Trout Bumming

Road Trip Trout Adventure - Intro

Out on the baking prairies below dust swirls around wheat harvesters. To the north a wildfire that closed Interstate 90 yesterday throws up columns of black smoke.

But to the south of Red Lodge, Montana, where the Beartooth Mountains rise like a granite wall, fresh snow gleams in the high country. That's where I'm headed, to chase trout and reconnect with the headwaters of America.

This is the first day of Outdoor Life's latest Road Trip Adventure. Astute readers may recall the first installment of the series, a motorbike trip that my colleague Terry Gibson spun through the Florida Keys, searching for sailfish and the essence of that string of fabled islands tumbling into the Caribbean.

My trout trip aims for the same intersection of great fishing and local color, to explain why this rugged plateau of peaks and meadows is like a cathedral for trout bums like me. This is where it all starts, not only the great rivers of America and our first national park but the whole notion of fishing and hunting and wild places as an expression of who we are as a culture.

I also hope to hook a few fish along the way. My partner for this adventure is Bozeman photographer and videographer Troy Batzler (troybatzler.com). I met Troy years ago when he was my guide on a Montana elk hunt and we've been in touch ever since. This fishing journey is the ultimate buddy trip, and I can't imagine a better partner than Troy, who is as fit and energetic--and keen for adventure--as I am.

TROUT ITINERARY

Our road trip begins later this morning on top of the Beartooth Plateau, where we'll rock-hop and scramble into a constellation of alpine lakes, hoping that their occupants--rainbows, brook, cutthroat and even golden trout--are looking up expectantly at the grasshopper imitations I'll cast.

Tonight we'll bunk in Cooke City, a curious settlement of year-rounders and vacationers clinging to the northeastern corner of Yellowstone Park. On Saturday we'll fish the park's smaller waters, Slough Creek and the Lamar River, dodging buffalo and keeping an eye out for grizzlies feeding up for their hibernation.

We'll camp somewhere in or near the park Saturday night and on Sunday we'll drift down the Yellowstone River, casting to lively bright cutthroats in the upper river and big, sulking browns down closer to Livingston.

Our final day will be a return to the park, where we'll hike to a remote reach of the Upper Yellowstone for big, colorful cutthroat trout. It's our trophy hunt of the trip, and I'm hoping to break the 20-inch barrier with a big wild trout.

GRAND LODGING

My fishing trips usually are based out of cheap motels or the back of my truck, but on this trip we are touring the grand lodges of the greater Yellowstone area. Last night I bunked at the Pollard Hotel, a century-old red-brick anchor of downtown Red Lodge. Tonight we'll pull into the Elkhorn Lodge in Cooke City, then it's Mammoth Hot Springs in the park before we descend on Chico Hot Springs in Paradise Valley.

I'm wrapping new line on my reels, inventorying my fly collection and preparing for dawn, when we'll get the wheels rolling on my new Ford Flex and grind up steep, magnificent, breath-taking Highway 212--the legendary Beartooth Highway--to my appointment with gem-bright trout.