Healing Waters lures anglers with locale, luxuries

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TWIN BRIDGES, Mont. -- Travelers familiar with African game lodges will likely experience a number of deja vu moments at Healing Waters Lodge here.

The vast landscape, a cumulus-filled sky unblemished by buildings and a pond where wildlife drink recall Serengeti settings. Add in the casual chic furnishings in screened accommodations, dawn departures for daytime adventures, evening gatherings for cocktails and sleep-inducing, gentle wilderness sounds, and it all seems wonderfully familiar.

However, this is southwestern Montana, not Africa, and the days sightings are of the scaled- and-finned variety. Instead of lions, elephants and rhinos, its brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout that guests yearn to see -- preferably at the end of their fly rods.

As someone whos never dipped -- much less cast -- a line into a river, I found myself a veritable fish out of water among my fellow guests. True, they were fishermen first, but their love of the sport -- and pretty clearly, their sizeable bank accounts -- has led them around the globe, and any passionate traveler can identify with that.

Two fellow guests from Massachusetts said they typically take six to eight trips a year, primarily for fly-fishing or bird-watching, but they leave time for sightseeing and relaxation.

Antarctica and Bhutan were two of the more exotic notches on their travel belts. They were planning a Patagonia, Argentina, fishing trip for November.

Fishing also motivated a couple I met from Florida but like the Massachusetts pair, they preferred to alternate fishing days with those devoted to other pursuits.

They spoke enthusiastically about the previous days private excursion with a naturalist and historian who led them along paths once explored by Lewis and Clark.

Healing Waters apparently more than satisfied these discriminating guests. One couple was returning for the sixth time. According to management, repeat clients account for 75% of guests.

The main lodge building was built in 1894 as a hospital. Later, the structure was moved to The Healing Waters Lodge, popular with fly fishermen, was built in 1894 as a hospital. Photo by Joyce Daltonthe present site and turned into a private home called Healing Waters Estate. In 1997, the estate became a lodge.

The lodges prime location -- within 60 miles of six blue-ribbon trout streams -- is certainly a factor, making it the mecca of the world for trout, said Chris Sywassink, co-general manager with wife Julie.

But with overnight stays costing close to $600 per person, something more than locale must be at work.

Part of the allure rests with the themed guest rooms: Each of nine units is named after a western notable, such as Chief Joseph; a notable in the fishing world, including Franz Pott, an early-20th century manufacturer of woven hair fishing flies; or homesteaders, such as Granny Yates, a pioneer who guided wagon trains between Missouri and Montana -- and whose descendant founded the Healing Waters Lodge.

Furnishings vary somewhat from room to room, but pictures and decorative objects stay true to each units namesake as well as to fishing.

Each room features a private deck or patio, many with superb views of the Tobacco Root, Ruby, Snowcrest, Sweet Water or Pioneer mountain ranges.

All rooms have two queen beds with down comforters and pillows; quality bath amenities, binoculars; pre-stamped postcards; robes; a list of area bird species; and a buckwheat pillow.

The pillow, which is filled with buckwheat hulls, is said to help provide a good nights sleep. To me, it felt like the beanbag pillows found in Japanese bed-and-breakfasts.

Five of the guest rooms -- including two suites with wood-burning metal stoves and, in one case, a sauna -- are housed in the main lodge, along with the office, a lounge and a media room with television and DSL Internet access.

The other four guest rooms are housed in separate quarters, as are the dining room and cocktail area. Other facility structures are a small exercise cabin, a gift shop and a hot tub.

Another major plus at Healing Waters Lodge is the quality of meals: Chef Peter Robertson is a graduate of the Culinary Institute of America at Hyde Park, N.Y., and both his menus and presentation do credit to his alma mater.

Two entrees are offered each evening. During my stay, these included pan-seared halibut, roast New Zealand venison, grilled beef tenderloin and seared sea scallops.

Hors doeuvres, appetizers, side dishes and desserts -- especially the latter -- were consistently tasty.

Cocktails, dinners, hot breakfasts and lavish picnic lunches are included in the room rate, as are all fees for fishing excursions with a private guide; transport to a river such as the Missouri, Big Hole, Madison, Jefferson, Ruby or Beaverhead; and use of a float boat.

During my stay, one couple opted to fish separately, as he preferred wading while she enjoyed floating. A guide was provided for each. A day with a naturalist is also part of the program.

Hunters, too, frequent Healing Waters. While many hunt upland birds and waterfowl or the mule and whitetail deer that flourish in the valley and mountains, others seek out bigger game, such as moose, elk or bear.

If clients opt for a day of sightseeing, the choices are legion. Yellowstone National Park is less than a two-hour drive from the lodge  -- a hop, skip and jump in Montana terms, as the guest booklet puts it.

Also easily accessible are the ghost towns of Virginia City and Nevada City; Ennis, a small town with a number of upscale boutiques; Lewis and Clark Caverns; and Big Hole Battlefield National Park.

Closer to the lodge, horseback riding and cooking classes with Chef Robertson both can be arranged at additional charge.

To contact the reporter who wrote this article, send e-mail to [email protected].

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