Tim and Joanne Linehan have put together a unique operation in the wildest, least-understood corner of Montana, where inland redband trout launch themselves from the waters of the storied Kootenai and Yaak rivers, and where wild browns and brookies haunt fir- and spruce-lined creeks in the remote and pristine country known simply as “the Yaak.” Join Linehan Outfitting Co., either at the classically appointed Kootenai River Lodge in Libby, Mont., or in one of the outfit’s beautiful and remote cabins in the woods, for a choose-your-own-fly-fishing-adventure in one of the most overlooked corners of the American West.
Perhaps the Kootenai’s best quality is that it’s never really “unfishable.” Tailwater flows keep river levels generally steady, and, in high summer, when other more heralded Montana rivers are experiencing “hoot owl” closures thanks to warming water temperatures, the Kootenai remains cold and hospitable to its native trout and char. Early in the season, in fact, the river stays so cold that its rainbows, cutthroats and the odd brown trout won’t look up until much later in the day. It’s a nympher’s paradise, but as Tim Linehan notes, you never know when one of the river’s “bread-and-butter” 16-inch rainbows or cutthroats will come to the top after a dry. For this reason, early season fishing is a “hopper-dropper” proposition — the average rig might have a Chubby Chernobyl on top, with a big stonefly pattern riding beneath it, and finally, a Perdigon on the bottom. When it’s possible to get out and wade — and there are some great stretches to wade — a high-stick nympher can stay busy all day long.
Once summer is in full bloom, the Kootenai’s trout shift gears and become wonderfully accommodating on top. Big hoppers and high-floating attractors are the ticket to success. Later in the year, from the middle of August and through the fall, the Kootenai is a streamer angler’s paradise — it’s also the time of year when the river’s normally selective brown trout or a massive bull trout might grab a streamer. There’s no crime in incidentally catching a bull trout, but your guide will be quick to return it unharmed to the river.
The Yaak, on the other hand, is a bit more understated. It flows beneath the canopy of a legitimate inland rainforest, and fishing it can be a little dicey from a boat, especially later in the year. But it’s here where anglers can tangle with some of prettiest wild brook trout in the West, as well as with native redbands, wild browns and, of course, the incidental bull trout. And, from the Linehan’s cozy and remote cabins, there are opportunities for anglers to walk-and-wade a number of small waters for wild trout, deep in the woods of this mysterious corner of Montana.
Finally, later in the year and into fall, the Linehan’s switch gears from fishing to hunting. If you’re a wingshooter, you can conceivably spend a trip to the Yaak moving between voracious trout trying to fatten up for winter and forest grouse hunting in the remote woods not too far from the cabins on the Yaak. Linehan Outfitting Co. also provides services to spring bear hunters and big-game hunters in the fall.
LODGING: The Kootenai River Lodge, or simply, “the River House,” is a labor of love for Joanne Linehan, who cares for groups of up to eight anglers over the course of their stay. It’s ideal for groups who want to stay and fish together during their trip to northwest Montana, and it’s a treat for all who choose this option. The lodge sits on eight acres and is nicely appointed with a beautiful outdoor gathering area right along the river, where white-tail deer will boldly try and pluck apples off the lodge’s trees while anglers enjoy cocktails and appetizers within sight of the Kootenai.
Linehan’s also offers its Yaak Valley cabins to anglers all season long. The cozy, hand-built cabins each feature one bedroom with a queen-sized bed and a sleeping loft with two twins. They also each boast a great outdoor deck ideal for watching the deer as they sneak onto the lawns at dusk. The cabins have full kitchens for those wishing to cook their own meals, and they’re a short drive from the lively and funky community of Yaak, which is home to a couple of bars and restaurants. It’s a great little “wide spot in the road” to visit for dinner and some live music – and just tell the locals you’re staying at Linehan’s. Oh, the stories they can tell!
