Ruby River

Guest Blogger: Mike Cline, Bozeman, MT
After weeks of big river fishing with streamers, I needed a break. So on a cool Tuesday morning in July I set off early for the headwaters of Stinking Water River (better known today as the Ruby River) in southwest Montana. The Ruby flows some 76 miles from its origins on the flanks of the Gravelly and Snowcrest Ranges to its confluence with the Beaverhead near Twin Bridges, Montana. Nestled in the valley between the two 10,000 foot mountain ranges, the main stem of the Ruby starts at a modest 6800 feet just north of the remote Centennial Valley in a lovely, willow filled meadow. Dozens of small streams flow into the Ruby near its headwaters as it grows on its journey down the Ruby valley. The Ruby got its name in 1877 for the prolific garnet finds in the valley.

Ruby River

As I left the main highway at Alder, Montana having just passed through Virginia City, my destination was a mere 39 miles south along the Ruby River road. Once past Ruby Reservoir, completed in 1938 and just a few miles south of Alder, the road turns to gravel. Lightly travelled, the road serves mainly the ranchers growing cattle and hay in the valley. Most of the upper Ruby in the valley offers very limited access because of private land and few road crossings. However, once you reach the National Forest boundary, near Vigilante Station, access become much easier. The upper Ruby is well known for excellent trout fishing, especially for well healed anglers frequenting the few luxurious and expensive guest ranches in the upper valley. But I was headed for free, public water to catch a few rainbow/cutthroat trout hybrids and possibly a few grayling. Before prolific stocking of rainbow and brown trout in Montana began at the end of the 19th century, west slope cutthroat trout and Montana Arctic grayling were the native fish in the Ruby. Pure cutthroats are gone and the grayling were extirpated from the river sometime in the early 20th century. Today, Montana Fish and Game in cooperation with the U.S. Fish and Wildlife service have re-established a small grayling population in the upper Ruby. I was hoping to tangle with one on this day.

Ruby River

As I reached one of my favorite sections, just a few miles from the river’s origin as the sun was peeking over the Gravelly Range, my anticipation grew. This is classic, small stream dry fly water. Some sections are rocky with a moderate gradient, while others are deep and slow.

Fish here are hungry, not terribly large, but in the thin water, they can be especially wary. A #10 stimulator, elk hair caddis, foam ants or hoppers will generally draw strikes from aggressive fish. Today I brought one of my three weight fiberglass rods to maximize the enjoyment of catching 8-12” cutbows in small water.

Rainbow Trout

The headwaters of the upper Ruby will always surprise you with a few really nice fish. I know of friends that have landed fish over 16” from some of the deeper meadow runs. My largest fish of the day was a fat 12 incher that came early on a stimulator. Fun stuff on three weight glass. Unfortunately, no grayling came to hand.

I fished completely alone for about five hours, covering a couple of miles of meandering stream. The catching, as they say, was good. But catching feisty trout is merely a secondary reward when you fish the headwaters of the Ruby. The beauty, remoteness and grandeur of southwest Montana are the real reward.

Leave a comment