Papoose Creek Lodge

Papoose Creek Lodge

An environmentally minded lodge on the Madison

  • By: Paul Guernsey
For most hardcore anglers, all they'd need to know about Papoose Creek Lodge is that it sits at the epicenter of Montana's upper Madison Valley fly-fishing country. The Madison literally lies across the street, with Hebgen and Quake lakes a short drive away, the boundary of Yellowstone Park itself a mere 40 miles away, and the fine stretches of the river near Ennis also within easy striking distance. In addition, Papoose Creek's guides are also more than willing to take you to the Gallatin, the Henry's Fork, the Yellowstone River or any number of high-country lakes.But there's a lot more available at this lodge than the fly-fishing. There is also horseback riding, canoeing, hiking, birding and wildlife watching, activities that all are interwoven with interesting lessons about the regional ecosystem. Papoose Creek bills itself as an "Eco Lodge," which means, in part, that it takes the environmental education of its guests as seriously as it does any other aspect of the business. Just about everyone leaves the lodge with a greater appreciation for the interconnections among southwest Montana's land, water, animals and human population. Now, does the fact that the lodge offers other adventures aside from angling mean that hard-bitten fly-fishers should shun it in favor of a more single-minded place? No it doesn't, at least in my opinion. For one thing, if you're visiting Papoose Creek on the fly-fishing plan, you won't find anything that is not appropriately hardcore, including your guide. During our three-day stay at the lodge, my angling companion, Bob Fernald, and I fished with head guide Curtis Brown, and he was as knowledgeable and skilled as any Rocky Mountains guide I've ever fished with--a terrific driftboat handler, and a good teacher to boot. And there's at least one advantage to a multi-faceted place like Papoose Creek that a fly-fishing-only lodge can't offer: The diverse activities will probably prove more effective than an eight-hour driftboat ride in entertaining those members of your party who, in spite of all your encouragement, just aren't that crazy about fishing. For example, Bob and I met a couple from Chicago who had come to the lodge because the wife thought the images she'd seen on the Papoose Creek Web site looked just like the scenery in the movie, "Brokeback Mountain." I teased the husband about that, but the upshot was that his wife kept busy with the hiking and the horseback riding, while he got to go fishing. Or he would have, if he'd been an experienced angler, which he wasn't. As it was, they both needed casting and fishing lessons--which they received from their fishing guide. They then spent one of their four days at the lodge fishing the Madison from a drift boat--and it was Mrs. Brokeback who caught the only fish. Bob and I fared quite a bit better. It was late August, and during both of our fishing days we pounded the Madison's banks with big hopper patterns, sometimes with a nymph or caddis dryfly attached as a dropper. The browns and rainbows we caught averaged around 14 inches, and whenever one of us caught a rainbow smaller than that, it was a welcome sign that the Madison continues to hold its own against whirling disease, which put a huge dent in the rainbow population back in the early 1990's. The biggest fish of our trip was a fat 20-inch rainbow that inhaled my hopper a couple of inches from the bank. Papoose Creek Lodge features luxurious bedrooms in the main lodge building as well as a few nearby cabins. The lodge has a fully stocked bar, a huge fireplace, a cozy dining area and a terrific view that is just the ticket after a hard day of angling. The food is excellent, and one evening during each guest's stay, they are invited to hop aboard a wagon drawn by draft horses for a ride up to a streamside barbecue at the base of the mountains. And, at the end of your guided angling day, if you still haven't had your fill of fly-fishing, you can always drop a few dries onto the surface of the stocked trout pond just outside the front door of the main lodge building. Most of the rainbows and browns you catch there are small--but the guides swear that a few seldom-seen monsters lurk among the weeds as well. For further information call 888-674-3030; papoosecreek.com.