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August 17, 2011:
This year has seen record snow packs in much of the Rockies, and the Bob Marshall Wilderness got more than its fair share of the excess precipitation. I spent much of July staring at the South Fork Flathead stream gauge in disbelief as it hovered at June runoff levels (above 10,000 cfs) through July 10th, and THEN actually began rising to 12000 cfs, what the what! On July 15th, the river finally crested, but hovered at 8,000 cfs for another week.
On July 27th, we hit our first camp at the mouth of Otter Creek on Young's Creek. Coming around the bend in the trail to steal that first glance at the creek and seeing a beautiful creek at perfect fishing levels was a major relief
We fished all day on Young's Creek on July 28th. The day started out slow with not much good fishing until water temps warmed above 50F. Afternoon and evening fishing was quite good, the normal fare of trashy Attractor flies, Adams, Hoppers etc. worked well. Average fish in Young's Creek were 15" and fat. Due to high water levels no bull trout had yet made it up this far into the drainage. (Young's Creek and Danaher Creek form the South Fork of the Flathead about 6 miles down creek).
We moved our camp to the mouth of Bartlett Creek on the South Fork of the Flathead below Big Prairie on July 29th (about a 6 hour ride). Water levels were still high (just above 3000 cfs it turns out) but very fishable.
July 30th was a fantastic day. I had Kim and the wranglers dump me at Big Prairie on the South Fork and fished back to camp, about three miles as the crow flies...I put on a nice #4 Rusty Brown Beldar Rubberlegs I had tied this fly specifically for this moment, and had shown it to John Burgos the day before I left telling him "this fly is going to slay 'em. This was the moment of truth. I cast the fly as far as I could manage at about 45 degrees upstream (let's call it 50 feet tops). When the tip of my line was perpendicular to my position I threw a mend upstream and began to feed another 10 feet of line into the drift. The fly finally started to tick at about 60 degrees downstream and the line was already starting to belly out...I let out another 3 or 4 feet of line into the drift for good measure and then allow the line to come tight to begin my retrieve. BAM! fish on. First fish of the day; not huge, but a healthy 16" cutthroat. position for about 10 minutes and caught several nice fish. I glanced at my GPS (for time...no watch...long story) and realized I had a lot of ground to cover if I wanted to make it back to camp before dinner. So began a day of fishing that rivals almost every day in memory (save a 30+ fish day on Penn's toward the tail of the Grannoms...seriously...can anything rival a day where Penn's gives up 30+ fish?) I caught an obscene amount of fish. I fished that one fly until it was completely destroyed, after about the 20th fish, the hackles unwound, there wasn't much marabou left, but the fish still had to have it...I was in "hog heaven". I continued to fish downstream moving about 10 feet with every cast. There were some monster holes that probably could have produced 100 fish or more, but there are only so many hours in the day...I kept moving. I did finally change flies to a brown Slump Buster, and on to some dry flies in the afternoon (did I mention the day was still young?) By mid-afternoon I had completely gone through all of my lunch and snacks and checked the GPS for distance. Still about 1 mile from camp, and about 20 minutes past the point where I said Kim should hike upstream to catch me for some late day fishing. Better start to hoof it... I was practically back to camp when I finally bumped into Kim and we packed up and headed for dinner.
We spent three days in camp at Bartlett fishing upstream and downstream. The evening rise was another amazing time. Great dry flies would really get going around 6:30 or 7:00 PM. Fishing right out in front of our campsite until dark was a hoot. Folks sitting up on the bluff around the campfire with their chairs facing the creek were drinking wine and critiquing the skills of the fisher people....only thing else they needed were scorecards. PEDs started right around 7PM and went until 8:30, then a March Brown looking thingy would come out, and you could pretty much fish that as an emerger until dark (10PMish).
-- Troy Dunn --