Blog Posts In Events

Montana: The Last Best Place

By Will Peterson On August 8th, 2011, courtesy of Starting Six Ski Blog

After a wild few days in Jackson, I received a call from Wade Fellin about a potential job opening at the Big Hole Lodge near Wise River, Montana.  While the job didnt sound too great (washing dishes, making lunches, and washing dishes), the offer (fly fishing during the day, hiking during the afternoon, bars by night) made the offer impossible to pass up.  So I hopped on a bus and with little clue of what I was in for I headed to Idaho Falls to meet up with Wade.  As I waited in the bus station, with one lady who talked about how she never traveled without a knife and an 18 year old girl on the run from her boyfriend, I began to worry I had made the wrong decision. Soon enough Wade arrived to rescue me, and we were on our way to Montana.  We headed straight to Wisdom Montana, known for being one of the coldest places in the country.  We were headed to an A Frame owned by Nicola Winter, a Bucknell grad and outdoors enthusiast.

This let me know I had made the right decision:

The A-frame was the perfect spot for a little fishing:

 Followed by a great sunset:

 The next morning we headed out, after breaking the ice off of our windshield.  On the way back to the lodge, we passed through Wise River.  The town was small, but had the necessities covered at the Wise River Club.

Perfect spot for a Moscow Mule

I got my first view of where I was gonna living for the next month.

And the lodge I would be working at, viewed from the top of the cliff pictured above.

The flume providing water for irrigation to farms down the road provided a perfect spot to jump in for a refreshing bath.

Montana- The Last Best Place

Frontiers Travel, staff excursion

Mike Fitzgerald Jr., President of Frontiers Travel, is at his Montana Cabin with friends and family this week and we were able to spend a day on the river with him.
Here's Mike in his own words:

"After the snow pack the state received this past winter and the subsequent wet spring, I'm pleased to report that many of the rivers and streams in southwest Montana are in great shape. We visited Big Hole Lodge and the facilities looked awesome! The girls spent a wonderful day on horseback in the high country with Cliff Page, the lodge's veteran wrangler.
We hit the Big Hole with our guide Matt and have a really fun day. We decided to fish on top with dries despite the fact that hatches were a little sparse. We moved a lot of fish and managed to put several in the net... rainbows, brookies and a couple of really nice brown trout, including a 23" fish caught by Jeremy Matelan on a #14 Parachute Adams on 5X tippet!
After fishing the Big Hole almost annually since 1986, this Montana "blue ribbon" fishery continues to amaze me. The West should have great water conditions well into autumn."

Thanks Mike and company! Look forward to skiing with you this winter.

What a Quality Week!

The Quality Chicks. Fish tremble at the mention of their name.  For the past 19 years they have spent the off-seasons perfecting their casts and fly patterns in anticipation of their annual destination lodge retreat.   Last week I said, Big Hole Lodge is proud to again host such a passionate and engaged group of anglers. The rivers of Southwest Montana are finally coming into shape, and the trout are healthy with all of the food and water this spring.  I then warned, the fish had better be careful this week, these gals are here to fish.  The Chicks did not disappoint.  Under sunny skies they hooked fish after fish on dry flies, and into the teeth of the wind and rain they threw heavy nymphs and streamers.  Their tenacity paid off, check out the hit list:

On Thursday, a nasty hail storm washed a dirt bank into a feeder stream of the Big Hole and the fish were not looking up at all. Suzanne went down after them with a nymph below a dry and found the grandfather of the Big Hole River.  This 27" brownie has lived a full life, evidenced by its shape and the missing chunk from its tail.

Cheryl, a newcomer to the Chicks group this year, made my summer when she hooked and landed this 24 inch brown on a dry fly.  We spotted the rise, she made the cast and mend, and had the patience of a rattlesnake as she waited for that huge mouth to close around her fly.

Lisa found this beautifully colored Big Hole brown with a dry fly during a break between thunder and lightning storms.

After tirelessly throwing a streamer through the rain showers to no avail, Linda was finally rewarded with this healthy golden beauty.

Now in her sophomore year with the Chicks, Sarah has come into her own as an angler.  This 22" bow took off with all of her fly-line, and then all of her backing!  The reel vendor was a bit skimpy with the backing and Sarah had to wave the rod back and fourth like a fan at a Grateful Dead concert to tire the fish before reeling it in.

Lisa opted to have Matt hold her big fish for this photo, remembering the strength and acrobatic ability of the Beaverhead trout from her trip last year.

Just hours after boating a 27" fish, Suzanne capped her trip with a thick colorful Big Hole brown, measuring in at 24".  Two 'wall fish' in one day?!  

