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.


Most of our clients here at UCO are repeats guests. We are thankful and blessed to have so many loyal people return to our home year after year.

We believe that there are a few distinct reasons people return to our hidden gem in the Ruby Valley. One is the fishing. We offer a unique opportunity to have an intimate fishing experience in which you can catch anything from a rainbow trout to a grayling, all while enjoying the serenity of Montana.

Our horseback rides offer some of the most breathtaking views a person can imagine, and people never leave the dinner table hungry.

But another reason people come back year after year, is the people at UCO.

We like to say that UCO is “where here feels like home,” and we mean that. We want people to feel as though they are part of the family as soon as they walk through the front door. One of the people that have made many lasting impressions is Jake McDonald.

Jake is Donna’s partner in business, marriage and shenanigans. He is often in the background of UCO, keeping things running smoothly. Not all clients have the opportunity to spend time with him, but those that do tend to remember him for the long term. So, in honor of Jake’s birthday coming up on January 22nd, we thought we would write a blog about some of his Jake-isms.

  1. Awesome. According to Jake, this is the most overused word in the English language. There have been countless times that a guest will be admiring the beauty of the Ruby Valley and will say with a an awestruck expression, “This is awesome!” This phrase is quickly followed by Jake’s response of, “well I wouldn’t say that. It’s nice, but not awesome.” He believes that the word awesome should be reserved for miracles, great acts of bravery, and perfectly baled hay.
  2. Outfit. If Jake tells you that he likes your outfit, don’t be flattered by your meticulously put-together, stylish, western-influenced ensemble. Instead, he will be referring to whatever vehicle you drove in with. In Montana, we have our own way of referring to things and calling vehicles outfits is one of those vernacular tendencies. Another reference Jake made up is one he reserves for rangers and 4x4s and that is Noodlebuggy. No one is really sure of the origin of this nickname, but it has stuck. So when you are at UCO and request a 4×4 tour in a ranger, don’t be alarmed when your guide tells you they are going to run and get a Noodlebuggy.
  3. Nicknames and horse names. Jake, with very little effort, has managed to rename every employee and horse that has graced UCO. So if you are assigned to ride Cherokee, our trusty herd leader, and Tymbre, our head wrangler, goes to get him for you, don’t be alarmed when Jake tells you, “Here comes TSS (T-Double S, Tymbre) with Camanche (Cherokee). If you are given a nickname by Jake, know that it is one of the highest honors at UCO.
  4. Handshakes. Along with nicknames, Jake has created a unique handshake with many clients and staff. Some of these handshakes have reached levels of complication, that would require an instructional YouTube video for an outsider to learn. Jake manages to remember them all with little effort.
  5. Don’t Panic. Anyone that has spent any amount of time with Jake has learned his number one rule: Don’t panic. Jake applies this rule to every situation. Are the horses out and headed to Alder? Don’t panic. Is a noodlebuggy rolling down a mountain? Don’t panic. Jake can be heard asking people around the ranch, “What is the number one rule?” The correct answer here is: Don’t panic.

Upper Canyon Outfitters is a guest ranch in Montana that offers some incredible activities and experiences, but we would be nothing if not for the people that helped create us and continue to work hard to make us the best we can possibly be. Please feel free to share any of your Jake-isms that we may have missed.

A new type of resolution for 2019

Planning and preparing for an exciting Montana adventure can inspire life-long healthy habits that not only create a better vacation experience, but create a healthier and happier version of yourself.

Are your fishing waders feeling a little tight? Perhaps your riding pants are not buttoning as easily as they once did? This time of year often inspires well-intentioned, but fleeting commitment to strict diets and extreme exercise routines. Often times this pledge is followed up with throwing in the towel after a couple of slip ups due to fear of failure and guilt.

Why not try something new this year? Rather than throwing yourself head first into a new lifestyle, why not plan an adventure that will promote health and happiness throughout the entire New Year?

