“I love a ground-dog burrito!” We had just spotted a questionable looking Mexican restaurant and already the stereotypes were being heavily flung around. What would you expect from a truck with 4 dudes and a solid five hours plus rallying I-90?
An hour later we emerged, bellies full and hoping that no one would be feeling “spicy” in a few hours. We were in the home stretch and soon enough we’d be looking over the waters of the Bighorn River for the first time. A little over a month earlier we had gotten the call from Smith Optics to shoot a lifestyle film for their latest web series “Life Beyond Walls.” Wanting to keep it within the borders of the Big Sky state yet still get a little road trip in, the Bighorn was an obvious choice. A tailwater with above average flows this year meant it was opposite the rest of the state and hopefully full of aggressive trout. Finally we hit the river and pulled onto the bridge in St. Xavier. The water below us was swollen and running a green/brown color. We all started talking about hooking “slam pigs” and raucously expelled typical bro banter.
That evening we cruised into Fort Smith and swung into the Bighorn Angler. Bryen and Shelly were there to greet us and give the lowdown on the fishing. A few dozen flies later and we began to organize and sort fishing gear in anticipation for the morning.
Morning came early and after a few slight bobbles getting everything loaded up we finally arrived at the boat launch. We dropped the boats and got ready for a long day on the river. At the moment we had the place to ourselves, little did we know that in an hour this would be full of twenty different rigs hoping to launch.
Soon we pushed off, hanging to the bank and searching the wide featureless water. A slow twenty minutes put us at the first small island and a pit stop was ordered up. Fifty yards upstream multiple fish were chowing down on the morning buffet. Two casts later and two great browns had hit the net.
At that point the boat train had engulfed us. Despite the crowds one thing became apparent, we were having a lot more fun than the other boats. Typical to many rivers there was a lack of yelling, laughing and general good times. Weird. Our float continued under hazy skies as we banged streamers into every nook and cranny we could find. Dozens of fish later we hit our takeout and headed back up to sneak in a second short float. Mice were skated, the golden sun sank in the West but no fish stuck. Jay-Z’s “Big Pimpin” blared from Lungren’s cell phone as we pulled in under the light hum of a lonely light guarding the Three Mile boat ramp. Day Two was complete.
With a good day of fishing under our belts we figured we’d take a risk and give the lower river hell. “Chuck and Duck” was the game plan and flashes and strikes ensued from all the likely spots. A short ways later the line stopped in it’s tracks and a hefty flash gave us a look at the largest fish of the trip. A quick fight ensured there was no chance of him getting away and a plump rainbow laying in the net left the group acting like a bunch of wild monkeys.
Good call boys, good call. Apparently this lower river was the real deal. A few hours later we had changed our tune as things were downright slow. The water had picked up decent color from some of the small feeder creeks and reading the river became much tougher. We embraced the day and enjoyed the great scenery and even better company.
After lunch we split up and started working a small island. Twenty minutes later a couple goldeyes had been caught. No one in the group had ever caught one before so this was news to us. One came on a dry and another hit a streamer, apparently they were hungry little buggers.
As the float neared its end the roar of a diversion dam pulled everyone back into full attention. Cameras were carefully pulled from the boats and walked downriver. Travis and Sam pushed off and lined up above the man-made rapids. Sam was first and found the right slot, easily pushing through. Travis was up next and despite his best efforts was pulled over into the edge of the main wave formed off the dam. A healthy splash and the skiff cut through the wave and slid downriver.
We all were beat from another long day under the sun and pulling into the Riverview Lodge was very welcome. Steve had worked some magic and got us the bottom half of some prime real estate. With a great view of the valley and a full kitchen we got dinner on the grill and got some much needed rest for Day Four.
Day Four again saw us boating fish and seeing plenty of new water. Streamer fishing was the choice mid-day as staring down a bobber just didn’t get us too fired up. That evening found us anchored up on a long seam with a long line of noses extending downstream. Hookup after hookup with no boats in sight was the story.
Fast forward to the takeout. Now I’ve depleted the old Ford’s gas gauge plenty of times but this one was shaping up to be interesting. We had ran our own shuttle and the driving distance between takeouts was further than expected. The gas light had been on for about 30 miles and 20 more remained before we got back to the lodge. It was 11PM when the engine sputtered and the power steering went out. Yes I was a dips#&* and should have put more than $30 in the tank yesterday. We were stranded. Two hours later the Ford had been towed to the nearest fishing access and both boats were safely parked back at the lodge. The following morning found us back at the truck with a 5 gallon gas can pouring precious fluid back into the fuel hungry beast. We were back in business!
This would be our final morning and we figured a quick hammer sesh through the top 3 miles would be just right. A few hundred oar strokes and Travis was into another nice brown. The cameras did their thing and in a flash the brownie was back in the river.
It wasn’t long and again we had hit the end of the road. The launch was in sight and the trip was complete. The boats hit the trailers, and we grabbed our stuff and hit the road.
As we drove home we relived the past four days. All the ingredients of a great fishing trip had left everyone feeling satisfied. We are excited to share the film with you here in another week. Be looking for it to go live on the Smith Optics website and if you haven’t checked out their other films from the “Life Beyond Walls” Series you should do so! We also had the pleasure of testing out the new “Guide’s Choice” sunglasses that will be coming out soon.
These things are absolute beasts on the water and will definitely make the best days better. Look for them at your local fly shop this fall. Also a big thanks goes out to Steve Galletta and the crew at the Bighorn Angler. Their expertise is unmatched and the lodging they provide for anglers is superb. Check them out next time you hit the Bighorn.
And last but not least, a special thanks to the awesome crew at Adipose Boatworks. Their boats are some of the finest driftboats out there and we were lucky enough to run two each day. They have a rental boat there at the Bighorn Angler if you want to give one a spin on your next trip or feel free to stop by the Adipose shop next time you cruise through Helena.