These photos are perfect examples of reaping what you sow.  If you are willing to put in the time to learn the necessary casts, willing to go out and pay your dues through the good times and bad, and able to keep this sport close to your heart year after year, the fish gods will smile upon you.
Thank you for a great week, ladies.  Can't wait for next year!

Freestones and Fairways, Big Hole Lodge and Old Works

Excerpt from: Troon Golf


"A few years back, a fishing guide acquaintance of mine led linksters Tiger Woods and Mark O’Meara out on Oregon’s Deschutes River for a fly-fishing outing. As my friend recounted this special day on the river, it struck me that many golfers I know fly-fish.and vice versa. Perhaps it’s the outdoor setting, pitting man against natural obstacles (be they finicky trout or gaping bunkers). Perhaps it’s the similitude of the swinging/casting motion—the fact that the ball and the fly go further when you move smooooooooooothly.

Or perhaps it’s the fact that in your average four-hour round of golf, the time one spends actually swinging a club and putting amounts to about three minutes. The rest of the time you’re gauging distances, checking the wind, selecting clubs and reading greens. When fly-fishing a river, the best day involves minutes, not hours, of actually fighting fish. The rest of the time is spent gauging currents, checking for rises, selecting flies and reading the water.

For both sports, it’s what happens “between the ears” that separates success and failure. And even a day of failure can be saved if one is able to stop and appreciate the scenery. (Some wag once said that trout don’t live in ugly places. Neither do roosterfish, nor striped bass, nor snook.)

Below, we’ve highlighted 10 venues around the United States (and a bit beyond) that offer the golfer the chance to recognize his inner fly-fisher—and the fly-fisher the chance to recognize her inner golfer—and both to enjoy some fantastic natural settings."


"Rich in “Big Sky” scenery and wild trout, the Big Hole River (south of Anaconda) fulfills the promise that the phrase “Montana trout fishing” holds. The Big Hole is a study in contrasts, running through high mountain country, sprawling valleys and rugged canyons. There are brook trout and grayling in the upper river, trophy browns and rainbows in the mid- and lower river, with cutthroat scattered throughout. Good dry fly-fishing is available from late spring on. Base your angling operations at Craig Fellin’s Big Hole Lodge (, one of the west’s most respected lodges/guiding outfits. In Anaconda, a most memorable round of golf awaits at the Jack Nicklaus Signature Design track Old Works (—perhaps the greatest course ever constructed on a Superfund site. Remnants of Old Works’ earlier incarnation as a copper smelting facility are evident around the routing, including flues and smelting ovens. Most distinctive are the course’s black bunkers, fashioned from slag, a residue of the smelting process."

Double Whammy!

27" Brown, the Grandfather of the Big Hole

24" Brown in the rain

Suzanne, co-founder of the Quality Chicks, boated a 27" brown and a 24" brown today on the Big Hole.  We woke up to thunder and hail at 6:00am, which quickly turned to pouring rain. Expectations were low for the final day of the fishing week.  The hail and rain blew out a bank on Deep Creek, turning the Big Hole into a milk-chocolate color. The rain lasted through the morning and into the early afternoon. Three miles into the float, with Chuck Page at the oars,  Suzanne hooked into a monster.  This 27" male trout is most likely very old and looks to have been in a battle with an eagle or osprey, judging by the missing tail chunk.
Despite the conditions, she hooked into and landed a fat 24" male just a few hours later!  Two fish of a lifetime in one day on the Big Hole River, congrats to Suzanne and Chuck.

24.5"! Quality fish from a Quality Chick!

Happy client, happy guide, beautiful fish! photo: Caroline Khoury

Cheryl, of the Quality Chicks, had been working hard on learning the techniques of fly casting all morning. She was finally turning her leader over consistently by after lunch, when we saw an unassuming rise in an eddy. I rowed closer, and Cheryl made a perfect cast with a salmon fly imitation, executed a perfect mend, and BOOM!  She was soon landing this 24-inch Big Hole brown trout!

A full morning of casting practice paid off when Cheryl went out on the Big Hole and slammed this monstrous brown trout on a dry fly  photo: Caroline Khoury

Quality Chicks, Fishing Together for 19 Years

As seen at:

It has been one year since twelve women, armed to the teeth with fly rods and fly boxes, took the Big Hole Lodge by storm. For one week, we were lucky enough to host The Quality Chicks’ annual retreat, an event filled with laughter and motivated by a ferocious passion for the sport. This week, their hand-tied patterns, precise casts, and "fish-on" cries return to the Big Hole Valley and it is sure to be an experience not soon forgotten.

