The Spring Creeks of Paradise Valley in Montana are probably the most well-known fly fishing destinations in the Western United States. Articles and videos abound highlighting these fisheries. Armstrong Spring Creek is one of these creeks and a premiere destination for the fly fisher. It is located south of the small town of Livingston, Montana (Population 7529, Elevation 4501 ft). There are a limited number of rods (Fly fishers) allowed each day. It is a private fee-based fishery. In the prime summer months, it is definitely a destination beyond my willingness to pay, but many do not know that in the offseason it has a very reasonable per day rod fee. Check out their website for specific dates and fee but I know in the winter when we went in February it was only $40 per day. There is 1.5 miles of creek to fish at Armstrong which I break up into three sections. Upper, middle, and lower. There is good fishing throughout each section.
Travel: We stayed at the Yellowstone Pioneer Lodge in Livingston. It is clean, reasonable and not far from the creek. Livingston is a great little Montana town and there are many places to stay and eat. You can also stay at a guest cabin on the Armstrong Ranch.
Tactics – Trip Experiences: We had been wanting to fish these spring creeks for years but were intimidated by the rod fees of over $100 per day in the summer. Once we discovered the winter rod fees were only $40 per day we just kept on eye on the weather and waited for a four-day weather window (One for the 7 hour drive each way from Spokane and two for fishing). It just happened to come in February. No major snow storms and daily temperatures above 40. Let’s go.
After arriving and a good night sleep, we hit the fly shop in the morning and got setup with the recommended flies. Midge larvae, midge pupae, egg patterns, and some small blue-winged olive dries and emergers. Lots of good advice, a map of the creek, and assurances of many nice fish to be had. We were stoked.
Driving south along the Yellowstone river, we admired the beautiful scenes of river and snow-covered mountains. This is truly a beautiful place on the planet. Driving down the entry road looks like a typical cattle ranch and buildings. We found the house to check in and pay our fees for the day. We then followed the dirt road to the first parking lot and since no one else was there we jumped out and got ready.
Quickly we realized in our excitement to fish we had forgotten to buy any food or drinks for the day.
Oh, my gosh. What idiots. This tells you how excited we were for this fishery. As forgetful as Ladin and I both are, we rarely forget food and drink. So, an hour later, we were back in the same spot and thankfully no other fisher was there.
It is always tough exploring new water and even with lots of research and questions asked of the local fly shop experts, there is always the nervous anticipation. Is this the right spot? Should we start right here or go up creek or down creek? We could not see the creek due to the brush, so we walked the trail and crossed the creek. We decided for downriver as we saw a good-looking riffle into a section of slower deeper water run.
We searched the water for any signs of activity. No rising, but we did see some fish swirl. Yes. Signs of life.
Without evidence of rising we setup a double nymph rig. We tried one setup with and egg pattern and the midge larvae and the other with a scud. The moment of truth. Will all of the preparation pay off.
It did not take long to get a positive result as Ladin got a hook up on one of his first few casts. A really good fight and a spotted, beautifully colored, 14-inch rainbow to the net with the midge larvae in the corner of its mouth.
Over the next two hours we released several more rainbows from the same run with the midge larvae and also the egg pattern. Sometimes we used strike indicators but in the faster water we also went without one and just tried to keep tight enough line to feel takes.
This was really the pattern for the rest of the day. We fished a few more runs up creek and at each likely looking spot we caught fish. Besides the midge larvae and egg pattern we caught fish on a size 16 olive scud pattern and a size 18 black and silver zebra midge. We caught quite a few rainbow trout from 14 to 17 inches.
All in all, it was a great day of fly fishing. The scenery was spectacular, the weather was nice for February and the fish cooperated most of the day. It was not fast and furious, but it was fairly consistent.
We drove out the dirt road at the end of the day tired but incredibly satisfied having checked off a bucket list item, fishing one of the famous spring creeks in Montana and not breaking the budget.
Equipment: We fly fished with nine-foot five weight rods, using floating lines on all rods and 9 to 12 ft poly leaders. The fluorocarbon tippets 4X to 6X. Always wear eye protection.
How: Armstrong’s is always a great DIY walk and wade trip with consistent flows and water temperatures. There are a many fly shops and guide services in the area so if you want to use a guide there are many options. We have purchased flies, materials and benefitted from great advice at Yellowstone Angler in Livingston but the are several others we have visited. We do not get money or free materials from any of the mentioned business in this article.