Best of the West - Montana

Field & Stream Online Editors

Lose the Crowds
Kootenai River - Montana
The underrated Kootenai River loops south from British Columbia into extreme northwestern Montana, where the 17-mile tailwater below Libby Dam offers some of the state's finest rainbow trout fishing. A 33-pound, state-record rainbow was taken by a spinfisherman below the dam here in 1997. Flyfishermen, meanwhile, will encounter abundant 12- to 16-inchers rising in the broad currents during July, with enough 18-inch-plus fish to warrant plenty of backing on your trout reel. Numerous small tributaries and area ponds offer exceptional fishing for smaller rainbows and westslope cutthroats. It's possible to fish the big river from shore, but casting from a drift boat works best. More info: 406-293-3608; libbymt.com

** Next Best Yampa River, Colorado **From Steamboat Springs in northwestern Colorado downstream through the Stagecoach Reservoir tailwater, the unsung Yampa River has big rainbows (and, in some areas, monster northern pike). More info: Fly Fishing Outfitters, 800-595-8090; flyfishingoutfitters.net

Teach Your Children
Lone Mountain Ranch - Montana
Taking your kid on a fishing trip and then trying to teach her yourself can be difficult because the emotional baggage-good and bad-of home life comes along, too. So hire a flyfishing guide for a day and have the guide devote all his attention to the child while you stay out of the way. Your child will most likely thrive under the attention of an understanding yet detached expert. You'll then have more fun fishing together in the days that follow. You might also consider a flyfishing school for young people, such as the one offered by Lone Mountain Ranch in Big Sky, Montana. Sessions start at $75 for a half day. More info: Lone Mountain Ranch, 800-514-4644; lmranch.com

**Next Best Vermillion Ranch, Livingston, Montana **Sweetwater Travel Co. is offering a six-day kids' flyfishing school July 3¿¿¿9 this summer on the banks of the Yellowstone River. More info: 888-347-4286; sweetwatertravel.com

Get Eaten by a Griz
Flathead River - Montana
In the Bob Marshall Wilderness, native cutthroats teem in three forks of the Flathead River-vital, transparent races of water that vein a vast roll of mountains where every other feature of land has been named for its bears: Silvertip Mountain, White Bear Creek, Grizzly Gulch. It is a measure of these great predators that you feel their presence in the palpable silence invoked by true wilderness. Here it's not easy to keep your mind on the fishing long enough to follow the drift of your fly without turning your head to search the forest for movement. Accessed only by foot or horseback, the Flathead demands a commitment of time and sweat, but if you believe that God resides in the mountains, as did the ancient Greeks, then this is as close to heaven on earth as you're likely to find. More info: Spotted Bear Ranger Station, 406-758-5376. Spotted Bear Ranch, 800-223-4333; spottedbear.com

Next Best Thoroughfare of the Yellowstone River, Yellowstone National Park, Wyoming It's not unheard of for someone paddling a canoe into the Thoroughfare of the Yellowstone River for native cutthroats to be put up a tree by a grizzly bear that had decided men didn't belong there. This is the remotest region in all the contiguous states. Maybe the bear had it right. Don't be surprised if the Thoroughfare is temporarily off-limits due to bruin activity. More info: Backcountry Office of Yellowstone National Park, 307-344-2160; yellowstone-natl-park.com/back.htm

Catch Trout So Big They're Scary
Beaverhead River - Dillon, Montana
It's easy to think New Zealand might be obsolete after a day's float on the Beaverhead. Huge brown trout come eagerly to dry flies and nymphs with astonishing regularity, despite the narrow chaannels, swift river flows, and steady armada of rafts (not drift boats) custom-rigged to negotiate the river's abrupt channel swerves and bobbing currents. But the real adrenaline junkie will try to talk a local guide service into a moonlit float from Buffalo Bridge downstream. (You can do it yourself, but given the intricacies of the river channel, it usually isn't a good idea.) Nighttime is when the "big boys" eat-trout 2 feet or longer that crash the surface for mouse flies, snakes, or other gaudy topwater patterns. More info: Tim Tollett's Frontier Anglers, 800-228-5263; frontieranglers.com

** Next Best Missouri River, Craig, Montana Missouri River** trout have a hard-surging energy. Legendary Montana guide Rusty Vorous once hypothesized that you could tail-tie a Missouri trout to any other trout in the West, and the Missouri trout would drag the other up the river until it drowned. More info: Guide Pete Cardinal, 406-235-9055; moangler.com

**Get Lost in Indian Country **
Blackfeet Reservation, Montana
Mitten Lake is a pool of sapphire at the end of a bad dirt road. Large rainbows that rip deep into your fly-line backing may convince you to spend the night, but problem bears from adjacent Glacier Park were trapped and released in the snowy crags that reflect on the water. Such is the disquieting allure of all the Blackfeet lakes-the fishing can be fantastic for trout that reach 10 pounds and more, but you need a little courage, a few ounces of pepper spray, and good ground clearance to enjoy it. Plus a map-a fisherman can get lost here, which just might be the point. More info: Wolverton's Fly Shop in Great Falls, 406-454-0254

** Next Best Duck Valley Indian Reservation, Idaho/Nevada**
With the peaks of the Owyhee Mountains surrounding you, it's hard to concentrate on your damsel nymph under the surface of one of the three great reservoirs here. You'd better, though. The Shoshone and Paiute tribes manage these waters for big-shouldered rainbows. More info: Idaho Angler in Boise, 800-787-9957; idahoangler.com. Duck Valley Gas and Co. in Owyhee, 775-757-3301