I can’t help but smile as I sit back in my camp chair, warming myself with a sip of fresh coffee brewed over a campfire. I look to the west and see the sun dipping low in the sky, illuminating the hillside in a warm bath of orange light. I glance toward camp and catch a glimpse of Susie, my equine guide for the day, munching lazily upon the green carpet of wild grass and sweet clover surrounding her and her fellow hoofed companions. My belly is happy and full from the Cutthroat trout expertly prepared by our guide and owner of Swan Mountain Outfitters, Pat Tabor. At this exact moment in time, everything is perfect!
Swan Mountain Outfitters leads pack trips, guided hunting and fly fishing trips, and even llama treks throughout the Bob Marshall Wilderness Complex and Swan Range of the Flathead National Forest just east of the Flathead Valley. They even lead horseback day trips through Glacier National Park!
The Bob Marshall Wilderness (affectionately referred to as The Bob by locals), is the fifth-largest wilderness area in the lower 48 states with just over 1 million acres of protected land. Waterfalls, lakes, dense forest and pure wilderness reveal themselves behind every corner, as does the diverse group of wildlife that calls this place home. Make sure you have bear spray handy as it has the highest population density of these ornery beasts anywhere in the U.S. outside of Alaska. Many other creatures can be found throughout the Bob including moose, mountain goats, bighorn sheep, elk, wolverines, mountain lions, lynx, wolves and bald eagles, just to name a few.
I’m off on a new kind of adventure for myself, a guided 3-day backcountry fishing pack trip, winding through these wildly beautiful mountains, transported back to times long passed, times of cowboys and explorers. Times without phones or email or deadlines. Very few things in life allow me the pleasure of truly disconnecting like a trip into The Bob, miles from the nearest hint of cell phone coverage (No, Verizon, you can’t hear me now!).
Our day began setting off from the Swan Mountain Ranch, just south of the town of Swan Lake. Upon arriving at the ranch, we were introduced to our guide and paired with what would become our primary mode of transportation for the next three days. I was introduced to Susie, a beautiful and wild 3-year old paint, rippled with muscles carved by transporting passengers throughout the towering peaks and expansive valleys in the endless surrounding landscape. After a review of our itinerary and route for the day and some lessons on our horses, we were off.
I said, “I’ve yet to have a bad day of fishing in the mountains.” And then it strikes me — we inquired if the fishing has been any good in the places we would be heading for the next few days and, with a chuckle, Pat responded, “We’re going to be casting our lines into some of the least-fished waters in the United States!” Few people have the opportunity in life to experience the pure, wild rivers of The Bob, full of swirling Cutthroat Trout hiding around each bend, hungry for whatever insects (or well-tied flies) are presented in front of them.
Our day found us dipping our lines in dozens of creeks and rivers, connecting ponds and lakes scattered throughout the peaceful valleys nestled between towering peaks in every direction. It’s a surreal transportation to my childhood visits to big cities out east, walking between buildings and finding myself staring skyward at the buildings that stretched up to the clouds. But there’s no question in my mind that I’d take the skyscraping mountain peaks of Montana over the skyscrapers of New Jersey without hesitation.
The folks at Swan Mountain Outfitters are true professionals, handling every aspect of the trip from cooking meals to setting up camp and even cleaning my freshly-caught Cutthroat Trout for dinner cooked over the campfire. All you really need to bring is clothes and a fishing pole (although they’ll even provide a fishing pole if you’re without one). It’s as stress free as a mini-vacation can get! If I could stay out here forever, I would. But, alas, the real world awaits. I’ll definitely be back and until then, images of soaring eagles and wily trout will be filling my dreams.
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