The Quality Chicks, established in 1993, are very much an Orvis-sponsored tradition. During the winter of 1992, co-founder Carol Jo found an ad in the back of an Orvis News edition, which listed several casting classes and fly-fishing destinations. Highlighted was a women-only course to be debuted at the Orvis headquarters in Manchester, VT. It was to be led by Lori Ann Murphy, a renowned Orvis guide, and a crew of accomplished female anglers. Carol Jo had always wanted to fly fish, but learning such a difficult and intricate sport alone proved to be a daunting endeavor. Yet, she knew it was something she needed to do. Before even checking her calendar, she picked up the phone and reserved a spot in Orvis’ casting course. To this day, Carol Jo believes that phone call was life changing.

The three-day class was attended by thirty beginners, ranging in age from 20 to 60. Though a handful were there because their husbands had signed them up, the majority of the women were there to recapture childhood memories of fishing with dad or grandpa and to experience the wonders of the outdoors. The instructors were so enthusiastic, many of the women were hooked for life.

The following fall, Carol Jo signed up for a Reel Women trip to the South Fork of the Snake. In the Denver airport, she noticed another woman with a fly rod, Linda Windels. Linda was also embarking on her first all-women’s fishing adventure. The two looked around the terminal and then back to one another, not seeing anyone else in fishing attire; they walked toward each other and said, “Hey, you going fishing on the South Fork?” Thus began a lifelong friendship. Their fishing career began below the Palisades Dam, near Swan Valley, where they immersed themselves in the sport, spending the night in tents on the river and soaking up as much knowledge as possible. They turned six other Reel Women into friends and booked together for several years. “We shared a fascination about fly fishing, and something just clicked,” says Carol Jo.

In the years following the South Fork trip, the group referred to themselves as The Wannabees, because they wanted to fish with the skill of the Reel Women guides. “We each went on other Orvis trips and each time invited other women to join us originals,” says Pat, a Chicks co-founder. As their ability levels grew, the name had to change. Members Pat and Suzanne took charge and printed brightly-colored tee shirts with "Quality Chicks" boldly across the front, and The Quality Chicks were born.

Nineteen years later, their group is up to twenty members, each from diverse regions, ages, and walks of life, dedicated to the enjoyment of fly fishing and being in the wild. Linda now says, “Fly fishing is a physical and mental escape from everyday life. Stress melts away as you become totally focused on the pursuit of trout. I love the fact that no day on the water is ever the same. Catching fish is great, but the education you receive every time you go out to fish is even better. It's my passion and I can't imagine life without it.”

Two women in a boat used to be viewed as an oddity floating down the Snake or the Big Hole, but The Chicks are helping pave the way for women in a big way. “Things have changed a lot in the last 20 years. Not only are women accepted, they are encouraged,” says Linda, a Chicks co-founder. She remembers starting out as a Chick, “I used to drive myself an hour to the South Platte River to fish at least once a week. I wanted to learn all I could as fast as I could and that seemed the best way to do it. I was almost always the only woman on the river, and if I was in a good spot there would be at least one man who would edge in next to me, cast over my line and try to run me off. They could see I didn't know what I was doing and thought they could intimidate me. I always held my ground, but was very uncomfortable. After a while, I improved and they started leaving me alone, but I swore then that if I could ever help another woman who wanted to learn to fish I would do it.” She credits early fly fishing promoters Joan Wulff, Lori Ann Murphy, Rhonda Sapp and Donna Teeny as women who had major influence on her, all of whom she has now had the opportunity to fish with. She hopes that she has been able to encourage and help women in some small way, but she has undoubtedly done both in a big way. Linda is the glue that holds The Quality Chicks together, organizing annual trips, introducing new members, and tirelessly tying gorgeous fly patterns for members throughout the winter.

Today, the Quality Chicks can proudly say they have climbed down canyons and crawled back up them, fished with frozen fingers and ice forming on their rods, and embraced every experience with each other. The thought of fishing together the following year brightens many a winter’s day. “We never expected we would be so lucky to still be fishing with this group, nor did we expect to meet so many women interested in fly fishing who are now fellow Chicks,” says Pat. “I love the Quality Chicks who come in after a full day of fishing and never come in to announce the number they caught but are more focused on the great day they hope you had, regale us with the tales of the fun they had, the one that got away, and the marvelous cast their partner made that produced a beautiful fish that was put back in the water for the next guy or gal to catch.”

Big Hole Lodge is proud to again host such a passionate and engaged group of anglers this season. The rivers of Southwest Montana are finally coming into shape, and the trout are healthy with all of the food and water this spring. But they’d better be careful this week. These gals are here to fish.

Big Hole River Day this weekend!

Happy Independence Day!

