A Rocky Mountain Gem

A Rocky Mountain Gem

Ruby Springs Lodge Offers Outstanding Fishing, and Top-Shelf Comfort

  • By: James Butler
Ryan Morgan beached the drift boat just a few miles below Varney Bridge on Montana's Madison River and Michele and I bailed out, rods in hand. We pushed through bankside willow, Ryan in the lead. In less than a minute we came out on the other side of what turned out to be a long, narrow island, a slim side channel separating it from the river's true bank. Ryan lined Michele up for a cast, opposite and just about above a deadfall that created an inviting pocket. (While I'm thinking about it, how come the guides always seem to reserve the best spots for my wife? Hmmm.)

Anyway, Michele made a couple of backcasts, then dropped her streamer at the bottom of the run spilling into the hole. Two or three strips, and yank, she was on to a fish that was clearly bigger than the 14- or 15-inch rainbows and browns we'd been hooking much of the day. This was a strong fish, and it ended up taking Michele for a bit of a ride.

But she did a fine job of keeping it out of trees that had tumbled into the channel, and also made sure the fish didn't make it back to the heavy current of the main river. In a few minutes, a big, gasping brown, with flanks a yellow that blazed almost as brightly as the fall cottonwoods on the banks (it was mid-October), was in the net. Maybe a good 20 inches or better (we almost never measure, but prefer to overestimate).

As usual, Michele had landed what would turn out to be the best fish of the trip. So it went through the day; we alternated fishing while Ryan rowed (casting either Whitlock streamers trailed by small Prince Nymphs, or beadheads under big Girdle Bugs) and wading promising runs (using similar fly combinations).

The fishing was a little tough, but the fish cooperated if we did everything right (put the right fly in the right place and got a good drift; ah, it sounds so easy on paper).

It seems it's always windy on the Madison,and this day was no exception. Cloud formations came and went, so one moment we'd be under a low, gray sky, and the next bright sun would warm us. We even had a few snowflakes dropping around us while I drifted nymphs through a run that held a bunch of rainbows chowing down in preparation for winter-but they only ate if I drifted my beadhead just so through one particular spot. At the take-out as darkness fell, the tally was perhaps a dozen-and-a-half fish of 12 inches or better between the two of us. Certainly a fine day…and that's not to mention the usual pleasures of drifting through a beautiful landscape in an expertly managed drift boat with a personable guide who's got the fish pretty well dialed in. Michele and I were staying at Ruby Springs Lodge, outside of Alder, in Montana's southwest corner. Now, the fact is that that part of the world is simply dripping with terrific fishing. One way or another, essentially every local fishing operation (lodge, outfitter, independent guide) can put you on fine trout water. The lodges that are really special are the ones that do everything else to a T. Ruby Springs partners John Samson and Paul Moseley, both originally from Seattle, have known each other since the fifth grade. It's clear they're aiming at a very particular clientele, and they pull off the T thing admirably. Besides the fishing available to lodge guests (more on that later), Ruby Springs is a place at which it's hard to believe anyone would be uncomfortable. First, the lodge staff seems entirely made up of people who take care of every little detail, without appearing as if they're going to any trouble. I don't think that's a quality you can teach; you have to find people with it. Then there are the individual guest cabins, with open floor plan, cushy bed and reading chairs, table and tying lamp, CD player, fieldstone fireplace, bathroom with heated tile floor, tremendous shower with one of those rainfall shower heads the size of a dinner plate, tub big enough for two, even a mini-fridge stocked with juices, water, sodas, beer… Somehow, it doesn't seem that a bout of bad weather that confined you to your room would be that painful. The main buildings are decorated in what I can only describe as rustic chic-as in, you know this rugged and tasteful decor wasn't cheap, but you don't feel too bad sitting down to dinner wearing (clean) jeans. The food is out of this world, the open bar is well stocked, there are activities for non-anglers (skeet-shooting on the premises, horseback riding, golf), and you can even arrange for a massage after a tough day of long casts with big streamers (Michele took advantage of that one on afternoon #2). Guiding too was first-rate (if our guide, Ryan Morgan, is any indication, and I'm betting he is); again, everything happened without the appearance of great effort. A couple of smart things the lodge does: Guides are full-time employees rather than being independent contractors. And the guides will supply you with all the flies you need, tippet, leaders, whatever, no extra charge. (As far as I'm concerned, this is much preferred to feeling nickel-and-dimed with a checkout bill when you leave a place.) Which brings us back to the fishing. Ruby Springs Lodge puts guests on the Ruby River, the Big Hole, the Beaverhead, the Madison, the Jefferson, and local private water. We fished the Ruby our second day, both on the lodge property (the lodge sits on 700 acres, and Paul and John are working on adding 1,400 more) and on one of four exclusive leases the lodge holds on nearby ranches. The Ruby is simply a fabulous small fishery, perfect for making an Eastern boy like me feel at home. Michele and I leapfrogged each other from pool to pool and run to run on this winding stream with undercut banks. The weather had cleared from the day before and the sun was bright; temperatures probably climbed into the 50's. As the sun rose, we found we could dispense with our nymphs and actually get the fish to grab dry flies (this was October 13). At first something big and fierce looking, like a Chernobyl Ant, was necessary. Later in the afternoon, I actually found myself kneeling on a submerged gravel bar, keeping my profile low, and casting to a pod of picky rising browns. I did the usual (smaller fly, lighter tippet, longer leader), and once in a while manage to get a hookup. It was a perfect way to close out the season. For more information, contact Ruby Springs Lodge at 800-278-7829; on the Web at www.rubyspringslodge.com.