Skip to main content

Travel Time: An Adventure in Montana

Mar 10, 2020 01:40PM ● By Lisa Ballard. Photos by Lisa and Jack Ballard.
There isn’t much in Wolf Creek, Montana—just a few cabins, a saloon, and a fly shop with several motel rooms connected to it. The saloon is interesting. Norman Maclean, author of A River Runs Through It and Other Stories, purportedly warmed a stool in this wayside western bar while wooing a woman.

By no coincidence, the Missouri River flows by Wolf Creek. Given Maclean’s penchant for fly fishing, he likely did more casting than cavorting. The Mighty Mo in this part of the country is loaded with blue-ribbon rainbow trout and brown trout. It’s a mecca for avid anglers, a place that’s low on accouterments but a life-list destination for those who seek trophy trout.

Maclean is largely responsible. Fly fishing surged in popularity when the University of Chicago Press published A River Runs Through It in 1976. Today, most anglers have read the story or watched the Academy-Award-winning movie based on the book and directed by Robert Redford and starring Brad Pitt.

The story centers around a 35-mile stretch of tailwater, below Holter Dam, where the Mo flows by modest settlements like Wolf Creek. While the novel is loosely autobiographical and contains colorful characters, including drunkards, gamblers, and women of the night, its underlying message extolls the virtues of family and fly fishing. Maclean’s elegant, descriptive prose delves into the relationships of fictional Montanans who live by the river, some of whom cast for trout as they seek equilibrium in life.

On the first of my two days fishing the Missouri River, I was more interested in finding my balance on my feet than in life. The water was calm enough and the Clackacraft dory stable enough, but my motel-room coffee had yet to take effect. My husband, Jack, and I had arrived at the put-in at Wolf Creek before dawn to help our guide, Brian, launch the boat.

“We should get out early to get ahead of the other anglers and the wind,” advised our guide, Brian. In truth, we were less concerned about other people. There was plenty of water and fish. However, the wind, which could gust over 20 miles per hour, could make casting tough.

Like what you're reading? Subscribe to Image's free newsletter to catch every headline