Shortly after Nate and I froze our…fingers off steelhead fishing in November I watched an episode of Trout TV that featured per-runoff trout fishing on the Main Stem of the Flathead River. I floated the main stem from the Hungry Horse bridge to Columbia Falls a couple years ago when Darryl and I were camping in that part of Montana.
I started formulating a plan to try a pre-runoff trip to the area. You would never consider this if you lived far away which would require expensive travel arrangement because the weather and river conditions cannot be counted on. However, now that I live a day’s drive from Western Montana it might be worth risking snow or high water.
So during a conversation over a beer after work I tried the idea out on my friend, Corey O’Donnell. Turned out that he was trying to arrange a fishing trip with his father, Jeff. So the trip would be the Corey, Jeff, Nate and I. Over the next several months the plans came together; dates picked, guides booked, etc. As we got within two weeks and hotel reservations were being made the guides started warning us that they were having some of the same unseasonably warm weather in Whitefish, like we had been enjoying. They started preparing us for the possibility that the Flathead could be blown out with snow melt, but they had alternatives. While the fishing reports the weekend before sounded great the weather forecast was for unseasonably warm and sunny weather for our trip.
Well, sure enough the Flathead blew out the day before we got there, so an alternative needed to be agreed upon between heading over to the Missouri River or fishing a local lake. It really was a fairly simple choice; moving the weekend over to the Missouri River would be great for the fishing but cost considerably more, so lake fishing it would be.
Rogers Lake is a small lake on National Forest Service land at the end of the dusty uphill drive. Jerrell, the guide for Nate and I, told us that the cottagers owned the buildings but leased the land from the NFS and the lease payments recently went up ~10X, so there were a number of For Sale signs along the dirt road. I don’t have a picture of the layout of the launch site but it was hairy.
The weather was spectacular, so it was hard to feel too concerned that it shouldn’t be as warm as it was. After just a bit of searching along the outside edge of last year’s reeds we found what had to be a school of 100 grayling. It was so bizarre because Nate and I had never caught grayling and this day we caught about 50 or more between us. The coloring on these fish is amazing especially the iridescent blue of their oversized dorsal fin in the clear lake water. Their sides look almost metallic. For about every 10 grayling a fat cutthroat trout would take our flies.
The pod of fish we found were in a “bowl” along the reeds about 20 feet across with our boat on one side and Corey, Jeff, and their guide, Rob, on the other. Can you say fishing in a barrel. We were catching fish on almost every cast all afternoon until things turned off around 5:00.
Day 2 – We were back at the lake to have a go on our own. I had my pontoon while Nate, Corey, and Jeff used float tubes. The good news was we had the lake pretty much to ourselves all day. The bad news was this solitude was probably due to the stiff wind. The wind made for hard travel and fishing for the guys in the float tubes. Corey and Jeff really never got started due to problems with their tubes. They ended up traveling to Glacier National Park for the day. Nate gave it a herculean effort fighting the wind for hours; his legs finally gave up late in the afternoon.
It took me a couple of hours to find them but I did manage to get into the grayling. Not as fast and furious as the day before but good enough to be grilled by other fishermen at the launch ramp when we were leaving. The topper for day two was a beautiful 18-inch cutthroat.
So it pays to be flexible in your plans when forces beyond your control put you in unfamiliar territory. Sometimes those alternatives end up exceeding your expectations.