Montana - Adventures with Dan

27th August - 4th September 2012

Our next destination was the Madison River. Our first stop was near the town of Ennis, where we found ourselves a beautiful camp site at the Valley Garden fishing access. The river had to be checked out immediately, in preparation for a day of fishing. Getting along the river without donning waders involved a bit of bush-whacking but it was worth the effort. The scenery was stunning and made even more dramatic with an evening light show, thanks to a thunderstorm.

You sure the river is this way?

A small dot in a big river

Next morning the waders were on and we proved that that part of the river, with its labyrinth of braids and channels, contained plenty of trout, albeit small ones. We also quickly learned that the Madison River Valley was pretty windy, making casting tricky and an afternoon bike ride a real work out!

Next morning we pushed on a further forty miles upstream, towards the dam at the head of the river, in search of bigger fish. Taking advice from the friendly and helpful folk at the Slide-Inn, we arrived at the Raynolds Pass fishing access, reputedly the best stretch of fishing on the river and also a camp ground, totally free of charge! We felt maybe we'd reached fishing nirvana. Phil could happily wander the banks of the river directly from the camp ground, while Christine hiked along the river, checking out the wildlife and scenery.

On our first excursion, Christine was merrily wandering several hundred feet upstream of the fisherman, alongside the raging and noisy river. After a while she had a sense that somewhere above the din of the rushing water, somebody was shouting. On returning to the fishing spot, it turned out it was indeed Phil, who had been screaming at the top of his voice for about 10 minutes, wanting a photo of the nice brown trout he'd landed. He'd yelled himself hoarse but got the picture. In addition, Christine's services were required to retrieve some lost flies from a rock in the river. That would teach her to wear shorts!

The hopper and ant combination he was fishing proved productive and by the time he'd landed the 14" brown and 14" and 16" rainbow trout, he stopped shouting every time!

The hoarse fisherman.

International Fly Rescue emerging from the river.

On returning to camp we got to know our neighbour Dan, who had taken a break from work, to travel the States fly fishing, whilst living and sleeping in his car. It turned out that this chance encounter was beneficial for both parties, as Phil had a fishing buddy to fish and compare notes with and Dan got a few meals which weren't noodles out of packets! We spent eight wonderful days travelling and fishing together. Dan wasn't happy when Phil continued to catch the bigger fish on the Madison, landing a 14" rainbow and a 22" brown and losing two other big fish, this time on a stonefly nymph but he managed to retain his ever good humour.

Fishing the Madison as the moon rises.

Phil, however, was not in such a good humour early next morning when woken at 6.30 am by mouse attack. A stowaway on Harvey, the mouse decided to take a stroll up his arm. He managed to find his shouting voice again and the great mouse hunt was on. Well, it made a change to hunting fish!

Our only mousetrap, the humane variety, having been disposed of back in Minnesota, when a long dead, stinky mouse was found inside (not quite so humane after all but the trap wasn't even baited), we had to devise a method to trap the pesky rodent.

Phil set to work, fashioning a humane trap out of a used milk carton, cunningly baited with some breakfast cereal. The only downside to this trap was that somebody (the engineer himself!) had to awaken on hearing munching noises inside the trap, reach out of bed and pull on the rope attached to the top and tip the carton vertical, preventing the mouse from escaping.

There were several near misses when sleepy hunters were outsmarted by the prey, but finally success! The mouse was safely contained in the milk carton and it was only 3 am, maybe we'd get some sleep after all. The lid was placed on the carton and the whole thing placed outside until morning, just in case the mouse managed to gnaw his way out. We settled back into the warmth of our bed.

Some time later, still both awake, unable to sleep after all the excitement, it suddenly dawned on us that the mouse might suffocate before morning and being a pair of softies, it was decided that someone (the engineer of course) would have to venture out into the cold again to make some air holes for the critter. Finally we settled down again with our consciences clear. Then we heard more gnawing, it seemed our stowaway brought along some friends.

First priority next morning, obviously, was fishing but first the mouse had to be liberated from the trap, readying it for re-use the next night. However, it seemed the mouse had taken a shine to his new home, stocked as it was with granola to snack on and stubbornly refused to leave. Finally a large hole had to be cut to kick him out. It was resealed with duct tape, always an essential on any trip.

The boys headed out fishing, meanwhile Christine set to work blocking up every hole she could find in Harvey. We hoped this would prevent new stowaways and stop the one we had gaining access to our food cupboards.

What was needed here was a cat, or perhaps a badger! Although allowing our neighbourhood badger, very different in colour to a British badger, access to the RV might just add to our troubles!


Damn - Phil got another big one! (Thanks for the photo Dan).

Phil and Dan taking the fishing business very seriously

We all headed to Ennis for the annual Fly Fishing Festival that weekend. We found camp sites only a quarter mile from town, enabling us to head out that evening and paint the town red, our first night out in months. First stop was the festival site to sample the chilli on offer. We'd never eaten chilli from a crisp packet before, that was a definite first but the chilli was very tasty when mixed with the crushed tortilla chips inside. Of course chilli had to be washed down with beer. This was followed by more beers at the Gravel Bar, where we enjoyed live music by the talented Lonesome Heroes. The town may not have been red but by the time we waddled home in the drizzle, it was certainly pinkish! Nobody was too enthusiastic about the fly fishing lectures the next day, in fact Dan managed to sleep through the rest of the festival. It seemed the oldies had drunk the 25 year old under the table!

Fine dining Ennis style!

Lonesome Heroes

Ennis was a lovely little town adorned with many beautiful metal statues. There was a fly fisherman statue in the middle of the traffic island, two beautiful horse statues in the park and several bears that we spotted.

