A Western Adventure

“There is beauty in ordinary things.”

There is nothing extraordinary about three friends hopping in a car and driving 6,000 miles to meet another friend, just to catch trout and climb mountains together. Still, four long-time friends overcoming school, jobs, and life in general to reconvene and do the things they love most, together, is as beautiful as it is tough to make happen.

It has been over four months since I returned from my trip west, and some of its incredibleness  has waned. The fish don’t seem quite as big, and the mountains don’t seem quite as scary. If anything, the trip opened up more fantasies than it fulfilled. Still, rarely does a day go by that I don’t remember a wild rainbow smashing a dry-fly, tumbling rocks expelled from a spitting glacier, or thunderclouds that endlessly cover expansive plains, reminding you of why Montana is “Big Sky Country”. Sentimentality is hard to convey through written word, and my writing skills are far from equal to the task. I’ll try to refrain from boring you with a day-by-day recap. Instead, myself, Gordon, and Marshall (the three Easterners on this journey) will rehash a few of the highlights, and give you a small view into our trip and the impressions of the Wild West!

 

A group shot before we headed into the Wind River Wilderness. Our faces don’t show it, but we were incredibly excited and anxious for the adventures that lay ahead of us.
(Photo Credit: Gordon W. Dimmig Photography)

Favorite part of our trip.

Ethan: Aside from the obvious mountain-top experiences (both literally and figuratively), one thing that I will always remember is the 350-odd hours that the four of us spent together. Whether it was the 35-hour journey to Missoula, or streamside snack breaks, the things I will remember most are things that I largely ignored during the trip. Grooving to good driving music, posing wildly hypothetical questions, discussing world history (shout-out to Dan Carlin’s Hardcore History podcasts), or rehashing the day’s adventures over a local beer make up the warm feelings that fill the space between memory snapshots.

Gordon: Camping at ~10,000 feet in the Wind River Range at our little oasis campsite with waterfalls, alpine lakes a short hike away, full moonlit nights, Black Rosy Finches, and Gannett’s [Gannett Peak, a summit we conquered] spirit keeping us all tense.

Dusk in the Tourist Creek basin.
(Photo Credit: Gordon W. Dimmig Photography)

Marshall: My favorite part of the trip was the adventure of the unknown. It’s more of an idea but from it came most of my memorable experiences. Things like, what will driving straight from PA to MT be like, what’s around this bend, what’s up there, or where are we fishing tomorrow. The flux of seeing how the trip took shape was my favorite part.

 

Most memorable fish from our trip.

Ethan: This is a two-way tie. The first came on the Dearborn River, several miles into the Scapegoat Wilderness. About half-way through a long, riffly drift, I saw a head rise and gulp my size 12 Elk Hair Caddis. After a day full of smallish trout, I had finally found one of the pigs we were looking for. The ‘bow was large, fought fiercely, was a fantastic jumper. He lept twice, and both times I found myself staring upwards as he reached the crest of his parabola. Never have I seen a fish jump so high, and snapshots of the moment remain in my head.

My other favorite fish was a more impressive and rare specimen, but he was caught unintentionally, thus reducing the effect. Fishing on the North Fork of the Flathead, we got to witness bull trout resting in the pools as they swam upstream to spawn, many of which would have stretched from my toes to hip. Based upon the fact that they were in pre-spawn mode, and information we had heard about the species, it never occurred to me that these were catchable fish. Yet as I drifted my Prince Nymph-Elk Hair Caddis tandem through some broken water, I saw my dry disappear, set the hook, and found a large gray-silver trout on the business end. Before long the white stripes on its fins (tell-tale signs of a char) identified it as a bull trout. With Wendell as a reliable net-man, I was able to land the fish, snap a few quick pictures, and release him to continue his journey towards reproduction. Those few moments made me more excited than any singular trout has ever before!

Wendell with a healthy bull trout that he took on the North Fork of the Blackfoot River. The river was loaded with bulls headed upstream to spawn, and we were very surprised when a few took our flies as we fished for cutthroats.

Gordon: A hog of a brown on the Little Blackfoot River. He was sitting in a little undercut bank on a side stream and I floated a big hopper down several times. After about 5 missed strikes I hooked him, and he gave a great fight.

