Hiding in Plain Sight

Not too long ago, I was a fly fishing guide, and most of my trips during the summer involved daily travels of nearly 100 miles. They also entailed towing a drift boat over a mountain pass at 70 miles an hour, burning several gallons of gas, rowing for miles against gale-force winds, and—especially toward the end of my stint—dealing with more and more anglers on increasingly crowded rivers. 

Not surprisingly, after moving away from guiding, I began looking for a fresh approach to angling. I wanted more time wading and casting and less time behind the wheel. I was also looking for places to fish comfortably with my six-year-old. For her, a 45-minute drive was an eternity, but a short trip to a creek near Hawthorne Elementary School was approachable. 

That’s when I began to explore the water I had blindly motored past nearly every day: Bozeman Creek, Bridger Creek, the upper reaches of the East Gallatin, Hyalite Creek, the East Gallatin Recreation Area, Bozeman Pond. While driving along during my commutes, grocery runs, and shopping trips around town, I began to wonder: Could that water hold a viable trout population? Is that a public bridge I’m crossing? I soon realized that drive time aside, there are plenty of reasons to love these close-by spots.


Reel Meals

Between angling sessions, you can enjoy the culinary pleasures of our “micropolitan” culture. A coffee house or brewery is never very far away, nor is a good place to enjoy breakfast, brunch, lunch, or dinner. In many cases, a midday intermission can involve gourmet fare or even sushi. This experience of combining piscatorial and gustatory bliss really epitomizes Bozeman culture and the joy of town fishing. Believe me, lunch at Sola Café is a welcome break from Roll-a-Tables and fried chicken or elk jerky on the river.


Casting Quickie

Something else I’ve come to appreciate about in-town angling is the balance factor. Going fishing doesn’t always mean spending an entire day on the river. This isn’t to say that I don’t enjoy being gone from dawn till well after dusk, it’s just that sometimes a few hours is enough or all the day allows. 

Once you’ve charmed a few trout or maybe even hooked up a fish that would make Jimmy Houston get excited—remember—you’re fishing next to the mall. You could always hit that sale at Macy’s afterward or pick up dinner at Rosauers before heading home. You don’t even have to mention that you went fishing.


Townie Technique

The most difficult aspect of fishing within city limits is that the streams are small, especially in the summer. Use a shorter, more maneuverable fly rod—something along the lines of a 6- to 7-foot three-weight. 

Casting will involve unorthodox approaches, such as the bow-and-arrow cast (back-casting is often not an option) and the dab-and-drift tactic. You can also expect a lot of side-arming under bushes, frequent extrication of your fly from tree limbs, and creative attempts at innovation designed to meet the demands of the setting. 

Fly selection is simple. Some standard beadhead patterns (hare’s ear, prince nymph, pheasant tail) will do just fine, along with some terrestrials, attractor mayflies and caddis, and a few small streamers. You can leave the 0x at home—tippets in the 3-5x variety are adequate. 

Don’t forget your boat rod, because you might find that even your nine-footer is perfect on the two public lakes within Bozeman’s boundary waters (the East Gallatin Recreation area and Bozeman Pond). I don’t get very excited about fishing for stocker rainbows in these waters, but I’m still enjoying trying to figure out how to catch the cagey “lunker” bass found here—they’ve kept me humble for a long time now. Try stripping a large woolly bugger in a variety of colors, and be prepared for a Barry Bonds–style hit.


Easy Does It

If your idea of fly fishing exclusively entails smoking a cigar, drinking beer, floating in a boat, making long prosaic casts, and having no frustrating obstacles to deal with—then this kind of angling is probably not for you. But when fishing small creeks in Bozeman, you’re not going for grip-and-grin glory. Align your expectations with the experience: a 12-inch rainbow is happily welcomed, and a 17-incher makes a real trophy.