My first choice would have been some bonefish flat, but instead, Deb and I pulled into the Super 8 in Livingston, Montana. It was the night of December 28th, and our ultimate destinations were Big Sky and Yellowstone. Nevertheless, the Livingston Super 8 is a huge bargain in the winter and I could not pass up an opportunity to fish a spring creek in Paradise Valley just north of town.
There are 3 of these spring creeks – Depuy’s, Armstrong’s, and Nelson’s. The first two are actually different sections of the same creek. Each is on a private ranch and charges a rod fee for access. Because they are all spring fed, they offer trout and insect-friendly temperatures year round. The plan was to hit one these creeks during the heat – relatively speaking – of the next day and move on to Big Sky after supper.
Although mid-winter temperatures in this part of Montana often climb above freezing, we awoke to a thermometer reading of about 25 degrees and winds gusting up to 60 miles per hour. The sky was thick with cloud. Needless to say, we didn’t wake up super early; about 10 AM, I wandered over to the local fly shop. Since Livingston breathes fly fishing, there are actually 4 local fly shops. (And a fantastic array of bars, coffee shops, and restaurants to back them up.)
The folks at the fly shop steered us towards Depuy’s Spring Creek because it had the most trees and the best warming huts. They also set us up with the flies du jour – scuds and sow bugs. Sorry, no surface action with the huge wind, not even midges. We arrived at the creek around 1 PM, just as the temperature peaked at about 28 degrees. Our first stop was the ranch house where the fees are collected. It actually looks like a grand mansion from the Deep South, and the daily rod fee was $40, well below the $120 charged during peak season. Then we set off for the lower portion of the creek.
We ducked into one of the warming huts and wasted no time lighting a fire. Rigging up is a task more suited to a cozy wood stove than howling winds and freezing temperatures. Very soon, we emerged and got our first look at a spring creek in the dead of winter.
Maybe it was the tree cover near the creek? Maybe it was the neoprene waders? Or maybe it was the fact that we were fishing in January with a fly rod instead of an ice auger? Nevertheless, the howling wind was hardly noticeable, and the frigid air felt quite tolerable. The water was slate grey and mysterious looking. However, if you looked carefully, you could see the bright green weeds and colorful gravel bottom that are so visible in summer sunshine.
We had our scuds and sow bugs underneath indicators with some tiny split shot attached. There would be no delicate presentations to rising trout today. The bottom section of Depuy’s Spring Creek is an almost continuous riffle. We hiked until we found some quieter, deeper eddies below a couple of large drops. The indicators got plopped in, and the drifts commenced. Deb soon had her indicator pulled under, but couldn’t connect with the fish. A short while later, a smallish trout inhaled my scud and tail-walked its way to a premature release. Things were looking pretty good.
Nevertheless, we couldn’t build on our modest success and headed upstream of the ranch house to where the water was more varied. Large eddies, undercut banks, turbulent drops, and deep glides were all available. A couple trout even rose. The mountainous backdrop, and our optimism, continued to keep the wind and cold at bay.
Unfortunately, we were still fishless when the dropping sun made the day even greyer. Although it was only 4 PM, we had to quit and get on the road to Big Sky. I think the well-known credit card add maybe says it best…
Flies for the day: $10
Rod fee + 2 day Montana license + required stamps: $90
Losing a ten inch trout in moving water in January: Priceless!
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Miscellaneous note… A snowcoach tour into the Old Faithful and Firehole River area of Yellowstone is an absolute must at this time of year.