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The Fort Smith, Big Horn River Montana Chronicles


On the Big Horn 4x3 girlsP1050889

Joanne Elston, Terry Thomas, Ann Bodle-Nash. Fishing-Girl Power

The Fort Smith, Big Horn River, Montana Chronicles Part One

Extended road trips, with uncertain agendas are rare and surprising. This month I found myself wandering between Ft. Smith, Missoula, Twin Bridges and Bozeman (Montana) for fly fishing, with a desire to travel on south to Yellowstone and the Teton National Parks— those icons of the West— that have called to non-native adventurers since about 1830.

It is true I have been fishing various iconic, testosterone-infused fly fishing rivers including the Big Horn at Fort Smith, two hours south west of Billings, MT. It is true I called out a New Yorker — dressed head to toe in Orvis or LLBean olive green clothing with a buff in the pattern resembling a brown trout pulled up over his chin– for his bad manners while he was standing in the narrow stream attempting to claim ownership of the water and the fish beneath.

He stood waist deep in the reportedly 43 degree water, hands on hips, whining when our boat gently tried to navigate past he and the other ten men  from five drift boats scattered across the stream in their waders and/or hippies ( hip boots).

Looking me straight in the eye he said, “You’re going to run over my fish?”

I deferred a response to my guide John, a mature man with years of experience in these situations.

John 4x3 the guide 20130820_150441

“Hey man, we’re just going by,” was all he said, ever steady on the oars.

“You’re going to run over my fishing hole?” Mr. Brown Trout continued. I stared him down. We continued floating  down river under blazing skies.

I later accidentally met the New Yorker on the porch of his cabin (adjacent to mine at Ellyn and Michael’s Ft. Smith Flyshop resort), and for the record he started the conversation by asking if I was the woman who called him a Brown Trout at the put-in early that morning. I confirmed that I was. It’s hard to hide when one is wearing a pink fishing shirt with the logo Jacklin’s Fly Shop, West Yellowstone emblazioned on the breast pocket.

The short version of our conversation is this:

“Where are you from?” I said.

“New York”

“Ever fished in the West?”


“Ever fished here before?”


“Did you really think you were in any danger of being run over by our boat?” I asked.

He was a man so full of his New York accent and his East Coast fishing manners, that he received my recommendation to take it all back to the East coast and leave the West alone.  Clearly he is not a man that belongs in the rugged West with it’s inherent dangers on tame rivers. We had no further conversations for obvious reasons.

I would like to report the Big Horn River to be a fishing Disneyland: crowded with fishers quite sure it to be the happiest place on earth, with reportedly 7,000 fish per mile. Big Browns and ferocious Rainbow trout sometimes tried to leap into our boat, or smash themselves against the boat or take the fly when I was only resting it in the water while enjoying the scenery.

But if solitude and serenity are also part of your fishing game, this is not the place. It is very crowded, with fifty guided-boat’s worth of fishers fishing the same 13 miles of river. Mid-August is also very hot and exceedingly popular.

I hear February is peaceful.

Big Horm 3x4 Brown20130819_115907


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Category: Indie It Travel

About the Author: Ann Bodle-Nash: A free-lance traveler since the age of 11 months, little moss grows on her soles. With relatives and friends scattered across the globe, she finds frequent excuses to travel. But travel in the West is best--those quiet corners of weirdness are like light to a moth, burning with intensity, encouraging curiosity and discovery. She imagines the glory of 30 days of continuous floating and fly fishing on the Yellowstone River after watching a documentary on same. Currently living in Washington State with her husband.

Comments (1)

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  1. I felt as if I was ur side kick on this adventure. Made me laugh at the encounter.

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