Outdoor Writers Association of America
Northwest Outdoor Writers Association
This Week's View

by Deanna Lee Birkholm

The Ladyfisher

August 10th, 1998

On To Rock Creek

Heading home is a mixed blessing. A sense of relief that eventually one gets to sleep in their own bed, (even 'tho we have taken to dragging our own pillows with us) and not crack toes into strange objects wandering around in motel rooms in the middle of the night. And on the other side, knowing a pile of mail, work, a yard overtaken with various stages of strange unplanted vegetation, and an empty refrigerator are not exactly a pleasant prospect either.

But once we left Yellowstone National Park and West Yellowstone behind and headed west again the vacation part of the trip was nearly over. There was a respite, it would take us either one horrible day and nearly nite of driving to get home, or we could head for Rock Creek Montana, and spend maybe part of a day there. Getting more 'chicken' as we get older, we called Doug at Rock Creek Merc. and found he had a vacant room and would be waiting for us. And the fish were very co-operative.

Traffic Stopper in Ennis MT.

We got waylaid in Ennis Mt. I wanted a photo of the packtrain carving above, and right across the street was the Madison River Fishing Company. If you are at all familiar with this column, you already know what happened. We hit fly shops like some of the less enlightened hit the bars.

A good stroke it was, since it resulted in our meeting Mike Lum who sat down and tied this week's Fly of the Week. Mike is very personable, and we hope he will be a guest in our Chat Room in the near future.

Rock Creek Mercantile

We finally got to Rock Creek around seven that evening. No cars, but a note on yellow paper pined to the door. Two phone numbers. Called both, answering machine on one, no help. The second number is busy. After a few minutes of not reaching anyone, Castwell is getting nervous. This has nothing to do with reaching the owner of Rock Creek Merc., he is hungry. And at the moment, no food is visable. Or prospect of food either.

The Cabins, one of 2

We know we have a place to sleep, the cabins are right there. We don't know which one, or where the key is. So far I don't even know for sure where the river is. We crossed the Clark's Fork to get here, but I don't have a clue where Rock Creek is. And Castwell is hungry.

Right next door is a campground, and a log building - actually several log buildings. One says Stage Station. We wander over to see if maybe they know where Doug might be. It takes the gal at the counter one look at the phone number to know where it is. She makes a phone call. Our key is under the mat, we are in Number 6.

Even better, the old Stage Station is a restaurant! With the evening 'specials' being either meatloaf, chicken pot pie, or lamb chops. After ten days of eating out, Castwell opts for the chicken pot pie, homemade. I get the last order of lamb chops. Real food, everything very well prepared. Quite a surprise since we really are in the middle of nowhere. It turns out they also serve the very best breakfasts one could expect.

Rock Creek Turkeys

I woke early, aware of some movement outside the windows. Carefully I peered out to see a flock of wild turkeys pecking their way across the field behind the motel. Castwell grabbed the digital camera, aimed it through the window and grabbed this shot. Certainly an interesting way to wake up.

After breakfast we finally went exploring up the road and found the river. Rock Creek varies from season to season. Spring and early summer finds drift boats on the river. As water levels drop, it becomes a waders stream. Being from Michigan, we thought it very similair to the Au Sable River. The color of the water has that same tea/honey hue as the Au Sable. There is very little flat water, but some smooth glides. Lots of rocks and pools, and a huge amount of cover and holding water.

Rock Creek
Locals and visiting anglers reported fine fishing the previous week when the weather was more moderate. Average size of the local brown's running between 16 - 18 inches, with documented (at least witnessed) fish of 27 inches recently. The temperature at 11:00 a.m. was pushing 95 degrees. It would be 100 degrees before the day was over. Not my choice to fish in that heat, but there were some fly fishing, using hoppers or hoppers with a dropper. About 80% of the fish in Rock Creek are Brown Trout. Even with the extreme heat, water temps were about 65 degrees.

Doug Persico at Vise We spent the afternoon talking flies, watching both Doug and Garrett Pace show us some new or regional patterns. And in general avoiding the heat, until the 'blond' showed up needing some assistance. More on that in Castwell's column this week.

Evening found us at dinner with Doug and one of his granddaughters further up the road at the Elkhorn Guest Ranch. The Elhorn has a terrific campground with sites in the trees, on or the river. Horseback riding, a heated swimming pool, small 'camp' store, and very nice log cabins for those not choosing to camp. A lovely place, with most reasonable rates. Folks camping or staying in the cabins also have access to two miles of private fishing water on Rock Creek.

Dinner had a large variety of choices, some more expected in San Franciso than in Montana. But in all honesty, it was an excellent dinner. Doug had to get his granddaughter home, and Castwell and I finished a bottle on wine at the picnic table on the front lawn. The day's heat had finally invaded the lovely log building at Elkhorn too. By the way, the restaurant is called the Blue Bird Cafe. We chatted with a couple of ladies who had driven some 27 miles out from Missoula to have dinner. The Cafe has a fine local reputation.

Elkhorn Sign
Once back at our motel room, we decided to walk through the neighboring campground to the river. We sat on on edge of the river watching the hatch. A large number of caddis were coming off on the lower riffles, and an occasional mayfly was in the air. A pale slice of moon just became visible, and we realized the spinner fall would be well after dark. We also had 700 miles to drive the next day.

We did not fish Rock Creek this trip. I guarantee it will not be the last time we go there. Everything to make a terrific fishing adventure is there. For those camping or not. For dry or wet fly fishers. Lovely water, friendly people, and there really are fish. Without the pressure and numbers of people we encountered in Yellowstone.

For us, if we get an early start, we can make Rock Creek in one day. And they have a spring stonefly hatch that will drop your socks!

~Deanna Birkholm

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