Armstrong Spring Creek

LA – The fabled spring creeks of Livingston, Montana had been on my bucket list for a long time. Ever since getting a taste for spring creeks at La Fontaine in New Zealand, videos of gin-clear Montanan spring creeks had been burning a hole in my head. Many of the waters in this area are private access only, owned by ranchers or more recently, wealthy fly fishing syndicates. However, the stretch near Livingston offers paid public access at three properties – Armstrong, Depuy’s and Nelson’s Spring Creek. We leave our cash in an old coffee tin, sign in and we’re away.

DA – The actual spring that feeds Armstrong Spring Creek, a short tributary of the Yellowstone River, gushes out of the ground between the original house on the O’Hare Ranch and a set of run-down outbuildings that look straight out of an old Western prairie set. The water is also pure Hollywood – crystal clear with turquoise tint, full of lush aquatic weeds and freezing cold even in the blistering summer heat.

While it’s very picturesque, it’s not exactly wild water; it’s curators having pushed and prodded around its manicured 2.5-kilometre course over the years. It’s full of trout, solid in size, that maintain great condition thanks to the perfect growing conditions in the year-round food parade.

LA – The day begins with bluebird skies (it’s Montana) and the trout are very easy to polaroid. They’re not easy to fool in these conditions though with refusal after refusal. Fortunately, thunder clouds appear on the horizon and by lunchtime, the sky turns what I would describe as ‘hatch grey.’ All of a sudden, the water erupts with mayfly and pursuing trout. It’s on like Donkey Kong and a small CDC loop wing emerger is irresistible for countless fat spring creek trout. I could hear the goats bleating as I netted each one.

David had disappeared downstream. When I found him, he was observing what we found to be a distinct difference in fishing styles of the locals versus Aussies or Kiwis. There is a maximum of 12 rods allowed on Armstrong per day, and I hadn’t seen most of them while I was stalking trout upstream. It turns out they were all standing in a line, mid-stream, waiting for the hatch to begin and for the fish to come to them. They were catching plenty, just with a much more stationary approach.

DA – At $120 USD per rod per day, unguided, fishing here might seem crazy, but it is iconic water, a unique experience and, in my opinion, a must for any trip to the Western United States.

Rising trout galore as storm clouds gather - Armstrong Spring Creek

DA – Our fishing day ends prematurely at a roadside diner where we pull in to sit out the worst of the lightning storm with a late lunch. The burgers and shakes are so good and so plentiful that for a mild food coma we never make it back to the creek, deciding to push on to Bozeman for a much-needed rest day before our last stop to visit the Simms factory.

LA – In leaving the water early, I broke a fairly cardinal rule of never walking away when it’s on – you know, sleep when you’re dead. The feeling of saturation was overwhelming, though, that and the heavy yellow cheese on my burger. We’d seen so many goats, that seeing one more would be to fill a cup that was already overflowing – told you I like metaphors.

Fly fishing in this part of the world is a whole other level of experience. The environment is ideally suited to it, there is water everywhere and the trout were born to thrive here.

The sport thrives too, with fly fishers at a scale that is hard to imagine back in Australia. Yet there is so much water that it rarely feels crowded and when you do share it, the hospitality is overwhelmingly friendly and encouraging.

CONTRIBUTORS

David Anderson
Photography & Writer

Leighton Adem
Writer & Editor

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