Marshall: I caught a beautiful, big brown on Rock Creek. It was in a nice deep bend in the creek. I threw a big, green streamer and stripped it across the current. The trout chased and nailed it. Then the fight was on.

We started our trip off with an awesome afternoon on Rock Creek. Here, Marshall shows off his “Yesterday Fish” (a.k.a. the fish you will be talking about tomorrow).

 

Stream I would most like to visit again.

Ethan: For me, this is a four-way tie between the Dearborn River, Rock Creek, The North Fork of the Blackfoot River, and the Little Blackfoot River. The Dearborn because it runs through the most beautiful scenery I have ever cast a line in. Rock Creek is loaded with respectable trout, and I believe an angler could have some amazing days there. The North Fork of the Blackfoot because the angry current cutting through steep mountains conveyed an overpowering sense of wilderness. The Little Blackfoot River because it was full of large brown trout, but also because they required an ample amount of skill to catch.

Gordon: The Dearborn River. While it lacked in size and quantity of fish, it was definitely the most breathtaking, pure, and unique stream we fished. Deep pools of crystal clear, frigid water among steep canyon walls with amazing scenes around every corner.

The Dearborn River. One of the most gorgeous trout streams any of us had ever seen.
(Photo Credit: Wendell Baer, @riversonthefly)

Marshall: My favorite stream that we fished during the trip was Rock Creek. This was a beautiful stream with plenty of nice fish. It was also the perfect size in my opinion, not too small, but also not too big for an Easterner. We only fished this stream a half day and I feel like it deserves much more time. 

 

Favorite memory from the Wind River Range.

Ethan: If you are not familiar with the vistas provided by the Wind River Wilderness, do yourself a favor and Google the area. Immediately afterward, buy a map, carve out a free week or two in your summer, and begin planning to visit, as the sights in-person are far better than even the best photos. This mountain range is unlike any I have spent time in before. There are no other words to describe the mountains but “massive”. There is nothing quite like endless square miles of exposed rock to make a person feel quite small.

Trekking up the Green River valley, with Squaretop Mountain looming over us.
(Photo Credit: Gordon W. Dimmig Photography)

Gordon: The most intense summit of my life. Conquering Gannett from the boulder hopping, to a glacial traverse, to a frightening snow finger crossing, to some ridge-top climbing. Nuts.

Gannet Peak: one step at a time.
(Photo Credit: Gordon W. Dimmig Photography)

Marshall: My favorite memory from the Winds was the amazing lunar landscape above treeline. Now that the trip is in the rear view, the breathtaking views from above the tree line are what sticks out in my memory. It was a totally new world for me and this was my favorite thing to soak in.

 

A part of our trip that I would redo.

Ethan: Obviously, I would have loved to make our trip a week or two longer. There is just so much to hike, fish, and explore. It seemed each time we traveled to fish a stream, I would discover three more that I wanted to spend time on.

Gordon: Research more on where to find Golden Trout. Then add that into our Wind River Range portion and slay some alpine lakes.

Marshall: I honestly would not change a thing. It was an unadulterated adventure.

 

An area that I would most like to revisit.

Ethan: While driving from Missoula to Pinedale, Wyoming, we passed many famous rivers that I would have loved to spend a day or two fishing. The Henry’s Fork in Idaho, and Madison River in Montana come to mind off of the top of my head.

Gordon: As above, return to the Winds to find Golden Trout. Also driving from Missoula to Wyoming, sparked my interest in exploring the southern Montana wilderness near Granite Peak to conquer some mountains and find some backcountry trout.

Marshall: If I would have to pick one, which is hard since I would like to spend more time everywhere we were. I would like to do some more fishing in the Missoula, Montana area. We didn’t even scratch the surface of beautiful streams and rivers to fish and explore. 

 

The sun throws its final rays on Squaretop Mountain and the Green River basin.
(Photo Credit: Gordon W. Dimmig Photography)

My hope is that by rehashing our adventure, I have convinced you to put your mind at ease and start planning that bucket list trip that is always stealing your attention.

 

Happy Adventuring!

Ethan

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