Monday, July 30, 2012

B. Marshall

Backpacking in.
The late Bob Marshall was a forester, writer, and early wilderness activist. His conservation efforts are widely credited as being a major factor in the establishment of the Wilderness Act of 1964. Marshall suffered an early, and sudden death in 1939 at the age of 38, but his legacy lives on. One of the greatest wilderness areas in the Lower 48 has been named in his honor, Montana's sprawling Bob Marshall Wilderness.

The Bob is a legendary place. Hunters, anglers, backpackers, paddlers, and modern-day mountain men seek out the remote rivers, high-country basins, and lofty summits of the nearly one-million acre wilderness area.

Until recently I had only penetrated the Bob Marshall Wilderness on a few occasions, and then only by a couple of miles here and there. Last week a couple of friends and I embarked upon a long-awaited trip into the heart of the wilderness, a float trip on the South Fork of the Flathead River.

Meeting the mules.
This is one of the more remote wilderness rivers in the Lower 48. There is no road providing easy access to the put-in. There is no road providing easy access to the take-out (unless you run Meadow Creek Gorge). All of the gear needed to pull off a river trip is brought in on strong backs, those of men and mules.

Our group wasn't particularly interested in a no-frills pack-raft style river trip (although I can see the appeal). Instead we had larger one-man rafts (Outcast Catarafts and a Water Master), dry bags, real food, and beer packed in by mule train. To save a few bucks, and because we are able-bodied young men, we backpacked the twenty-seven miles to the put-in, rather than ride in on mules ourselves. We shouldered packs at the Pyramid Pass Trailhead, and worked our way through the Youngs Creek drainage. At the end of a hot, dusty trail we met the mules at the mouth of Gordon Creek.

Easy livin'.
The next few days consisted of easy rowing, countless slow takes on big dries, a brace of bulls, gorgeous water, solitude, scenery, sunshine, river chilled beers, and late nights feasting on dutch-oven cooking around the campfire.

Re-entry was painful, quite literally. Not only were we coping with the conclusion of one of the sweetest river trips any of us had ever done, we were humping out every bit of our gear on our backs - rather than those of mules. Sure, we'd lightened the load by consuming all of the food and beverages, but we still had our river gear - namely the boats - to contend with. Due to a section of gnarly, high-risk whitewater (Meadow Creek Gorge) that none of us cared to run, our takeout was three long miles from the trailhead parking area. We could have enlisted the services of horses or mules to pack our gear out, but being young and dumb we toughed it out.

The post-trip funk is nearly over, but I can't stop looking at the photos and wishing I was sitting on my boat somewhere between the White River and Salmon Forks, cracking a cold one and watching my buddies double up on cutts. Here's to you Bob Marshall.

Hooked up near the White R. confluence.
A lucky guy with a big bull trout.
A beautiful moment.
Lower White River.
A flawless westslope cutthroat.
Quite a treat.
Trout, spuds, a bloomin' onion, and dutch oven goodness.





















17 comments:

  1. Bob remains at the top of my list, hope one day I can get that done. Thx for the stoke! Mike

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Mike - Get it done, you won't regret it.

      Delete
  2. Looks like a successful trip for sure. I'll be up to the North of there chasing Bulls this weekend and into next week. I read your post before this and the comments as well. Did all of what you hear ring true?

    I've heard the hardest part is finding them and the drift is more of a bounce than a strip or swing.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Kyle - BC? Finding them was the hardest part on the SFF. It's a decent size river (1,000+cfs during my trip) with very deep holes (20'+). Only on a few occasions were we able to spot bulls, and even then they were typically too deep to get to with flies.

      Both of my bulls came from stripping big, white streamers blindly - standard strip style on a 300-grain sink tip. Whether or not the holes that held these bulls (which were miles apart) held multiple bulls, I don't know. Subsequent casts into those holes didn't produce anything.

      My buddy threw nymphs 90% of the trip and never connected with a bull.

      Good luck, I'll look forward to your report.

      Delete
    2. Hey Will, sorry for the late reply. Yeah we were up in Canada for these. Not too far over the border.

      Delete
  3. Slaying trout, literally. Too bad.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Right. As if the SFF cutthroat population is suffering from over harvest. Between the three of us on this trip we probably averaged about one hundred cutts a day, maybe more. We kept one or two each for dinner - meaning we released 95% of our catch. More often than not we kept whitefish for dinner, but I suppose that's fine by you.

      Delete
    2. Thanks a lot, Will. ATTENTION EVERYONE: There's no point in planning a trip or going until I can get up there and give you a first-hand report of the devastation/recovery.

      Delete
    3. That's probably a good idea, Josh. After all, there are about a dozen fewer trout swimming in the river now.

      Delete
  4. If that's how the young and stupid do a fishing trip, where do I sign up. I'm older and stupid so I'd opt for the mules packing my gear in and out. Sounds like an awsome trip man!

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. I'd probably opt for mules on the pack-out next time... that or lighten up the load substantially by going pack-raft style. The backpack in is a must in my opinion... just part of the experience, and the fishing on Young's Creek was every bit as good as the river.

      Delete
  5. Will,

    Fantastic report, beautiful photos, and I am glad you were able to bring a couple of good bull trout to hand, not to mention what looks like an epic trip overall. I would love to get back up to the Bob again, hopefully when the river is not in full runoff like last July!

    I would wager that there were more bulls in some of those holes, in my experience subsequent bull trout will sometimes get tight-lipped after one or two fish strike at your offerings. If you can get the fly deep enough, dead drifts and swings can also work, but it must have been exciting to get grabs while stripping.

    Thanks again, Iain

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. Thanks, Iain. Hopefully you do make it back up there at a time with better river conditions, it's quite a place.

      The run where I caught the first bull likely had others, but it was late in the day and we still needed to find a campsite so we didn't stick around to fish it. The hole where the second bull was caught definitely held others, in fact I climbed the steep bank and spotted a monster for my buddy, but it moved off on the first cast. For the next hour or so we worked the run hard to no avail. I wish my buddy could have tied into one, but it just didn't happen.

      Will

      Delete
  6. That's awesome, man. I didn't have near that much luck on my trip to Alberta. I caught four bulls, but they were all small. I did get a strike from a big bull, but I didn't get a good hook set in him. I did catch some awesome westslopes though, including several in the 15-19" range. I guess I need to get to the Bob soon.

    ReplyDelete
    Replies
    1. It was awesome. I look back at the pictures and wish I was still deep in the Bob. Tough to complain about big cutts, but the big bulls are in a different category altogether.

      Delete
    2. Who did you use to pack you in? Did you rent the raft from them too?

      Delete
    3. We used Cheff (www.cheffguestranch.com) - they run quite a few drop camps for floaters in the summer. We had our own boats, my WaterMaster from Big Sky Inflatables was the perfect boat for this trip.

      Delete