“Aw, hell…” Travis said as his eyes were pulled from the road to look for his missing Montana fishing license.
“Maybe you should pull over.” Jason suggested, as Travis continued to keep his eyes everywhere except on the road. I was surprised we had actually made it over a mile away from home, before we had to stop or turn around.
“I think it’s in my vest.” Travis said, as he hopped out of the car to look in the trunk.
“I got it!” Travis yelled from the trunk, and we were off to meet up with our other buddy, Travis Steven-Jones. Travis Steven-Jones, whom we will call Trav, was nice enough to take us to a section of Rock Creek that we would most likely have to ourselves. I hopped in Trav’s truck, and waited until Travis and Jason got their coffee.
The drive to the creek was fantastic. The lush Montana hills that lined the road were all kinds of green, and when we reached the summit it was snowing just enough to dust the hills. Though it would have been a great day to fish in the snow, as soon as we tipped over the summit the snow turned to rain, which enhanced the colors even more.
Before Trav’s truck came to a complete stop, I had jumped out to gear up. Both Jason and I were putting on our waders when we heard Travis hemming and hawing about something.
“Oh great…” Travis said from the side of the car, “…oh dear.”
“What’s wrong?” Jason asked, as I listened in.
“I need to change my pants.” Travis said.
“So change them.” Jason said.
“Okay, but I must warn you, I need to completely change over.” Travis said pausing for a second. “I’m talking about full-on wiener here, guys!” He said.
“I’ll be exposed.” Travis said again, completely getting his word across.
“We got that.” I said, “we’ll keep our distance.”
Some quick rustling of clothing came from Travis’s end of the car.
“Okay, really don’t come over here now!” Travis announced, as the rustling of clothing continued. In a snap, Travis had not only “completely changed over” he had also put on another shirt, hat, and his shoes. A long sigh indicated he was back to being clothed and comfortable before he stepped away from the car, ready for the day.
Together the four of us stood looking into the creek, as Trav pointed out spots where he had previously seen big fish. We all wanted to pitch out dry flies before we resulted to nymphing. The water flows had spiked today, which was not favorable, but what are you going to do?
A healthy skwalla landed on Travis’s hand, and Jason snapped a picture of it before it flew away. It didn’t take much more convincing that we needed to tie on skwallas before hitting the river.
“Do I need my bear spray?” I asked Trav before locking the car.
“Nope.” He replied quickly, “no bears to worry about except brown bears, and if they see you they will run off.”
“How about moose?” I asked.
“Yes, watch for moose, especially if there is a calf nearby.” Trav said, as we walked down to the creek.
The creek was everything you would expect a Montana creek to be: undercut banks that could hold large trout, perfect tail-outs, soft pockets of water behind bushes, and rock waiting for a dry fly.
We all walked upstream, suffering the affects of a recent increases in flows. Despite pounding every section of water with our skwallas, no fish had been caught. If that wasn’t bad enough, I almost stepped in my first sighting of moose on the river.
With everyone on river-left, I decided to cross over to river-right and have the entire bank to myself. I slapped my fly in a promising back-eddie, and a fish flew out of the water at it. I set the hook fast, but nothing was attached. I spent more time than what I would like to admit on that back-eddie, hoping the fish would decide to take my fly again, but it didn’t. I quickly fished my way up to Trav, who had already hooked into two cutthroat and one brown trout.
“Keep your flies six inches from the bank as you walk up; that’s how I am getting them.” Trav yelled over.
“That’s what I’m doing… maybe my side of the river is broken.” I yelled back. I continued upstream to a nice looking section of water just around some large bushes. In order to fish that section, I had to hang up my fly and walk through a small opening in the large wall of shrubbery.
I walked through the opening, and something caught my eye. A huge moose was just ahead behind some thick brush, and it hadn’t seen me. I stood very still, realizing just how tiny I was in comparison. I started stepping back slowly, and that’s when it spotted me. The moose turned its head and started coming my way. I have heard horror stories about moose from friends, guides, and my brother-in-law, and as soon as that moose started towards me, I had the sudden urge to fight or flight… I chose flight.
I didn’t dare look back, I just ran harder and harder. There was no tree stump or bush that could slow me down, especially after I heard the tromps of the moose behind me. Another surge of adrenaline powered the leap down an embankment, and it was a small relief to see both Trav and Travis as I ran in their direction. I had to warn them about the approaching moose, but with the river between us, how could they hear me? I did the only thing I could think of to let them know what to expect, and that was holding my thumbs to my temples while extending my fingers above my head to signify a moose. I hid behind a large bush in the river bank where I could communicate with Trav and Travis.
“A moose!” I yelled when they were within ear shot, but neither of them looked scared, nor concerned.
“Is it after you?” Travis asked, looking in the direction I ran from.
“Was there a calf?” Trav asked, also looking for the moose.
“I didn’t see a calf.” I told them in between breaths. I then looked back, expecting to see a moose, but nothing was coming.
“Was it after you?” Travis asked again, as I was catching my breath.
“Well, I saw it move its head.” I answered back. Both Travis and Trav started laughing as I stood there still catching my breath. That’s when I realized that the moose was not coming. The tromps of hooves I thought were behind me was actually my own clumsy boots as I was running. Suddenly the thought of me sprinting, full charge, with my waders, boots, fly vest, and fly rod, jumping over stumps and down embankments with my hands, and creating antlers on my head seemed a little crazy.
