Streams Outside of Yellowstone National Park
.............................Fly Fishing Yellowstone National Park

01/12/09

Fly Fishing the Smith River, Montana - Part 1

The only way you can fish very much of the Smith River, is to float it. We have not been
able to do that. You have to draw a permit to fish the river. It is the only river in Montana
that has this requirement. This website provides the details:
http://fwp.mt.gov/recreation/activities/smithRiver/default.html
The section of the river that falls under this rule is 59 miles long. There are remote
campsites along the river, but it has no access via a public road throughout the entire
59 miles. It has one public put-in and one public take-out. The boats that are used by
the outfitters are rubber rafts. The reason for this, we are told, is that the curves and
boulders in the canyon sections of the river would destroy a wooden drift boat. It is not
a fast water river as such. Its flows are rather moderately at normal water levels. Never-
the-less, we are told the canyon sections are tricky to maneuver.

The river is formed by the intersection of the North and South Forks of the Smith River
near the little town of Sulfur Springs, Montana. It flows well over a hundred miles before
its confluence with the Missouri River. The river lies between the Little and Big Belt
mountain ranges and flows mostly through open prairie.  

The first forty miles of the river can be accessed at the Smith River public fishing
access. It is located about 9 miles upstream from the main put-in point at Camp Baker
that begins the 59 mile float section. The river is rather small and shallow in its upper
section. It can be waded up or downstream from the Smith River access but most all of
the flows through privately owned land. I will continue with my description of the river
and the fishing tomorrow. For now, I want to tell a story.

A few years ago, Angie and I were determined to fish the river at several points without
floating it. We spent an entire day getting to one place that we could fish. It was a very
interesting day. Seeing another vehicle or person was very rare. You could ride for
miles and miles without meeting a vehicle. I couldn't begin to retrace our route. On one
of the remote roads we suddenly ran into a cattle jam. The state road was blocked by
hundred of cows. There were two or three small trucks and a few huge cattle trucks
parked smack in the middle of the highway that were being loaded with cattle. We could
not begin to get near the trucks or people for the cattle. It would have done us no good
because it was obvious they were not going anywhere, anytime soon. They turned the
highway into a cattle loading ramp. Fences lined both sides of the highway with no
way around the cattle and trucks. I understand that this is not exactly legal, but that no
one in their right mind including the sheriff is going to complain to the ranchers. I had no
intension of complaining. I decided that I had rather live to tell about it.

The road was very slick, not from rain. It hadn't rained in days. It was slick from wet cow
paddies. Our little Ranger pickup truck got completely covered before we could turn
around and head back for 26 miles to where we started. Yes, just 26 miles of smelling
the worst and strongest smell you can imagine. It was twice that many miles going the
alternate route just to get to where we were trying to go.  All I can say is that I hope
whoever owns the car wash in whatever little town we stopped at to wash my truck don't
read this article. We unintentionally took the entire ordeal out on them. We washed the
truck at the little car wash the best we could. It took about $20.00 worth of quarters and
an hour to clean our truck and cover the car wash floor with even wetter cow pudding.


Copyright 2009 James Marsh
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