Fall Fishing in a Recovered Paradise

Eric English exploring Silver Bow Creek

We had fantastic Indian Summer weather last week and, happily, it’s continuing into this week, too. 

It couldn’t have come at a better time, as we had a houseguest, Eric English, who hails from the Richmond, Virginia area. He’s an emergency room physician and he likes to take traveling jobs to exotic places, like Sidney, Montana, to put himself closer to Montana’s fly-fishing waters.

After a day on the Big Hole, I suggested we try something different, so we found ourselves bushwhacking our way up Durant Canyon to fish Silver Bow Creek.

It’s one of those outings that 20 or more years ago, if I’d suggested going fly-fishing on Silver Bow Creek, I might have found myself being evaluated for commitment to the state mental hospital a few miles further downstream at Warm Springs.

Silver Bow Creek was one of the most abused waterways in Montana, an industrial sewer full of mining and smelter waste, along with untreated sewage. 

After millions of reclamation dollars were spent to clean up and restore the creek, a miracle happened. Westslope cutthroat trout found their way down German Gulch, a tiny tributary, into the larger waters of Silver Bow Creek and, unbelievably, prospered. It didn’t take long before some people started posting photos of nice cutts on social media.

To be sure, fishing this creek isn’t for everyone. It’s way too small for a drift boat and scrambling around in the rocky twists and turns of this canyon creek is a workout. 

There are rewards, however. Even if you never see a fish, it’s a beautiful hike along this sparkling waterway in the narrow Canyon. 

I caught the first fish of the day, a spunky 8-inch cutty. Eric caught a carbon copy, if not the same trout, out of the same pool. 

Eric and a gorgeous native cutthroat trout.

He also managed to work his way into a pool where, using a “hopper and a dropper” combination, he hooked three trout, the last a fat and feisty trout we estimated to be about a 17-incher, though we didn’t put a measuring tape on the fish. Eric agreed with my philosophy that, “a measured fish can’t grow.” In fact, on our trek out of the canyon Eric considered that it might have already grown a bit.

When I suggested that catching that fish made the whole day, Eric said, “It made the whole trip.”

While fishing the creek was fun, I confess that I was somewhat distracted by thoughts of pheasants, as the pheasant season opens on October 10. Of course, the pronghorn antelope rifle season begins this Saturday, too.

I have nothing against hunting antelope and I have great memories of past hunts of these prairie speedsters. Pheasants, however, are special.

I grew up on a farm when pheasants were plentiful in southern Minnesota. My dad didn’t hunt but the fathers of some of my schoolmates at the one room country school where I began my formal education did, and I was envious when they’d open their lunchbox and take out a pheasant sandwich. I decided that when I was older I’d learn to hunt pheasants so that, some day, I, too, could have a pheasant sandwich.

I quickly learned that I had a lot to learn when it comes to pheasants, but over the years the pheasants taught, and continue to teach, me a lot of things about how to come up with sandwich fixings.

Over the years, as a career took us to Iowa, North Dakota, back to Iowa, to Montana, then back to North Dakota, and, finally, to Butte, I have always had opportunities to chase pheasants. Since 1970, these pheasant hunts have been with the partnership of five different Labrador retrievers, all of whom helped our outings become successful. Kiri, our current Lab, is now five years old and starting her sixth season of pheasant walks across the prairies.

I’ll be hunting other things, of course, but until the season ends on New Year’s Day, chances are that, at any given time, I’ll be thinking of pheasants and scheming my next outing.

4 thoughts on “Fall Fishing in a Recovered Paradise

  1. The gift of that 18+ inch fish belies the handsome way it was presented by your generosity. The people of Montana should be congratulated on the fine way they have restored many of their fisheries and Silver Bow is a national treasure! I am honored to work and visit your fine state. The door is always open should you desire to visit Virginia!

  2. That 19-inch fish was a beauty and you had the magic to fool it.
    That fishery is certainly proof that fixing problems pays dividends. As some people noted, when cutthroats moved in after the rebuilding of the creek, “Build it and they will come.”
    It also shows that, given the chance, native fish will thrive and grow big, even in a tiny little stream like that.

  3. I spent about 6 months this summer and fall, mostly in Montana and between short ER stints in New Mexico and Virginia and all too brief visits home (as my wife of 34 years reminded me,) estimate I fished about 45 days (while camping 30 days) during that period. (I must check my journal for accuracy but what does that matter to a fisherman who routinely rounds up)? What was special about that fish, elaborating on my comment, “it made the whole trip” was that it was a wild fish from a reclaimed river that seemingly by all accounts was one of thousands damaged permanently by humans and that after such a great effort at reclamation and restoration it is almost as if we had never done it! Needless to say, the billions of dollars in superfund and tax support, and the will of the people of Butte, we all have done a great thing! The nice fish was a special gift that reminded me of hope for the future! Thank you again for sharing it with me!

  4. It was a special outing, exploring this little waterway and discovering some places of beauty and some wild, native fish with their own beauty. Obviously, we’ll have to do it again.

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