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My Week at a Fly Fishing Guide School in Montana

The staff was friendly, the location in Paradise Valley was stunning, and the overall experience will be something I’ll never forget.

My fly fishing journey initially began in 2009, when I first visited the Rocky Mountains of Colorado and Wyoming. That summer I relocated to the West after accepting a position at a high end, luxury guest ranch in the Medicine Bow Mountains of Wyoming. That experience not only led me to pursue fly-fishing as a pastime and possibly a potential career, but also inspired me to explore many other undiscovered avenues of my life.

Coming from a small, isolated town in Indiana, the fly-fishing scene was practically non-existent. I grew up mostly spin fishing for Bass, Catfish, Panfish, and Carp, but once I caught my first Trout on a fly rod, I was addicted. After fly fishing for two summers in the mountains of Wyoming and living in Colorado for a few years, most of my knowledge and experience originated from my time spent on the North Platte, Yampa, and Elk Rivers near Steamboat Springs, Colorado. After calling Steamboat home for a number of years, I moved to Denver and currently spend most of my time fishing the South Platte and Upper Bear Creek, both of which are excellent Front Range fisheries. I always had an interest in attending guide school and I had heard a little about Paradise Valley and the abundance of majestic Trout rivers in that area of Montana. Once I found Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge / Guide Academy, I immediately booked my trip and the adventure began.

Day One

After landing in Bozeman fairly late and making the hour and a half drive to the lodge, I began the first day with a delicious breakfast then walked around the property, taking in the air, the sounds, the lodge, the smell of Merrell Lake, and the beauty of the Gallatin Mountains surrounding the property. To say that I was inspired by the scenery is a massive understatement. It truly was Paradise Valley. I immediately felt at home with the rustic feel of the lodge and the friendly hospitality professionals at Hubbard’s.

Hubbard Yellowstone LodgeHubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge and Merrell Lake.

Half of the first day of guide school took place in the great room of the hunting cabin where I was staying for the week. The cabin had a huge fly tying station that offered an impressive assortment of materials with which to experiment, and an amazing front porch (which would serve as one of the main hang out spots for the remainder of the week).

hunting cabinThe hunting cabin / lodging for the week.

We covered introductions, basic knots, entomology, fly fish guiding as a business, a casting clinic, and some drift boat rowing on Merrell Lake. After lunch, we took a quick trip down to Tom Miner Creek (a small tributary of the Yellowstone River) in search of spirited Cutthroat Trout.

Tom Miner CreekTurning stones on Tom Miner Creek to see what the fish were eating.

Day One was definitely one of the best days of the entire experience. Our instructor was extremely knowledgeable, passionate, energetic, and eager to answer any questions we had about the area and the local fisheries. Later that evening, we were served an excellent three course dinner.

Tom Miner Creek cutthroatTom Miner Creek Cutthroat.

Day Two

On Day Two, we loaded the coolers with lunch and cold drinks and headed into Yellowstone National Park through the Gardiner, Montana entrance. Our destination for the day was Slough Creek, another amazing tributary of the Yellowstone River. Unfortunately, a rain storm the night before had left the waters of the Slough murky, making fishing especially difficult. When our instructor went off on his own, we all took turns guiding each other and eventually split up.

Slough CreekSlough Creek in YNP.

After lunch, a fellow classmate and I headed upstream in search of some clearer water and fishable pools. We found a few deep pools that were holding fish and I ended up landing three Rainbows almost back to back on an elk hair caddis. Later in the afternoon, we made our way out of the park and stopped at Lava Creek to catch some feisty Brook Trout. Although the fish were quite small, between the four of us we probably caught 30 or 40 and had an absolute blast doing so. I also snapped a few photos of the resident wildlife.

CoyoteCoyote in Yellowstone National Park.

