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Practice Makes Perfect

by David Tucker

Picture this: you and a couple of friends have been touring all morning, leisurely approaching your objective as the sun swings around the southern sky. You checked the report and conditions are moderately dangerous, but the terrain you’ve selected is relatively low-angle, so you and your partners decide the coast is clear, full steam ahead.

Once your team is above the bowl you plan to ski, and ready to drop in, everyone double-checks gear and confirms one final time that the slope is good to go. The gentleman you are, you let a friend drop in first.

And then the slope slides.

Your team is experienced and prepared, so everyone switches quickly into rescue mode. Once you pick up a signal from your buried partner, you hone in on her location. But you got a new beacon for Christmas and haven’t taken the time to learn its ins and outs. You’re now useless. I’ll dig, you think, but your shovel is old and the handle sticks, meaning it’s half as long as it should be and inefficient. As a last resort, you reach into your pack for your probe. But you’re carrying more gear than usual and with gloves on, have trouble removing your probe from your overstuffed pack.

Luckily, the rest of your team was on point. Your partner’s only partially buried, so she’s dug out and safe in a few short minutes—time to debrief. Even though you had all the gear, your lack of pre-trip preparation rendered it useless when the shit hit the fan. Here’s what you should have done.

Practice with New Gear
Or old gear, for that matter. If you upgrade your safety tools, make sure you know how to use them. There are great new options on the market today, but they only work as well as their rescuer. The more you know about your equipment, the better. The Gallatin national Forest Avalanche Center (GNFAC) buries beacons at Beall Park in Bozeman, and Bridger Bowl ski patrol does the same below the South Bowl. These are great resources to take advantage of. The next time you’re up at the hill, take an hour to practice using your equipment in zero-consequence terrain.

This goes for your shovel and probe as well. Even small changes in materials and design can confuse a new user, costing a buried victim precious seconds. New gear might have features your old stuff didn’t, and if you’re unfamiliar with them, you might be exposing partners to unnecessary risk. Practice, practice, practice.

Dial in Your Kit
This is important and usually overlooked. Even if you are familiar and well-versed in your gear, the way it is arranged in your pack might have consequences. For instance, I recently started taking more pictures in the backcountry, meaning I carry a camera and case now. This takes up a lot of space and impedes my ability to efficiently remove items from my pack. I was recently practicing with some new gear and removing my shovel and probe turned into a total junk-show. I got frustrated and lost focus. When you’re packing gear, make sure the rescue tools slide out easily and are at hand, not buried deep. Most packs have tool-specific pockets now, but even so, a tightly packed bag can make retrieval difficult. Run at-home tests before venturing into the backcountry.

Take a Course
Even if you have already. Do yourself a favor and take refreshers every winter. Even if you just stop by a free hour-long presentation, you’ll get new information and learn about current conditions. Protocols change, technology develops, and trends shift—stay up to date. GNFAC runs seminars all over town, and MSU hosts multi-day intro and advanced level courses for cheap. If you’re ready to take the next step, local guides like Montana Alpine Adventures and Beartooth Powder Guides have courses all winter long.

It’s never too early—nor late—to refresh skills, procedures, and education. We’ll be skiing well into May (hopefully), so you have more than enough time to get the experience you need to stay safe.

Gone Wrong

by Corey Hockett

The air was cold. A chilly breeze wafted through the canopy, expunging the energy of the early-morning sun. I sat against a tree sipping coffee, eyes fixed on Michael, who was nearing the crux. He’d looked smooth and confident for the first part of the route, but now the wall was a lot steeper. He was 15 feet above a ledge on a lengthy runout and getting visibly nervous.

Shifting to and fro, trying to figure out the sequence, his technique crumbled with each passing minute. Pretty soon, with frantic breaths, he clung statically to the wall, clearly unable to solve the problem. Ashley, his belayer, stood firm, attentive, and ready to catch him.

Eh, ahh, shit! He struggled. Then he came off.

His fall ended in an abrupt foot-first collision with the ledge, sending a harrowing crack echoing across the drainage. By the time Ashley lowered him to the ground, both of his ankles were black and blue and abnormally swollen—one was the size of a softball. Aside from his upper body, he was completely immobile.

