Local Fishing Exposed

(Top photo of Elk Lake's dock courtesy of Aurora Waclawski) Sometimes there is just so much to talk about, one has to pick and choose. That is the way I feel today as I sit down to write my blog. The elk are starting to get serious - serious about bugling and carrying on. The trees and shrubs are starting to get serious - serious about turning the various shades of gold and red which signal the season change is upon us.

Even the fish are starting to get serious, again - serious about biting the various flies and bait and artificial lures which the few fishermen still around are throwing their direction. We are starting to get serious, too - serious about slowing down and taking some time to enjoy this wonderful place we call home.

Nonetheless, now that the season is drawing to a close, I have time to tell you about some of the great fishing we have been enjoying this summer. In fact, courtesy of various guests who have graced our resort with their presence this summer, I not only have information, I have pictures to wet your appetite.

Many visitors to our area do not realize the abundant local fishing options. Of course this is due, in part, to other fishermen who prefer not to share the location of their favorite fishing spot. Take the fishermen one of our guests chatted with last night. When asked how the fishing had been they replied, "These are pretty wily fish. You have to go about it just right to have any success."

Huh? Sounds more like an avoidance than an answer. Our guest thought so, too. However, various vague replies are the norm around here. After all, when you find a great fishing spot with few other fishermen to share the water, well, really, what fisherman in their right mind wants to share that?

So, in keeping with the local ‘tradition' I have waited until the end of the season to share with you information and photographs which prove the local fishing is not only beautiful and private and unpressured but rewarding.

Red Rock Creek may be better known as the headwaters of the mighty Missouri than for being a quality fishery. However, there are a quite a few fishermen out there who are doing their best to stay mum about the place. Nevertheless, this beautiful mountain stream is worth a closer look.

Winding through the scenic Centennial Valley, Red Rock Creek flows from the high mountains into the Upper Red Rock Lake. Because this large, shallow lake is nesting and breeding habitat for various water fowl, the Red Rock Lakes Wildlife Refuge does not open these waters to fishing. However, many of the large Yellowstone Cutthroat and one of the last surviving Grayling populations which spawn and live in this large lake, also enjoy the cool, clear waters of Red Rock Creek.

Thus it is not surprising to find some gorgeous fish in these waters. Take the 17-inch Grayling caught a few weeks ago. Or the large fish skittering out of my way as I rowed up the creek in my kayak a couple weeks back. Not only is this creek beautiful and wild and pristine, it is worth a second look.

Then there is probably one of the best kept secrets - a pond which has produced some monster fish over the years. While the Refuge's new management plan includes turning this pond into more Grayling habitat in the near future, this year has proved to be one of those ‘fisherman's dream' years.

Take it from someone who really knows his stuff. Bob Jacklin, owner of Jacklin's Fly Shop in West Yellowstone, recently shared a little of his knowledge on this pretty little pond with The Big Sky Journal. I'd encourage you to read what he has to say.

While most would assume Elk Lake, because of its more ‘obvious' location (on the doorstep of Elk Lake Resort) would receive a lot of pressure, they would assume wrong. In fact, the Montana fish biologist responsible for the lake's management said the fish density in the lake is extremely high.

Of course, some fishermen turn their noses up at Cutthroat. Yet, I dare you to find a prettier fish, or a trout which fights with more natural skill and physical ability than the Westslope Cuts which inhabit our lake.

Certainly those ‘in the know' would agree. Don Roberts and his lovely wife spent a week with us last summer pursuing the local fish and photographing the area - all in anticipation for the article he wrote for Northwest Fly Fishing Magazine. Published in their July / August 2009 issue, the article on Elk Lake is well-worth reading. Especially if you are looking to fish quiet waters which receive low pressure and yet enjoy a dense fish population.

Hidden Lake, the area's ‘a-little-bit-better known' (to many folks' chagrin) gem, receives more fishing pressure than Elk Lake. Nonetheless, this naturally producing Rainbow Trout Lake (considered one of the finest natural Rainbow Trout fisheries in the state, but don't tell anybody!) regularly yields beautiful fish.

Not a few fishermen have tried their luck at catching another like the one caught by a young man in 2005. This 12-pound lunker was a beautiful specimen to behold. While you may not catch one that size, a 3 to 5-pound rainbow is a common sight.

