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.
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.
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.
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.
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.