East / West Forks of the Rosebud River (The Buds)
The Ranch has 1.5 miles of East Rosebud River running through it, The Buds, generally very similar walk/wake streams above their confluence, are located in the beautiful high prairie just to the north of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness Area. The forks flow together just south of Absarokee into the Rosebud River but, only flows four miles to its confluence with the Stillwater River. For an angler looking for a pretty place to fish, the forks of the Rosebud are hard to beat.
Rosebud River itself has very good brown and rainbow trout fishing, similar to that found in the lower sections of its forks. Streamers, hopper imitations and standard dry flies all work well on the prairie sections of the forks of Rosebud River. The average fish size will be 10-14” with an occasional lunker in the 18-20” range.
One of our favorite floats is to launch from private access on East Rosebud fork just above its confluence with the West fork, float the Rosebud River then into the Stillwater River. Fishing pressure is quite light. Lighter tackle and tippets provide the best chance of success. An excellent Montana fly fishing experience!
April and early May, before the run-off, March Brown's and Baetis are best. Hopper imitations work excellent later in the summer. Streamers are also effective, weighted down and fished around the downfall, in the holes and by the undercut banks.
March Brown's and Baetis are the highlights of the Spring season and wade fishing is often the only option. After run-off we see hatches of PMDs, Golden Stones, Yellow sallies, and Caddis. As the summer heat kicks in major hatches subside and various attractors, grasshoppers, beetles and ants are the norm. Lots of large rocks in the river also provide lots of pocket water fishing with standard dry flies, such as the Parachute Adams and the Elk Hair Caddis.
Rock Creek(Main, West, and Lake Forks)
This 'Rock Creek', a favorite walk/wade blue-ribbon trout stream, begins high in the mountains of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness and flows for more than 55 miles, through Red Lodge, to the confluence with the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River.
Rock Creek leaves the mountains behind at the town of Red Lodge, and enters a beautiful rolling, prairie landscape that lasts until the river’s end. Throughout its prairie section, Rock Creek has thick cottonwood trees and brush lining its banks and has rocks everywhere. It also splits into a number of channels, most of which run dry later in the summer. The water in Rock Creek is crystal clear except during spring run-off. It is also quite cool, reflecting the origin of the river high in the mountains and the fact that its primary tributaries consist of high alpine creeks and streams.
After ice melt and before the run-off, the mountain section of Rock Creek, above Red Lodge, is home to lots of small cutthroats and brook trout. They are easy to catch on virtually any dry fly with a halfway decent presentation. The fish are small but feisty and are fun to catch. Below Red Lodge dry flies work just as well on this section of Rock Creek as they do further upstream. Fishing pressure is quite light, and the rainbow trout rise readily to a fairly well presented dry fly imitation. PMD imitations and the Parachute Adams are excellent dry flies for this river. When chasing after the larger brown trout on Rock Creek, streamers are effective, especially in the fall when the fish move out of their protective cover.
**Content Credit: Rocky Fork Outfitters
East and West Rosebuds
The “Buds” are two beautiful streams that are pretty much carbon copies of one another. The best access is located on Forest Service lands near the mountains. The fish are definitely smaller in these upper portions of the Creeks than they are in the lower private lands. Access on the lower rivers is very limited and more than a little touchy. Private land owners take private property rights very seriously so don't trespass. (Montana Fly Fishing Lodge has you covered on the guided Private Water access, guaranteed!)
Of the two streams, the West Rosebud is the overall better fishery. Pools and rifle segments dominate the stream with isolated pocket water in a few locations. One of the great things about fishing the West Bud, is that you never know what you are going to catch. This stream is one of the few locations along the mountain face that I have caught pure Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. The stream also contains browns, rainbows and brook trout along with the ever-present mountain whitefish. West Rosebud Creek flows through two small lakes on its journey toward to the Stillwater River. These lakes are known as West Rosebud Lake and Emerald Lake. During the high water of June and the pre-spawn excitement of fall the inlet and outlets of these lakes can supply some surprisingly good fishing. On the rare calm day, if you stand on one of the large boulders that rim the lakes, you can spot 14 to 18” browns cruising the shallows and picking off nymphs.
The East Rosebud cuts its way through a beautiful, flat bottom, glacially carved canyon. The area was recently burnt in the Shepard Mountain Fire (1996). Some folks consider the canyon to be ugly after the fire. However, that‟s not the way I see it. The Shepard Mountain Fire removed most of the lodgepole pine trees immediately along the stream. This resulted in increased sunlight hitting the water. Warmer water coupled with increased nutrient content due to inflows of ash has resulted in an increased bug biomass in the creek. Ultimately, the result has been larger fish. Prior to the fire, the average fish was 10 inches. However, currently the average fish length has increased to the 13-inch range. While these fish may not be considered lunkers, the fish are only a portion of the reason to be in the East Rosebud Canyon. The fire also resulted in the rebirth of the once decadent aspen forest. Falls in the East Rosebud are one of those treats that have to be seen to be understood.
