The Gallatin River Lodge

The Gallatin River Lodge

In Yellowstone Country, stay at the center of it all

  • By: Rod Walinchus
My rubber-legged hopper imitation simply disappeared from the surface--no splash, slurp or other indication of a strike. As it was early in the day, I was fishing my usual hopper/beadhead dropper combination while floating down the Yellowstone River in the Montana's Paradise Valley. Thinking a whitefish had taken the dropper, I carelessly lifted the rod and was surprised by the large brown that came thrashing to the surface with the hopper firmly lodged in its jaw. Yes, I made the right choice today, I thought as my 5-weight arced with the weight of the fish.Choices are difficult when you're based out of the Gallatin River Lodge, located on a 350-acre ranch along the Gallatin River, 10 miles west of Bozeman. The lodge lies at the heart of a lot of great fishing and, with only a few days to fish, I wanted to maximize the experience. On the first day of my three-day visit, I had opted for the classic Yellowstone River float not only because it was hopper season and the Yellowstone fish were taking hoppers with abandon, but also because little in fly-fishing compares to the thrill of a large trout lazily rising from the depths to suck in an oversize fly. The float was the perfect choice--but it was over all too soon. On day two, I decided to test my technical skills. Within 25 minutes of the lodge are the world-renowned Armstrong's, DePuy's and Nelson's spring creeks, where an angler quickly learns about micro-drag. But I elected to set the scene of my humiliation on the small, meandering, meadow spring creek on the MZ Ranch near Bozeman. This is a tough little creek, made even tougher when the wind blows. But that morning all was calm, and I lucked into a hatch of Tricos. As I approached one of the prime bends in the creek I could see Tricos in the air and fish rising against the far bank. This is going to be easy, I thought as I tied a size 20 Trico spinner to the puny 7X tippet of my 3-weight outfit. I admired my cast as the fly landed a foot or so upstream of a nice trout, and I smugly anticipated the take. But the fly drifted over the trout without so much as a glance. Again, I cast and again the offering was ignored. Dumb fish, I thought. Then I began to notice the tiny bit of drag that influenced my fly during its drift. Dumb fisherman was more like it. After changing my position slightly, I cast again and this time the fish tipped up and sucked in the imitation. I broke it off on the strike… After a late lunch the wind picked up, so I walked over to the East Gallatin River, which also passes through the MZ Ranch, and there I caught several nice rainbows and browns. In comparison to the spring creek, this was easy fishing. I tied on a small attractor, trailed a little beadhead soft hackle off of it, and just worked likely looking water. It wasn't terribly technical but it was effective. My last day found me wade fishing the Meadow section of the Gallatin River near Big Sky. This small river is full of riffles, runs and pocket water where the fishing is relatively easy. It's perfect attractor dryfly water full of rainbows, browns, cutthroats and cut-bows. The fish are usually right where you expect them to be and covering those spots with a dry or dry/dropper combination is usually rewarded. The fish aren't terribly large, here but they are plentiful, which makes for a fun day. The Gallatin River flows through the lodge's property. Yellowstone National Park, with its 435 fishable waters, is a short drive down the road. Private ponds with trophy trout are nearby. Then there are the Missouri, Henry's Fork, Big Hole, Beaverhead, Boulder and Stillwater rivers all within a few hours' drive. Add in the scores of small mountain streams and alpine lakes and you'll understand how difficult it is to decide where to fish. Fortunately, Gallatin River Lodge's owner, Steve Gamble, and his knowledgeable staff are on hand to help you make an informed decision and to set you up with an experienced local guide. Regardless of where you spend you fishing day, you'll be happy to return to the comforts of the lodge in the evening. Chef Sean Rooney, of the lodge's Gallatin River Grill, prepares exceptional meals using fresh organic produce and ingredients such as free-range chicken. And unlike the routine at many lodges, there is no set time for dinner--which means you don't have to rush back to camp in the late afternoon--and no set menu. There's also an extensive wine list and a top-notch bar. For further information, contact the Gallatin River Lodge at 888-387-0148; www.grlodge.com.