FOOD/DRINK: A hearty breakfast, a sack lunch and a wonderful, home-cooked dinner is what anglers can expect at the Kootenai River Lodge. Joanne handles the meals herself – she’s been taking care of guests for more than two decades, and the experience shows. You’ll enjoy gourmet meals that include the likes of barbecue roasted turkey breast, fresh garden vegetables and desserts to die for. If you choose to stay in one of the cabins in the Yaak Valley, you can stock up on groceries in town, and grill your steak on the outdoor barbecue, or simply wander down to the Dirty Shame Saloon or the Yaak River Tavern for a cocktail and some pretty tasty bar food.
CONNECTIVITY: Cell service is dependable at the Kootenai River Lodge, as is internet service. At the cabins, you’ll have dependable wireless internet, but cell service is refreshingly spotty.
You and your fishing partner will arrive at your well-appointed cabin near the community of Yaak, Mont., where you’ll be able to get settled and get your gear ready to fish first thing in the morning. If you're traveling with a group of six or more, you'll be in the River House lodge right on the Kootenai outside of Libby, Mont. You'll get checked into your rooms and turned loose wander the manicured grounds of the beautifully restored house on the river. Evening appetizers and cocktails will help get everyone acquainted, and, after an amazing family-style dinner, you’ll plan your first day on the river.
You’ll be up early and you’ll meet your guide at the “guide shack” just a short drive from either the cabin on the Yaak or from the River House lodge after a great breakfast. From there, you and your fishing buddy will ride up to the upper reaches of the river, just below Kootenai Dam on Lake Koocanusa, and put in. It’s still early, so chances are, you’ll start with a nymph rig. And, chances are, you’ll lose count of the mini rocket launchers — the 12- to 16-inch redbands that will surprise you with their power and their acrobatics. Are there bigger rainbows in the river? Yup … and you’ll know when you’ve hooked into the beast.
Today, you, your fishing buddy and your guide will float the lower section of the river below Kootenai Falls. The fishing won’t be appreciably different from the fishing the day before, but there will be some legit chances to get out of the boat and stretch your legs while you cast to rising trout. A word to the wise: listen to your guide. The Kootenai’s structure is a little different than most western rivers, where “beating the banks” is often the best approach. Here, structure might be giant boulders five feet below the surface in the middle of the river. If you can follow the advice of your guide, you’ll be delighted by the fish you catch.
It’s time to sample the Yaak River, a markedly different river, both in terms of its intimacy and its fishing. The Yaak is a wild river that can be as challenging to fish as a crystal-clear spring creek as it meanders through slow bends, or a like the full-on freestone stream it really is as it tumbles its way down the valley toward the Kootenai. High-floating hoppers and attractors will bring stunning wild rainbows, browns and brookies to the top, and, later in the year, streamer fishing can be amazing.
This is where the “choose-your-own adventure” comes into play. Maybe you want to revisit the upper Kootenai, or spend one more day on the Yaak. Or maybe you’d like to walk and wade a smaller tributary to the Yaak. It’s up to you, but no matter where you choose to fish or the kind of fishing you’re after, you’ll be in one of the most beautiful places in the country.
- Lodging Depending on your group size, you'll either be situated in the spacious Kootenai River Lodge outside of Libby, or in a small but comfortable cabin on the Yaak.
- Guided fishing Choose between three and five days of guided fishing on the Yaak and Kootenai rivers.
- Meals Breakfast, a sack lunch and a family-style dinner are provided to guests at the lodge. Guests at the cabin will enjoy a sack lunch on the river.
- Beverages Guests at the lodge will enjoy wine with dinner. Cabin guests should stock up on spirits and groceries in Troy or Libby before checking in. Non-alcoholic beverages are provided with lunch.
- Gear All guided guests can use the company's Orvis gear if they don't have their own.
Anglers flying in to fish the Kootenai and the Yaak rivers can choose to fly into a number of regional airports, including Spokane, Coeur d'Alene, Kalispell or Missoula. Anglers driving in will find Linehan Outfitting Co. on the outskirts of Libby, Mont., about three and a half hours northeast of Spokane, Wash. We recommend anglers flying in rent a a vehicle and drive to Libby.