In a flurry, my mind raced back to the Wilderness First Responder course I’d taken a few months prior. ABCs, check the spine, stabilize the injury. With the help of a few others close by, we splinted his ankles with sticks, shirts, and an ace bandage. Then we created a carrying system to haul him off the mountain. Luckily, it was only a half-mile to a lake with boat access. We called the professionals, and by the time we reached the shore they were there to take him the rest of the way.

It was a humbling experience, a reminder that things can go wrong in the blink of an eye. But all things considered, they could’ve gone a lot worse, and for avoiding that fate, we had our wilderness-medicine training to thank. If you want to maximize safety while off the beaten path, you too will sign up for a backcountry medicine course. In Bozeman, there are plenty.

Wilderness First Aid
If you need to know anything at all, it’s the basics. This quick, two-day course runs the gamut of all outdoor emergencies. Covering everything from spine injuries, to heat illness, to anaphylaxis, a Wilderness First Aid course lays the groundwork for how to act when things go wrong. Additionally, CPR certifications are usually offered with most programs. Local courses are offered through Aerie, Crossing Latitudes, MSU, and the Peak in Butte.

Wilderness First Responder
If you’re looking to gain a little more knowledge than just the fundamentals (and you should) then consider taking a Wilderness First Responder (WFR). Typically around 80 hours of classroom and field time, a WFR dives thoroughly into patient assessment. Learn how to identify specific types of trauma, deal with medical ailments, and build makeshift litters to evacuate the injured. Aerie, Crossing Latitudes, and MSU provide instruction locally.

Wilderness EMT
If becoming a guide or medical professional sounds enticing, you’ll likely need to take a Wilderness EMT. This intensive 200-hour program covers and combines both urban and backcountry medicine practices ensuring you leave the course a medical expert. Study anatomy and physiology, practice vehicle extrication, and spend full days working through intense backcountry rescue missions. Look for local programs through Aerie and Crossing Latitudes.

In the backcountry, when things go bad, they can go terribly wrong. The best we can do is prepare for the unexpected ahead of time. As Shakespeare said: All things are ready, if our mind be so. If you like to get after it outside, do yourself—as well as your adventure partners—a favor. Get some wilderness medicine education.

Study Up

by Jack Taylor

You’ve made it to Bozeman, and you’re ready to explore southwest Montana’s endless expanses. But where to go first? Start out by doing some research—it pays to have a plan for every excursion. Thankfully, you have a wealth of resources at your disposal to find the best trail, mountain, or stream for your next outing. Here are some of our top picks for getting the lay of the land.

Printed Guides
Nothing beats a quality, dedicated guidebook. Build a bookshelf collection for your favorite outdoor activities, and make sure these are included:

  • Day Hikes around Bozeman (Day Hikes Books, $16)
  • Southern Montana Singletrack (Beartooth Publishing, $30)
  • Bozeman Rock Climbs (High Gravity Press, $25)
  • Paddling Montana (Falcon Guides, $25)
  • Cast: Fishing Southwest Montana (Outside Media Group, free)
  • The House of Hyalite (Joe Josephson, $36)
  • Peaks and Couloirs of Southwest Montana (Chris Kussmaul, $45)

Printed Maps
Even in the age of digital everything, a good ol’ printed map is an invaluable resource. For close-to-home outings, start with the Gallatin Valley Land Trust’s map, which covers all the trails in and around Bozeman proper. It’s available from retailers around town for $3. (For a digital version, download one for free at gvlt.org/trails/trail-map.)

For Bozeman’s premier backyard playground, Hyalite Canyon, the nonprofit Friends of Hyalite makes a great fold-out recreation map in two versions: winter and summer. Pick one up around town for $5, or view it digitally at hyalite.org/recreation-maps.

Beartooth Publishing is our go-to for detailed topographic maps of southwest Montana, complete with roads, trails, and usage restrictions; order print copies from beartoothpublishing.com or find them in local stores. Our favorite all-around option is Bozeman Area Outdoor Recreation Map, which sells for $14.

