Tag Archives: trails

Flyfisher’s Guide to NW Montana’s Mountain Lakes

How about taking your fly rod on a hike into Montana’s  backcountry and catching wild mountain trout? Or maybe you’d prefer  reading about it while relaxing in your recliner? Maybe you want to both read up and plan that self-guided fly fishing trip into the remote mountainous areas of the Last, Best Place?

If you find yourself in one of the above groups, (or somewhere between) you might enjoy my new book, The Flyfisher’s Guide to Northwest Montana’s Mountain Lakes soon to be released in print by Wilderness Adventures Press. The first 40 or so pages contain valuable information for fly fishers from beginners to experts, including tackle info, backcountry navigation, guidance on how to rig up for backpacking, tips for camping in bear country, information about using goats as pack stock, and much more. The remainder of the book is dedicated to individual reports on some of the best mountain lakes of Northwest Montana, including driving directions, trail info, GPS coordinates, and best-in-class maps by Wilderness Adventures Press. You can sample it as an e-book online  at Amazon and Google Play, and purchase it there if you like. Or you can buy a signed print copy here.

The online samples will give you a peek at the first 40 or so pages, but I thought you also might want to see a sample lake report from the book. So with permission from the publisher, here ya go –

Trail Lake

GPS:  

Trailhead: 47.00634, -115.01147

Lake: 47.00603, -115.04137

Summary: Probably the best eastern brook mountain lake in Mineral County, Trail Lake covers about 12 fishy acres.

Location: 17 miles south-southwest of the town of Superior

Maps: USGS 7.5-minute quadrangle Illinois Peak (for reference only—trail to Trail Lake not shown on topo map). USDA Forest Service map Lolo National Forest, Superior Ranger District; DeLorme Montana Atlas and Gazetteer, page 52; Benchmark Montana Road and Recreation Atlas, page 61

Elevations:

Trailhead: 4,723 feet

Lake: 5,740 feet

Round-Trip Hike: 4.4 miles

Hike Difficulty: Moderate

Sometimes you just hit the jackpot, and the jackpot in this case was fat, feisty, eastern brook averaging 10 to 12 inches.

Knowing that mountain trout don’t usually get up early, I didn’t arrive at the trailhead and start my hike on a bright and lovely July morning until 11 a.m. The forecast was for light and variable winds and a sunny afternoon in the low 80s. Nice.

I took my time hiking in, enjoying my time on the trail just as much as the prospect of sampling a new lake. It was two p.m. by the time I arrived at Trail Lake, unpacked, and inflated my little boat. My hiking partner for the day had arrived at the lake before me and was already out on the lake fishing and catching fish. He kept hollering, “Got another one, Mike! Got another one! Hurry up and get out here!”

But I’m never in a hurry when I’m in the mountains. I want to savor every moment. So with my friend still hollering, “Got another one!” I found a comfortable perch on a log, shared a PBJ with my poodle, and had a cool drink.

After lunch, I rigged up double flies on my 3-weight with a size 16 green foam beetle and a size 14 Royal Wulff as the caboose. I walked my boat down to the lake shore and eased it into the lake. Just then a mayfly hatch exploded.

Suddenly there were mayflies everywhere: in the air, on the water, landing on my boat, my shirt, and my dog. I pulled out a fly box and searched for something to imitate the hatch. I found a size 16 Callibaetis (mayfly) spinner with a green thorax. The color wasn’t a match to the hatch, but the size was right on. Remembering that size is more important than color, I hurriedly clipped off the Royal Wulff, replaced it with the mayfly spinner, and shoved off.

My first two casts didn’t produce, but after that it was cheesecake. I had two takes in a row on the mayfly spinner, but I foul-hooked both fish. Thus began a lesson in flyfishing adaptability.

I removed the beetle, replaced it with the spinner for a one-fly setup, and settled my offering a few feet from shore. Trout were rising all around the fly, but they ignored the spinner. Try something different, I thought. I gave the fly line a little tug to sink the fly and started a slow, stripping retrieve. Fish on.

I landed and released the fish and figuring the fly was too slimed up to float, I decided to send it back to work. But after I double-hauled the line back out, the darn bug dried out and floated. No takers. Once again I tugged the line to sink the fly and repeated the slow retrieve. Bam. Fish on.

Okay, you idiots, I thought, you want it wet, I’ll give it to you wet. I retrieved the fly and clipped off the white spinner wings which were drying out and causing the fly to float. I sealed the deal by dousing the fly in sinkum.

I sent the fly back on the job with a smug smile. This time it sank. I repeated the retrieve. This time no fish. Another cast. No fish. Hmmm. I retrieved the line.

I sat in the boat thinking for a moment as a gentle breeze nudged me along the shore. What had I learned so far?

1. They want it wet.
2. They want the white.

I had one of those “light-bulb-over-the-head” moments.

