of blowing our chances on this particular hole, so we surveyed the area and realized it was it was going to be very difficult to fish this section of the Thompson River, if it were in fact the Thompson River. I’d read prior to the trip that the Thompson resembles a spring creek in the upper section but had hoped access would be a bit easier. I don’t mind working for a fish, but overhanging grass banks make not only casting very difficult, but landing a fish even more so.


But was it even the Thompson River?

By now it was getting pretty warm—too warm to be slogging around in waders—so we made the decision get out of our Gortex and to continue down the road in hopes of finding water that was just a bit more access-friendly.


Not the Thompson River Road

In a few miles we approached a major crossroad that turned out to be Highway 2. We had expected to reach this point on the Thompson River Road. However, according to the sign alongside the gravel road upon which we’d been traveling, we reached this point via the Lang Creek Road. The river had been on our right for the last 10 or so miles. Had we a hard copy map we’d have realized that the river should have been on our left. So it may or may not have been the Thompson River that we molested in the grassy meadow. Was it Lang Creek? I’ve since been able to locate Lang Creek on a map. Indeed we should have taken the slightly right fork in the road miles earlier. A simple sign would have been nice, but then again a better job in planning on our part would have resolved this matter. Then again, in viewing the Google map of the area, Lang Creek Road instersects the Plum Creek Timber County Road, which is intermittently labeled as the Thompson River ACM Road, which is not to be mistaken for the Thompson River Road. Confused yet?

At any rate, we turned right, onto Highway 2, and headed east toward Kalispell. After a mile or 2 we came to a gravel road on our right that was marked: “Thompson River Road”.

I considered taking a right onto the gravel road but we still had a ways to go before arriving in Columbia Falls. The other Rangers would be arriving about the same time so we decided we were done with the Thompson River. Until we go back next time, armed with a Montana Gazeteer.


You may now proceed to Part 3, though it’s not labeled as Part 3, if you wish.