Day Trip – Duck Creek

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, Montana

It’s always fun to fish some place new. Today it was Duck Creek. Well, a specific Duck Creek. There are 13 Duck Creeks in Montana. Outside of Montana, there’s another (according to the US Geological Survey) some 200+ more creeks officially named “Duck Creek”. One can only assume that a creek named “Duck Creek” might be a good place to see ducks. The Duck Creek that I would fish on this sunny Tuesday morning in June has a mixed and problematic reputation. At times, there can be some truly epic dry fly fishing for big rainbows and browns. At other times, the creek can be devoid of anything but smallish fish, including brook trout which are shamelessly easy to foul on a dry fly. On this day, there was a decent PMD spinner fall about 10AM, but dries brought only smallish fish to hand. My fishing partner however did manage to connect with a couple of brutish post spawn rainbows on a slowly drifted woolly bugger.

This was my first foray into Duck Creek. The fact that I finally had a fishing partner who was familiar with the creek was one reason I was finally able to visit this stream. I had driven over the bridge on highway 191 that crosses Duck Creek hundreds of times since 1972, the first time I visited this part of Montana. Its dark waters always looked inviting but there were always other destinations more inviting not far away. Just west of the bridge the creek flowed about two miles with a swift gradient through mostly private land and was choked with willows. Originally a tributary of Grayling Creek, the creation of Hebgen Lake in 1914, flooded the confluence to the point that Duck Creek flows directly into the Grayling Arm of Hebgen. To the east of the bridge, the creek takes on a completely different and enticing character. About one mile east lies the Yellowstone National Park boundary. A short, winding drive along a rutted and potholed dirt track–Duck Creek Road, will bring you to the park boundary and a small parking area. From this point east, it is, as the crow flies, about 1.2 miles to the confluence of Campanula and Richards Creek–the head of Duck Creek. We would be fishing this section today.

Unlike most SW Montana streams, those rocky, rollicking moderate to high gradient flows, Duck Creek is one of those slow, meandering meadow streams. Muddy banks, fine gravel bottoms, deep undercuts, swamping meadows and backwaters make the trek into and along Duck Creek a sloggy adventure. In June, the creek was still a bit high and it was clearly evident along the meadow edges, that spring runoff had overflowed the creek banks. In June, the meadows and high ground just south of the creek were alive with wild flowers and true to its name, the creek abounded with teal, widgeon and mallards. It was a gorgeous place and I pondered why I’d never fished here before. But the reason was obvious. This was classic Yellowstone bear environment and Duck Creek flows through the Richard’s Pond Bear Management Area. As with any bear management area, venturing into the region alone was seriously discouraged. Encountering a bear, especially a sow with cubs, along the creek would be a serious situation as rapid egress was not a simple task. Recognizing this, the whole area is closed to access for the entire summer with one exception–stream-side travel is permitted to the head of Duck Creek.

My partner and I were both carrying bear spray, but knowing where we were, surrounded by tight willow stands, there was this constant head swiveling to make sure we were alone. Every stray sound was noticed. Along the muddy track stream-side we did find bear scat, some wolf tracks and we did catch a glimpse of a large male otter we disturbed as it crashed through the willows. This is truly a wild place and anything that you startle as you navigate the willow thickets will give you pause. This was not a place for complacency. Just short of the head of Duck Creek, a large beaver dam created a challenging pool alive with 8-10″ rainbows and brookies that were fun to catch on small dries if you could navigate casting along the willows. In the well oxygenated water just below the pool a nice brown came to hand as well.

Duck Creek is not one of those destination streams that gets crowded, but it is well known by West Yellowstone area locals. I understand it is most popular in the evenings for reliable may fly and caddis hatches. In the spring, big rainbows from Hebgen enter the creek to spawn. My partner connected with a couple of these post spawn as we fished up the creek. By July the creek would be low and any sizeable fish would have migrated back to the lake. However, when fall comes–late September into October–big browns from Hebgen will enter to the creek to spawn and that generally brings along big rainbows looking for an easy meal of brown trout eggs. Big fish in a small creek environment are always fun. By October, the bears will have left the area to hibernate and navigating the willow thickets will be somewhat less tense. The creek will be clear and low, making for some challenging angling. My partner and I have vowed to try Duck Creek again in October. I will visit Duck Creek again and would recommend it to anyone visiting Yellowstone in the Spring or Fall. Just be sure and bring along a friend. This is no place for a solo angler.

One thought on “Day Trip – Duck Creek

  1. Michael Vorhis

    Nice article Mike. The water looks good. Myself, I’ve typically found semi-still, clear water a big challenge, unless the fish are starved for anything they can get (in which case they’ll hit a piece of sock tied to a hook). That only happens at high altitude for me, so slow clear streams are usually an exercise in frustration. (And that’s leaving out the whole other dimension of bears.)

    – Mike

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