Past Auction

Fishtrap Ranch

This auction was on Nov 7 Wise River, MT 1,548± Deeded Acres

Executive Summary

A stalking horse bid of $1,710,000 has been received. The minimum requirement for competing bids is $1,720,000. The deadline for submission is November 1st at 4:30PM MT. The receipt of competing bids will result in an open out-cry auction on November 7th,

General Description

The Fishtrap Ranch is accessed from State Highway 43 and Fishtrap Road which is a county-maintained gravel road that serves this and two other ranches. The county road follows Fishtrap Creek as it cuts across the southwest corner of the ranch and proceeds up the valley above the ranch coming to a dead-end before it hits the National Forest. This means that it is unlikely to have anything other than local ranch traffic. 

The ranch fronts on Fishtrap Creek for just under a mile and rises in a northerly direction through a series of benches, where it takes in the upper reaches of Minnie Creek which is another tributary of the Big Hole. The terrain at the lower end of the ranch is generally open and the ranch becomes more timbered at the very upper end where it adjoins the National Forest.

The viewshed of the Pintler Range to the north is outstanding from most points of the ranch as the tall, snowcapped peaks that define this range rise well above the treeline and top the horizon. Long valley views to the west provide views of this southern end of the Pintlers and also distant views of the Bitterroot Range. Dense forested views of the north end of the Pioneer Range define the southern view. 

As is typical of the Big Hole Valley, the ranch has extensive water rights and water is spread both on the benches and on the bottom-lands along the creek drainages. There is no shortage of home sites on the ranch that would be both private and would take advantage of the expansive views. The main headquarter’s buildings are at the lower end of the ranch near the highway. They have a lot of charm and are classic old-style improvements that one would expect to find on a ranch that has been in the same hands for many generations. The current owners are only the second owners in over 60 years.

Broker's Comments

The Fishtrap Ranch is a true mountain ranch located in the tightly held Big Hole River Valley. It has all the attributes that one would expect – good views, a trout stream, immediate access to the National Forest, comfortable ranch improvements, a pleasing variety of terrain, a well-blocked, deeded configuration, good long-term neighbors, etc. More than anything else however, it is an outstanding elk hunting ranch.

Learn about the locale


Fishtrap Ranch is located along paved State Highway 43 which services the upper Big Hole Valley above the town of Divide, where it branches off of Interstate 15. The ranch is approximately 18 miles west of Wise River, about half-way between Wise River and Wisdom. Both of these towns provide basic amenities such as a grocery store, bar, post office and a small café or restaurant. The closest commercial air service is in Butte, just over an hour’s drive from the ranch.


The Big Hole Valley, known as “the land of ten thousand haystacks” is one of Montana’s most remote and highest mountain valleys. 

The Fishtrap Ranch lies at the lower end of the expansive portion of this valley. The valley narrows below the ranch and flows through a series of wide canyons on its way to Twin Bridges, where it joins the Ruby and the Beaverhead to form the Jefferson River. 

It was known as “the land of ten thousand haystacks” because in the early days the hundreds of streams that flow out of the mountains that surround the valley and create the Big Hole River were diverted and spread across the valley in the spring and early summer, creating an enormous expanse of hay meadows. These wild grasses were cut once a year and put up in thousands of loose hay stacks created by “beaver slides.” This hay was fed out to the cattle over the long winter months. Many of these ranches have converted to more modern methods of putting up hay and in many cases they have opted to graze these meadows in the summer and move their cattle to lower altitude ranches where the winters are not so long. 

The valley has remained an area characterized by large ranch holdings that are passed down through the generations. There is a strong pride of ownership evidenced amongst those who make their home in the valley. While the fishing and hunting is as good as it gets in Montana, it tends to be enjoyed by visitors and there has been very little recreational subdivision in the upper valley. To a large degree the upper Big Hole has held onto many of the important traditions that are slowly disappearing in some of the more accessible parts of Montana ranch country. 

