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William Lynch: Fly-fishing in Montana

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Mountain Palace, a dramatic and picturesque formation of rocky crags and cliffs, formed the backdrop of my return last week to Upland Anglers Lodge on the Missouri River in Cascade, Montana.

Returning with me were Chad Overway and Tom Culligan, who along with their wives, Jeanne and Katherine, accompanied Dottie and me last year, when Upland opened its first season as a completely redesigned, rebuilt and re-staffed upscale fishing lodge.

We liked it so much then, we vowed to return. And so we did.

While a couples’ return is still in the planning stages, we made this trip as a guys-only gathering that included Steve Kyle, Jim Powers, Les Vadasz, Gary Nelson and Steve MacRostie, along with Chad, Tom and myself.

Fishing the Missouri is always great and we all caught our share of big rainbow and German brown trout. Jim landed the largest, a 24-inch brown that fought him for nearly 20 minutes before he got it into the boat. But we all got our shot at catching and releasing some typical Missouri River bruisers that average in the 18-to-20-inch range.

As he has for us the last three seasons, Dan Troupe assembled a talented team of guides to take us out every day. Their ability to find fish is uncanny: it’s like they can see under the water.

Speaking of which, one of the most intriguing activities of the trip was exercised by Les, who is developing a strange Rube Goldberg contraption that will allow him to photograph fish under the water from his seat in the boat while someone else in the boat is bringing the fish in to be netted.

So far, it seems to take great photos of the underwater environment, but Les says he’s taking it back to the workshop for refinement so he can actually find the fish in the picture.

Accommodations, food and hospitality at Upland Lodge were once again outstanding. It is a relatively small, intimate lodge with 12 well-appointed, air-conditioned rooms, and a log-cabin style main lodge dining room and cocktail lounge with a large stone fireplace.

The special ingredient that makes it all work is the talented and gracious staff led by chef and lodge manager Madeleine Cantoni. Everyone pitches in to make sure guests feel welcome and at home. Even Dan, whose main role is as the chief guide and manager of the fishing experience, pitches in as a host and server during dinner, then sits down and joins us at the table.

Without a doubt, it is the best fishing lodge experience that I’ve ever had, and I’ve been to a lot of fishing lodges. Even on the river, you can count on an exceptionally delicious lunch.

Peter and Patricia Woodbridge, the lodge owners who revived the old Mountain Palace site last year after it had been dormant, were also there during our stay. Clearly, the warm and welcoming culture and quality of the overall experience that are Upland Lodge’s hallmarks start at the top with them. They are both charming, engaging and eager to learn from their guests how they can make the Upland Lodge even better.

Even non-fishing partners will enjoy the lodge. The guides are such good teachers that even a novice will catch beautiful big trout on the Missouri, which by itself is too picturesque to miss.

It was easy for our Sonoma group to get there by flying out of Sacramento, making a connection in Salt Lake City that took us to Great Falls, then only a 25-minute drive from the lodge. The Montana scenery is breathtaking, and there are landmarks where Lewis and Clark stopped on their way to the Pacific.

Upland Anglers Lodge deserves a five-star rating in my book, and I highly recommend it. You can check it out yourself online at uplandanglerlodge.com.