On this Fourth of July weekend, this jubilant celebration of the emancipation of our great Nation, for the good of the entire Montana fly fishing community, a trio of fearless anglers have set out to combat the stress and limitations placed on them by high water, holiday crowds, and oil spills.
To you they say, fear not the swift currents; the flotillas of party boats.  Fear not the clouds of ravenous mosquitoes. Fear not the family reunions. Instead, venture far into the high country, through marshes and swamps, barbed wire fences and fields. Find the numerous peaceful waters of this great state, in this great Country.
 For if you put in the effort, you will find yourself knee deep in paradise.
And if the fishing still sucks, even in the paradise of the high country of this great state, in this great nation.... put a smile on your face and bet your best friend 10 bucks you won't go poach a rancher's trampoline!
After all, at the end of the were fishin'!

Aggies on the loose!

Last Fall, a few brave souls ventured to Central America in search of wily Permit and feisty bones on the pristine flats of the Turneffe Atoll, at Turneffe Flats Lodge.  It was there my father and I met Lonnie Allen and her entourage of gung-ho fly-fishers. Among them was a striking young couple out of coastal Texas, named Monte & Allison, or "Mollison" as they were known at A&M, and to those following their MyFace account. In Belize, Monte was one of just two anglers, amidst the bullpen of experienced fly-casters, able to hook and land a permit in the post Hurricane-Richard  conditions.

This Spring, (I realize it is late June, but for all intensive purposes it is still very much Spring in Montana) I had the pleasure of guiding Monte & Allison while they visited their Stevensville, MT home.  The river had been rising for the better part of last week and the weatherman was preaching gloom and doom, but these adventurous anglers showed no fear.  In the face of high water, stormy skies, and probable defeat, Allison-"Duck while I hit this fish"- & Monte-"Spank the Bank"- Richardson, arrived rigged with heavy streamers and ugly nymphs, ready to hunt.
The Big Hole was running 8,000 cfs and water temps were plummeting to the mid 40's when we dropped the boat in on Saturday.  In an attempt to recreate my luck from late May, we let the beer flow like wine in hopes that the fish would instinctively flock like the women of capistrano.  

Using flies Lee Wulf never heard of, like a streamer aptly dubbed, "The Blue-eyed Mattress Shaker" or the "Yellow Bellied Dung Warbler", we slammed the banks with wet-flies and stripped streamers through the tannic waters of the upper Big Hole.
However, when these methods left us short of our big fish goals, we pulled over and waited for warmer weather.
 Aha! Finally, Monte spotted a rise and the start of a blue-winged olive hatch!  We cut our 2x tippet and built a leader to 5x, to which we attached a sized #18 blue-winged olive.  Monte worked a pod of arctic grayling while Allison and I feasted on a pulled pork sandwich...or was it chicken?  In either case, it was delicious.  Soon after, Allison landed herself a grayling...decidedly more spectacular than that of her husband.
As the river rolled down the valley, it picked up in speed and volume and darkened in color.  We picked up a handful of grayling and brookies, but most of the afternoon was filled with stories of past fishing trips and laughter.  We arrived at dinner with smiles on our faces and high hopes for the following day.

The next morning, Father's Day, the water had dropped and warmed and the probability of the start of the Salmon Fly hatch had greatly increased.  Unfortunately, the weather did not cooperate and the fishing was terrible through the morning.  Allison was not about to let her husband miss out on a father's day celebration...after all, without her he'd never have been crowned a father.  As I rowed through a bend in the river, she lowered her eyebrows and fired two stone fly nymphs under a massive willow, partly submerged on the bank.  I hung my head and moaned as the line went taught, I had just tied that rig on.  But wait!  The line came straight at the boat, cutting through the heavy current. I laid on the oars and spun off of the furious brown trout who'd just been fooled by an excellent presentation.
Fifteen minutes later, Allison was wielding a 21" brown and Monte's father's day was made.
 Unfortunately, that was the only fish we touched on the Big Hole that day.  After the beautiful brown right out of the gate, the rest of the morning was extremely unproductive.  We pushed down the river, pulled the boat out, and headed to the Beaverhead for an afternoon/evening float, well behind the massive holiday crowd.
Allison immediately tagged a nice rainbow, followed soon after by Monte's acrobatic rainbow.
The sun came out, a caddis hatch came off, and our spirits quickly rose.  The Beaverhead is clear and in great shape above Grasshopper Creek, and as Allison proved to us, the brown trout population is in excellent health.

We were sad to see the trip come to an end, (I started in with the sappy sentiment a good half a mile too early, when I failed to identify a bend in the river correctly, and for the first time in my guiding career I was appropriately dubbed a 'tool'!) but we have a plan in the works to get into the guaranteed spectacular dry-fly fishing later this summer.

Allison & Monte have decided to take their talents to West-Central Montana, where they will be fishing the Mighty Mo with the Grizzly Hackle crew for the next week. We hope to read about their future exploits on their blog. Best of luck, thanks for the laughs, and I look forward to fishing with you again soon!