For general trip planning throughout the state, pick up a copy of the DeLorme Atlas & Gazetteer (DeLorme, $25). For more detail, order zoomed-in, area-specific, waterproof maps from MyTopo (mytopo.com), a custom-mapping outfit in Billings. A large-format wall map of southwest Montana from Basin and Range Mapping (basinandrangemap.com) will help you see the big picture and make planning that much easier.

Apps
For hunters and anglers, there are only three apps you need on your smartphone or GPS: Montana Fishing Access, Montana Hunting Access, and OnX Hunt. The first two are activity-specific and produced right here in Bozeman by Mountainworks Software (emountainworks.com); the latter is the leading map for property-ownership boundaries and is based in Missoula (onxmaps.com).

Websites
You’ll find plenty of information online to learn about local outdoor opportunities. For a collection of general resources, head to outsidebozeman.com and poke around—all day, if you’re not careful. Looking for specific trail descriptions? Check out outsidebozeman.com/trails, hike.wildmontana.org, gvlt.org/trails/featured-trails, or trailforks.com. For updates and news in the world of mountain biking, including suggested rides, take a look at southwestmontanamba.org. Climbers, head to swmontanaclimbers.org for access information and stewardship projects. If you’re heading for the rivers, check out waterdata.usgs.gov for water levels, bigskyfishing.com for angling info, and fwp.mt.gov for fishing regulations. In the winter, if you plan on heading into the backcountry, stay updated with avalanche forecasts from mtavalanche.com. For general tips & tricks regarding outdoor safety and skills, check out outsidebozeman.com/skills.

Stores
Nothing beats a well-stocked retailer for hands-on gear comparisons, along with free advice from local professionals. Southwest Montana teems with outdoor shops; stop in and hit ‘em up for tips and guidance. Just be sure to buy something while you’re there; Montanans are a friendly, helpful lot, but nobody likes a freeloader.

Hyalite Expectations

As Bozemanites, we have our pick of the litter when it comes to public-land access. If we feel like fishing, there are five rivers within an hour of Main Street. Hiking? We can see five ranges from our downtown office. Biking? Hundreds of miles of trail jet off from town into vast expanses of forest. But our crown jewel is Hyalite. The access is unparalleled, the sights unrivaled, and the recreation endless. And in order to keep it that way, it takes a little bit of chipping in. From everybody. Here’s how.

Pack It In, Pack It Out
There are no garbage services in Hyalite, meaning you should come out with just as much as you went in with, if not more. By all means, take advantage of the fire rings, campsites, and trailheads. But realize that this isn’t your bedroom, and Forest Service employees aren’t your servants. Pick up your trash.

Respect Other Users
Hyalite supports hikers, bikers, climbers, anglers, and campers. Whatever your passion, leave the judgment at home and realize that everyone enjoys nature differently. Bikers, slow down on busy trails and yield accordingly. Fly anglers, get off your high horse and acknowledge that some folks just want to spin-fish from a slow-moving boat with a motor.

Respect Wildlife
Even with all the human pressure, wildlife still abounds. Elk, deer, bear, coyote, and moose are all common, along a plethora of bird species—and most of the animals are pretty comfortable around people. Give them space, keep campgrounds clean, and obey speed limits.

Adhere to Regulations
Due to the high pressure, Hyalite has specific regulations to mitigate problems. The latest is a restriction on target shooting. The short of it: it ain’t legal. There are also timeshare regulations for specific trails, and some are closed to bikes and motorcycles certain days of the week. Another one to note is that Hyalite Canyon Road closes for a month in the spring. For all the beta (that means information), visit hyalite.org.

Become a Steward
Friends of Hyalite (FOH) is an all-volunteer nonprofit that raises awareness about the area’s current issues. They also pay for winter plowing of the road, which means the fun doesn’t stop once the snow flies. Donate some money, or if you’re broke, consider giving some time. FOH hosts cleanup days, and several local nonprofits organize trail-maintenance outings.

Winter Watch-Outs

by Jack Taylor

Winter in Montana is magical. Our landscape takes on a beautiful frozen stillness that beckons us to venture out among frosty firs, blanketed meadows, and frozen waterfalls. Even as temperatures plunge below zero, we catch glimpses of wildlife adapted to survive in the snowglobe. But as humans, we’re not so adept at enduring the cold. We depend on warm clothing, heating, and shelter to make it through. The margin for error in the outdoors is thinner during winter, and a mishap can quickly turn dangerous if you’re not prepared.