The area immediately surrounding the Fishtrap Ranch is comprised of larger ranches except where it adjoins the National Forest on the north end. The towns of Wise River and Wisdom have a lot of charm and character and, as stated earlier, provide most of the basic necessities. Ranchers in the Big Hole Valley tend to use Dillon as their larger town because it is where the children attend high school and it is more oriented to agriculture than Butte. Butte and Anaconda are both near the ranch and they have a character of their own which goes back to the mining days when Butte was known as the “richest hill on earth.”


The Fishtrap Ranch headquarters at the lower end of the ranch sit at around 5,900 feet above sea level and the ranch rises to around 6,700 feet. At this altitude, just under the continental divide in Montana, one can expect warm comfortable summer days with crisp nights. The spring normally brings much of the annual precipitation which can come in the form of rain or heavy wet snow. By fall the days become crisp and the nights are likely to freeze. Winters are long with good accumulations of snow. The ranch is accessible year-round at the headquarters and boasts excellent snowmobiling and cross-country skiing during the winter months. 

The topography of the ranch is primarily sloping benchlands that separate the two main drainages on the ranch. The upper reaches of the ranch become somewhat more mountainous, but as a general rule, the ranch has a network of private roads that provide access to most the ranch, except during the heavy snow season.

Learn more about the property

Acreage (Deeded & Leased)

The Fishtrap Ranch consists of 1,584± deeded acres and 160 acres of BLM lease which calls for 10 Animal Unit Months. We have not calculated the precise number of acres that are capable of some level of irrigation. This often depends on the amount of water in the creek in any given year and the level of ambition of the irrigator. The ranch has a history of producing around 350 tons of hay on an average year.

Deeded Acres: 1,548±
Total Leased Acres:
Total Acres: 1,548±


three-bedroom ranch house that is currently occupied by the ranch manager, a shop building, and a good set of working corrals. The ranch also boasts an outdoor riding arena. This compound has been completely cleaned up and rebuilt as needed under the current ownership and provides a good base of operations. Elk are a particular passion of the current owner and he has remodeled the shop to include a complete meat packaging room with a walk-in cooler and a trophy room that is used to store the hunting equipment and display the trophies.

In line with the interest in hunting the ranch boasts two elevated one-room cabins on the upper end of the ranch which serve as glorified tree stands by allowing the hunters to overnight above the elk and catch them coming off the meadows early in the morning.

The owner’s residence is located along Fishtrap Creek about one-half mile from the headquarters on a new graveled access road. It is a recently constructed three-bedroom, two-bathroom modular home. It is modest yet attractive and nicely sited along the creek.

Water Resources

The ranch has filings for up to 57 cubic feet per second (CFS) that date from 1893 to 1915. Montana water rights are undergoing a readjudication process, so whether all these filings will survive this process is not known at this time. The water rights are all out of Fishtrap Creek and generally allow for good early season irrigation. The owners of the ranch are transferring all the water rights that they own connected to the Fishtrap Ranch. 

In addition to the above noted irrigation water rights, the ranch has six stock water right filings. There is also a well at the headquarters that produces around 20 gallons per minute (GPM). 

As with most Big Hole Valley ranches there are extensive water right filings on all the streams, but if there is not a good snow pack in the mountains and/or no precipitation during the growing season, there simply is not any water in the creek to irrigate with. Increasingly, ranchers are also becoming aware of the value of the trout fisheries and are working with the state to leave enough water in the streams to support the fishery.


2010 taxes are $4,661.35. Buyer will be responsible for 2010 and 2011 taxes. 

Learn about the recreational amenities

Fishery Resources

The main fishery on the ranch is Fishtrap Creek which has good populations of brook, rainbow and cutthroat trout, but more importantly, serves as a crucial spawning stream for fluvial Arctic grayling. Fluvial grayling were once spread throughout the upper reaches of several of the tributaries of the Missouri River Basin. Today, the population of grayling that exist in the Big Hole constitute the last intact, confirmed element of this indigenous species throughout this basin, and are the centerpiece of fisheries’ conservation efforts in western Montana. 

