Fishing the Land of Giants

My best friend Dottie and I hopped on an Alaska Airlines jet to north-central Montana last week on our way to Hidden Canyon Lodge. It’s our favorite place to escape for a few days of fishing while being catered to by Madeleine Cantoni, the greatest fishing lodge chef and manager in the west. It takes a little more than twice the time it normally takes us to drive to the Upper Sacramento River near Mt. Shasta, but it was still a surprisingly effortless trip.

We could have driven (about 17 hours), but found an easy flight out of Sacramento to Great Falls via Seattle that put us on the ground there in seven hours, including the drive from Sonoma to the airport. Garry McCue, the driver from Hidden Canyon Lodge, was waiting for us. In less than 30 minutes, we were resting comfortably in our well-appointed, air-conditioned room at the lodge. It had been lovingly developed by Peter and Patricia Woodbridge and tucked into a dramatic, lava-rock canyon on the banks of the Missouri River not far from the spot where Lewis and Clark passed through on their way to the Pacific.

The lodge bar looks out on a horseshoe bend of the river opposite a rock formation called Mountain Palace, on which local bighorn sheep often graze. While relaxing there, we were surprised to find a Sonoma connection when our server turned out to be Kelsey McCue, Garry’s wife and niece of lifelong Sonoman Peggy Moll, and granddaughter of Joe and Zilla McCammon. Kelsey spent many summers in our valley visiting her late grandparents.

Kelsey’s Sonoma connection and Madi’s warm welcome made us feel like we’d come home.

The next morning we were picked up at the lodge by guide Luke Korten, with whom we spent the day in a stretch of the Missouri locally known as “LOG,” which stands for Land of Giants. It is a part of the river that runs through a dramatic, rocky canyon immediately downstream of the Hauser Dam. Its dark, swift current is apparently rich in the kind of nutrients that have a steroidal effect on rainbow trout, because here they grow quickly into the muscular brutes that give LOG its name.

Each hook-up is an adventure because the fish are not only big and strong, but they know how to use the multitude of large underwater rocks on which to wrap your fly line and escape.

In spite of that, Dottie and I had a fun day catching and releasing several of these monsters, including four that were over 20 inches. Dottie landed one that was 22 1/2-inches long and was so big around it looked like a super-sized football.

Not only was the fishing hot, the weather was unusually warm for early June. In fact, when we went fishing the next day, it neared record levels. Like California and other western states, Montana did not receive its usual amount of rain last winter. That plus the heat could spell water problems later this summer.

But it didn’t stop us from having a second good day of fishing downriver from the Land of Giants closer to the town of Craig, Montana.

Fishing with guide Brad Turner, Dottie caught the most and the biggest fish, another 22-incher. I caught a few, but had fun watching her finish the afternoon with three 20 inch-plus rainbows in a row.

We both enjoyed the fishing and our stay at Hidden Canyon Lodge. We vowed to return, although it has grown in popularity and open dates for the rest of the season may be hard to find. As a result, we’re already looking at our 2022 calendar to lock in some days before they too fill up.

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