I had the opportunity to guide the Smith River about a week with a couple of my long-time clients. For those unfamiliar, the Smith River is located in central Montana and is the only river in the state that requires a permit to float whether you are doing a guided or unguided trip. It is a 59 mile float which makes for a 5 day overnight experience. The two guarantees on the Smith are great camp life, and some of the most stunning scenery in the state. The river winds through a canyon with towering cliff walls, multi-colored rock formations, and even Native American pictographs in a couple spots. The two variables on the Smith are water conditions and weather, both of which impact the fishing. Since the Smith is a smaller stream it is best floated during the run-off season in June which also happens to be one of the wettest months in Montana. Too much rain or snow melt and the river is high and muddy, too late in the float season and the river is low, clear and the trout get very spooky. Add to that the risk of snow, torrential downpours, and even hail and it makes hitting a perfect Smith River trip damn near impossible.
I have been on the Smith several times before and for the most part the weather has been decent. The river was always high and off-color though. We caught fish on every trip although it was mostly all nymphing and at times we hard to work hard at it. This year the stars aligned for us. We had absolutely perfect water conditions and great weather for the entire trip. The fishing on the first day was the best I had ever seen on the Smith and it only got better from there. Day 2 was as good as it gets kind of fishing and it remained solid through the trip. Lots of rainbows and brown trout with some big fish each day. We ate like royalty and sat around the campfire each night in one of the most stunning places in the state. Previously I had always thought that the Smith was a really pretty float with decent to marginal fishing. Now I know that when conditions are right it very well may be the best overnight trip in the West.