Sometimes the fishing gods just happen to smile upon you, at least they did last year around this time when we drew a lucky permit to float the Smith River in Montana. If you didn’t know, the Smith is a pristine waterway along the Lewis and Clark National Forest flowing towards Great Falls where it joins the Missouri. It’s a protected piece of water and to gain access, you need to enter a Montana DNR lottery and cross all of your fingers hoping that the ranger in the sky is looking down and pulls your magic name out on the date you must pre-select. Picking July 15th, we lucked out and nabbed a slot. Due to the high snowpack last year and a few good rainstorms prior to our arrival, there was going to be just enough water to make it floatable and god willing, fishy.
I’ve never spent 5 days camping from a raft, but it’s definitely something I long to do again. I liken it to spending days on end in the BWCA, without the endless portages. After a while, you start to slip into the languid speed of river life, where the only necessity is to setup and take down camp, everything in between is a slow blur of warm red cliffs, lush pines, and endless fishy banks, boulders, runs and pools. The rain from the previous days had the water slightly tinted and the fishing was decent but not spectacular the first few days. But on day 3, after a mice infestation the night before (literally dropping off the hanging water dramaderie and running rampant through our kitchen), we awoke to a prolific spruce moth hatch all over our tents and campsite. All day long we spent teasing beautiful rainbows and browns up to orange attractors. This was what we had been hoping for and the Smith did not disappoint.
The amazing fishing was only half of the adventure. It’s been said over and over, but truly you cannot capture the scale and beauty of this area in pictures. All day long you would round a corner and gaze upon the most majestic cliff faces and rock walls. Wildlife was abundant. Families of Mergansers, golden eagles, beavers, even a momma bear and her cubs would greet us on our way down river. Evenings were spent sitting in chairs on the river’s edge sipping our nightly cocktails and recounting the days passing as cliff swallows diving above us would start to make way to the evening swirling of the bats.
If the fishing and scenery weren’t enough, it was just pretty damn awesome to spend days sipping beers all day in a raft with good friends and soaking it all in. Our friends Aaron and Claire came with us on this adventure and we couldn’t have asked for better river companions. Every night we ate fantastic meals with a table centerpiece Claire would build from natural objects found around the campsite. We would radio to each other on the river during the day, notifying the other if we found a particular pattern that was working or just to call out an awesome looking pull out where we would all get out and fish. Teamwork made the dream work and I’m super thankful I got to do it with these Fine Folks.
As with many of our natural resources these days, the Smith is being threatened by a proposed mine on the main feeder stream to the river. Please be informed and support TU and the other entities looking to protect this amazing waterway for years to come. https://montanatu.org/smith-river-protection/
Life is short, make this trip happen. There are a lot of places to fish, but few like this one.