The grayling spawn in Fishtrap Creek in sizeable numbers in April and May before returning to the Big Hole River. Other species of trout reside there throughout the year, with brook trout dominating the stream. These feisty fish eagerly take dry flies all summer long and challenge anglers to throw bugs into the perpetual series of willow-lined pools and riffles. The riparian area that encompasses the stream is quite dense and creates a perfect habitat for the fish that reside there. 

The Big Hole River is also accessible literally across the road from the ranch, at the Fishtrap Public Access Area. From that area anglers can enter the river to wade-fish its immediate waters, or launch a drift boat or raft. 

The Big Hole is considered to be a “Blue Ribbon” trout stream and is virtually the only river in existence that allows one to catch a grand slam of trout – rainbow, brown, grayling, brook and cutthroat. 

Not only is there a diversity in species through this part of the river, but some specimen of rainbow and brown trout are known to reach a substantial size. From the famous spring time “salmon fly hatch” to the fall spawning runs, the Big Hole is one of the most sought after and loved streams in Montana.

Wildlife Resources

The Fishtrap Ranch is an outstanding elk hunting ranch because it lies on a key migratory route for area elk herds. The lay of the land almost requires elk to pass through the ranch. This same migratory route is also used by mule deer and antelope. All of these species reside on the ranch from late spring to late fall, when their populations are augmented by the migration as they pass through en route to the Mount Haggin Wildlife Management Area located just a short distance to the north.

The ranch has always enjoyed quality elk hunting due to the abundance of animals that pass through there during the season and the amount of forage that hold them on the ranch for periods of time. To take advantage of this situation, the ranch has erected two small cabins on stilts. These are comfortable small dwellings that are 20-40 feet high, allowing hunters to spend the night and not disrupt the animals as they leave the irrigated hay fields where they feed at night, returning to the safety of the timber during the day. These animals generally pass right through these two buildings. 

A strong population of moose also reside on the ranch and are primarily found in the dense riparian area along Fishtrap Creek. A small population of whitetail deer also can be found there during the summer months. Black bears, mountain lions, grouse and a multitude of other non-game species also reside on this property. 

One can further expand their hunting opportunities by passing into the Forest Service lands that lie contiguous to the north end of the ranch, trekking or riding horses into the wilderness area where all of the above mentioned species are also found. The tall, jagged peaks are also home to a population of mountain goats and big horn sheep.

Recreational Considerations

The ranch enjoys contiguous access into public lands from the property. The 150,000-acre Pintler Wilderness Area is located just a few miles into the forest, which in addition to outstanding scenery, has numerous alpine lakes that are ideal areas for camping and fishing. 

A short distance east from the ranch, a scenic byway cuts through the Wise River drainage and Elk Horn Hot Springs provides travelers with a restaurant and overnight accommodations while they soak in their natural hot springs. Similarly, a short distance south of the ranch, Jackson Hot Springs provides the same venue. 

Thirty minutes north of the ranch, Jack Nicklaus designed and built an 18-hole public golf course called Old Works. This is a highly ranked signature course built on one of the more unique platforms you will ever experience. 

For winter recreationalists the Big Hole Valley ranks high for opportunity. Snowmobiling is quite popular and there are even groomed trails throughout the region. Additionally, three small alpine ski areas are located within an hour from the ranch. For those that have discovered these, I think all would agree that this may be one of Montana’s best-kept secrets. The snowfall is abundant, the topography is excellent and the crowds are nonexistent.

Learn about the general operations

General Operations

As noted earlier, the heavy snowfall and long winters are causing many ranchers to change their operations so that they do not overwinter livestock in the Big Hole. The Fishtail Ranch is no exception. Historically it was capable of summering around 300 animal units and puts up around 150 tons of hay. This hay could be used to bring in yearlings early before the grass has started, or the fields could be grazed rather than hayed and the ranch could then be leased out for summer grazing to another rancher, or the owner could bring in yearlings for the grazing season only. 

The present owners are primarily interested in maximizing the wildlife habitat — specifically the elk hunting for their own private use. They therefore graze about 170 pairs for four months and a neighbor comes in and puts up the hay on shares. This leaves a lot of feed for the elk.

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