The Bob Marshall Wilderness Artist Residency

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I was selected as an Artist in Residence for The Bob Marshall Wilderness Area, which gave me the opportunity to spend two weeks deep in the backcountry of The Bob Marshall Wilderness (technically, I was in the Great Bear Wilderness, but it’s part of The Bob) in Montana to write and explore. Mules packed all my gear into an old Forest Service cabin that had propane lights and a stove. No running water, no electricity, and an abundance of mice. The cabin sat on a high ledge above the river which gave me access to plenty of fishing for Westslope Cutthroat Trout and Whitefish, a number of trails for hiking, and a great view to watch while I spent each first and last light writing.

The fishing was incredible. I fished four flies the entire two weeks: a purple foam hopper, a caddis, a purple haze, and a streamer (occasionally, when it got really windy). They seemed to be keyed in on anything purple. At first, I had trouble getting my timing down — the river was crystal clear and I would watch these cutthroats come up for my fly from ten feet away and get excited and set the hook way too early. I switched over to my McFarland 7’6” 4 wt Spruce Creek fiberglass rod which forced me to slow down. I ended up catching most of the fish on that (including some pretty big ones). It was a blast. Simple. Easy. Consistent.

I also hiked up a few mountains while I was there (which I go into more detail on in my blog post). It was a pretty amazing experience, but it wasn’t without its difficulties. Hiking and flyfishing in grizzly country (The Bob has the highest density of grizzlies in the lower 48) was a challenge and forced me to be hyper attentive (I did meet a grizzly, but I’ll save that story for the blog…). I also knew that if I slipped or tripped or fell while fishing or hiking that it’d be a long while before anyone could come get me or find me. It was also a struggle being so completely alone and cut-off from the outside world for two weeks. The only news I’d get was wildfire smoke and the occasional chatter on the Forest Service radio I had with me (my only connection to the outside world). Mentally & emotionally, this was really hard, but I’m really glad I did it. It pushed me into places I would have never gone in my writing.

If you’re looking to fish this area, reach out and I can provide more specifics. Most people access these watersheds with pack rafts (I saw quite a few go through while I was there). There is one rafting company that floats clients down the river (though I had a not-so-great experience with them when they floated ten clients through the run I was fishing and had each one fish it while I was standing a few feet from them on the bank. I did catch a big cutthroat just as the last group passed and they watched me land it which felt good), if guided fishing and camping is your thing. The only other way to access this area is to backpack into it, which requires grizzly and wilderness know-how (there is a section of this river that is “front country” and runs parallel to Route 2 and into/around Glacier National Park). Surprisingly, there aren’t a ton of campsites and most aren’t marked. It’s wild. It’s off-the-beaten-path. It’s great.

I am incredibly grateful for the opportunity to explore this wilderness and hope I can honor it in my writing. I wrote up a more detailed blogpost that goes through my daily experiences and includes a lot more photos which you can check out here.

Author Bio:
Michael Garrigan writes and teaches along the banks of the Susquehanna River in Pennsylvania and believes that every watershed should have a Poet Laureate. He enjoys exploring the river’s many tributaries with a fly rod for wild trout and hiking the riverlands. He is the author of two poetry collections — Robbing the Pillars and the chapbook What I Know [How to Do]. His poetry and essays have appeared in The Flyfish Journal, Gray’s Sporting Journal, and The Drake Magazine. You can find more of his writing (and order signed copies of his books) at
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