Searching for whitefish in Montana

Sonya and I went to Montana.  This wasn't a real fishing trip, just an excuse to get away.  We ended up hiking at least 38.5 miles (probably a lot more) climbing over 11,000 feet, and catching 1 new species of fish.  Not bad.

We started out, passing two awesome waterfalls as we hiked the legendary Sundance Valley on the West Fork of Rock Creek.

On the first day, we planned to do an easy hike of six miles.  I just packed a fishing rod to use in the river.  Somehow, we got carried away and ended up climbing 4,000 feet of elevation and 13.5 miles.  And there wasn't even a single gap in the waterfalls where a fish could live.  I think.  We ended up looking down from 10,000 feet into the beautiful Sundance Valley, with the legendary 12k Whitetail Peak in the distance.

This was pretty cool.  We climbed thousands of feet straight up a mountain to Lake Mary.

The next day, I fished behind the cabin.  There were supposed to be whitefish here.

Then, we hiked and fished the Lake Fork.  We got caught in five different hail storms!

 Here we are just underThunder Mountain, below Black Canyon Lake and the Hellroaring plateau.  Still no new species.

That's the Lake Fork of Rock Creek.  On the way back, there were no humans, just moose and deer.  The many hailstorms had driven away everybody except for one sad Orvis-Boy and one crazy old mountain-climber with his pack dog, the most awesome pine-cone retrieving, mountain-climbing dog in the world.

The next day, we crossed the Beartooth Pass and hiked the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. I caught some cutthroat trout on Pink Squirrels. That's a lifelister, and well-earned.

My first ever cutthroat trout.

The next morning we eventually hiked up the Stillwater Cascades to Siouix Charlie lake.  This was an easy six-mile hike, with an awesome stretch of water.  Here's me looking at the lake from the rocky knoll.

The girlfriend read a book on a cool rock under a tree,

And I fished.  Still no whitefish.

I caught trout but no whities.

The next day, I spent the whole day trying to catch a Mountain Whitefish.  I tried fourteen different spots across four counties.  No whitefish.  I hooked two and lost them.  It topped out at 99 degrees.  It was a horrible day.

I almost snagged a moose with my backcast!

And it was time to go.  Maybe next time the whitefish will cooperate.



Species List:


Deftik's picture

Awesome report. Beautiful Cutthroat, I especially enjoyed the part where you said there was no people!

Cast_and_Blast's picture

Awesome scenery.  Congrats on the new lifer.

DavidG's picture

increadible photos and landscape!  Awesome report Corey


DavidG Blog:

BlueEye's picture

That's some damn fine lookin country there man, nothing like escaping noise pollution and trash strewn excuses for camping with a relaxed agenda. Nice lifer there though, at least you didn't pay someone for the potential outcome. Awesome report.

Eric Kol's picture

the mountain whitefish will now serve as the catalyst for the formation of your next mountain trip . Pretty freakin' cool man. a cutthroat lifer is nothing to shake a stick at.

Carpy Diem!

Phil's picture

Very nice Corey!  I actually burned up more than a of couple days and tanks of gas last month on a mission to find the same quarry last month.  It was on a bit of a lark, but believe me I too found that the mountain whitefish is hardly the over-prevalent nuisance fish that the Orvis hand book might lead you to believe it is.

I think you were on the right track in  your approach though.   At the end of my somewhat superficial attempt I was almost glad I didn’t catch one as I realized I may not have gone in giving the fish the full amount respect it deserved( particularly since it is one of my most hallowed  target species)  Never a regret about being in the mountains though.  Next time I will go into full campaign mode, will get inside that fishes head, and will not come off the mountain until I look like Grizzly Adams or I capture a mountain whitefish . . . and maybe stay until I see a bull trout too.

Looks like you had a great trip  - way to do it up right!

Jason E.'s picture

Beautiful report.  Sometimes, "incidental fishing" is the best.


Mike B's picture

Funny, mountain whitefish are almost exclusively a nuisance bycatch anywhere in the Rocky Mountains chain. In the one accessible river in the Northwest Territories where mountain whitefish can be consistently caught flyfisherman are openly agitating for their extermination for fear they predate on grayling spawn. Sorry you didn't get your MW Corey but congrats on the cutthroats. They are on my bucket list.

mike b

johnny's picture

Absolutely stunning pictures.  The Beartooth Mountains have always been my favorite gateway to Yellowstone Nat. Park.  How long were you and Sonya gone far?  How far did you drive the first day?  I am curious because I usually try to push to Billings the first day of driving.  Congrats on the lifer!

Just your run of the mill Orvis Boy.  Fly fishing elitist.  I cannot hear you over my false casting.  All guided trips every day.

Fishing for compliments since 88.

Corey's picture

I drove the whole way in one day - 13 hours from Minneapolis to Red Lodge.  We were only out there 5 full days. Hiking in those mountains is incredible.