The town also offered free internet from its public library. When it was closed you could still get online in the rear parking lot, much to the amusement of the resident deer.

After a whole day without fishing, the boys were anxious to get back to the water. We headed to the Beaverhead river. Dan, whose vehicle would undoutedly make it over the mountains quicker than Harvey, was tasked with finding a local fly fishing shop in Dillon and finding out which flies were working. He succeeded and was told that crane flies were the bug of choice on that river at the moment. Of course, the fly shop had sold out, so we'd have to find something else that worked instead.

Another river, another free camp ground, you had to love Montana.

Almost immediately we encountered Bill, who had floated the river before and offered to take Dan out on his boat that evening, while we floated down in our canoe. We set off on the swift river a little too early for the fish to be rising, so it was decided that we would stop so Dan and Phil could wade fish.

There were only two small problems. Firstly our teeny anchor struggled to hold the canoe in the swift current and when it did, it was even harder to retrieve than to set. Secondly the water was cold and deep. As it was hot when we'd left, the boys had opted to travel without their waders, so found themselves standing thigh deep in the water in shorts and water shoes. Phil's 5'8" stature compared to Dan's 6'2" was a distinct disadvantage. He soon clambered back into our canoe Sevy Paddlesteerus, chilled to the bone, announcing there would be no more wading, he was planning on staying in the boat for the rest of the trip.

Throughout the drift, Bill showed amazing dexterity, managing to both paddle and chain-smoke cigars the whole way, even getting in some fishing too! By the time we arrived at the spot where we'd left Bill's truck, it was almost dark and really, really cold. Those of the party who had wet clothes on, were definitely suffering until Bill turned up the heater in his truck full blast to thaw them out.

Early in the morning, Phil set off to the stretch of river below the dam, with determination to bring home a nice rainbow for supper. We'd been told that the rainbows tasted better than the brown trout in the river, so his the 17" and 19" browns he hooked were released. Fortunately he managed snag himself a 22" rainbow which would do nicely for a warm dinner after the evening's float.

Bill had left and we decided to float the same stretch again, this time Dan would use his own float boat. We set off prepared, with our warm clothes safely stowed aboard and at the end of the trip managed to cram both boats, all of our other equipment and three of us into Dan's car on the way back. Nothing short of a miracle, even if Christine had to lay out in the bed constructed in the rear of the vehicle for the trip.

Bill had assured us that the rest of the river was an easier float than this top stretch, so we decided to take a longer float the next day.

Does this water get much deeper???

Dan and his multi-tasking pilot, Bill.

Sorry this brown is going back.

This one will do!

We had relocated to the nearby Armstead campground where for the princely sum of $17, we could have electricity and long-overdue hot showers. This would leave us about a mile above the rapids when we launched our boats. There we'd have to haul out the boats and port them over the dangerous stretch and enjoy a nice relaxing float down to the fishing access. Well, that was the plan. The trip to the rapids, haul-out and portage went fine.

We relaunched, expecting the hardest part to be over, only to encounter frequent stretches of rapids and many tight bends where the current would try to sweep our canoe into the bank or the overhanging trees. It was exhausting work for the paddler and frustrating for the angler, who watched excellent looking fishing spots fly quickly by as the rapid current took us downstream.

The Trusty Dan-Mobile

Stopping was not easy and one time we deployed the anchor hoping to stop before a rapid stretch of water. Unfortunately it didn't actually get a grip until we were in the midst of the foaming rapids, leaving us in a dodgey position. We had to try to retrieve the anchor by hauling against the fast current whilst making sure the canoe didn't turn sideways, when the waves would come over the side. Our lives flashed before our eyes for a few moments but finally we were freed. Dan did remarkably well single handing his boat down the taxing river, even landing a couple of trout on the way but even he, by the time we finally reached our haul-out point, decided he'd had enough of floating on the Beaverhead. Any further fishing on the Beaverhead would be done on foot.

Dan finds a quiet spot to fish

We're passed the rapids, the worst if over - ha, ha!

All this time, the great mouse hunt continued. We were spurred on by reports of tourists at Yosemite Park in California contracting a fatal rare mouse-dropping borne virus. Mouse number two, proved sneakier than his liberated pal. He kept us awake for several nights, whilst trying to catch him in our humane, now ventilated, milk carton trap. He finally brought about his own demise with his sneakiness. In Ennis we purchased conventional mousetraps and one morning at around 3 am, enough was enough, we got up to set the murderous traps. Of course Mouse 2 still had chance for a little pre-emptive revenge. In our sleepy middle of the night haze, the half Mexican instructions proved a little tricky and several digits were harmed. Mouse 2 managed one escape, setting off the trap but fleeing only to be outsmarted shortly thereafter. RIP and good riddance to Mouse 2.

Then Mouse 3 appeared, gnawing at the same duct taped hole which had fascinated Mouse 2. Mouse 3, however was too smart to fall for the old mousetrap trick. Instead he escaped into the shower compartment where he was promptly crushed by a falling (possibly assisted in falling) crate of Corona Beer. Surely that was it, how many mice could one small motorhome sustain, especially when all foodstuffs were stowed safely out of reach.

Mouse 4 evaded us completely, we were unaware of its presence, it was a particularly sneaky rodent. However it managed to commit suicide by trapping itself between a wall and a propane pipe and took Phil by surprise when he opened the cupboard to retrieve his porridge oats.

Time was pressing on. Before we knew it, we'd been fishing, partying and travelling with Dan for 8 days. It was time to part company, as Dan needed to head north and ourselves south. Well, perhaps we would head east instead, after all Dan said the Bighorn River in Eastern Montana was great fishing!

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