I clipped off the mutilated fly and tied on another identical to the first. After a good soak in sinkum, I sent the fly on mission. Bam. Fish. Bam. Fish. Bam. Fish. And so it went as long as the mayfly hatch lasted. Ahh…. Sometimes you just hit the jackpot.

Getting There

From Interstate 90 at the town of Superior, take Exit 47, travel east on FR 250, which is also named Diamond Match Road and later becomes Trout Creek Road. Continue about 17 miles from Superior to FR 7813 and turn right (north). At 1.9 miles, turn south (left) on FR 388. Follow FR 388 about 1 mile to the trailhead for Trail 256. The trailhead is not signed, but it starts just before you cross the bridge over the North Fork of Trout Creek.

Caution: That last mile on FR 388 is kind of nasty. You won’t need four-wheel drive, but forget it if you’re driving a Corvette.

The Hike

For the most part, the trail follows the course of an old mining road. In fact, as I started the hike I asked myself, What’s a nice trail like you doing in a place like this? The trail ascended gradually until it crossed the North Fork of Trout Creek and then the switchbacks began. When I came to the switchbacks I asked myself, What’s a nice fisherman like you doing on a trail like this? However, the switchbacks marked the final ascent and only climbed about 0.25 mile to the lake.

Camping

There are a few very nice but primitive campsites at the lake.

The Good, the Bad and the Ugly

Ah, yes, the good, the bad and the ugly about living in rural Montana.

The good: You can do just about whatever you want.

The bad: People do just about whatever they want.

The ugly: There are a bunch of very ugly people living here who do just about whatever they want. The Old Turkey Hunter

The good: The bugs here are just about big enough to eat.

The bad: the bugs here are just about big enough to eat you.

The ugly: There are a bunch of big, ugly bugs living here who eat just about anyone they want.

Good, bad or ugly, there’s a lot to be liked about living in rural Montana.

  • My bank doesn’t have a lobby, but they know my name when I pull up to the drive up window.
  • Within minutes of leaving home, I can park my truck at a trailhead and know it won’t be vandalized when I return. However, I can find peace, quiet and solitude on my porch without ever leaving home.

The good: birds flitting everywhere.

The bad: bird poo everywhere.

The ugly: bird poo in my eye.

So tell me: what’s the good, the bad, and the ugly about where you live? 

Necessity is the Mother of Pancakes

It was mid-afternoon by the time we reached our camping spot near the shores of the mountain lake. As soon as we had camp set up, my backpacking buddy reached into his pack and pulled out a bag of white powder.

“Look what I brought!” he said. My friend Russ doesn’t do drugs, so without reservation I asked what was in the bag.

Russ smiled triumphantly. “Pancake mix!”

Russ and I both love pancakes so I smiled back. But I had to ask:

“Did you bring any butter?”

“No.”Pancakes

“Syrup?”

“No. But look at all the ripe huckleberries around here! We can add them to the batter and our pancakes will be awesome!”

“Hmm.” I said. “I love huckleberries but they’re rather tart. But I have an idea.”

I reached in my pack and pulled out a package of instant oatmeal, cinnamon and spice flavor. “In the morning, let’s try adding this to the batter and the huckleberry mixture. It should sweeten up the mix. Either we’ll have a new taste sensation or a blowout.”

The pancakes were awesome! So awesome, in fact, that I have to share the recipe with you. Pancake mix doesn’t weigh much, and neither does flavored instant oatmeal so they’re both light in the pack. If you don’t have ripe huckleberries available, you can bring along a little dried fruit, chop up it  and rehydrate it some before making your mix. Now then:

  • 1/2 c. huckleberries or rehydrated fruit of your choice.
  • 1 pkg. instant oatmeal, your choice of flavor.
  • About a c. of pancake mix.
  • Enough water to make a thick batter. You want it a little lumpy. Too thin? Add more pancake mix. Too thick? Add more water. Cook ’em up and enjoy. I ate mine with my fingers.

The result is like fruit scones. The instant oatmeal adds just enough sweetness and Russ noted that he didn’t experience the sugar rush/crash that he gets when he uses syrup.

A few days ago I made these at home for breakfast. I didn’t have a mountain lake nearby, but the pancakes tasted just as good!

Comments? Questions?

Way Out in the Outback

Peak-a-Boo from Trail 173
Peak-a-Boo from Trail 173

Do you R-E-A-L-L-Y want to get away from it all? I mean go way, way back and probably not see another hiker for miles and miles and miles?

Have I got a trail for you!

Trail 173 begins about  1/4 mile before Blacktail Creek Road ends (Forest Service Road 304). To get to Blacktail Creek Road, take the Superior Exit from I-90 (Exit 47).  If you exit from I-90 Westbound, turn left after exiting, continue about 1/4 mile to the stop sign and turn left and proceed under the Interstate. At the “T” turn right and continue about 1/2 mile to Blacktail Creek Road and turn left. If you exit from I-90 Eastbound, turn right off the exit and then right at the “T.”

