American Fly Fishing

Fishing in the Footsteps of Legends
By Jeff Erickson

Paradise Valley Spring Creeks, MT

The author lays out a cast on Nelson’s Spring Creek, a favorite fishery of the late fly-fishing author Joe Brooks and his wife, Mary. As so many anglers have discovered, often it’s best to stay out of the water—and stealth always pays dividends. ALL PHOTOS BY JEFF ERICKSON

My first exposure to Montana’s Paradise Valley was on a family camping trip, as an impressionable Minnesota kid. We stopped in Livingston to visit my dad’s cousin, Claude Erickson, a local bigwig bank owner. Upon our arrival, Claude immediately unlocked the bank vault, ushered me and my sisters inside, and let us hold a bundle containing a million dollars, or so he said.

After that thrill, my dad explained to Claude that I was getting interested in fly fishing, having received Trout Fishing, the classic Joe Brooks book, from my grandmother for Christmas. My $10 fiberglass fly rod—stiff as a pool cue—was packed in the camper, ready for action. Claude, who seemed to know everyone in Livingston, slapped me on the back and said, “Jeff, let’s go down the street; I’d like you to meet Dan Bailey.”

I knew that Bailey was a famous fly-shop owner, in part because he was friends with Brooks, who wrote engagingly about their Paradise Valley adventures, fishing the Yellowstone River and now-famous spring creeks.

So we traipsed out of the bank to Bailey’s fly shop, where the iconic fly angler hospitably showed us around. In one area, a couple dozen women were sitting at vises and tying flies. I also recall the Wall of Fame, consisting of wooden silhouettes of enormous trout caught in the area—many from the Paradise Valley—with the angler’s name and catch location engraved on a plaque. I daydreamed of having my own fish on that wall someday.