If that is not enough to tempt you, I'll briefly mention two more little hike-in lakes where the wily fisherman can snag into a lovely rainbow trout. These lakes are not managed fisheries. In fact, I do not believe anyone has messed with them in many years. Combine no ‘messing with' and few fisherman and extremely clear, shallow water and one can understand why the fish in these two lakes are so difficult to fool.

Goose Lake and Otter Lake are two pint-sized hike-in lakes located between Hidden Lake and Cliff Lake. If you don't want a challenge, stick to the easier waters. These fish are extremely suspicious. Yet, if you are a skilled fisherman who enjoys testing your talents against those of your prey, these lakes are worth your time.

Like I said, there is a reason we save this kind of information for the end of the season. Our local waters are special! Located less than an hour from the world famous Madison River or Henry's Fork of the Snake, few fishermen even know to take the drive over the hill. And, while you are now ‘in the know' chances are only a few of you will chose to make that jaunt. Don't take us wrong, but we kinda like it that way.

Lady of the Lake


A Day on the lake

Upper Red Rock Lake sits at the heart of Montana's wild and pristine Centennial Valley. Protected as an important part of the Red Rock Lakes National Wildlife Refuge, this large, shallow lake is only accessible by 'row-power' from July 15th until the waters freeze. Lower Red Rock Lake, an even marshier habitat, opens to boaters on September 1st. Not only are these lakes interesting for their abundant bird life, the Upper Lake and Red Rock Creek are home to one of the only native lake dwelling populations of Arctic Grayling in the lower 48 states.

With the lake playing such an important role in the Centennial, and since it is just next door, I am sure it comes as no surprise a kayak / canoe exploration trip has been on our to-do list for many years. While the guys did float down Red Rock Creek and across to the Upper Lake Campground a few years back, this is the first day-long excursion we have managed to get in.

One of the challenges (besides the obvious - getting a day off) facing anyone interested in perusing this large lake is the wind. Located in a high valley with mountain ranges to the north and south, the Centennial Valley often serves as a wind funnel. With no natural wind breaks, the lake's surface can become a violent cauldron with little notice. Thus visitors do well to keep one eye on the weather forecast and the other on the sky as they prepare for their adventure.

Tuesday started off cool with clear skies in all directions. All in all, it was a magical day. Before breakfast early birds could watch fishermen navigate Elk Lake amidst fingers of fog.

Mid morning it was our turn. With the kayaks and canoe strapped aboard, we headed for the Upper Lake Campground. This is, perhaps, the only launching point on the Upper Lake (unless one chooses to float Red Rock Creek). However, I cannot image a prettier spot from which to begin a wonderful day. The weather was warm, but not unpleasantly so. By late morning, the sky was mostly clear and the wind, while noticeable, was not unpleasant. As we worked our way along the southern shore heading east, my eyes could not help but return again and again to the majestic mountain backdrop. Coming nearly to the lake's shore, Taylor Mountain is an impressive site.

It is farther across that lake than it looks! Believe me!

As we worked our way along the eastern shore, headed for what appeared to be a very narrow sandy beach, we were able to observe hundreds of birds. We counted several dozen swans, all told, and saw numerous duck species. However, compared to the birds on Elk Lake, these feathered friends were much more flighty.

After rowing for what seemed 'forever,' we finally reached a narrow sandy beach. Lunch and a little stretching felt great. The view to the west wasn't too hard on the eys either. For that matter, neither was the upclose and personal view of Sheep Mountain.

After lunch we headed around a narrow spit of land and took a much-to-brief gander up Red Rock Creek. While it is perhaps best known as the headwaters to the mighty Missouri, Red Rock Creek also provides a much needed spawning habitat for the lake dwelling Arctic Grayling and Yellowstone Cutthroat who call the Upper Lake home. Thanks the the clear water, we were able to see many large fish lurking in some suprisingly deep holes.

The beautiful views, young ducks hiding along the shore line, and white-tail deer sightings added to the pleasure.

The creek was delightful and amazingly calm after the breeze-tossed lake. However, a black cloud was building in the west, and we had yet to reach our goal. Too soon it was time to head back to the lake.

With one eye on the clouds to the west and one on the shoreline, we headed along the north shore, looking for the outlet from Swan Lake. At one point my hubby started wondering if we might have to portage a short way to reach the other lake. However, after sloshing through knee deep mud to reach the shoreline, he found not a lake but a big bull moose on the other side of the bushes!

