Wednesday, July 1, 2009

Trip Report: Smith River Montana

Date: June 16-21, 2009
Destination: Smith River - Launch near White Sulphur Springs Montana
Details: Remote 60 mile float trip with public river access only at Camp Baker (put in) and Eden Bridge (take out.) River is located between the Big & Little Belt mountain ranges. We spent 5 nights camping, fly fishing, and hiking along the river. All supplies/food were carried on our rafts.

**note** I may add several pictures after this blog entry...I have not collected pictures from Nate or Shannon's camera yet...I am sure they have some great ones as well.

Approximately 7000 applications are submitted for the 2009 float season...560 permits are issued. Nate (my brother,) Shannon (Brothers good friend,) and I have been entering this lottery for the past several years. The Smith River is extremely popular due to the amazing scenery, remoteness, and fly fishing. It is that once you launch the boat's at Camp Baker, there is no public access to the river until you have gone 60 miles.

- View from Google of the Smith River canyons we floated through.

Tuesday - Day 1 Made it to Camp Baker Tuesday around noon. We signed in and discovered a few surprises...we would not be able to begin the float until Wednesday morning and there would actually be 6 groups floating the river each day...not 3 (each group can consist of 15 people.) As you can see by all the cars in the background, there were more people on the river than we had hoped there would be. Because this area of Montana has so much rain over the past several weeks, the water was really murky...visibility into it was probably only 12-24 inches.

After signing in and talking with the ranger, we set up camp and just hung out and prepped for getting on the river the next morning.

Wednesday - Day 2 Wednesday morning we had the ranger give us the "orientation" and we chose the 4 campsites that we would be staying at. Each designated camping site was right by the river, had a fire pit, and latrine...
Weather was great! It was blue skies and 60-70 degrees all day.

- Shannon (left,) Johnathan "Hoj" (middle,) Nate (right.)

- After an hour or 2 of some quality fly fishing instruction from Shannon on his raft, Johnathan (brother) and I buddied up for the rest of the 5 days on river. This picture is me trying to get the blood knot correct...(tying 2 pieces of fly leader together.)

- Campsite number 1. My tent and Nate's raft in the back ground. We had just started to get deeper into the canyon. Several of my friends know that I was permanently scarred by the movie "Deliverance" ...and warned me that 6 days in the Montana back country, on a river, could get scary...they said I should just run if I start to hear any banjo music :)

- Johnathan on the left, Nate on the right...both younger brothers.

- It was quite a hike up the hill and on to a little meadow to get to the latrine. If I would have known the view was going to be this good, I would definitely have brought my book and took my time! This was a huge meadow and you can see the nice purple/white toilet. You have a 200+ yard view all around and can even see a little of the river :) very funny!

- Songs and poetry could be written about this I am sure!

- Backpacking will never be the same after this trip. Because we had rafts and several great coolers...we were able to eat like kings! Yes, the above picture is Shannon's grill...Nate and Amber (Nates wife) bought and prepped all the food for this trip! Tonight was bacon wrapped prawns, scallops and salad with croutons. Mountain House freeze dried lasagna will just not cut it in the back country again...Nate and Shannon have destroyed for life any enjoyment that I will ever get from backpacking food :)

Thursday - Day 3 Got a little late start but still had a great day on the river. Because of the recent rain in the surrounding area, the water was pretty muddy. The fishing wasn't so great but everything was beautiful. The landscape looked almost manicured with all the shades of green, flowers, and trees. Weather once again was amazing...60-70 degrees all day long.

- 1st fish of the trip for me. This Little rainbow picked up my dry fly (elk hair caddis) after it had lost it's float and had sunk. Not exactly how I prefer to "dry fly" fish but on this trip, I will take a fish any way I can get it...they were very few and far between.

- Picture of me holding the "dink fish" as Nate and Shannon refer to them...basically describes a stupid fish that will just eat what ever is near it...regardless if it matches the specific bugs that would be hatching at the time.

- Little closer view of this dink fish taken with our underwater camera.

- We had some great views of the local wildlife...unfortunately, my brother Johnathan has uncontrollable urges to chase anything that will hold still for less than 30 seconds...see pictures below :)

- I think these young geese will have great stories to tell their children about the crazy human chasing them through the marsh :)

- Too much excitement for one day...

