The Ruby: One River, Many Rivers

Guest post by Steve Alber



Somebody asked me, “What’s so special about the Ruby River?”

Let me tell you.

The Ruby River isn’t terribly well-known, which is either good or bad, depending upon how you look at it. It’s not a particularly large stream compared with its storied neighbors: The Madison, The Jefferson, The Beaverhead and The Big Hole. But the Ruby, which flows down a long, broad valley is aptly named: it’s a gem. And like a gem, it has many facets.


Upper Ruby River
Upper Ruby River

The Ruby rises a few miles below the Continental Divide, where a central stream converges with two smaller ones and flows northeast for 50-odd miles to join The Bighole. Along its length, the Ruby is at once a tail-water fishery, a mountain stream, a rushing torent, a narrow channel. It cuts ox bows through high desert, piney and deciduous forest, broad meadow. It’s broken roughly in half by the Ruby Dam, about 12 miles above Alder, Montana … so sited to store irrigation water for the farmlands below. All in all, a splendid example of what man and nature can accomplish and leave for posterity.

Below the Ruby River dam and the beginning the Lower Ruby River
Below the Ruby River dam and the beginning the Lower Ruby River

In this diversity of purpose and habitat lies The Ruby’s secret glory, especially as it applies to trout fishermen. Because this one trout stream embodies the best of all trout steams: it’s rife with riffles, pocket water, back eddies, undercut banks, deep holes, fallen timber, plunge pools, natural jack dams, calm flats. Couple these with thriving and fecund aquatic and terrestrial insect populations, and you have a virtually unparalleled habitat for trout, attested to by their numbers, health and size. Here are populations of browns, rainbows, cutthroats, cutbows, brookies (found mostly in small tributaries) whitefish, and arctic grayling. Collectively, they’re hungry, feisty and not particularly picky when it comes to a well-presented dry fly, nymph or streamer: show them what you’ve got, and chances are, they’ll eat it. Which isn’t to say that this is a stream only for novices. The Ruby lures (pardon the pun) serious and seasoned anglers with its unique combination of diverse habitat and technical challenges. But because it’s the lesser-known brother to its larger siblings, it remains uncrowded.

Lower Ruby River just above Alder, MT
Lower Ruby River just above Alder, MT

In fact, parts of the Ruby are downright empty, as is meanders through miles of national forest. Since some of the Ruby runs through private property where access is tightly controlled, many anglers are unwilling to make the trek up the Ruby Valley … which reduces the pressure on the stream and gives trout a chance to multiply and thrive undisturbed.

But these are merely words on a screen. You have to fish The Ruby to find out what makes it special … and unique… and diverse … and mostly, ethereally beautiful. Upper Canyon Outfitters is a great place to start. Here you can stand by yourself in some of the most beautiful water you’ve ever seen, cast to rising fish and watch a solitary eagle patrol the sky above. And like the eagle, you’ll find the solitude, silence and peace that come with a brief stay in a small piece of heaven.

Steve Alber
August, 2014

A Summer Week at Upper Canyon Outfitters – By Rick Rice & Les Kodlick

A quick capture of the ranch from one of the ranch's favorite hikes
A quick capture of the ranch from one of the ranch’s favorite hikes

Upper Canyon Outfitters (UCO) is one of my favorite places to get away from the daily routine

and just relax. As an avid fly fisher, I always enjoy fishing the upper and lower Ruby River in

scenic Montana. Staying at the ranch makes the whole experience even better.

Next week will be my sixth visit since discovering UCO in 2003, and I’m not alone: my brother,

Todd, is coming for his fifth visit; my friend, Les Kodlick, will be arriving for his third stay and

bringing his better half, Carol, for a second time; and, Les’ father, John, will be coming for his

second trip and bringing his wife, Paula, who will be seeing the ranch for the first time.

Over the last 11 years I’ve gotten to know the ranch hosts, Donna (Tate) and Jake McDonald,

pretty well. Donna and I stay in touch even during the years I haven’t managed to get there.

They run a great operation and manage to hire wonderful people who enhance the guest


Since I have more than 35 years in public relations, Donna and I often discuss how to promote

the ranch and every once in a while I come up with a useful idea. Les has spent some time in

the communications business, too, recently retiring as a Brigadier General in the U.S. Air Force,

where he headed up public affairs. So given our backgrounds, Les and I decided we might be

able to help Donna share what a great place UCO is by blogging about our experience while

we’re there.

Les and his family will be doing more than fishing this year, so he can share adventures that

happen away from the river, such as hiking and horseback riding. Todd and I just fish: fly fishing

is the reason we first came to the ranch and the reason we keep coming back, so that’s what I’ll

be sharing.

Full disclosure: Les and I are blogging about our stay as friends of Donna and Jake and fans of

their operation. This isn’t work for either of us and we’re not getting any special consideration.

We just want to share the experience. (Besides, Les is bored with the whole retirement thing

and has a new camera he wants to try out).

For anyone who’s been to the ranch before, we hope our posts will bring back some good

memories and maybe inspire you to come back soon. For anyone thinking about a new kind of

summer experience, we’ll give you good reasons to stop thinking about it and come visit.

Please share any comments or questions below. We’ll get back to you when we’re not off

enjoying ourselves somewhere. I’m looking forward to some great fishing and fun times. We

arrive on Saturday, August 9, so expect updates for the next week starting around the 10th.

P.S.: If you’re a hunter coming to UCO during the week we’re there, let us know if you are

interested in sharing your experience. Les and I will be happy to help you edit, proofread and

post your accounts.

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