Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout
Showing posts with label Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. Show all posts

Thursday, October 04, 2018

Onward To the Fishing: Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout

As you may have noticed, our Yellowstone trip was a bit slow developing on the fly fishing front. While I had stared wistfully at trout streams in the Black Hills of South Dakota and through the Big Horns and beyond in Wyoming, the fishing was on hold until we arrived in Yellowstone. The first day in the Park was busy and so I did not get a fishing license until our second day there.

The second day was busy as well. Our first night had been spent at the campground at Canyon for which I had obtained reservations (a must if you want a guaranteed site!). The plan was to wake up early on Sunday morning, take down our tent, and drive the short distance west to Norris. Here I hoped to snag a site at my favorite campground in Yellowstone. It just so happens that this campground is one of only two in the Park that are first come first served and have running water and flush toilets. We were trying to avoid pit toilets for the next two weeks as much as possible.

Upon arriving at Norris around 8:00 am, we already had to wait in line while others signed up for their campsite first. When it was my turn, I was informed that the section I had hoped to get into did not have anything available...yet. If we wanted, we could hang around and see if someone would leave. There was one other party waiting ahead of us. When I asked what was available for tent camping, the ranger said she really only had one site available at the moment. When she said it was a large site and had a tent pad, I accepted without really thinking twice. She assured me that if we didn't like it, we could come back the next day and change sites. That seemed more than reasonable so we registered, paid for 10 nights, and were soon driving through the campground to find out if we liked our campsite.

Turns out, we liked the campsite even better than expected. We were up against the woods at the back of the campground with neighbors on only one side and not too close at that. This gave the possibility of wildlife viewing right from our site! More on that to come a few posts down the road.

We quickly pitched our tent, added our sleeping pad and bags, and headed back out for the day's adventure. That adventure needed fuel so we headed back to Canyon for breakfast. In much too great a hurry to pause for food, we had got the campsite we needed and could now focus on things like sustenance. The grill at Canyon in the gift shop and general store is a favorite of mine for breakfast. Nothing here is fancy, but they do the basics like pancakes, eggs, and hash browns well. We loaded up on fuel for the day and purchased fishing licenses. Then we pointed our car towards the Lamar Valley.

On the drive over, I was already dreaming of Yellowstonecutthroat trout rising to dry flies. However, if there is one thing I should know about fishing out west, it is that nature will probably have the last laugh. When we arrived in the Lamar Valley, the wind was howling. Now, I know what you are thinking: it always blows hard out west. That is true, but the wind was unusually strong on this day. I asked Leah what she thought about fishing and while she didn't feel like casting in the wind, she said it would be just fine if I wanted to fish. "Just for a little while," I promised.

I put together my 9' 6 weight Orvis Recon. With the wind blowing hard, I needed a little more rod than I would normally fish. While most people default to a 6 weight out west, I normally still fish my favorite 5 weight or even lighter. On this day, the extra backbone of my 6 weight seemed necessary.

With the wind blowing so hard, I figured that surely some hoppers must be ending up in the water. I remembered some of the great hopper fishing I had enjoyed on my last visit here. Amazingly, only a couple of half-hearted glances resulted from fishing that hopper and none were hookups. I needed to change strategies quickly or my fast fishing expedition would result in a skunk.

I moved up to the head of the pool where some faster water was coming in. Maybe they need a faster presentation and less time to examine my imitations. As it turns out, those fish didn't want a hopper either. What was going on? Here and there, I was seeing fish rising. My observation skills needed to be a bit sharper so I paid better attention. Then I noticed some gray mayflies drifting lazily on the current. Not a lot of bugs, mind you, but the ones I saw were getting slurped greedily. The bugs were out in the middle, but looked like about a size #14. When I opened my box, I grabbed a size 14 Parachute Adams and knotted on some lighter tippet. Attaching the fly, I was ready to fish again!

On just the third or fourth cast I finally hooked up. It was a feisty little fish. While beautiful and a native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, I was here for larger specimens. I started fishing again and soon saw a larger shadow ghost up from the depths to inhale my fly. This time I got excited. My Yellowstone fishing was underway! Leah was kind enough to not only help take pictures but also to net this fish. With the wind blowing hard, we were careful to keep the fish in the water until the last possible moment for a picture. Things dry out quickly in this environment and the fish definitely didn't need that kind of treatment.

Yellowstone cutthroat trout on the Lamar River
Photo Courtesy of Leah Knapp ©2018

A few fish later, I was nearly satisfied. Just as I was about ready to leave, I noticed a rise on the far side of the current. Too far and windy to high stick, I was going to have to come up with an epic reach cast. With the wind blowing up the valley at 30-40 mph, I didn't think I would be able to pull it off. Then, just like that, everything fell into place, the fly landed and the line laid well upstream. I got just enough drift to see the fly sucked down greedily by another nice fat Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

By this time, while I had only fished for 30 minutes or an hour, a shower was threatening, and Leah didn't want to stay out and get soaked. I suggested that we go looking for wildlife and we were soon back on the road towards the Northeast Entrance of Yellowstone. I always like stopping at a roadside pullout with a good view of Barronnette Peak to look for mountain goats. Wanting Leah to see some, this is where we headed.