There are two forms of motivation: Extrinsic and intrinsic. Extrinsic motivation is being motivated by external forces, something outside of oneself. This type of motivation includes things like wanting to look better, winning an award/trophy, or getting praised for looking like America’s Next Top Model. This form of motivation does not often result in long term changes, as it is difficult to keep striving for something that is outside of oneself. Intrinsic motivation is more correlated to long term changes. This is being motivated by something inside oneself. To be intrinsically motivated means you want to accomplish something because of personal satisfaction; the reward comes from inside oneself.

Climbing a mountain is a great example of both extrinsic and intrinsic motivation. You may be climbing the mountain so you can show off your rippling muscles as you pose for a photo on the summit; that would be an extrinsic motivator. On the other hand, you may be climbing the mountain to celebrate the fact that you have the health and stamina to climb a mountain and be present in nature. These would be intrinsic motivators.

So how do we create this shift in mindset? One way would be to plan a long term goal based on what creates happiness for you. Perhaps you are motivated by the thought of casting a fly rod in the small intimate Ruby River and reeling in a Grayling, or the excitement of landing a big rainbow trout on the larger, faster-flowing Lower Ruby. Maybe it is the adventure of backcountry horseback riding and seeing the rugged mountain ranges and wildlife of Montana that moves your soul. It could be reaching the summit of a Rocky Mountain peak and feeling like you’ve conquered the world.

Whatever it may be, planning and preparation for an exciting Montana adventure can inspire life-long healthy habits that not only create a better vacation experience, but create a healthier and happier version of yourself.

May 2019 be a year full of happiness and adventure.

5 reasons to book a Montana hunting trip early

Montana hunters pack out after a successful high-mountain harvest.

It is December and the chill of the winter has finally set in. It is easy this time of year to embrace the warmth of your home and the comfort of the holiday season, but there is something else that should start to spark in the back of your mind. It is the perfect time to start the booking process for a hunting trip in Montana. Here are 5 reasons why now is the perfect time to book your big hunt:

  1. In order to secure a hunting license in Montana you must meet a strict deadline. It depends on what game you are hunting, but if you plan on hunting elk, mule deer or white-tailed deer during archery and rifle season, you must have your application in by March 15. to the Montana Fish Wildlife and Parks. The hunting application can be a time consuming and confusing process, which is why Upper Canyon Outfitters will take care of applying for you. As soon as you book your hunt, we get all the necessary information from you and we take it from there. Last year, we had a 100% success rate for the elk/deer combination license draw.
  2. The sport of hunting appears to be on the upswing. More people are becoming interested in this authentic experience, and with that comes more bookings. Upper Canyon Outfitters is about three-quarters booked for the 2019 season and half booked for the 2020 season. We are striving to keep the number of hunters we book to a limit so that we can continue to offer the best possible experience, but that means that space is limited. So if you are thinking about booking, now is the time.
  3. While the sport of hunting may be one of the oldest activities known to mankind, the gear for hunting is evolving at a rapid pace. Booking now will allow you time to research the best products to make your hunt a great experience. Upper Canyon offers 15% off all Sitka gear and we have professional guides that love to discuss the latest and greatest gear with you.
  4. Hunting comes with a great ethical responsibility to make a great shot when the time comes. The more time you have the practice target shooting, the better. Upper Canyon Outfitters suggests you have an intimate knowledge of your gun before you get here. Upon your arrival, our guides take all our guided hunters out to our range to fine tune and dial in their gun, but we expect you to have prepared and practiced shooting long before your arrival.
  5. When it comes to hunting there is no guarantee of a harvest, but there is a guarantee of hiking and majestic views. The earlier you start training for your high altitude hunt, the better your experience will be. Cardio and weight training are great. We have even had hunters hire a personal trainer in preparation of a great hunt. It is best to start now to increase your likelihood of a harvest. Being in good physical condition also allows you to enjoy your hunt, as you are ready for the big climbs and long days.

X-tra Bonus: You know what to add to your Christmas list, you can never have to many hunting gadgets. Happy Holidays from all of us here at Upper Canyon Outfitters.

Ready to book? Call or email UCO today.

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