- Proof he can't control is a picture of him chasing a moose in a lake in the Bitteroot mountain range of Montana...2005 Zito Brother backpacking trip :) Please do not try this at home...or anywhere else.

- Well, getting closer to nature has really paid off for him. He catches a 16-17 inch brown trout that almost gets away from him before I can get a proof...or a picture :)

- Luckily he was able to hang onto it for a great picture.

- If you look close on the bottom right, you can see my fishing down the river a ways. The cliffs, caves and scenery on this trip were truly amazing.

- Meal for Day 2 on the river? ... T-Bone steaks, baked potatoes, and salad :) Man, Nate and Shannon can cook!!

Friday - Day 4 Another great day on the Smith! 50-70 degrees all day...incredible views and some great hiking!

- Shannon (left), Johnathan (middle,) Nate on right. Boats are loaded up and we are ready to head out.

- Several areas here made me really wish I would have brought the climbing gear...but thoughts of a broken leg and 2 days to paddle down a river for help...brought enough common sense to me to leave the gear at home.

- of the most beautiful places on the planet...when it is Johnathan's turn to fish and mine to row...he breaks out a book to read :) I don't think I will ever let him live this one down!

- We had seen lots of limestone caves along the river thus far. We finally decided to pull over and take the short easy hike up to a few.

- Well...distances can be deceiving. We hike almost straight up for 800-1000 feet to reach this one. Cave doesn't go back in to the cliff very far but it did make for some great pictures.

- Looking out of the cave back down on the Smith.

- Johnathan back in about as far as we could get.

- Looking out of the cave again...down on the Smith.

- On our way back down we took some time to check out this old trappers/hunters cabin. Needs a little repair...

- Yes, the Smith river would have been incredible dry fly fishing if the water would have been clearer. There were several hatches almost every day...Early Morning Dunn, Evening Dunn, Blue Winged Olives etc etc...Here is a picture of one that landed on my fly rod.

- Finally caught a nice size brown.

- Looking up river...amazing canyons, great water...and 4 days of stubble...

- Something I haven't seen in Montana ever...pelican's. Before Johnathan could chase them, they took off.

- Some pictures of camp. Nate and Shannon making up dinner.

- Finally broke down this day and everyone jumped in the river to clean up...definitely cold but felt great!

- Yes, I remembered to take a picture after I had already started eating :) Tonight for dinner, Italian grilled chicken, corn and flavored rice.

- Friday night we started getting heavy rain. This is a picture looking out the window of my tent's rain fly.

Saturday - Day 5 Still raining :) Rained all day off an on...pretty hard at some times.

- Paid $196 for this rain gear. Supposed to be lite weight and high quality. Well, it was lite weight and rainproof for about 2 hours...then the rain saturated parts of the pants and jacket...eventually getting me wet. I don't recommend the Marmot Precip jacket of the REI rain pants...very dissapointing. Luckily it only really rained 1 day of the trip...otherwise it could have been ugly :)

- More rain on the river

- Shannon thought of just about everything. He brought a nice little tarp that kept us dry during the showers.

- Dinner on day 5? 2lb RibEyes with thick cut pork chop appetizers!

Sunday - Day 6 Basically this day we just fished on the remaining 13 miles to the take out at Eden Bridge.

- Final take out...Nate's Z & Z Seal Coating truck and the boat.

Summary: Had an incredible time. It was great to turn off all cell phone, laptop or work...and hang out with some Zito Brothers...and Shannon (almost a family member.) Getting back to Montana at least once a year keeps me sane while living in the Phoenix area and working in the IT field. The floating was better than any I have ever done. Camping was great and scenery was definitely worth the trip alone. The fly fishing wasn't nearly as good as we had hoped but all the other great aspects of this trip make up for it. Now that I have done it once, I would really like to make it a family trip...maybe done in 3 nights instead of 4.


  1. AWESOME Post Babe! Glad your adventure was a great one! love all the pics too! You deserved this MANCATION! xoxoxo ;)

  2. WOW- One blog post every 3 months! You're doing great!

    Looks like you guys had lots of fun. I love all the pictures- especially the one of your "dink" fish- lol! Any way, It was great to see you guys. We miss you already!

  3. I'm a bit jealous, and still waiting for you to take me on one of these adventures.That looks like a blast.

  4. I have to admit I'm jealous. Looks like you ate well and saw some great scenery and built good memories. Thanks for sharing!!! Tom Gordon

  5. my cabin is right below that cave!!