As we floated down the beautiful Smith River, most of us are more than ready to get our lines wet and fish hard. Personally, I just moved here from out of state, Alaska at that, so my knowledge of Montana consisted of only two things: one, Montana is a fly fishing state; and two, that fly fishermen and fishermen in general, are passionate about the Smith River! So for me to actually get to fish this river, was that much more special.
For those of you that don’t know, the Smith River is composed of beautiful scenery throughout the almost 59 mile float. This particular river is so popular in fact, that you actually have to draw a permit to legally float the stretch from Camp Baker to Eden Bridge. There is only one put in and only one take out accessible to the public in this corridor. The Smith is not only known for its inevitable beauty, but for its renowned blue ribbon trout fishing as well. On average this is a four night, five day float/camping adventure so visitors are expected to come fully equipped, as your only resource is yourself while on the river, although you can restock up on some ice and ice cream sandwiches once you get down to Heaven on Earth Ranch.
If you’re lucky enough to draw a permit for this incredible experience, it’s something you will remember forever. It will only take one trip down this river to understand why Montanans are so passionate about it and the fight to protect the water that flows in it. A good amount of local and nonlocal people have been in an ongoing battle between the Austrailian and Canadian companies that have submitted applications to build a massive copper mine on the headwaters of the Smith, near the banks of Sheep Creek. To give a brief description of the issue at hand, this mine would inevitably drop below the water table and the mining companies would actually have to pump the water out of the mine to keep it from flooding. This is particularly risky due to all toxins pumped through the wastewater. To my knowledge, Montana has a history of failed mining projects that have contaminated other precious bodies of water, so I respect how anglers and non anglers alike have banded together to fight against this mine, and I too, feel the same way.
This was my first time on the Smith, and as a fly fisherman, it was complete sensory overload. I wish someone had told me what I’m about to tell you, the reader; if ever floating the Smith, DO NOT……under any circumstances, focus on only one area of fishing, one area of the bank, one eddy, slough, flat, or one chunky looking foam zone. If you miss a spot, don’t focus on it, move past the missed spot and prepare for the next spot, because the Smith will give you plenty of opportunities at fishy locations. I say this because you’re on a 59 mile float, and that’s 59 miles of some seriously prime pocket water, runs, and foam lines. I had tunnel vision at times, only focusing on a small area out in front of me, so I didn’t realize there was another good stretch or area just up ahead, so I often wouldn’t be ready for it. For our float, river clarity didn’t seem to be an issue; however, if clarity is lost, throw in a little more wade fishing as you continue on down the river. Wade fishing for us was pretty much a sure thing, so the approach we took, was while pulling over for restroom breaks, stopping for lunch, or re-rigging, we would take a little time to wade, each catch a fish, then move on. I absolutely recommend this approach, just keep in mind that you will want to get to your boat camp before it gets dark, so be conscience of the time.
I write this note with fresh eyes, a rookie Montana angler, and forever learning the art of this sport. Fishing this river took a bit of time to figure out, so when you get the chance to fish this particular river, I recommend ‘target fishing’. Rocks, banks, sloughs, eddys, constantly scan down river and have a plan for where you want to drop your fly as you float. You have a lot of river to fish, switch it up from time to time. Give nymphing a try, throw some dries, throw some streamers, but don’t forget to just sit and chill for a bit. Remember, you’re on the Smith River, not everybody gets to do this float, take the time to experience and fully enjoy this Montana treasure. I am so grateful I was exposed to this river and was able to fish it.
Stop in at CrossCurrents to have us help you pick out flies, suggested areas to camp, and maybe even hear a Smith River fish story or two!