Ever since our Northern Natives trip 2 years ago (NORTHERN NATIVES | EPIC Canadian Fly Fishing Adventure ) We have been dreaming about Bull Trout. Questions like “Do Bull Trout think about me as much as I think about them?” and “I wonder what Bull Trout are doing right now” kept creeping into our minds and wouldn’t leave.
In our Short Bus Diaries Volume 2 series, we were supposed to go find some Bull Trout. I was ready to scratch the Bull Trout itch that I had since developed. Well, that didn’t go as planned and the itch continued. We needed some Benadryl or a Therapist for what was turning into a full-blown obsession after Covid messed up another Bull Trout trip. We were determined to head to Bull Trout Country for some Psychotherapy so we piled in the truck and headed to ID.
The main goal of the trip was simple. Find Bull Trout in an area where there isn’t much information readily available. For months I poured over Scientific Journal publications trying to find the intel on what they were up to. Having made a game plan, we were ready to load up for 5 days of camping/fishing in the Backcountry.
With a quick trip to the store to load up on some MRE’s, we headed to Idaho. As we rolled into the nearest town, there was some concern over whether the road to get to the area we planned to fish would be open, due to wildfires. We decided to run over to a nearby camp–where some firefighters had set up basecamp–to get some intel on the roads. These fellas were extremely accommodating and radioed to another group of firefighters, assigned to the fire, in question. They said it was open and we were good to go so we cruised off into the backcountry with a 2 and a half-hour drive ahead of us.
This is where I would point out that you don’t need someone to tell you where to go fish. I’d asked dozens of sources that I know about this area and nobody could tell me anything. Even though we couldn’t get a fishing report, I was confident with my research and curious enough to want to see what was back there. It only reinforced the fact that you don’t need someone to tell you there is good fishing somewhere to go try it. Be friendly to the locals and you’ll get all the intel you need.
We did a few floats, the first 2 days, trying to locate bulls with no luck. With the low water levels and higher temps, the main stem was much warmer than expected. The cutthroat fishing was amazing though. And that is one of the best things about Bull Trout fishing to me, if you miss the bulls you generally will find some of the coolest cutthroat fishing there is. After speaking with a warden and putting the pieces together, we figured going upstream to where the tributaries were would be our best bet to find the bull trout.
Further up the stream the next day, we decided to get our cutthroat fix in. We spent the majority of the day fishing dries which ended up being one of the best days of dry fly fishing we’ve ever had. We also brought a streamer rod along that day to swing in the deep holes. No luck. We finished off the day by driving an hour and a half upstream to one of the tributaries.
We decided to walk the banks to just look and see if we could spot any. Generally, they are pretty easy to find. Their white tips on their fins and not-so-small nature mean that you can usually spot them holding in a pool. Finally, we spotted about 4-5 of them hanging out in a hole and we knew it was on. We scoped out a float for the next day then set up camp and went to sleep.
It was our last day. We were up before sunrise and on the river right as the sun was coming up. Floating this section was more of a float/wade as the water was skinny and many spots required us to get out and push the boat. For the deep holes, we would anchor the boat upstream, get out and fish the run on foot. We did this hole after hole until we saw our takeout point. No luck. Again.
At this point, the morale was low. It had rained and been in the 40s the last 2 days so we were exhausted and cold. I remember the sun peeking out at one point and all 3 of us just laying in the road soaking it in. It seemed that the elusive bull trout had won again.
We had traveled too far to come home empty-handed, so we decided to give the river one last shot. There was one more hole we wanted to fish that we had spotted bull trout the day before. We hiked into the spot and since Bryant had never caught a Bull Trout, we gave him the first shot. The first cast, he had a big follow but a refusal. We swapped flies and the next cast he came tight on a great Bull Trout. We celebrated, snapped a few shots, and sent the fish back on his way. The itching had ceased and we were happy to have found some amazing fish off the grid. It was what we needed to reset.
If you want to hear more about the trip, we recorded an in-depth podcast going over the entire trip from start to finish. We talked about planning, scouting, and how each day unfolded. Plus, an inside look into the behind-the-scenes of the trip that didn’t make the film.
Bull Trout are protected under the Endangered Species Act in the US. They are an indicator species for water quality and temps. They require the cleanest and coldest water out there to live in. This also generally means they live in very remote places. Due to this, Bull Trout must be released if caught and spend as little time out of the water as possible. Before going to fish for them, make sure you check your local and state regulations as every area has different regulations. And in Montana, there are only a handful of places where you can target them.
If you find a spot that has Bulls and you’re able to fish for them, always ensure you’re using barbless single hook flies. We like to use heavy rods and tippet so that we can quickly land the fish and release them in a timely manner. It would be irresponsible to take a 5wt with light tippet after bulls as you wouldn’t want to fight them for longer than needed. Go holler at your local shop if you need the right gear and hop on over to Bluelineflies.com to buy a few flies, namely the MeeMaw that we designed to trigger bulls. It’s been about 2 weeks since I got back and I can feel my itch coming back… I guess we’re gonna have to start planning our next trip.
Article and photos by Adam Hudson and Scottie Finanger Wild Fly Productions.