Montana Familiarity Trip Report
April 10 – 18, 2023
by Chris King
Flying out of Redding is convenient. But it sure doesn’t save much time. Was at the airport at 05:30 PST. No troubles with the flight to SFO. Was scheduled for a 3-hour layover. Flight was delayed, they changed gates on me and when it was all said and done the plane took off an hour late. I was thinking I could have driven down there in that amount of time, and if I flew out of SMF it would’ve been a 2-hour drive. But like I said, it’s convenient. Got to Bozeman and rented a car, a Toyota Corolla (hope it doesn’t snow). The rental agency wanted an extra $200 for an all wheel drive vehicle. Headed out to DeMissouri House. The drive through Helena was pretty easy for the most part. The temps were in the 70’s and I could feel the car being blown around a couple of times in the wind. But, great to be back in the Rockies.
The place was a little hard to find and I went past it twice. GPS had me up and over a gravel road that was on the other side of the river. Looking at the road, I was thinking there’s no way this could be right. Then halfway up the road (that’s on the wrong side of the river) there is a sign that says “enter at your own risk!”
Turns out that is the right way to go and I arrived at 7:00 PM. Got settled and we ate shortly after arrival. Becky had made a chicken dish with mozzarella cheese, tomato, basil and a drizzle of balsamic glaze. They don’t start their season until May so I am the only one here and Craig and Becky are still living in the house. It is a 3-bedroom home a stone’s throw from the river. There is one bedroom upstairs with its own bathroom. The two bedrooms downstairs share a bath. Each room has 2 queens and they are well-decorated. Everything here has been replaced and looks new. We sat and talked a bit after dinner, planning our fishing for the next day. Weather was calling for wind gusts to 40 mph.
Fishing the MO
Pretty tough, though weather was not near as bad as expected. The wind blew around 15 mph all day. Still plenty of snow around. High near 70° today and the melting snow had the water colored up a bit.
We started with streamers in the morning. They throw a 2-fly rig on a dry line and kind of bounce the flies along the bottom. We did this for the first hour and half with no bites. We switched to bobbers and put in an array of scuds, San Juan’s and midges. I caught a couple of rainbows and took the oars from Craig. He caught one in about 30 seconds. I said it was my guiding…. Because I was on the sticks and it was my rod and flies. Lol. We all had a good chuckle about that and continued to fish our way down. The river was beautiful. But a tributary 1/2 way down our float blew the river out. After the long cold snowy winter and a couple of 70° days, it’s to be expected. We fished with Craig’s son, Warren, who is one of the guides for the lodge in the summer. We swapped around on the oars a bit. But ultimately we couldn’t find any more fish. We shared stories and had some laughs and were off the river around 3:30 PM. Took a drive further down the canyon. My first time to the MO, what a beautiful river. The DeMarks are great people. They have a genuine interest in making sure their guests enjoy the Missouri river area. Their hospitality is top-notch.
Left the DeMarks at 7:00 AM and headed for Billings. Drove through some snow flurries just outside of Helena. Weather in Cascade was calling for 3-5″ on Thursday. The rest of the day was beautiful and it was a gorgeous drive across this amazing state. Channing and Beth arrived early at around 11:00 AM and I was at the airport to pick them up around 11:45 AM. We went and met with Mike, a former colleague of Channing’s who has fished the Lower Sac with us in the past. He treated us to lunch at the Yellowstone Country Club. Really snazzy place. We stopped at the liquor store on the way out of town and headed to Kingfisher Lodge.
The lodge is great, definitely a fisherman’s place. The rooms are motel-style with the main lodge and dining area being separate. Taylor and Matt are gracious hosts and made everyone feel welcome as they arrived. One by one everyone showed up and it was easy for all of them to find the lodge. We got comfortable and they put out appetizers of prosciutto wrapped asparagus stuffed with goat cheese. Mike and Matt Kuhn arrived a little later during dinner, but we had just started the main course so it worked out fine. We had a Caesar salad followed by chicken parmigiana with homemade pasta. The dessert was a shortcake with whipped cream and dusted with chocolate. They have added an addition to the main lodge with a sitting area and a pool table. We played pool and took turns displaying our misspent youth. After a long day of travel, everyone turned in around 9:00 PM.
Weather held off overnight and the morning was beautiful. We got waders for the folks that needed them and the guides showed up at 9. I fished with Brad today and we had Chad Becker as our guide. He immediately told me to put my streamer rod away. I told him that I came all the way to Montana to throw streamers and that’s the only way I like to fish. He gave me a blank stare… Pretty dry sense of humor, but overall a good guy. He was the first guide in the parking lot each morning. We put in at the dam and he arranged to have his truck shuttled down to Three Mile Access. We went the first 3/4 mile without a grab. After that we started to catch a few in every other run. The weather was coming in and we decided to have lunch at 11:30 AM as the storm was making its way over the hill. Water temp was 36°. The action started to pick up after lunch and either Brad or myself had a fish on in just about every run. The wind was pretty heavy and we skipped a lot of water. We were at the take-out at 12:30 and Chad asked if we wanted to do a second drift or catch a couple here and call it. We fished for another hour and caught several more browns and I left the decision up to Brad. We decided to call it and pulled the boat out at 1:30 PM. The rest of the crew did the whole float and everyone was happy with the success of the day despite the rain and snow. They all got back to the lodge around 4:00 PM and got hot showers and the whiskey was on tap. Jason (the chef) made a shrimp etouffee dish that was excellent. That little bit of spice went a long way to warm everyone up.
