Spoiled in Montana

Missouri River female rainbow trout nymphing

She's a peach; Montana Fishing Guide Russ Moore brought this bright spring female Rainbow up with a deeply drifted nymph.

With more than 15 great trout rivers and streams to choose from, Montana remains a state of preference for many of the world’s top fly fishers. I asked 20-year fly fishing veteran Russ Moore which was his favorite and why. I couldn’t watch his eyes because we were on the phone, but I could sense his hesitation. Here’s the list from which he had to choose: The Gallatin, Madison, Bighorn, Yellowstone, Beaverhead, Big Hole, Black Foot, Clark Fork, Bitterroot, West Fork of the Bitterroot, Fish Creek, Rock Creek, Flathead, Missouri and Kootenai.

How would you make such a choice?

“I suppose it has to do with the day you had–they’re all great!” He explained that every stream or river is a little different, that as a guide his responsibility is to know the water and its insect life as best he can because that knowledge translates into big fish and numbers caught for clients.

“Some of it comes from just being there, as often as you can, so that you get to know the seasons of each river.  Over time you learn what to do, what to fish and why you should fish a certain way. A sudden spring rain can make a huge difference. You have to adapt to everything. Low water, warm water, high water, ice anchors–nothing’s ever quite the same except that you’re there and you grow to understand it.”

I let him off the hook and said, “So there’s no best river. Then what makes a river great?”

“Without a doubt it’s the genetic pool of the trout that are in it. What’s great about Montana streams is that the trout are largely pure genetic strains. Though the browns are imports, the rainbows and West Slope cutthroats have been there for centuries. They’re bred to the water and know how to adapt to various conditions. Trout that spawn naturally have a much greater chance of over-wintering an ice anchor, for instance, where a river freezes from the bottom up. That condition, when it occurs, kills the winter nymphs and greatly reduces the food supply. Native fish can survive that, where stocked fish seldom do. Montana’s great for native fish.”

“Are they better fighters?” I probed.

“That’s what makes a ‘best river’,” his voice lit up–long runs, acrobatics, large fish coming to the surface to feed, size, girth and length–all these things add up to a great experience. I’ve had brown trout come 3 feet out of the water and rainbows that jumped and jumped and jumped. High-energy fish with strength and stamina are well-fed. Montana streams have an abundance of rich food sources. So they’re all great! They’re all the best river to fish and every one of them is my favorite stream!”

Nice dance around the issue, Russ. Reminds me of the intro to Prairie Home Companion….

Leave a comment; tell me about your favorite water and why it’s become that.