Our persistence finally paid off. We found the mouth - a slow moving, muddy bottomed creek. Crossing the mud-bar we headed up the creek, wondering how many times we would twist and turn before we reached the lake. While the black clouds continued to build to the west, looking north up the creek, the puffy white clouds and brilliant blue sky made a gorgeous backdrop for the green and yellow grass-lined shore.

Goal reached! As I rounded a bend, Swan Lake spread before me. In fact, not knowing this to be anything more than just another turn on the creek, I was almost as surprised to see the two trumpeter swans a few hundred yards ahead as they were to see me. Although I froze, the birds knew this was not just an overgrown duck and away they flew!

Swan Lake was much larger than I expected, and much shallower. Even with a kayak which draws very little water, weeds still drug along my hull. Even worse were the weeds clinging to my paddle with each stroke. I would hate to try and navigate this large lake in a low water year. Nonetheless, our time was too short! I would love to have explored the area more. However, we could see rain just over the nearby mountain range - and it was heading our way! Thus, with a last look around, we girded ourselves for the long pull back across the lake!

It WAS a long pull, especially for tired kayakers after a full day. Thankfully, while we did not escape the rain, the wind did not kick up too much - just enough to keep us pulling hard on the windward side to keep our vessels headed in a straight line. Three miles (I must admit, as I crawled out of my kayak, I'd have said it must have been more like 300 miles) later, we beached our craft at our starting point.

What a day! What an incredibly beautiful and wild lake. For having spent an entire day on its surface, we were the ONLY people out there! No joke! While we saw hundreds, perhaps thousands, of birds, two deer, and a bull moose, we saw no other people - in fact, we didn't even see any sign of other people except at the boat launch. Where in the lower 48 can one experience such a thing? Maybe, just maybe, only here in Montana's Centennial Valley!

Lady of the Lake


Behind The Scenes

Every year since our first, we have hired summer help. In fact, our first winter we hired a young man to help us during the winter. However, winter business is just too spotty to justify hiring help - so now our helpers are snowbirds (usually, literally).

How important are these people? This year we had a chance to not only 'guestimate' - we experienced how important they are! These unsung heros are often what makes or breaks the quality of our service and the friendliness of our attitudes - especially come late August and into September! Believe me, good quality help are the oil on the cogs to a business like ours.

Each year our summer help has changed. While this means we have to 'train' new people each summer, it also means we have been able to hand-pick the skill areas we wish to highlight. While cooking and cleaning are a MUST, sometimes a talented hand on the business end of a hammer is quite helpful. This was one of those years.

So we hired Joel and Skeeter. Or maybe I should say, Joel and Skeeter and Cody (their dog). For the last two years we have hired three people to help us through the summer. This year was no exception. However, while we hired 'three' people, the summer's unpredictable nature (due, mostly, to the unpredictable economy) had us backing out on our third person in May.

In the end, Karen did come - for a brief sabbatical - but, sadly, we failed to get a group photo while she was here.

Joel turned out to be great with a hammer - and any number of construction tools. His skills were definitely a plus on Craig's end. Skeeter was great kitchen help and a wonderful waitress. Her soft southern drawl and friendly attitude made our guests feel right and home.

But, like I said, we learned just how important our summer helpers are this year. Mid July Skeeter's father's health took a turn for the worse. To make a long story short, she needed to go home. After she left, Joel tried to spread himself around to fill in as many gaps as possible. But, alas, he just wasn't the waitress-type :-)

No, really, he was great help, but we were far too short-handed. Then, when Skeeter returned, it was only to help us through a particularly busy weekend, and then to help Joel pack up so they could leave.

With both of them gone, Craig and I found out (in case we really didn't know), how much we depend on our summer helpers. And, while God was very gracious and we made it through a ridiculously crazy weekend by ourselves, we not only miss Joel and Skeeter for their handy skills, we miss them for their hands!

And so, with one more busy weekend to go, we look forward to the fall and the season winding down. We are thankful to all of you for your patronage. In spite of being unpredictable, we are thankful to say we have had a good year. We are already looking forward to seeing many of you again next year, here at Elk Lake Resort.

Lady of the Lake