Day Three

Day Three was my favorite day of the entire guide school experience. We headed back into Yellowstone National Park with our guide from the first day of class and landed on the banks of Soda Butte Creek. Soda Butte was very productive all morning and I saw some nice fish rising throughout the day. However, due to a handful of poor hook sets, I personally missed four or five solid fish that ultimately got away and left me casting again and again.

Soda Butte CreekA typical Cutthroat on Soda Butte Creek.

After that experience, I learned pretty quickly that slow-moving Cutthroats don’t always smash your fly like Rainbows and aggressive Browns do, and you have to adjust accordingly to be successful. We guided each other throughout the day and I put one of my classmates on three nice fish, which was exhilarating for me because I actually felt like I was guiding a potential client. This was an incredibly fun section of water to fish and the scenery within the park was absolutely stunning.

Merrell LakeScenery of Merrell Lake.

Day Four

Day Four ended up being an unproductive day and unfortunately initiated some frustration among the group. After another delicious breakfast at the lodge, we packed the coolers full of food and drinks and set off for Depuy Spring Creek, just outside of Livingston.

Depuy Spring CreekDepuy Spring Creek.

I was very excited about the opportunity to fish this stream because our instructor told us it was private water and the fish were huge. He also mentioned that the Trout at Depuy were extremely finicky and easily spooked. I couldn’t agree more. It was an overcast day and the fish were fairly inactive most of the morning and early afternoon. Eventually, a decent PMD hatch occurred later in the day and I finally landed a Cutthroat. It would turn out to be my only fish of the day. Fishing this water was like stalking prey. I definitely saw some good fish, but in order to be successful you had to target one specific fish at a time and cross your fingers that you could get a good drift in before they spooked and disappeared into the weed beds. For me, Depuy was one of the most difficult small stream fisheries I have ever experienced, but it was also a much-needed learning experience.

Day Five

After some heavy rain and thunderstorms the night before, Day Five would turn out to be the only day I didn’t catch or even see one Trout during the entire trip. The last two days of guide school were designated to float the Yellowstone River for our drift boat training. On this day the river was totally blown out, muddy, and unproductive. After going over some basic boat and trailer etiquette, we headed toward the Yellowstone River, where we put in at Carbella and floated to mile marker 26 on US highway 89. Although it was fun to be out on the water for most of the day, the frustration of two unproductive days in a row was catching up to the group’s morale, and all of us were somewhat apprehensive about how the fishing conditions would be the following day. We were, after all, in Montana and wanted to catch some fish on our final day.

Yellowstone RiverDay Five on the Yellowstone River.

Day Six

Despite the previous day being the toughest of the trip, my final day of guide school turned out to be excellent. Throughout the week, all of us had high hopes for the Yellowstone River and thankfully the conditions were more than ideal on our last day of class. We put in at McConnell and floated to the Yankee Jim section of river. This section of the Yellowstone was much more scenic in my opinion, and the day was very productive. We took turns rowing throughout the day, and I caught five nice Cutthroats and two Rainbows. Fishing from a drift boat is a lot of fun, however, I probably missed at least ten to fifteen fish due to missed hook sets. One thing that caught my attention early on at the start of the week was how our veteran guides hardly ever missed fish. Trust me, watching a good guide fish is a humbling experience in itself.

Drift boat instructionDrift boat instruction on the Yellowstone River.

Overall, my entire experience at Hubbard’s was fantastic. The weather was a little uncooperative on two of the days, but that was out of our control. There were also a few minor details that could have been adjusted throughout the week, but overall I’m glad that I completed guide school at this lodge. The experience made me a better fisherman and I met some great people. The two days I spent fishing in Yellowstone National Park were my favorite part of the week.

CutthroatCutthroat.

The scenery in the park was absolutely incredible and there were streams and wildlife everywhere. As for Hubbard’s Yellowstone Lodge / Guide Academy, the staff was friendly, the location in Paradise Valley was stunning, and the overall experience will be something I’ll never forget.

By Robert Mahoney



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