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.
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.
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.
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.