JET AWAY: Cottonwood Camp

Welcome to a new frontier for JET Hospitality. Our monthly blog. Each month we’ll be casting our lines to share all the new and exciting developments at our properties. There’s so much to talk about! This month, we’re pleased to shine a spotlight on good ole’ Cottonwood Camp, in Fort Smith, Montana.

From extraordinary fishing conditions and legendary catches to lodge renovations, glamping, and our new operations schedule (did we mention we’re open year-round now?), there’s plenty to be excited about here on the Mighty Bighorn River. One of the changes we at the lodge are most excited about is our new schedule. This means that for the first time ever, rain or shine, sun or snow, June or January, guests can spend their time enjoying the water and, more importantly, enjoying world-class, year-round fly fishing. Hardy, dedicated anglers willing to brave the cold and endure the sleet and snow through the winter season are in for a truly remarkable experience here on the Horn.

Breaking ice off the poles and sitting in the sleet for an opportunity to battle a big winter trout will surely appeal to the heartiest of our readers. And those who like to hunt can take to the nearby countryside for their chance at a variety of waterfowl and upland birds throughout the autumn and early winter. What could be more fun than a 12-gauge in one hand and a five-weight in the other for a good ole’ fashioned cast and blast float? And whether you are here in the balmy summer or frozen winter, you’ll find an evening of relaxation back at the lodge by enjoying our selection of grass-fed bison products in one hand and a local cigar in the other. And new renovations to our lodging facilities are sure to be conducive to an evening of rest before another hard-fought day on the water.

Expanding on the recent renovations, we are pleased to announce that we have several new developments regarding the infrastructure of Cottonwood Camp. We have recently remodeled the Duplex and Brown Palace — affectionately named for the abundance of brown trout in the area — from top to bottom, including new appliances, a fresh coat of paint, new floors, Televisions, and furniture. In addition, we have also expanded to offer Glamping facilities for our guests. For the uninitiated, glamping refers to glamorous camping (get it?) and often includes more amenities and comforts than what would typically be expected in the great outdoors. Here at Cottonwood Camp, that means 14 x 16 and 16 x 20 canvas tents complete with king-size beds, premium linens, blankets, wood-burning stoves, and your own private patio to enjoy after an exhausting day on the river. Along with brand new bathroom and shower facilities. We’ve poured the concrete pads, the tents are being erected as we speak, and by June, our Glamping sites will be fully operational and available for booking!

But let’s get to what we know you’re really here for… the nitty-gritty about what’s happening down at the river! As of late, the flow has increased from roughly 2000 CFS to approximately 2500 CFS— though it has slowed slightly in the past few days— meaning that the fish have been spread out a bit more than usual. However, success has been found in shallower waters — while taking care to avoid the fish spawn, of course. And as is common here in Montana, the average spring day comes with all four seasons, and this past week has been no exception. We’ve had rainy and overcast mornings, along with some biting winds that quickly change to sunny afternoons full of cool drinks and just enough of a breeze to stay comfortable. All that to receive a forecast for snow by the evening! So don’t forget to pack the flip-flops and shorts, along with a few layers and a rain-slick. Despite the variability in conditions though, the fishing has been fantastic! Of course, some days have been better than others—cloud cover, temperature, wind, precipitation, and insect activity decide to cooperate on a schedule all their own— but overall, the catch has been steady.

The baetis have been hatching en masse on cool, cloudy days, and when the wind isn’t sucking them away, we’ve been experiencing dry fly fishing worth writing home about. Our guides and guests have had success all through the early morning, mid-afternoon, and the last hours of daylight on these days using a variety of lines and lures. Adam, our resident expert on all things fish, fly shop manager, and river guide, had the following to say about his recent setup:

With similar setups, guests have been pulling some epic days, with big healthy fish in the 18–24-inch range. The Rainbows have been quite aggressive (not of the disposition to go down without a fight), leading to some entertaining battles here on the Mighty Bighorn. Brown trout, mountain whitefish, and suckerfish have been hitting hard lately too, with the occasional carp making an appearance for those eager enough to keep an eye out. From the Bighorn access site down to the Two Leggings site, folks usually go after bass, carp, and catfish as the water tends to be warmer in this stretch. However, recently the feeding tributaries have been silty and full of mud, so the fishing hasn’t been great and will continue to be poor until things clear up. But, if it were easy, as Adam, our fly shop manager, likes to say, it’d be called catching, not fishing, wouldn’t it?

As we peek into the upcoming weeks, the temperatures should climb into the high 60s to mid-70s while insect hatching holds strong, creating excellent fishing conditions. The water will also get a bit warmer, though we expect flow rates to hold steady for the near term. While we are undoubtedly optimistic regarding weather, this is the mountain west, and all should be

aware that the conditions can be erratic and spin on a dime. So, we recommend guests bring a few warm layers and a waterproof shell just in case things go sideways. Beyond that, we have no reason to expect anything but beautiful skies overhead and big, healthy fish in the water below.

We couldn’t be more excited to welcome all our new readers to the blog — now a regularly scheduled event — and we can’t wait to become all our new guests to Cottonwood Camp, and the other JET Hospitality properties.

So don’t forget to subscribe to our mailing list for news, updates, and details regarding the river. Between promising weather forecasts, renovated facilities, the best glamping in the west, year-round fly fishing, and of course, some of the best fly fishing America has to offer, our guests have as much to be excited about as we do here at the shop. So whether you’re coming on an easy-going summer float, a hardy winter expedition, or switching between fish and fowl in a fall time cast and blast, you are sure to have quite the experience during your stay. So be sure to check the calendar, and don’t wait too long to book some time out on the MightyBighorn River. Spaces go fast, and we’d be very disappointed if we didn’t get to see you soon.

To old friends and new memories,

The JET Hospitality Team