Anglers have it pretty darn good in southwest Montana

By Patrick Straub Explore Big Sky Fishing Columnist

I had just returned from sledding with my daughter during the mid-November cold snap when I received a frantic voicemail from a friend and fishing client.

“Yo Pat,” the frazzled message began, “It’s Bill D. here. I’m stranded up here on the Missouri River in this cold and wind.” Bill continued, “I added a few extra days of pleasure on my business trip and decided to have a little do-it-yourself fishing. Where should I go fish … because the ‘Mo’ ain’t happening in this weather?”

I placed my daughter’s and my wet gloves and socks by the fireplace, and began rehearsing my call to Bill.

“With the wind and cold you’ll want to be on smaller waters and either spring creeks, tailwaters, or waters with an abundance of springs,” my prepared response began. “But wherever you go it will be darn cold until this cold snap breaks.”

Then I would list a few options, including the Gallatin River near Big Sky, and a few sections of the East Gallatin River in the valley. For some bigger waters, I’d suggest the Upper Madison between Hebgen and Quake Lakes and the walk-wade section below Quake Lake down to Lyons Bridge. If I wanted to expand the list even more I could mention the Clark Fork River near Warm Springs, and the Beaverhead and Bighorn rivers.

This list of fishing options got me thinking: We’ve got it pretty good here in southwest Montana. Here’s a list of a few more things to appreciate this Thanksgiving season:

Access to world-class fishing with Montana’s stream-access law. It’s a simple truth: We could not live the fishing-centric lifestyle without our stream access law. Created so the public could enjoy our rivers and streams, it’s a law every angler and river user must be thankful for. We must also understand that with it comes the responsibility to protect and care for the resources we use, and respect private property by not trespassing.

In Montana, both federal and state public lands allow us to partake in the things we love: fishing, skiing, hiking, biking, hunting, and more. Our good fortune doesn’t stop there. Residents and visitors to Big Sky have access to a great park with ball fields, a playground, our arts programs, the Warren Miller Performing Arts Center, and many more community-centric events. Generous and forward-thinking people have played vital roles in making these things a reality.

Winter and its snowpack. It’s hard to believe we’re already thinking about next summer’s fly fishing, but for those of us who depend on good fishing, the snow that’s falling now is a good thing. Our 2014 summer angling season was one for the record books. Above average snowpack and a gradual runoff meant our rivers and streams had fish-friendly flows all summer. And for that, we should be thankful. Start praying to the snow gods for another snowy winter.

Technology. Each year I’m impressed with how fly-fishing gear improves. From waders with less bulk and more durability, to fly rods becoming lighter yet, it’s clear that technology is an angler’s friend. If you haven’t tested the latest waders and rods, find some time this winter to take a few test drives.

Southwest Montana has some of the best fly shops in the world. No other region on earth has as many fly-fishing shops as our corner of Montana, giving you access to a wide array of brands and prices. These shops are run by passionate anglers who are happy to help you get more enjoyment out of fishing. Whether you’re looking to find the nearest rising trout or chase giant trevally off the coast of Christmas Island, you won’t need to venture far for some gear and great advice.

Protecting the places we love. We can be thankful for the many groups and organizations dedicated to protecting what we love and enjoy daily. Groups like the Blue Water Task Force, Trout Unlimited, Gallatin Valley Land Trust, and many more ensure we have plenty of places to wet a line, take a hike, and leave things better than we found them.

After this Thanksgiving feast, work off those extra helpings and hit the water, trails, or slopes. After your first catch, first few switchbacks, or first turns, take a moment to be thankful for our good fortune.

Pat Straub is the author of six books, including The Frugal Fly Fisher, Montana On The Fly, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing. He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky and with a partner operates Montana Fishing Outfitters.