Getting the most from your UCO fishing time

Guest Post by Rick Rice

Upper Canyon Outfitters in Montana has been my favorite place to get away and fish since my brother and I first visited the ranch in 2003. From the moment of our arrival, we felt welcome and knew we were in good hands. Those feelings have grown stronger during more than a dozen visits with friends and family over the last 15 years. Owners Donna and Jake McDonald and their excellent staff provide exceptional experiences for all ages and skill levels.

Montana, particularly the Ruby Valley, is beautiful and the ranch is a great place to get away and relax. There are many choices of activities, from fly fishing to riding, hunting, hiking and more. They even have a Build Your Own Adventure option!

Catching a brown trout on the Ruby River with a UCO guide.
UCO guides work hard to make your time on the river fun and productive, and always make your day better.

My first love is fly fishing on the Ruby River (though I did enjoy horseback riding at the ranch for the first time last year, and will probably do it again sometime). One of the big reasons I enjoy fishing so much are the guides at the ranch. They work hard to make your days on the river fun and productive, and they’re helpful without being intrusive.

Every UCO fishing guide is experienced, licensed and trained in first aid, and most have been at the ranch for several seasons. They’ll bring plenty of water and other drinks, a streamside lunch, and probably, whatever you forgot! They always make your day better.

UCO also has private access to some of the best fishing spots. While there is plenty of river with public access for fishing on both the upper and lower sections of the river, there are some special stretches of the river where you must have a UCO guide to fish. UCO has an arrangement with landowners along these stretches that allows fishing with a guide and a rod fee (included with the guide fee). These private stretches are amazing, and since the access is limited, the fish are usually plentiful. You really want to spend some of your time casting in those private stretches.

Over my years at the ranch, I’ve been joined by people with fly fishing skills ranging from beginner to expert. UCO always does a great job matching them to the right guides.

If you’re new to fly fishing, the UCO guides can help you learn to cast or improve your casting. They’ll suggest what flies are right for a particular part of the river and the conditions, and help you rig your flies. They’ll also show you likely places where the fish are holding, and tell you where to start your fly in the water so it reaches the fish in a natural way.

By fishing with a guide, you’ll begin to understand how to read the river and identify where the fish are holding for yourself. It’s sometimes helpful to use a hopper-dropper rig where one fly floats on the surface with a nymph below the surface. The guide will set up the rig for you, help you realize when a trout has taken the nymph (it’s surprisingly subtle), and tell you when to set the hook.

A healthy Ruby River brown trout.
The Ruby River is nuanced, but holds a healthy population of brown and rainbow trout, along with a number of other species.

When you hook a fish, the guide will help you land it in ways that are safest for the fish and – after your victory picture – make sure the fish is healthy and properly released.

And, when the inevitable tangle or snag happens, the guide will help you fix the problem and get you back to fishing as quickly as possible.

For the experienced angler, the two sections of the Ruby River are very different experiences. (Here’s how another frequent guest has described the Ruby.) Both sections look pretty straightforward at first, but have plenty of nuances.

If you prefer to head out on your own, a guide can take you to the public sections of the river and show you the most productive rigs and flies for the area, plus share local experience. With that inside knowledge, you’re sure to have a much better day.

Below the Ruby Dam, there are three public access points before you get into Alder, Montana, which is 24 miles northeast of the ranch. Each fishes a bit differently and local knowledge can really improve your results when you fish on your own. A few miles up the river from the ranch, the Ruby River flows through national forest land that also offers some great fishing. A UCO guide can show you places you can park, where to access the river, and the best techniques and rigs for those parts of the river and some of its tributaries.

Even after years of fishing both public and private waters, I continue going out with a guide on most days. There are many advantages, including getting current knowledge about that year’s conditions, having the guides manage lunch, and keeping the day rolling along if there are problems. I also like that I’ve fished with the same guides before, and enjoy the chance to slow down and catch up with them.

Of course, if you want to fish on your own, UCO will set you up with a lunch, point you in the right direction, and the guides will answer any questions you have on fly selection or rigging before you go.

One final, important note… tipping your guide is not something the UCO staff talk about, and they won’t say much about it if you ask at the ranch. In addition, many anglers are confused about whether they’re supposed to tip and how much. I say it’s just like tipping your server 15 to 20 percent of your bill at a nice restaurant. Guides provide a valuable service and like I do with other service providers, I tip them for their excellent work and think this should be standard practice. I have settled on giving my guides 20 to 25 percent of the daily fee because I believe great service and hard work always should be acknowledged.

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

Part Three: A Summer Week at Upper Canyon Outfitters

Guest post by Les Kodlick

“Stellar Experience”

A full moon over the ranch illuminates the cabins on an early morning before guests wake up. The friendly, professional staff are up early fixing a hearty breakfast, packing lunches and getting the fishing gear and vehicles ready for another successful day of fishing.


Donna and Aaron talking while guests fill their plates
Donna and Aaron talking while guests fill their plates


An added bonus for Upper Canyon Outfitter guests was faint views of the Perseid meteor shower, one of the brighter meteor showers of the year. The bright, full moon prevented a good look but it was still exciting and everyone was talking about it. the meteor Shower occurs every August, peaking around August 9-13. Consisting of tiny space debris from the comet Swift-Tuttle, the Perseids are named after the constellation, Perseus. This is because, their radiant or the direction of which the shower seems to come from lies in the same direction as Perseus. The constellation lies in the north-eastern part of the sky.combined with a full moon perfectly poised over the lodge. (Astronomical info from

Full moon rising Monday night
Full moon rising Monday night


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

A guest post by Les Kodlick & Rick Rice

Here are some scenes from our first day at Upper Canyon Outfitters. After many travel delays, everyone arrived by Sunday morning. While our original plan was to write longer posts each day, we’re finding ourselves having way too much fun at the ranch so we’re adjusting. We’ll share photographs and some captions and follow up with longer posts when things slow down.

The fishing has been good. Les and Carol are planning on taking a horseback ride or two along the way. As always, we’re making new friends and renewing old acquaintances here at the ranch.

The front deck.
The front deck is in full bloom

Todd, Rick, Les, Carol, and John all went fishing with pretty good results:

Todd bringing in a fish on the lower Ruby
Todd bringing in a fish on the lower Ruby while Mitch waits to assist

Carol casting Clear Creek
Carol casting on Clear Creek with Val coaching her

Carol and Val congratulating each other on catching a nice fish
Carol and Val congratulating each other on catching a nice fish.


Three of the UCO guides. From left to right: Dusty, Donna and Val. The new logo looks great!
Three of the UCO guides. From left to right: Dusty, Donna and Val. The new logo looks great!


More to come…



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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