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Fly-fishing at Alta Ranch in Montana

It's easy to get hooked by the lure of the Bitterroot region.

October 04, 2009|Paul Whitefield

DARBY, MONT. — Ever since the 1992 movie "A River Runs Through It," I've wanted to go fly-fishing in Montana, and I recently found a ranch hideaway that fit the bill. After four days of nonstop fishing, I have a sore shoulder, a scarred finger -- I hooked myself with a fly -- and my own Norman Maclean stories.

Alta Ranch is a 150-acre property tucked in the shadow of the Bitterroot Mountains in southwestern Montana. Guests at its four cabins and one log home can try their luck in a stocked, catch-and-release trout pond or on a stretch of the west fork of the Bitterroot River that runs through the ranch.

The first day I was up at 7. I walked out the door, and five minutes later I was fishing. I caught half a dozen smallish trout -- four rainbows and two cutthroat. Even an afternoon Montana thunderstorm couldn't stop me, though I confess I paused when two mule deer fawns bounded across the meadow.

On Day 2, I remembered this was a family vacation. My two sons joined me at the river, and both proudly landed several fish, their first with fly rods.

What if, like my wife, Sara, you don't fish? You might prefer to just sit on the deck of your plush, fully stocked cabin and watch the wildlife. When we were here for four days in early August, a moose noisily ate her breakfast just below our cabin, deer grazed in the meadow beyond the river, and osprey, hawks and herons soared nearby. Sara, reading on the porch, had several close encounters with as many as eight hummingbirds at a time fighting for a spot at the feeders.

The stocked pond also has a canoe, rowboat and paddle boat. And there's a separate game cabin with ping-pong, exercise equipment, Internet access, TV and games.

The ranch's accommodations range from the Aspen, the smallest cabin at 600 square feet, to Alta Vista, a 4,000-square-foot log home that can accommodate up to 11. All have kitchens and linen service; ours, the two-bedroom Moose Crossing, even had a washer/dryer. And at about $200 a night for four people, it was a bargain.

Other guests had brought ATVs, and one family had booked a white-water rafting trip on a nearby river. There's also hiking in the Bitterroot National Forest, and skiing there in the winter. We even tried our luck at a commercial mining operation where customers can sift gravel for sapphires. But the ranch is remote; it's 90 miles south of Missoula, and the nearest town, Darby, population less than 1,000, is 30 miles away. So I'd advise visitors to plan on spending most of their time at the ranch.

And that's not a bad thing. You wouldn't dare do it in fire-threatened California, but on our last night, we gathered at our cabin's fire ring, roasting marshmallows and making s'mores under a starry Montana sky.

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paul.whitefield@latimes.com

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BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX

Alta Ranch

9203 W. Fork Road

Darby, Mont.; (888) 349-2142, www.alta-ranch.com.

Cabin rates start at $150 for two, October to May. Rates higher June through September.

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