Montana and Idaho, USA

14th June - 20th September 2017

For the first time this summer we flew straight to Montana, rather than having a long drive from another part of the country. This allowed us to arrive early enough to see the state still green and blooming with wildflowers. The fishing was incredible for the first month until things started to heat up, so the majority of our time was spent fishing at Raynald's Pass on the Madison. Phil was catching and releasing up to forty trout a day.

Our neighbours Michael and Matthew at the campground were doing equally well when notes were compared. Another neighbour, Rich, from Iowa enticed us to share a beer around his propane campfire each night, which was certainly easier than lighting a real fire in an area with so little firewood lying around.

Fishing the Madison River

Madison River

Madison with Michael and Matthew

Western Tanager on the Madison

The weather warmed up gradually and the fishing eventually slowed a little when temperatures hit the 90s in July. It was time to try some other spots, preferably ones less than 40 miles from the nearest town.

Madison Sunset

Soon it became so hot in Montana that the only way to stay cool in the middle of the day was to sit in the water instead of fishing.

We tried the West Fork of the Bitterroot but on our first visit the fish weren't biting and most of the day was spent wallowing in the cool water. We quickly found ourselves back on the Madison where the altitude made it a little cooler.

Painted Rocks on the West Fork of the Bitterroot

Artist's Paintbrush

We discovered a new treat in the form of Norris Hot Springs, where on weekend evenings you could enjoy the warm water while listening to live music. With a campsite right alongside, it was also possible to sample a few local beverages too. We saw several excellent musicians and made new friends there too.

On the way to one of these indulgent evenings we stopped in Ennis for fuel only to notice, a short while later, a fountain of petrol spurting from the vent pipe to our tank. In the heat of the day the petrol we'd bought had expanded, filling the usually empty vent pipe, and obviously there was a hole we were unaware of. On further investigation we made a temporary repair but also discovered while under the vehicle that one of our inner rear tyres was worn right through to wire. Yikes. Luckily there was a tyre repair shop right in the hamlet of Norris and we could at least put on the spare until new tyres could be ordered for the following Monday.

A trip back to Bozeman for the tyre replacement gave us the chance to catch up on some other maintenance at our storage lock-up.

From Bozeman we headed to Holter Dam on the Missouri, where temperatures were even higher but the fish still biting. A lot of time was spent in the hammock beneath the sun shade provided with the campsite.

The heat brought Bighorn sheep right into the campground in search of water and one even learned to drink the melting ice draining from our neighbour's cooler.

Missouri River fish

Ice Thief

Perhaps Rock Creek would be cooler among the trees? We made our way there only to find the only road in closed due to a wildfire. Fire season was upon us with the heat causing a lot of lightning storms. As summer wore on, more and more of Montana became enveloped in thick smoke.

So, we took ourselves back tothe Bitterroot and just in time to enjoy the local Logger Days festival, where the local lumberjacks tested their skills against one another in many imaginative competitions.

Logger Days, Darby, MT

That's one way to cool off!

What a woman!

Noisy bird on the Bitterroot

At our favourite Rombo campground we made new friends, Alex and Brian from Missoula. After moving to Montana, Alex had secretly taken fly-fishing lessons so she could enjoy the activity with her partner.

Fishing with Brian and Alex on the West Fork of the Bitterroot.

Fishing was open on Georgetown Lake near Anaconda, where temperatures were usually about ten degrees cooler than anywhere else. After the weekend we made a beeline there. The location also allowed the possibility of a daily bike ride of eleven miles around the lake unless the smoke from nearby wildfires became too thick.

Georgetown Lake at Dusk

Again the fish were biting like crazy here, especially when using the Caddis Pupae tied by our new friend Paul. Breaks from fishing were required more to rest the arms than anything else.

Some anglers, especially at weekends seemed to think the regulations didn't apply to them and annoyingly were seen taking far more than their daily bag limit.

Thick smoke at Georgetown Lake

Pet tree at campsite no. 12

Shakespeare in the Park

It was time for something different and we headed to Bozeman for the annual Sweet Pea Arts Festival. For the sum of $20, a whole weekend of entertainment was available in the park including theatre, dance, live music and street food, not to mention arts and crafts projects.

Cloud Cult Headlining at the Sweet Pea Festival


To continue the cultural trend, we saw Josh Ritter in concert a week later in Helena.

A soak in Fairmont Hot Springs was a birthday treat for Christine.

It was time to make an excursion out of Montana to Idaho, to witness our first ever total solar eclipse. Anticipating scary traffic in that direction, we left early and spent a couple of nights on the Henry's Fork River to fish and enjoy the bike trails at the Harriman State Park.

Lovely new friends, the Floyd family, had invited us to experience the eclipse from their home, which lay right on the line of totality. We arrived the evening before and enjoyed a lovely family dinner with the family and their friends.

Harriman State Park, Idaho

Warming up the trampoline for the eclipse

The day of the eclipse dawned clear and bright. Conditions couldn't have been more perfect. We watched from the comfort of the trampoline in the back garden of our friends' house as gradually it became darker and cooler and Birds headed to their roosts. Totality was a magical experience to be highly recommended to anyone. Amazing!

It's going dark and cold.


Little Bighorn Memorial

Rock Creek (the other one)

It was creeping towards the end of August and we hoped it would be cool enough to visit the Bighorn River. Unfortunately at the end of the 200 mile trip we found that the fishing was poor that year, as river flows were high.

We took our first ever visit up to the dam to join a Heritage Tour by a local and very knowledgeable Crow Tribe Member.

In the evenings we often saw a mother black bear and two cubs heading to the river to cool off, as we had during the heat of the day.

On the return journey we finally visited the memorial at Little Bighorn and made a stop at a new river, Rock Creek (a different one, near Billings).

We had only one more time critical commitment, to get to Missoula in time for Frank Turner's gig there with Jason Isbell.

It was, as ever, excellent but a little strange to attend a concert where so few people knew of him with most having come to see the headline act. There was plenty of room up front for dancing and going crazy during Frank's performance with the Sleeping Souls.

Frank Turner and the Sleeping Souls at the Wilma in Missoula

Owl visitor at Quake Lake

We spent a few days fishing and enjoying Quake Lake and managed to capture a photo of a Bald Eagle sitting on a branch with legs crossed.

Suddenly winter was upon us in the form of a two day cold snap and by cold we're talking about snow and icicles. Montana always had the ability to take you by surprise - it was only early September.

Eagle enjoying a sit down.

Quake Lake Catch

Madison River mid September

It was definitely time to get Harvey-the-RV snuggled up, winterised, and ready to spend the winter in his comfy garage in Belgrade and fly home.

Return to Homepage