Before you take on the snowy roads, make sure your vehicle is capable. Snow tires are highly recommended and will make your life easier—and safer—all winter long. Yes, it’s a big investment, but with two sets of tires for summer and winter, each will last twice as long. If you must go without, a set of chains in your car will get you out of a pickle. Make sure they fit your tires, and practice installing them so that you can do it quickly when the time comes. If you have a front- or four-wheel drive car, put them on the front tires; if rear-wheel, put them on the back. A few more items to keep in your car include a shovel for digging yourself out, jumper cables in case your battery dies, and gloves plus warm jackets (or even a sleeping bag) in case you get stuck for a long time.

Extra warm layers are also essential when venturing away from your vehicle. A good rule of thumb is to bring one layer more than you think you’ll need—better safe than sorry. When planning your layering scheme, start with a moisture-wicking baselayer made of synthetic fibers or wool. Never wear cotton for warmth in winter; if it gets wet, it won’t dry out until you’re back in a warm environment. Fleece makes a great midlayer for top and bottom, and the same rule applies for materials. A waterproof shell usually isn’t necessary given the dryness of our winters, but a windbreaker will add protection without taking up much space in your pack. On top of that, an insulated jacket with synthetic or down fill gives you lots of warmth with little extra weight to carry. Down has a better warmth-to-weight ratio, but like cotton, it will not dry in the cold, so synthetic is always a safer bet.

Summer Scaries

by Corey Hockett

In Montana, summer is about as splendid as it gets—hot enough to make jumping into the river feel refreshing, and cool enough to fall asleep at night. The mountains and water call us to the backcountry, and it’s a wonderful time to answer. But heading out half-cocked isn’t a good idea. Weather can turn quickly here, and not every critter you run into is friendly (e.g., griz and mama moose). Just because the sun’s shining doesn’t mean you needn’t take precautions.

Bozeman isn’t the hottest place on the planet, but the past few summers have been scorchers. Dehydration and heat stroke should be considered on most outings. If you’re going out for more than half a day, have a plan for water, both for drinking and cooling down. There are many creeks from which to fill your bottle (purification recommended) and dunk your head, but if you run out on a sun-baked ridge, don’t count on finding any until you hit the valley floor. I keep a full jug in the truck at all times.

If you do any fishing or wandering around river bottoms, keep an eye out for poison ivy. We have it here, and if you expose your skin to it, it will suck. Learn how to identify the plant and areas where it’s likely to grow. In general, you can’t go wrong with the old adage: leaves of three, let it be.

Up in the high country, your main watch-out is electricity, and no, I’m not talking about that radio tower marring the view. Thunder and lightning storms are common. They usually arrive in the afternoon, but look for signs early, like shifting winds and cumulus cloud build-up. If you happen to get caught in a storm, move to lower ground, take off all metal objects (watches, belts, keys), and assume lightning position (squat with hands behind your head) until it passes.

If one of those bolts connects with dry fuel, say a dead tree, it oftentimes ignites. You’ve probably heard the news—come summertime, we get forest fires. Getting caught in one while you’re out and about is not a primary concern. Start one, however, and consider yourself pilloried, plus fines and potential jail time. There are often campfire mandates during the hotter months, but if you have one when permitted, make sure you keep it contained with a rock ring, monitor it constantly, and extinguish it completely. Many a smoldering cooking fire has led to a wildfire with devastating consequences.

 

Between the Leaves

by Jack Taylor

When I first landed in Bozeman, I had boundless ambition to get out and explore, but no idea where to go. The immense volume of trails, hills, and mountains had my head spinning—how could I choose from so many options? To get a better lay of the land, I took up a job with Bozeman Parks & Recreation as a camp counselor, and learned an invaluable lesson: one doesn’t even need to leave Bozeman’s city limits to have an awesome adventure.

