Hiking and Fishing the Beartooths in 2016

Once again, Sonya and I headed to Red Lodge, Montana for some hiking, fishing, and relaxation. On the first morning, I scouted in town for some fishable water. Since Rock Creek flows right through Red Lodge, each time I'm there I check out a few more urban hotspots. This time, I found a few smallish brook trout in one nice pool, with a graffiti-covered bridge abutment overlooking it. It was cool to see that there are some good fishing spots right in town.


The first hike took us up the Timberline/Gertrude Lake Valley - it's close to town, beautiful, and has some decent fishing. The first part ran through some burned off areas covered in blooming fireweed. It's a pretty easy hike, and before you know it, you're at Gertrude Lake. There were some other people fishing this lake, so we pressed on toward the top, reaching beautiful Timberline Lake soon after. This lake was full of small brook trout, and I caught a few while Sonya hiked around the lake; horse-packing anglers had hit the inlet area pretty hard, so it was probably tougher than it had to be. I caught some fish on a sinking line tipped with a scud, which was an effective way to fish, if somewhat boring.


The next day, I headed to the lower reaches of Rock Creek, downstream from Red Lodge, at one of the Fishing Access Sites (I forget which one). I found a nice run and started catching fish. They were mostly rainbows, but a few chunky browns came to hand and my last catch of the day was a personal best Mountain whitefish at over 21 inches!



This was my first whitefish from Rock Creek, which is just awesome. I'd hoped to find a way to get into this species this far east, and I did it. Not to mention catching a really nice bunch of trout just a few minutes out of town.

Next, it was time to hike the West Fork Valley. The last time we did this hike, we headed up the mountain to Lake Mary, but this time we planned to stay low and head for the Sundance Pass Bridge, close to ten miles from the trailhead. Once again, the hike started out in a burned area, but as we crept up the valley the trail went through some nice stands of lodgepole pine and the views of Whitetail Peak were incredible. Whitetail peak is named for the couloir (that big snow-filled crevice that runs all the way down its face). On the way out, we ran into some crazy dudes with snowboards strapped to their backs who planned to climb the peak and snowboard back down through that couloir. Man, I hope they made it!


Anyway, I tried fishing around the Sundance Pass Bridge, but got nothing. It was really windy, which didn't help, and the marmots were threatening. Then, on the way back, I found a good-looking run and quickly hooked into something sizeable.

This hefty cutthroat from a fast run below a giant glacial boulder was quite a handful. He tore me up. With this fish, I confirmed that you can catch wild stream cutthroats in the West Fork of Rock Creek. This was my new personal best cutthroat trout.

The next day, we took my new vehicle up the Hellroaring Road for a true alpine hike. It was a really steep, rocky, and switch-backed road, with sheer drops and hairpin curves. The Outback handled it with no issues, though. Once at the trailhead, we struck out across the alpine tundra. Before long, we were treated to nice overviews of the Hellroaring Cirque. Many of the 12 or so lakes in this cirque have naturally reproducing cutthroats in them, but we were headed higher up for brook trout.


Soon, we were approaching Mount Rearguard, and then, Sliderock Lake came into view.


I had wanted to try for the summit, but I was anxious to fish the lake, too. Finally, we decided to head down the talus field toward the lake. It was a good thing, because the traverse turned out to be pretty difficult - you had to downcrawl over steep, very large, broken, somewhat unstable rock the whole way. Once we got there, though, the brookies were cooperative, and I caught chunky fish on almost every cast. Then I broke off on a very large fish that I never saw. Seriously, probably a five-pound brookie, since that's all there is in this lake. Who knows. That one would've been my personal best brook trout for sure, but I lost him. If anybody catches a giant brook trout in Sliderock Lake, look for my Kamlooper Spoon in its jaw.


The hike back was through the lower cirque, past some campers fishing for cutts in Hairpin Lake. hairpin is known for big fish and there were people camped right on the banks. Then we hiked along the shore of beautiful Snowbank Lake, with its tall cliffs and waterfalls. We had to do two more downcrawls, and then a steep ascent to get out. Probably could've found a better route.


The last day, we elected to try the steep but beautiful hike to Glacier Lake, down on the Wyoming border. This is a cool hike with a nice, heavily switch-backed trail that gets you up in elevation pretty quickly. We ran into a bunch of mountain grouse, which were amazingly tame birds.



We hiked to Emerald Lake in Wyoming as well. I caught some small cutthroats in Emerald and some nice brookies in Glacier.


There were some really huge fish cruising around in Glacier lake, especially underneat these huge rafts of driftwood. A guy could probably grouper-fish some honker brook trout out of those tangles if he had heavy enough tackle.

I used a new water filter on this trip, a Sawyer Mini, which at less than one-ounce was really easy to carry. Man, it was awesome being able to fill up at every stream or lake with cold, pure water and then put the filter back into your pocket.


Highly recommend that filter, even for day-hiking. Costs about 20 bucks, and it's so light you don't notice it, unlike some of the other filters I've tried.

And here's a place I don't even remember. Looks nice, though.

I hope you enjoyed; if you are looking to add native cutts and/or mountain whitefish to your lifelist, this area is a decent option. And it's worth taking a trip there even without the fishing.




Species List: 
Trout, Brook
Trout, Brown
Trout, Cutthroat
Trout, Rainbow
Whitefish, Mountain


Susquehannock's picture

I know it's not a rough fish, but that first brook trout is gorgeous. Some really nice looking water, too.


Susquehannock's picture

I know it's not a rough fish, but that first brook trout is gorgeous. Some really nice looking water, too.


Eli's picture

Beautiful country. 

I'd love a shot at those giant brookies cruising in the deadfall forest




Graceclaw's picture

Wow, those creeks are so scenic. I'm impressed at how much hiking you got done- I think I would have just sat on the bank of each creek for hours on end.

Beautiful pictures and a beautiful report as usual, Corey! Thanks for sharing.

2018 Goals:
Quillback (Check)
10#+ Flathead Catfish
5 New Standard Species (Current Count: 6 - Check)

DinoFish's picture

Love that beautiful scenery! Those wildflowers are breathtaking next to those clear streams and the towering mountains. The whitefish and numerous trout species are also pretty great, the brookie is especially beautiful. Thanks for sharing.

"Fishing is much more than fish... It is the great occasion when we may return to the fine simplicity of our forefathers." - Herbert Hoover

Mike B's picture

Love your Montana reports Corey. Very special country. I dream of catching my first cutthroat there ... And that mountain whitefish. Magnificient!

mike b

Matt Miller's picture

Nice report and photos. Some really stunning scenery in the Beartooths.

There is a lake fairly near there, Sylvan Lake, that has golden trout. I hiked there last summer and caught a number of them. You can access it from East Rosebud. It is a strenuous hike but absolutely stunning scenery plus a new species of fish makes it worth it.

Corey's picture

Yeah, Sonya and I hiked to Sylvan the last time we were out there (Montana Whitefish - the Rematch), but I only got to fish for a few minutes before a storm blew us off the mountain. We might go back this fall, but we might hike to Sylvan from the West Fork of Rock Creek, using the senia creek trail.

Jason E.'s picture

Beautiful report!!