Once at the trailhead, you’ll notice that the trail immediately jumps up but it gentles out shortly after. For the next half mile the trail meanders and crosses Thompson Creek twice. Shortly after crossing the creek for the second time, the trail turns North-Northwest and follows the course of Blacktail Creek uphill. After another 1/2 mile or so the trail generally traces a Westerly course, and can be followed for about eight miles until it intersects with Trail 152. Hike left (South-Southwest) on Trail 152. Follow Trail 152 about five miles and you’ll come to Trial 151. Trail 151 runs South and intersects with the Stateline National Recreation Trail after about another five miles. From this point, you can hike around eight miles Northwest until the trail intersects with Dry Creek Road (FS Road 342) or hike generally Southeast along the Stateline National Recreation Trail about seven miles to Cascade Pass and the Cedar Creek Road (FS Road 320).

Obviously, the through-hike route is for seasoned hikers or backpackers and you’ll want to arrange for a ride back to the point of beginning. Although the route isn’t overly steep most of the way (call it “moderate”), it’s a long, long way to its eventual end if you include the other trails in your itinerary.

However, one of the things I really like about Trail 173 is the lack of other hikers. As a bonus, you can go as near or far as you like. But if you’re like me, you just can’t resist another bend in the trail – until you realize it’s many miles back to the truck!

I purposely haven’t revealed everything about this hike; I’ve left some nice surprises for you.

Questions? Comments?  Click the “Comment” button just under the title of this post or email me: mike(at)mikeraether(.com).

Mineral County, Montana: An Outdoorsman’s Overview

I was stunned. It was abundantly more than I could ask or think.

When I arrived in heavily forested Mineral County in far Western Montana, one of the first things I did was spread out a USDA Forest Service map for the Superior Ranger District. As an outdoorsman, I wanted to learn about where I’d landed. What I discovered was an outdoorsman’s jaw dropper.

Bonanza Lake #1. Photo copyright by Mike L. Raether

First off, Mineral County is 87% publicly owned, and these public lands contain hundreds of miles of non motorized recreational trails. My new “back yard” was home to over 50 mountain lakes, most accessible only by trail and many with good to excellent trout fishing. All mine for the hiking.

And then there is the Clark Fork River with its many tributaries. The Clark Fork is big water that drains most of Western Montana. Although the Clark is overshadowed by the abundance of Montana’s blue ribbon trout waters, the Clark yields beautiful fish up to five pounds for those who learn how to fool ’em. The Clark’s tribs are fair to excellent fishing for brookies, cutts, ‘bows and sometimes big bull trout (be sure to check the regs).

Did I mention the hunting? No, not yet, but as some of you were wondering if I’d get there, here we go –

First, I have to deconstruct your thinking.

Montana in general is not the hunter’s paradise some make it out to be. There’s not a big game animal standing behind every tree or game birds flushing from every bush. Still, the hunting is pretty good, and there’s a certain romanticism connected with hunting in Montana. However, for sheer numbers, a hunter would be better off elsewhere.

But  back to Mineral County. I enjoy good hunting here and the proof is mounted on my walls. The hunting pressure is light if a hunter is willing to get back in the bush a quarter mile or so. Still, the mountains of Mineral County have been called “young men’s mountains” as they are steep and heavily forested. But a seasoned hunter knows that elk and deer don’t usually go straight up the mountain; they’re much smarter than that. They make trails. And a hunter who finds the game trails and uses them finds it much easier to get around the mountains. And he saves a lot of sweat and energy in the process.

Rivers, streams, mountains, lakes, trails, wildlife – yeah, I like it here. I also like sharing. By the way, how about sharing with me? What are your favorite things to do in the great outdoors? Or perhaps you have a question or suggestion?

But wait, there’s more! (I’m being facetious of course, but there really is more). I’m interested in your thoughts. You can reply, send me an email, and/or help design the new monthly newsletter –

Great RV Campsite in St. Regis, Montana

Considering a vacation in Montana this year? Looking for a good campsite for your motor home or camp trailer with tons of outdoor opportunities right out the door of your RV?

Your Montana RV Campsite is Waiting for You

We have a single RV site available. Full hookups including power, water, sewer and garbage service, private setting, 360 degree of the mountains, and the best rates in the area! We also offer discounts for weekly and long term camping.

We’re located just 33 miles east of the Montana-Idaho border just off Interstate 90, and three miles north of St. Regis. Free fishing, hiking, backpacking, and hunting information. Mineral County (where we’re privileged to live) is 86 percent publicly owned – virtually all National Forest or State lands. Essentially an outdoor person’s playground! Miles and miles of trails, Forest Service roads, and over 50 mountain lakes to explore. Come and experience the “Overlooked Montana” and get away from the crowds!

Just give us a phone call at 406.649.0649 for all the details. Hope to see ya in Montana!

P.S.: If you just need some free info about area outdoor opportunities, call us! We love to share about our corner of Big Sky Country.

 

Hundreds of Miles of Hiking Trials near St. Regis, Montana are Available to You