Bozeman’s Parks & Recreation department manages 77 parks and 67 miles of trails spanning 900 acres within city limits. You could spend years exploring these spaces and still make new discoveries every day, from the vibrant flowers of Langhor Gardens to the riffled streams of Story Mill Park and the beautiful winding trails linking it all together. With a dozen amped-up, curious kids in tow, I set off on a new journey every day. It wasn’t about logging miles or bagging peaks; it was about how much we could discover just by looking around. We built stick forts in the woods of Glen Lake Park, caught bluegill from the shores of Bozeman Pond, told ghost stories in the rain at Lindley Pavilion, and scaled climbing boulders all across town. I still go back to these places and let my imagination wander—it’s a way to relax, reflect, and draw inspiration, even if I just have an hour or less to get outside on a busy day.

In addition to self-led discovery of Bozeman’s outdoor spaces, Parks & Rec offers year-round activity programs for adults and kids alike. You can learn to swing dance or jam with musicians at Story Mansion, join organized leagues for badminton and pickleball, learn new skills like archery and ice skating, and even take free avalanche-awareness classes. Many Parks & Rec facilities are rentable and make great locations for birthday parties, family functions, cult meetings—whatever you’re into. As a bonus, the rental fees are reduced for Bozeman residents.

You can learn more about what Bozeman’s parks have to offer at bozeman.net/parks. Here, you’ll find a detailed, interactive map of all the city parks and trails maintained by the Gallatin Valley Land Trust. But take my word for it: the real joy comes in exploring these spaces with little direction or agenda. Ditch your phone and leave the fancy gear at home. Ride your bike or take a stroll and you’re bound to stumble on a park or trail before too long, and here, your Bozeman adventure begins.

Seven Wonders of the Bozone

In Bozeman, it’s impossible to do it all, but if you’re like us, you strive to. Every season presents its own set of outdoor challenges and opportunities, but there are a few activities so renowned that they bear repeating on a near-annual basis—classics, you could call them. Below is a list of seven. Do them all and you’re one step closer to becoming a true Bozemanite.

Ski the Ridge
By this we mean the ridgeline above Bridger Bowl. The Bridger Lift drops you off 600 feet from the top, where you can bootpack the rest of the way. You’ll need a beacon, and once on the Ridge, keep your wits about you—get off-route and you’re bound for serious amounts of undesired airtime.

Swim in Hyalite Reservoir
The most accessible activity on this list. You may have heard of Hyalite for any number of reasons, including, but not limited to: fishing, running, biking, and ice climbing. While each of these has its place, nothing beats a cold refreshing dip on a hot summer’s day, with the craggy peaks of the mighty Gallatin Range towering above.

Paddle the Mad Mile
Ever since A River Runs Through It became a box-office hit, the Gallatin River’s reputation has been one of fly fishing. While trout do in fact fill its waters, come spring runoff, all attention is on the foamy rapids between Lava Lake Trailhead and Upper Storm Castle. Navigate this section successfully in a watercraft and earn a badge of Bozeman honor.

Fish the Madison River
You came to Bozeman, but did you remember your fly rod? We can’t guarantee you elbow room, but there’s a reason this river is so highly sought-after. Whether it’s casting from the banks, moving to and fro in your waders, or drifting slowly down in a boat, fishing the Madison is a staple Bozeman experience.

Climb Gallatin Tower
There are a number of routes by which to do so; which specific one you choose, we don’t care. The point is, get to the top. Why? Because it is there (said someone famous). And because you’ll be rewarded with views of the river, and a charcoal grill, in case you brought hot dogs. But most importantly, because you will feel alive.

Bike the Bangtail Divide
On two wheels, you won’t find a more quintessential ride. Starting from Stone Creek, the trail climbs high above Bridger Canyon and contours north to Grassy Mountain for a beautiful descent down to Brackett Creek. Or do it in reverse. Either way, you’re looking at 23 miles of pure mountain-biking glory.

Hike or Run Mount Baldy
By now, you know where the “M” is. But have you traveled above the big white letter to the broad prominent peak in the distance? If not, do so. Grunt your way past false peaks to summit one of Bozeman’s most famous. Then, look out at the sweeping Gallatin Valley below and give thanks that by some stroke of fortune you ended up where you did.

Deal Me In

by the editors

The true dirtbag ski/trout bums of Old Bozeman may be gone, but the spirit of spending every last dime on gear remains. Sure, some things are worth full price; but for others, it pays to shop smart. Here’s how to maximize enjoyment while minimizing cash outlay.

