October 5-6, 2010
Granny and I had big plans of doing a two day float this week. However, the weather called for cold temperatures and a mix of rain and snow. That’s not exactly fun floating and camping weather so we bagged it. We decided to do our annual fall trip to Yellowstone National Park earlier than normal and perhaps in two weeks Indian summer will return so we can do our two day float.
Despite great fall fishing in Yellowstone, our fall trip is really about the wildlife. I always pack a rod but it’s a great time to watch and hear the bull elk bugle and observe a grizzly or two fattening up for hibernation. We left the house late yesterday and didn’t even enter the Park until noon. We entered through Yellowstone’s South Gate and made a quick stop on the banks of an old favorite river of mine to eat some lunch. At this point the weather wasn’t so bad. It was overcast with a light drizzle but the temps remain unseasonably warm so we broke out the camp chairs and ate on the bank of this great river.
When I used to fish this river religiously, fall fishing was never worth it. I rarely found risers and that’s what is what this place is all about. But naturally as we chomped away on our sandwiches I instinctively watched for rises. Twice while I was looking away I thought I heard one. My head turned quickly and the surface was broken. But on this river, thermals, common in Yellowstone, often create these sounds and appear like a rise. I wasn’t sold that this disturbance was a trout.
I kept a watchful eye and sure enough I witnessed the disturbance. Indeed it was a rising trout. Naturally I had to try and catch him. This place is tough to fool a trout on a summer day with high water. In October the water is low and clear and yesterday the surface was like glass. Granny saw me stuff my last four bites of sandwich in my mouth as one and as I trotted to the car for my rod she rolled her eyes and told me I was wasting my time.
Getting humbled by a trout has never been a waste of time. If I failed I’d only be better next time. It was warm enough I didn’t need my waders and my 4-weight Ross still had the 18-foot leader and Mahogany Dun fly from Friday on the Henry’s Fork. I was ready to go with hardly any effort needed.
On still water like this, the trout has all the advantage. One bad cast or even a hasty false cast for that matter will send the trout running. With that in mind, I measured my distance with some false cast far away from the occasionally rising fish then crept into position. Then as I held my fly with the line stripped off ready to cast, I waited for the trout to rise one more time. He did and with one swift false cast I landed my fly exactly a foot above the rings of the rise. I held my breath as my fly drifted to the trout’s location and sure enough he munched it. I lifted gently and the battle was on.
Granny seemed very impressed and quickly fired up the camera. We had it handy because I was taking some pictures of October caddis flies during lunch. Then after a several jumps and a solid run I beached the sizeable brown trout. I was really surprised. A lunch break turned into a one cast one fish deal on a normally difficult river. Very cool stuff! After I released him I plopped back in my chair for desert, dark chocolate.
That was the only fish we saw from the lunch spot and being that fishing was not our priority I didn’t look for anymore. Instead we continued our journey north towards Lamar Valley and Cooke City, Montana, our final destinations for the day. Of course we did peek at a couple more rivers along the way. One was the Yellowstone River at the once called Buffalo Ford area. For more than twenty-five years I’ve never drove passed this spot without stopping to look for rising Yellowstone Cutthroats but yesterday there were none. Unfortunately the Yellowstone River in the Park has its problems these days and can often resemble the Dead Sea.
An hour later we made our turn from the Tower Falls area up towards Lamar Valley. Five miles into it after navigating through herds of bison you pass the turn into Slough Creek. This is another spot I don’t drive past without a stop. We drove the dirt road up towards the Slough Creek Campground and stopped at every spot where you can see the river. It was close to sunset. The temperature was dropping and there was a stiff breeze. It was far from ideal conditions for seeing rising fish. Then, unexpectedly we viewed a pool that had several feeding fish in a sheltered slick. There was just enough sun poking through the clouds that you could see we were in for an amazing sunset. Granny wanted to set out the chairs to watch it so I opted to wader up.
My rod was still rigged perfectly so I set out. Like the fish at our lunch spot, Slough Creek trout don’t give in easily in October. They have had tons of pressure and are skeptical of even the real bugs hatching from the water. Nonetheless, yesterday was obviously my day because on my first cast I hooked up. My fly simply bobbed in the wind chop for about five seconds and then got devoured by a nice Yellowstone Cutthroat. I landed him while Granny watched and shook her head with a smile. Wow! I released him then cast it out again and to my disbelief hooked up again. This time I landed a big cuttbow (cutthroat/rainbow hybrid). That was it. Three casts and three great fish. No sense in pushing it. I reeled in and grabbed a seat next to Granny for the sunset.
We finished the day by watching a black bear forage amongst some logs and then during the last glimmer of daylight we watched a grizzly sow and her cub along Soda Butte Creek. We grabbed some dinner at the Miner Bar in Cooke City then camped just outside of town. Due to the numerous grizzlies in the area there is no tent camping allowed so we slept in the back of the truck.
We got an early start this morning in hopes to view some wildlife but it was so foggy we could barley see the road. The morning remained foggy until 11 and by then we were long past Lamar Valley (our favorite bear area) and all the way to Gibbon River meadows. This is another favorite haunt of mine so I parked and walked out to the river. I couldn’t believe it. There was a blue winged olive hatch and fish rising everywhere. I ran back to the car and for a third time grabbed my already rigged 4-weight and headed out for a few fish.
I fished for about two hours. I must have caught twenty gorgeous little brown trout all on the same Mahogany Dun I’ve used all week. It was some of the best dry fly fishing I’ve had all season long. Granny and I finished the day with our three hour drive home through West Yellowstone and down through Idaho. In case you didn’t know by now, I’m a hard core baseball fan and the drive went quick as we listened to Roy Halliday's historical no hitter. Sometimes it’s the unplanned fishing days that are the best. Not just the fishing but everything that occurs during the day. This weekend was a prime example.
Expect me to be idle the next few days as I prepare to speak at Desert Fly Casters in Arizona next week. The good news though is that I will be fishing while in Arizona and should have some good bass, carp, crappie and etc fishing stories and photos to share soon.