The Beaverhead River

In last weeks column we were leaving the Madison River Valley en route to Dillon, Mont. We stopped along the way and fished the Ruby River where we all caught a few brown trout. Andy landed a 19-inch brown and had a bigger one get off.

On our way into Dillon we passed the Beaverhead rock which does resemble a beaver’s head. Lewis and Clark gave the famed Beaverhead River its name from this rock in their early exploration to this beautiful part of the country. And the Beaverhead River is what brought us to Dillon as it has the most trout per square mile of any river in Montana.

Big Rainbow caught on the Beaverhead River.

We had two days scheduled to float the “Beav” as the locals call it and I couldn’t wait. Tara and I had floated this river twice before and caught nice fish both times. Our guide Cody from Frontier Anglers is a Dillon native and knows this river well.

The Beaverhead River is a tailwater and maintains a cool and consistent temperature throughout the summer. The river is used for irrigation downstream and maintains a good flow from the dam down a few miles where most of the floating and fishing takes place. The Beav is lined with overhanging willows and undercut banks where big brown trout lurk.

Floating the river is the only way to go as it’s tough to wade due to the willows and neck deep water at the banks. On the first day we all arrived at Frontier Anglers eager to quickly fill out paperwork and get on the river. We floated the section from Henneberry Bridge down to Barretts Dam where the water gets drawn out for irrigation.

It was a little over 10 miles and a full day on the river. Tara and I caught at least 25 trout a piece if not more by days end. This was the first time I floated this section of the Beav and it was nice although a little fast paced. Tara and I made sure to beat the water well and leave nothing unfished.

The biggest fish was a 17-inch brown which is actually considered an average trout in the Beav. We had a rest day before the next float and drove over to the Big Hole River. It’s a freestone stream and was running on the low side so we opted not to fish it. In our original plans we were going to float the Beaverhead

one day and the Big Hole another but due to the low water and the hot fishing on the Beav it was a no-brainer.

Instead of fishing the Big Hole we drove up the Wise River and fished it instead. It proved to be a wise choice as Tara caught her first grayling. The Big Hole River system is one of the last places you can catch fluvial grayling in the lower 48. I caught eight fiesty rainbows that all fell for a big dry fly. J.C. caught a couple nice brook trout that the Big Hole River is also known for.

We only fished for an hour and a half before venturing on up to the upper meadow section of the Wise River. Here the river winds back and forth like a snake with the snow covered Pioneer Mountains towering in the background. It was a breathtaking place to fish although the water was skinny. I did manage to catch a small westslope cutthroat before heading back into Dillon for the evening.

The next morning we awoke bright and early ready for another day on the Beav. This time we put in at the base of the Clark Canyon Reservoir and floated down to Henneberry Bridge. This section is known for big trout. Cody warned us to be ready if we hook into a big fish as it will run upriver. Not 30 minutes into the float Tara found out exactly what Cody was talking about as she set the hook and the fish took off back upriver towards the dam.

What happened next was and still is the most epic battle I’ve ever witnessed. Cody dropped the anchor as the fish continued running upstream. Tara kept pressure on the fish but let him run when all of a sudden her reel popped off and fell in the bottom of the boat. Fly line was everywhere and all Tara could do was try to hold the line and keep whatever she had on.

By this time the fish had went up under one of those undercut banks and willows. It was way up under there and I thought for sure the fish had wrapped Tara’s line and it was over. Cody remained optimistic and told Tara to hold on a minute as he pulled the anchor up and started back rowing upriver.

Cody managed to row the boat upriver of the willow and told Tara to slowly put some side pressure and see if the fish would come out. Miraculously it worked as the line started moving once again. About the same time I finally got my first glimpse of the beast and told Tara it was a really big rainbow.

The big bow was starting to wear out as Tara continued to hand line the fish towards the boat. Cody once again dropped the anchor in a calm shallow spot where Tara was finally able to work the fish into. Cody quickly slid the net under the monster and the battle was over. It barely fit and after a quick measurement Cody said it was between 24 and 25 inches and he estimated it weighed around six pounds.

Tara was in shock as we snapped a few quick pictures and sent the beast on its way. It’s the biggest trout she’s ever caught and we still had the rest of the day to go. The action didn’t stop there as Tara hooked into another 20” bow that got off.

Then not long after that I spotted a nice brown lying on the bottom that I sight fished for and caught. It was an easy 18 inches. We went another 50 yards and I spotted an even bigger brown that Tara proceeded to catch. It was over 20 inches and fat. 15 minutes later, I tied into a large brown that I ended up fighting for a few minutes before landing. It too was over 20 inches and a healthy fish.

We caught several more trout and Tara lost another 20” plus brown before finally making it to the takeout. To say that was one of our best days of fishing is an understatement. I absolutely love the Beav and will be back for sure!

The next day we left Dillon and drove back into Idaho and hit a smaller creek on the way. We had to hike about a mile to get into the creek but it was well worth it as on my fourth cast I caught a pretty 16-17 inch Yellowstone cutthroat. We all ended up catching Yellowstone cutts before hiking back out. It was a great way to end another memorable adventure out west walking out with the smell of fish on my hands and the Grand Tetons hovering in the backdrop. I sure do love the west but it’s always good to come back home to the hills of West Virginia.

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