Fished with Channing today. We had a great day on the water. The weather was beautiful and the fish were cooperating. Probably not as much action today based on the whole group’s input. But everyone was much happier without the dreary rain and snow. The fish caught today had better size. The girls fished together and had a good time. The guys that fished with Chad Becker had a good time. The fishing is pretty much like the Lower Sac only for brown trout. There were maybe 2-4 rainbows caught by each boat, the rest were all browns.
Somewhere between 15-30 total for each boat. We fished with Ian today. What a fantastic young guide. Great sense of humor, good oarsman, and knows the river very well. For dinner back at the lodge, they knocked it out of the park. Duck with grits and a berry sauce. The apps were a bruschetta with artichoke and smoked salmon. The food here is incredible.
The whole group spent another hour around the table conversing and sharing stories about the day. Taylor left today and Matt was left to handle the lodge operations. Between the 2 of them, and chef Jason, they are wonderful hosts and this is a great place to bring a group or send some guests to experience the Bighorn.
Sun was out today and it was a welcome sight. I fished with Matt today solo. Nice guy. I believe they only use him on occasion as he is a weekend only guy. The intent was to get some good footage of the guests enjoying the Bighorn. I got some pictures of the other guests and some videos to put together a little clip for them at the end of the trip. The rest of the guests had a pleasant day in the weather. The fishing was tougher today for most. Channing and Brad finished with Ian again and they killed it. After we got back, there’s a spot on the lodge property that leads to the river so Chad, Brad and I went down for a bit before dinner. I simply sat on the bank and watched the two of them fish. Just an absolutely gorgeous day. Jason, again, knocked it out of the park at dinner.
Guests all packed up this morning and took off one by one til around 9:00 AM. Everyone had a fantastic trip and said they would come back. Borrowed a boat from the lodge and took Channing and Beth down the river for a few hours. We fished from the dam to 3-Mile Access. The sun was out and it was an absolutely ridiculous morning. We caught several nice browns and Channing had a big rainbow right to the boat before losing it. By the end of the float I was in a t-shirt. While fishing the previous 3 days with the local guides, I was asking to try some flies that Mercer had tied for me to take on the trip. They were less than willing to let me experiment, so I didn’t really push the issue. This morning we caught all of our fish on those flies… Thanks Mercer! We said goodbye to Matt and went to the Little Bighorn Battlefield National Monument. Pretty interesting place. I think what struck me the most was the senselessness of it,150 years after those men fought and killed each other. There is still nothing there for as far as you can see.
Dropped them off at the airport and headed to Montana Fly Fishing Lodge. This place is beautiful. What a house. Everything you think of when you say Montana Log House. Judy made a wonderful pork tenderloin for dinner and we sat and chatted till 10:30 PM. Really nice couple. Their entire goal is to provide the best hospitality anywhere. They love to do it and it shows. Lincoln looked up my bio on the TFS website and read that I enjoy bourbon. He put together a tasting for us and we sipped on fine whiskey and shared stories. These folks don’t miss a thing…
Tomorrow we are going to cruise around the area to see some of the fishing venues. Lincoln also asked me to work with one of his young guides that is aspiring to take the casting instructors certification.
Drove all around the area today to see the different watersheds that are here. What a diverse area of Montana. We saw the East and West forks of the Rosebud, the Stillwater River, and the Lower Yellowstone. So many options here. He has several miles of private access on the ‘Buds. Floats the Stillwater in rafts and the Lower Yellowstone in hard boats. He is 1.5 hrs from the Bighorn for an optional day and just over the hill to get to the Boulder. This is an incredible place for someone that wants to do something different each day. All but the top stretches of the Stillwater and the ‘Buds were pretty muddy.
Still plenty of snow on the banks. But great pieces of water everywhere. Spent a couple hours with Brandon working on his casting. For dinner Judi made Brussel sprouts and roasted potatoes and Lincoln cooked some steaks on the Traeger. Once again a very nice meal.
Spent the last night in Bozeman before my flight out. Woke up to 3 inches of new snow on the ground.
I went by and saw the guys at Skwala and checked out their factory. Saw a new wool top that we should look at carrying in the fall. Nice piece.
All in all it was a great adventure, though I’m glad to be back in the sunshine. Until July…
Overall it was a very informative trip. The DeMark’s on the Missouri at DeMissouri House are wonderful people. They come in at $1,000 less than most lodges in the area for a 4 night/3 day stay. So for the price I think it can be a great option. The 2 downstairs rooms share a bath and the food is good and hearty. Craig and his boys are very personal and I’m sure the guests will enjoy their time here.
At Kingfisher Lodge on the Bighorn, Taylor and Matt have one of the best bangs for the buck in Montana. Their 4 night/3 day trip is under $2,000 with very comfortable accommodations, gourmet food and a great hang-out area at the lodge. The deck will be a great spot as the weather gets better and they even have a fire pit area that they will start up, on request.
Montana Fly Fishing Lodge is an incredible spot for diversity. The customer that is looking for over-the-top hospitality will be all praises for Lincoln and Judi. No expense is spared here. This is a dry fly and wade-fishing mecca with the option to float the Lower Yellowstone and the Bighorn. If you don’t mind a little travel for your fishing, the options are endless here.