Get Wet: Fishing Montana's Gallatin River

July 25, 2016

Fly-fishing the river Brad Pitt made famous

By Carolyn Price

Photo at right: OutdoorsNW publisher Carolyn Price lands a big one in Montana’s Gallatin River. Photo by John McKinnie


Even though I don’t know Hollywood actor Brad Pitt personally, we have something in common: we have both fly-fished on the Gallatin River in Montana. Not sure about Brad, but it was my first time on a river with a fly rod.

Last summer while visiting Yellowstone National Park, my family and I stayed a few nights at Lone Mountain Ranch Resort near Big Sky Mountain in southwestern Montana. With the abundance of trout streams in the area, the resort operates an Orvis fly-fishing shop and guide service.

Always in search of a good story, I fearlessly signed up for a lesson.

I soon found myself outfitted in baggy hip-waders and a fly rod in hand. My Orvis-certified guide John McKinnie helped me perfect the art of wrist-flicking (a needed application when fly-fishing) before we left for the real deal on the Gallatin.

Brad Pitt made the Gallatin River famous in 1992 when he starred in the coming-of-age film, A River Runs Through It, where many of the scenes were shot. The river and its surrounding mountains, river-bank trees and dense foliage are quintessential Montana.

This scenery distracted me from my rookie nerves after John parked the van at his favorite spot along the river.

I got out and trooped after John through high brush and over sandy rocks where we ducked underneath overgrown trees. John finally spotted what he was looking for: a calm, shaded pool of water where he explained the river is usually deeper and the fish like to hang out and feed.

John taught me forward casting and back casting, how to feel and recognize a fish on my line and how to set the hook. He explained how the weighted lures balance out the feather-weight flies during the cast. I took note when John explained the transfer of energy in the fly rod and when I needed to abruptly stop my cast to allow the energy to flow into the line toward its intended target.

After about 20 well-intended casts, but no bites, we left in search of faster water. We headed along an open bank looking for foamy waves, an indicator that fish are near.

It was mid-June and the river was running fast. John encouraged me to carefully wade into the water where I could cast my line closer to the foamy water. I was careful to balance myself on the slippery rocks while throwing myself off-balance during the cast. Soon, we both had several bites — all that got away.

I settled into a routine of casting and reeling as I immersed myself into this beautiful Montana backcountry. Suddenly my line tightened and I came to my senses. Fish on!

John ran over with his net as I nervously reeled in my prize: a beautiful 6-inch Rainbow! I’m sure my grin was twice that size when John snapped the customary photo before we released it back into the rushing river.

As we drove back to the resort, John and I discussed the elation of landing a fish. It never gets old, he told me.

I thought about that and wondered if Brad Pitt had actually netted any fish himself while filming the movie. I decided that he had, and smugly believed that was just one more thing Brad and I had in common.

Carolyn Price is publisher of OutdoorsNW. Her other fishing experience includes salmon fishing from a kayak in the San Juan Islands.