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Hell or High Water? Day 4: The Beaverhead

If you’ve made it this far after reading Part 1, Part 2 and Part 3, you have my sympathy.

The summit of Hwy 287 between Virginia City and Ennis, MT.

The summit of Hwy 287 between Virginia City and Ennis, MT.

After bidding rood riddance to Three Dollar Bridge, we made our way toward Twin Bridges, via Ennis. As we pulled into Twin Bridges it became readily apparent that there was less happening on a Sunday night than there had been in the ghost town of Virginia City, which we’d passed through a half hour before. Actually, the weather was a bit lively, as our arrival was just ahead of a storm system that was rolling through the area. Dark clouds brought thunder and rain, adding to the rivers that were already running high. The Big Hole, which we had hoped to fish the next day, had already been approaching flood stage. This didn’t bode well for our hopes of being able to fish that river the next day.

A storm rolls into the ghost town of Twin Bridges.

A storm rolls into the ghost town of Twin Bridges.

Suffice it to say our hunch was correct: we would not be fishing the Big Hole. We’d fished it the past two years with the guys from 4 Rivers Fishing Company, and rather enjoyed ourselves. We had a sneaking suspicion that the only option would be the Beaverhead, which we had fished back in 2010; a year when it was also the only option. On that day 7 years prior, we fished in an all-day deluge that would have made Forks, WA proud. We caught many large fish and tested the effectiveness of our Gore-Tex jackets. The weather forecast this year didn’t call for rain, but when fishing in Montana one can never be too sure: ‘Plan for the worst, hope for the best’ is the mantra.

The next morning we met up with Chris Knott and Seth McLean, who, as proprietors of 4 Rivers Fishing Company, made up two of our 3 guides for the day. The 3rd “guide” was Joe Willauer, who isn’t a real guide. He used to be, before selling out and starting a family, which necessitated the financial stability of a real job. Joe is a self-professed ‘hobby guide’ these days, leaving his cubicle and trading in his Dockers for waders on occasion when Seth and Chris are short on actual working guides. Joe and I have been friends for many years and I feel like somewhat of a father figure to him; our resemblance so uncanny that we’re often confused as father and son when we’re together.

Family resemblance? Me and Joe from a few years earlier when he was still a real guide.

Family resemblance? Me and Joe from a few years earlier when he was still a real guide.

The Beaverhead felt like somewhat of a consolation prize, but it was the only game in town. My memory from the first time we’d fished the Beav was limited to the tossing of cumbersome double dropper rigs with split shot (a nightmare to cast). We hadn’t gotten to see much of the river that year due to the rain, which caused a Clark Canyon Creek to puke it’s chocolate bile into the river. We ended up fishing the upper 2 miles twice that day in a desperate attempt to fill our time quotas. At least on this day we should be able to fish much further downstream without repeating water. We hoped it wouldn’t rain, but just in case we all stowed our rain jackets on board our respective boats. Well, most of us did. I was unable to locate my jacket, which was, as it turns out, tucked away safely in Jay Dixon’s boat from 3 days earlier on the Missouri.

It was a foregone conclusion that Marck and Morris would join Chris in his boat: those three have become a wolf pack of sorts, what with Marck and Morris making early Spring trips to fish with Chris the past two years.  Jimmy and Goose subjected themselves to the tough love that comes from fishing with Seth, leaving Nash and myself to fight over who would get the back seat of Joe’s boat (I won). It didn’t take long before we all started getting into fish.

Nash enjoying one of his hot streaks.

Nash enjoying one of his hot streaks.

Throughout the day the momentum would swing back and forth, with Nash getting hot and landing a few fish while I sulked cheered him on. Then it would be my turn. But it wasn’t a competition (not officially, anyway) and we had a few instances where we were doubled up. Joe did a remarkably decent job of putting us on fish, despite the fact that he spends more time working a spreadsheet than the oars. The action was pretty consistent, with few fish smaller than 15 inches, mostly browns. Nash took honors in the whitefish category with an impressive specimen.

Two-handed whitey grip and grin.

Two-handed whitey grip and grin.

Here, I offer encouragement and a few rowing tips to Joe.

Here, I offer encouragement and a few rowing tips to Joe as Nash tries to sell him some insurance.

Apparently Goose had been having a particularly rough time of keeping flies in the water and out of the streamside vegetation. At one point we passed their boat as Seth was re-rigging Goose’s flies. Within a few minutes the profanities echoed off the hills on either side. We glanced upriver to see a rather discontented Goose with his line tight to an overhanging bit of shrubbery. While he may have lost no fewer than 138 flies throughout the day (which Seth patiently and graciously remedied), Goose also caught some nice fish. As did Jimmy.

Goose, between tangles and snags.

Goose, between tangles and snags.

Jimmy with a dandy Beaverhead rainbow.

Jimmy with a dandy Beaverhead inhabitant.

I’m not sure how well Marck and Morris were doing, but I assumed they were catching fish as well, given that Chris is a working guide, like Seth.

Apparently even Chris caught a nice brown.

Apparently even Chris caught a nice brown.

A rare sight: Morris in the front seat.

A rare sight: Normally one to prefer it in the rear, Morris fished out of the front seat.

At one point the guides decided to make short work of a fishy-looking stretch of water, powering through it with rods stowed. We raced and played a friendly game of three-way bumper boats; our boat coming out on the short end of the stick (with hands soft and shoulders weak from his day job, Joe just couldn’t keep up with the working guides).

Rushing past what appeared to be perfectly good water.

Rushing past what appeared to be perfectly good water.

Tailgaters.

Being overtaken by a boatload of tailgaters.

The competitive tomfoolery was fun and all, but why the rush to get past the fishy looking water? Apparently, despite appearances, this section hadn’t been fishing well at all, and our guides were in a hurry to get to “the mud”. I wasn’t sure what they meant by that until we came upon Grasshopper Creek, which was puking reddish-brown mud into the Beaverhead. My first thought was, “Why the hell are we targeting the brown water?” It wasn’t too long before the fish started hammering our flies in the muddy water and the reason became clear. Go figure.

The race ended in The Mud.

The race ended in The Mud.

At the end of the day we’d had us a grand old time and caught a bunch of fish. We got to see a lot more of the Beaverhead, and casting the awkward weighted rigs didn’t prove to be as challenging as I remember it to be from years before (though Goose may disagree). It was, by far, the most productive day of our trip; a trip otherwise fraught with high water and largely tight-lipped fish. We managed to dodge any weather bullets and had very pleasant conditions in which to do our thing. Because Montana can throw some curve balls at you any time of the year, I, in particular, was lucky that it didn’t rain on us. Remind me to get my jacket out of Jay’s boat.

Until next year…

 

 

 

 

3 thoughts on “Hell or High Water? Day 4: The Beaverhead”

  1. You really had me breathless for a minute. Seriously glad you finally were in the hunt for some fish.

    1. Kirk Werner says:

      The Beaverhead was the great savior. That said, anyone can catch fish on that river so it’s not exactly a feather in the cap. Thanks for enduring all 4 parts, Howard.

      1. Well Kirk, you’ve just got a way with words that keeps drawing me back. Luckily, my doctor has finally diagnosed me and hopefully the new medications help. 😉

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