“The moose shouldn’t bother you unless there’s a calf.” Trav said, after he stopped laughing. He started walking upstream, from the other side of the river to look for the moose. I also walked upstream, but with far more caution than Trav; after all, the moose was on my side of the river.
Sure enough, there was the moose. It turned out that the moose was not interested in me at all. When I first saw it, the moose did look over at me, but what I took for an aggressive charge was simply the moose walking to another shrub in search of food.
I waded across the creek and saw that Travis had hooked into a fish. Trav was there too, as I made my way over to Travis with my camera ready.
“Oh, geez, Erik, it’s you!” Travis said, as I approached, “I thought it was a moose!”
“Here we go.” I said, as Trav started laughing. Travis brought in a nice cutthroat trout, and I snapped a picture of him before heading upstream.
Travis let his fish go, then said, “Hey, Erik. I’m going over here to fish.”
“Okay.” I said.
“Well I wanted to let you know so you didn’t think I was a moose.” He said, smiling.
“I deserve it!” I said back, and started to fish the nearest riffle. Sure enough, right in the diamond-water, a fish head came up to take in my skwalla. I set the hook fast, and Trav came over to take a picture of my cutthroat trout.
The fish kicked away fast and I was back to fishing. I went ahead and stayed on the safe side of the river, while Trav took the side where we had seen the moose.
I kept an eye out for the moose as Trav fished his way upstream, looking unconcerned. Sure, it was eating at the time, but that doesn’t mean it won’t still get mad. With no care about spooking a moose, Trav kept an eye on his fly hooking into another fish.
“Did you see where the moose went?” I asked Trav as we fished.
“It must have walked off into the brush. It won’t bother us.” He reassured again, but I wasn’t taking any chances. I kept an eye on my fly and in the brush, just in case.
I continued upstream as Trav stayed back to continued fishing a good seam. There was some nice looking pocket water just around a tree, and I approached it slowly with my fly ready, when I saw the moose. I froze once again, realizing that the moose could easily cross this portion of the river in one good leap. Trav said it wouldn’t bother me, so I calmed myself down and snapped a picture of the resting moose.
That’s when I remembered Trav was on that side of the river, and with the moose laying down behind a bush and next to the river, he could spook it. I backed off quickly and walked downstream to warn Trav, but he wasn’t there. He must have started walking upstream.
“Trav!” I yelled to get his attention, “The moose is laying down just upstream!” I stayed quiet to see if Trav was going to reply, then I saw him. Just across the way he was standing still as two moose got dangerously close. Trav seemed in control, as he took out his camera to snap a few pictures.
The moose walked by carelessly, and didn’t seem to be bothered by Trav. We met up downstream and I crossed the river to talk to him.
“You got close!” I said.
“Yeah, I usually don’t like to get that close, but right when you called my name to warn me about the moose that was lying down, I was already in front of it.” He said.
“Well now that I know they won’t attack, can we sneak up on them so I can get a picture?” I asked.
“Sure.” Trav said, but our attempt was futile. The moose walked into some thicket and I was unable to get a good picture, but Trav did, and I had him send me the picture to put it on the blog.
It was time to start fishing our way back to the car, and with the dismal dry fly activity, I switched to euro nymphing. We started walking back down when Trav yelled to some other anglers that were walking upstream.
“Careful, gentleman, there are some moose up there.” Trav yelled.
“What was that?” A very familiar voice called back.
“Is that Tom Rosenbauer?!” I yelled.
“Who is that?” Tom asked, still too far to see us clearly.
“It’s Erik.” I yelled.
“Erik! How are you doing?” Tom asked happily, as he approached.
“Good.” I said, pulling out my camera, “But I have to get a picture of you for my blog.” I said, holding up my camera.
“Oh, geeeez…” Tom said, as he dropped both hands to his side for an excellent pose.
After quick introductions, Tom was off to fish, but not before we warned him about the moose.
“Oh, I don’t worry about moose…” Tom said “… I don’t bother them and they don’t bother me.”
“Yeah, I know what you mean.” I said, sounding like I deal with moose all the time.
“Of course, now that I say that, one of them is going to stomp me.” Tom said, laughing, “But at least you will know what happened to me if I don’t show up at the Rendezvous!” Tom said before returning to the river.
I was sure to wish Tom a happy birthday before Trav and I fished our way downstream. Switching to a euro nymphing set up made all the difference. One tail-out in particular was holding five fish that I caught out of it, and Trav was listening as I explained what I was doing.
The results of euro nymphing was not disappointing. So far I had caught and landed more fish in the last 10 minutes than in the previous few hours on the water.
Every nook and cranny had a fish willing to eat a euro nymph, and I only wished I had more time to keep fishing.
One cutthroat in particular had a gorgeous tail that I was sure to snap a picture of; there are just so many dots on it.
As I approached the bridge to get off the water, another fish caught my eye. The fish was facing downstream in a back-edie. Okay, just one more fish, I thought as I flicked out my flies and it took. It ended up being the big fish of the day for me, and I admired the colors of it before I let it go.
Back at the car I could see Travis waving for me to hurry up, as he was already geared down. I hurried off the water, but not before I took one last shot of Rock Creek.
I geared down quick, and in the process we talked about the fish we each caught. It was a great day on Rock Creek, and I already can’t wait to return, but we needed to head over to the Orvis Rendezvous.