Reel Time on the road: Dillon, Montana

Reel Time on the road: Dillon, Montana
The author’s 20” brown trout took a dry fly off the surface on the Madison River Float. - Rusty Chinnis | Sun

This past week I fished the Big Hole, Madison and Beaverhead Rivers in Montana with a group of anglers hosted by Captain Rick Grassett at Montana’s Medicine Lodge, a working ranch near Dillon, Montana.

Over five days we fished the three rivers from drift boats, casting dry flies and nymphs. This is Grassett’s 20th year hosting the trip and the second time I’ve joined the group in what is evolving into an annual event. We fished with Dave King Outfitters, based in Dillon. Grassett fished with King as a guide for many years at another lodge that eventually closed. After the closure of that lodge, King decided to become an outfitter and hooked up with Grassett and Montana’s Medicine Lodge, which provides a unique western working ranch atmosphere.

The group of seven anglers fished with King’s guides, changing partners and guides each day. On the first day, I fished with Dennis Kinley, who I first met 15 years ago in the Bahamas on a bonefishing trip. Dennis is a regular with the group. Our guide was Jake Heinecke, a fishing and hunting guide who teaches school in Dillon when he isn’t guiding. Over the day we landed a number of brown trout, including some quality fish from 16-19 inches. During our float we watched thunderstorms build over the mountains, eventually overtaking us in a downpour about a half-hour before our float ended at 4 p.m.

Reel Time on the road: Dillon, Montana
Anglers pause for lunch along the Madison River. – Rusty Chinnis | Sun

Because we had an odd number of anglers, each angler fished solo one day. On the second day float on the Madison, I volunteered and fished again with Heinecke. I took the opportunity to learn from Jake and was fascinated with his mastery of the fly rod. In particular, I asked him to help me with my mend and reach casts that feed fly line up current to assure a drag-free float of the fly. He actually combined the two into a cast he calls the reach-mend. The fishing was a bit slow that day but the weather and scenery were spectacular and I managed to hook and land a 20” brown trout on a dry hopper imitation.

On my third and fourth day, I fished with Nick Delledonne, from Pennsylvania, and Grassett on one of my favorite rivers in Montana, the Big Hole. We launched both days at about 7,000 feet, where the temperature hovered in the high 40s and floated two of the river’s most scenic stretches. Our guide both days was Mark Moreni, who guides for King during the summer season and teaches high school history in the winter. Although the fishing was a bit slow both days, we did get a chance to fish the Trico hatch, where millions of these small-winged insects emerge from the river in a buffet of food for the local trout. During this brief (about an hour) time, fish go on a feeding frenzy allowing anglers a chance to target rising fish with small dry fly imitations.

After fishing each day, anglers returned to the ranch where chef Annie Walz Kubiac had hors d’oeuvres ready to accompany cold beverages and cocktails on the outside deck. It was a perfect place for anglers to unwind and recount “tails” of the day. Dinners each evening featured chef Kubiac’s scrumptious special side dishes that accompanied the entrees like prime rib, elk meatloaf, baby back ribs and shrimp.

On the last day of the trip, I fished with Grassett on a different stretch of the Beaverhead with Heinecke. The morning started with cloud cover and the promise of much-needed rain. We dodged all but brief showers and spent the day fishing streamers along the fast-moving river. Action was a bit slow but we managed a few nice brown and a couple of rainbow trout to 16 inches. The float took us through some beautiful scenery and ended near the landmark “Pipe Organ.” We were lucky that we missed much of the hot weather that had plagued the region earlier in the summer and only got a haze from fires burning to the west. As we parted company on Saturday morning, everyone was already talking about a return trip in 2022. For information on joining one of Grassett’s yearly trips (Montana and the Bahamas), contact him at 941-350-0318. Next week, Big Sky and  Red Lodge.