Fishing spring creeks. 

My first job in Montana was driving a dump truck. I’d take one load of cobble-riddled dirt from the middle of some ranch, and dump it near the roily shore of the Yellowstone River. One afternoon, after being harangued again for “riding the f-ing clutch,” I went for a walk. Over a glistening new 10-foot culvert I stood, looking down into a clear meandering stream, with tall grasses dancing in its gentle current. Twenty-inch rainbows were leaning to the left, and then to the right, eating nymphs in the sandy troughs between weed beds. It was 1997, and I was at Armstrong Spring Creek.

Since then, I’ve punished myself with several trips to spring creeks around Montana, most of which I had to pay for. The creeks typically lie on private land, where the owners realized decades ago the value of their watery gold mines. In most cases, they offer accomplished anglers year-round (winter rates are cheaper) opportunities to test their skills against large wary trout in meandering streams on light tackle, with no room for error.

One of the challenges of fishing these creeks is the ability of their inhabitants to see and feel the angler, long before his shaky fingers ever tie on a fly. Eagles and ospreys prey on these fish, making stealth, in all its physical and fashionable applications, essential. I wear clothes that match the foliage and the sky of the season, I cast a mute-colored fly line, and I move as little as possible. From a hillside, I’ve watched trout 20 feet below me blast out of their lie with one wave of my rod.

Sweetwater Fly Shop, Paradise Valley, Spring Creek

Fortunately, spring-creek fishing is enjoyed by a limited number of anglers, due to the obsessive, time-consuming nature of casting to trout in brushes of solitude. They’re the places where, if one looks hard enough, another angler upstream may be seen kneeling in the thigh-high grass of July, peering into her immaculate fly box for just the right #18 PMD cripple. For hours.

Spring-creek fishing is not for those lacking patience, or an attention span. It isn’t really for those looking to smash articulated streamers against the bank, or have a 30-fish day (although both are possible). However, the few fish that are deceived and brought to the net will make your paltry catch seem like a bounty.

Jeff Hostetler is a full-time instructor at Gallatin College. He spends his winters riding at Bridger and the rest of the year fly fishing southwest Montana.