Coupons
First thing, start with this guide. Part of its purpose is to make life easier for newcomers to Bozeman’s outdoor scene, and one way we do that is by dedicating a large section to cash-saving coupons. Flip to the back, clip the coupons, save money—it’s that simple.

Sales
For straight-up retail shopping, hunt around for the big sales. Downtown Bozeman hosts summer and winter Crazy Days, a long weekend each season dedicated to inventory-liquidating sales along Main Street, including outdoor stores. Big holiday sales occur throughout the year, as well. To really save cash, buy gear post-season—for example, snagging new skis in the spring, when stores are trying to scuttle leftover winter gear, can mean up to 50% off.

Swaps
Another option is gear swaps. There’s a ski swap in November hosted by the Bridger Ski Foundation, a bike swap in spring put on by the Gallatin Valley Bicycle Club, and a boat swap in May at the Barn. All three swaps have huge inventories at massive discounts, and you can sell your used gear, too. Just make sure to show up early, ‘cause the best stuff goes fast.

Second-Hand
As one might expect, Bozeman’s pawn shops teem with used gear and apparel. There are even a few second-hand stores devoted entirely to outdoor equipment. Area thrift stores are loaded with hidden treasures, too. Spend some time perusing the inventory, and make it a habit to stop by different stores every so often—new goods arrive daily, and the best deals are all about timing.

Rentals
Sometimes gear is cost-prohibitive regardless of the price. Or maybe you’re not sure you’re going to like a new sport, in which case it pays to try before you buy. If you’re an MSU student or alumnus, hit the Outdoor Rec Center for the best prices. Otherwise, check out any of the half-dozen rental outfits around town, for everything from mountain bikes to whitewater rafts.

Gone Fishin’

by the editors

The Bozeman area has some of the best trout water in the world, and you have the privilege of being less than an hour from three world-renowned rivers, plus dozens of other fishing options. From alpine lakes in the backcountry to valley streams near town, southwest Montana is truly is an angler’s paradise.

If you’re new to the sport or the area, the first thing you’ll want to do is grab a copy of the Cast fishing guide. This local publication is crammed full of everything you need to know about fishing around here. With a little practice—and plenty of patience—you’ll be hooking into beefy browns and ‘bows in short order. Here’s some basic information to get you started.

Essential Gear
To the novice, the quantity, diversity, and variation—not to mention prices—of fishing gear can be overwhelming. Luckily, you don’t need to fill a whole garage with gear or take out a loan have fun and catch fish.

For fly fishing, you’ll need a rod, reel, line, leader, and tippet. A good 9-foot, 5-weight, fast-action rod should handle everything from lightweight dry flies to heavier streamers. Match it with a 5-weight reel and a WF5 (weight-forward 5-weight) fly line. A 9-foot 5X leader and a range of tippet material, from 2X-6X, should accommodate most scenarios. Confused? Don’t worry; it makes sense once it’s all in your hands.

Next, you’ll need waders and wading boots, especially if you plan to fish in late fall, winter, and/or early spring when the water temps are chilly. Be sure to use a wading belt so your waders don’t fill with water in the event of a slip. Polarized sunglasses are great for spotting fish.

Get a small chest-pack, butt-pack, or vest to keep your smaller gear, and organize your flies in a fly box or sleeve. Be sure to carry nippers for trimming line, floatant to keep your dry flies on top of the water, and pliers or forceps for removing hooks.

Spin anglers can keep it way simpler, with a medium or medium-light spinning rod, a light or medium spinning reel, and some 8-pound monofilament. Grab a few spoons and spinners and you’ll be catching fish in no time. 

Where to Go
Hyalite Creek
The road to Hyalite Reservoir follows this creek and there are plenty of pullouts. Small rainbow trout are plentiful, and a well-presented dry fly—or a small spinner pulled through a pool—will almost certainly entice a strike. For slightly larger fish, head up to the reservoir.

