Field & Stream Online Editors
Last June, my good buddy Mark Wizeman and I had the opportunity to truck across western Montana for a week with one objective: fly fish a different river every day with no guides or float-boat for only $150 per man per day. But as it goes, fishing is only part of the fun. You meet interesting people. End up in interesting situations, and above all else, learn how tight you really are with your buddy. Should you follow in our footsteps, here’s some rules that are guaranteed to catch you more fish, keep you out of trouble, and make sure you and your friend remain on speaking terms. Mark Wizeman
Rule #1: There’s only two things you need to start a morning on a Montana river: a loaded fly box and some granola bars (assorted flavors are ideal). Mark Wizeman
Rule # 2: It’s easy to be optimistic when you’re tying up the first fly of the day. That changes when you’re two hours in and have yet to hook up on the Madison when trout are boiling all over. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 3: When your friend hooks up in one cast in a run you’ve been fishing for 20 minutes with nothing to show, violence is not the answer. Joe Cermele
Rule # 4: Buy lots of stimulators. Joe Cermele
Rule # 5: Karma’s a b*@#%! After getting flipped off by some float-boaters who had to paddle around me on the main channel of the Madison, I scored this rainbow in a back channel they couldn’t reach. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 6: Go here for a great burger if you’re in West Yellowstone. And if you weren’t already familiar with Moose Drool Ale, this is a good place to get acquainted. Joe Cermele
Rule # 7: If you stay here, buy earplugs. This Livingston motel is on the edge of town, literally across the tracks — which operate all night. Nothing like a train whistle at 3 a.m. Rise and shine! Joe Cermele
Rule # 8: You can’t visit Livingston without stopping by Dan Bailey’s fly shop. This store is legendary, and it’s worth popping in just to take a look at the famous plaques of trophy catches from decades past. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 9: Take what you can get. There are much bigger trout in the Yellowstone River, but wading ain’t easy around Livingston. Seeing that a float trip wasn’t an option for us, I considered my 14-inch rainbow a trophy. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 10: Don’t pass through the town of Wise River without visiting Frank and Edith Stanchfield’s Big Hole Troutfitters for local info. “I’ve been fishing the Big Hole so long, I took Moses out on his first wade trip,” said Frank. Now that’s the guy I want to chat with about finding big fish. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 11: A grill full of dried, splattered bugs adds character to any vehicle. Joe Cermele
Rule # 12: Sometimes the smallest fish are the prettiest. Wise River was loaded with these spunky little rainbows. Joe Cermele
Rule # 13: If you catch a grayling on the Big Hole, take a quick photo, let it go, and pat yourself on the back. Grayling numbers on this river have plummeted, so catching one is pretty rare these days. We ran into a couple rangers not long after releasing this fish, and they were thrilled to hear we caught one. Joe Cermele
Rule # 14: You never know what you’ll learn from the locals at the town watering hole. At the Antlers Saloon in Wisdom, we got schooled in a number of subjects, including, but not limited to, Woodstock, grave digging, logging, ditch digging, secret government experiments, the biggest mountains in Idaho and the best way to get people in town involved in a charity raffle for the local EMS — which in this case was raffling off a rifle. That sound weird to anyone else? Joe Cermele
Rule # 15: Bar decor tells you a lot about what’s on the mind of the locals. Joe Cermele
Rule # 16: If the tail end is nice, don’t worry so much about the face. Joe Cermele
Rule # 17: Sometimes you need to put down the fish and pick up the sun block or else you end up with dorky white burn lines across your face from your sunglasses. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 18: When a friend tells you not to use a certain picture of him in your story, don’t listen. Joe Cermele
Rule # 19: Catching the first brown trout of the night on the Bitterroot River is a cool achievement. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 20: Shooting photos of the much bigger brown trout your buddy caught at night on the Bitterroot River dampens the achievement of Rule # 19. Joe Cermele
Rule # 21: Mike Lukas from the Kingfisher fly shop in Missoula is the man. He gave us all the fancy patterns we needed to match the hatch on Rock Creek, but wasn’t too proud to admit that if you’ve got a couple neon-pink San Juan worms, matching the hatch becomes a moot point. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 21: Always get a photo of the rental property before putting down the deposit on the week-long dream vacation. Joe Cermele
Rule # 23: Signs are often misleading. What this should have read was, “the road along Rock Creek is so torn up from thousands of float-boat trailers and trucks driving over it during the salmon fly hatch, you’re very likely to blow out your tires and be stranded out here for a night with no cell phone reception.” Luckily, we made it out sans issue. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 24: Cowboy up! No road is too narrow and no cliff is too steep. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 25: Tide is highly effective on grass stains. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 26: Studded wading boots are a must on Rock Creek. See that nasty brown rock snot? It accounts for more wet clothes, ripped waders, and aching knees than you can imagine. Joe Cermele
Rule # 27: Huckleberries taste better in liquid form. If you stop for gas and have a chance to grab a Flathead Lake Monster soda, do it. Joe Cermele
Rule # 28: In small towns like Plains, don’t be surprised if two businesses double as one. Here you’ll see the local car wash and petting zoo. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 29: Don’t drive over the Thompson River without stopping to fish it. See photo for details. Joe Cermele
Rule # 29: Make sure you can identify a bull trout before you start fishing the Thompson. ‘Nuff said. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 31: Make sure you can identify grizzly and black bears before you start fishing the Yaak River. ‘Nuff said. Joe Cermele
Rule # 32: When in doubt, it’s a red band trout. Apparently this rare species is native to the Kootenai watershed, which includes the Yaak, but they look so similar to regular rainbows, Mark and I had a tough time differentiating between the two. But after much debate, we’ve decided the fish in this photo is a red band. Mark Wizeman
Rule # 33: There is no better way to finish off a week-long trout adventure than with an ice-cold Moose Drool. Mark Wizeman