Looking for trout in Montana

When we were getting ready to head to Montana for the summer, my oldest brother, Joe, called me up and said, “Hey Pat, I have a mission for you.”

“What’s that?” I asked.

“When you get out there to Montana, I want you to take the first couple of weeks to scout out where all the trout are and then I’ll come up there and catch them all.”

So Elise and I started asking around and the first guy that we asked said that any ditch, creek, puddle, rivulet, or drain in Montana will have trout in it. I thought he was just being a smartalek but it turns out that he’s not far off.

Eventually we found out that the biggest trout that has ever been pulled out of Montana waters was caught on Wade lake in southern Montana – a 29 pound brown trout. We got to studying up on Wade Lake and found that it is one of a pair of lakes (the other is named Cliffs Lake) that formed when a chasm opened up over a geological fault, filling with water. The lakes are fed by hot springs and do not completely freeze over in the winter.

These two lakes are remote, like super remote! First you drive through a series of progressively smaller towns and hamlets until you are almost to West Yellowstone, then you drive down miles of twisty, rutted, corrugated, potholed forest service roads until you get to the lakes.

These lakes are one of the only places on Earth where I’ve seen that mind-bending color of blue-green water that you see in the south Aegean – just like at the Temple of Poseidon in Sounio Greece. In fact, the only thing that identifies the scenery as non-Greek is the profusion of Douglas fir covering the steep sides of the valley.

We took a kayak and some fishing gear as well as some swim trunks, suits, and shoes (the beaches are so stony you can’t walk in the water barefooted – again, just like Greece.

Since it took us so long getting there, we didn’t get any fishing done. We ate lunch and did some swimming and Elise put out in the kayak for a paddle around the lake. The rest of us were watching from a shady picnic spot atop one of the cliffs the lake is named for.

About the time Elise got halfway across the lake, we glanced down to the beach and saw another family of lake-goers frantically taking down their canopies, throwing their stuff into trucks and getting ready to leave. I ambled down there and asked what was going on and they pointed back over my shoulder over the top of the mountain behind us towards Wade Lake and they yelled, “Hail storm coming this way!”

Sure enough, just starting to slide over the top of the mountain behind us was a malignant clot of clouds, I looked back down at the beach and everyone else was scrambling to evacuate.

With no way to communicate with Elise, we sheltered under the fir trees, began to leisurely pack our stuff up, and hoped that Elise would glance back this way and see the storm coming.

Sky begins to darken with approaching storm.

Eventually, Elise got to a bend in the lake where she could see back toward us, and it seemed to us that she must have deduced what was going on – she was suddenly alone in the wilderness with an approaching storm.

Fortunately, the storm skirted around us. We got none of the ill effects, though we saw piles of hailstones that had been pushed off the roads in some of the villages we passed through on the way back. After everyone else vanished from the lake and the storm slipped around us, we had the lake to ourselves for the rest of the afternoon.

Categories: Adventure, Canoeing, Fishing

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