Gallatin River
The valley’s namesake waterway is a great option, thanks to its abundant public access, proximity to town, and high numbers of fish. Whether you fish the upper river in Gallatin Canyon or the lower section out in the valley, take the time to walk a ways away from your car for better, more peaceful fishing. The lower stretch holds larger fish and can provide good dry-fly fishing, especially on cloudy days. Cameron Bridge, Axtell Bridge, and Williams Bridge are all great starting points. Further south, Hwy. 191 follows the river through the canyon on the way to Big Sky and numerous pullouts access the river. Spin fishermen can find plenty of action from the mouth of the river all the way to its terminus at Headwaters State Park.

Lower Madison River
Head west and reach the fish-filled Lower Madison in less than 30 minutes. Wade in at any one of the dozens of pull-outs and work the shallow river, focusing on channels, pocket-water, and weedbeds. Although this section of river is not the best for dry flies, nymphing can be productive. Spoons and spinners tend to get hung up on weeds, but careful casts can produce fish. If you’re after voluminous small rainbows and the occasional big brown, the Lower’ Madison’s your spot.

Catch & Release
On most Bozeman-area waterways, it’s perfectly legal—and moral—to keep a few fish for supper; however, catch-and-release fishing is the norm around here. Problem is, the ethic only works if you do it right—and many people don’t. If you’re going to throw your catch back, make sure to follow the rules, so that it doesn’t go belly-up a few hours later.

  • Play fish quickly: land your fish as quickly as possible and don’t play it to exhaustion.
  • Use a landing net: it reduces the time required to land a fish and keeps it from thrashing about; try to use one made of a soft, smooth material.
  • Dunk your mitts: always wet your hands before handling a fish: dry fingers damage a fish’s protective slime layer.
  • Avoid the gills: gill filaments are sensitive and easily injured.
  • Remove the hook quickly: use forceps or needle-nose pliers for small or deeply-embedded hooks.
  • Keep ‘em wet: a wet fish is a happy fish. You can lift it up for a quick photo, but only for a few seconds; otherwise, keep it submersed.
  • Cut ‘em loose: when you can’t remove a hook quickly or cleanly, cut the line as close to the knot as possible.
  • Release with care: hold the fish upright underwater and allow it to swim away under its own power; if necessary, hold the fish out of the current until it revives.
  • Bag the bleeders: bleeding fish will almost certainly die; if regulations allow, put them in your creel and enjoy an organic, free-range supper.

Events
The fishing calendar is full year-round, but certain events are crowd favorites. Below are a few highlights; for more, check out outsidebozeman.com/events.

Fly Tying
Several shops in the area offer free classes, so you’ll be whipping up Wooly Buggers in no time. Among others, check out Sweetwater Fly Shop for Tuesday evening Open Vise Night and Willie’s Distillery in Ennis for Bugs & Bourbon on Wednesdays.

Second Wednesday, Monthly
Madison-Gallatin Trout Unlimited Meetings – Bozeman. Good fishing starts with healthy rivers and healthy trout populations. Learn more about how TU is ensuring both locally. mgtuorg.

February
TroutFest Banquet – Bozeman. The Madison-Gallatin chapter of Trout Unlimited hosts its annual fundraiser every February. The local TU chapter is instrumental in fighting for access, keeping rivers clean, and keeping trout healthy. mgtu.org.

May
Chica de Mayo – Bozeman. Join the River’s Edge for this females-only celebration of all things fly fishing. theriversedge.com.

June
Gallatin River Festival – Bozeman. Celebrate the waterway we all love with neighbors, friends, and fellow fishing fanatics. All proceeds go toward ensuring the Gallatin stays clean, cold, and clear for generations to come. gallatinrivertaskforce.org.

August
Fly Fishing & Outdoor Festival – Ennis. If you fish, odds are you’ll be spending lots of time in Ennis, about an hour southwest of Bozeman. Celebrate the end of summer with vendors, fly-tying demos, casting clinics, and more. ennischamber.com.

September
TwoFly Benefit – Bozeman. At the end of the summer, 30-some boats set out with 60-some donors, slinging their favorite two flies in support of the Museum of the Rockies. A fun event for a great cause: our local museum. museumoftherockies.org.

Editor’s note: Dates are subject to change based on weather and other factors. For the most updated information, visit outsidebozeman.com/events.