Due to their small-ish sizes, both the East and West Rosebuds are relatively easy to wade, but they are composed of boulder and cobble sized rocks that become slick as the summer wears on. The wading conditions described for the Stillwater is an accurate portrayal of wading conditions found on these two streams.
Main Rock Creek
The characteristics of the Main Fork of Rock Creek as well as the fish populations substantially change depending on which direction you head from Red Lodge. From Town to its headwaters, the Creek is primarily a fast pocket water stream with lots of large boulders and medium to small trout. Rainbows from 10 to 13 inches predominate from Town to the Forest Service boundary. On Forest Service property 8 to 10 inch Brook Trout make up the majority of the fish in the stream. This is a wonderfully relaxing place to spend an hour or two during the summer throwing bushy attractor dry flies to aggressive trout. However, due to the high elevation of Rock Creek upstream of Red Lodge, it does not fish well during spring or late fall. The stream simply is too cold and the fish are inactive. During the summer months, days of 20 to 40 fish are not at all uncommon.
Fish above Red Lodge have a limited number of lies where they can comfortably hold due to the speed of the water. Immediately above and below large rocks or well defined current seams usually contain at least one fish, and they are not picky about how or if the fly floats.
Rock Creek downstream of Red Lodge is a completely different stream than above Town. At Red Lodge, an increasingly large cottonwood riparian creek bottom develops. These cottonwood trees find their way into the creek due to windstorms, beavers, and old age. This results in a stream comprised of pools created by logjams. If you could stick your head under these logjams, you‟d be shocked by the numbers of very respectable brown trout. Rainbow and the occasional Brook trout can also be found north of Town.
Fly hatches are much more important downstream of Red Lodge than above Town. The chronology of hatches described for the Stillwater River fits the Main Fork of Rock Creek. Flies of a particular species usually hatch approximately two weeks later on Rock Creek as compared to the Stillwater though. The reason is simple. Rock Creek runs at a higher average elevation then the Stillwater does, thus Rock Creek usually remains colder for a longer period of time. This serves to delay the hatches. Also, the hatches are typically of much shorter duration, both on a daily and seasonal basis. The optimum time to fish Rock Creek or any of its tributaries is late-July, August, and September. Unlike the upper portion of the stream, fishing downstream of Red Lodge is good in spring (April) when the baetis, March browns, and Mother‟s Day Caddis are on the water.
One word of caution regarding wading conditions on Rock Creek; be very, very careful out there. Rock Creek is a very difficult stream to wade for those not use to walking on round, slick, rolling rocks. Couple this with the current velocity and you are faced with a real challenge. Due to the elevation of the entire Rock Creek system, (Main, Lake and West Forks) the water remains very high well into July in most years. So if you choose to wade fish, take your time and plan your footing route.
Casting distances are typically short on this stream due to the adjacent brush and small-ish nature of the stream. Many folks find that casting can be difficult on Rock Creek due to the amount and proximity of the overhanging vegetation. Short cast and stealth stalking tactics are more important than casting long lines.
West Fork and Lake Fork of Rock Creek
The West Fork of Rock Creek is one of my very favorite places to fish. I have great memories of my wife and kids walking the banks while firing Trudes, Wulffs, and bi-visibles into the pocket water. Fall colors, lack of people, green moss, golden aspen, orange fireweed, and the brilliant pink sides of fat feisty rainbows make for an enchanted forest feel. The Brookies dress in their finest courtship spawning colors during fall. These waters simply do not receive much fishing pressure and therefore, they are great places to get away from everyone and enjoy the things that fly fishing is really all about. Remember, it‟s not about size or numbers, it's about the quality of the experience.
Wading conditions described for the Main Fork of Rock Creek adequately describe wading on the West and Lake Forks. If you fish these small streams, do not attempt to set any land speed records, these are not easy streams to get around in. An additional word of caution when wading the West Fork of Rock Creek is in order. The stream is cold, I mean really cold. In other words, the perfect place to chill your beer! However, this is not the place to take a swim, intentionally or otherwise. I‟ve tried it and the temperature will take your breath away anytime of the season. Consequently, this is an excellent choice for a place to fish if the air temperatures have been hovering in the 90‟s during the dog days of summer. As the cool mountain air flows out of the high country, you will be glad you are where you are.
Due to the diminutive size of these waters they are not floatable during any part of the year. Therefore wading these waters is your only option. The good news is that all of the Lake Fork and most of the West Fork are located on Forest Service lands, so legal access is not a problem.
Fly hatches on both the Lake and West Forks of Rock Creek are not of major importance to the angler. This is due to the fact that both of these streams are very fast pocket waters. As in most locations along the Beartooth Mountains, a suggestive, buggy looking fly, either a nymph or a dry will catch the majority of the fish.