Sure enough, the goats were there. While looking at mountain goats through our binoculars, we kept noticing cars stopping back down the road towards the Lamar Valley. Wondering what they were seeing, I started scanning the meadow and trees in that direction. Suddenly I noticed something large moving...a moose and her calf!!! The moose magnet legend grows further still. This was the first time that I have seen moose in Yellowstone which made it particularly satisfying.

By this time, the showers had seemingly passed and we headed back down the valley for one more quick stop along the Lamar. Stopping at a favorite roadside pool, I walked the high bank along the road and spotted several cutthroat. Next I scrambled down the bank to get into position to fish my way back up over each of those fish. A few fish later, I was satisfied. The wind was still gusting hard and I wanted to get back to camp before it was too late. We needed some down time after the long day of moving camp that we had.

Another Lamar River Yellowstone cutthroat trout
Photo Courtesy of Leah Knapp ©2018

Monday, January 04, 2016

When in Yellowstone, Fish...the Yellowstone: Yellowstone Day 5

Yellowstone River above Tower Falls

How many times can you squeeze "Yellowstone" into a post title? Apparently at least three times. Never limit yourself when greatness awaits. If you can't tell, my creative side is getting close to being shot it seems. Nothing that reliving a trip to Yellowstone can't fix (or maybe worsen, I'm not sure which). Either way, looking back over the pictures from day five refreshed my memory fabulously and I'm excited all over again for what transpired on that day of fishing the Yellowstone River.

The discussion on where to fish had began a day earlier, well after dark when we got back to camp from a long but good day in the Lamar Valley fishing Soda Butte Creek and the Lamar Rivers. My buddy Kevin only had two full days available to fish before heading on to fly fishing guide school and we had already used one. That meant the pressure was on to select a winner for the day's fishing.

Having fished the Yellowstone River on my last several trips out there, I knew what it was capable of. In fact, one of the most memorable days I've been a part of fly fishing wise in Yellowstone happened on that river. Anyway, it always has the potential to produce a quality day of fishing, and in fact, I can't say I've ever had a bad day of fishing on the Yellowstone. Since it was Kevin's first trip, he ultimately deferred to me in the decisions on where to fish so there was a bit of pressure to say the least.

For this day, I knew my stream-side breakfast tradition was in jeopardy. There are few places where you can drive to the Yellowstone in the canyon reaches we hoped to fish. Somehow, eating breakfast in a dry parking lot with a flood of tourists surging past didn't appeal, but something was tickling my memory. That great big breakfast from my first full day in the Park had been delicious, and as we were already driving right past Canyon, why not stop in for round two? Convincing Kevin was not too hard at all and we left in time to be there right as they opened. With a good breakfast behind us, we were ready to hit the water of the mighty Yellowstone River.

Hiking down from the shortest access at Tower Falls, I carried two rods. One was rigged with the hopper/dropper rig that had done so well on the Lamar Valley waters while the other was my 7 weight complete with full sinking line. In other words, I was ready to fish streamers. Tied on the end was my favorite, the PB&J.

At the bottom of the trail is a huge boulder in the edge of the Yellowstone's flow. I just had to fish there as I do most trips down into the canyon. While normally I'm smart enough to make the long and slightly dangerous hike upstream, trudging up and down slopes along trails belonging as much to the deer, elk, bison, and bears as to humans, this time we had people fishing ahead of us and had no idea how far they had hiked. Might as well enjoy the water close at hand since no one was on it.

Yellowstone cutthroat that hit a PB&J streamer

I had a solid swipe on the first cast and shortly thereafter teased the nice cutthroat back out from under the rock and onto my fly. A quick picture and I tossed the fish back to catch again another year on another trip. We moved upstream to a long deep run just upstream and started working streamers hard. Flashes, taps, and the occasional tug kept us going for longer than I normally would fish one spot. In fact, in all honesty, I believe we could have stayed in that one spot the rest of the day, but the urge to roam was strong and we kept pushing upstream.

Only once did we need to leapfrog around other anglers. The main group of competition apparently had booked on up the river to where I normally fish, leaving us the easier to access water down low. Turns out that wasn't a bad thing. We found more fat cutthroat than is fair for two anglers to catch in one day.

Yellowstone Cutthroat trout

We soon arrived upstream at a large pool that I remembered well from past trips. The one thing lacking from my recollections were any particularly great stories about fishing there. That would change on this trip. I had been working up through some pockets and told Kevin to head on up and fish that hole. When I moved up, I found him absolutely certain that a large cutthroat had taken at least a couple of swipes at his flies. A high bank loomed over the hole and provided the perfect spot for me to spot from. When I got up there, I started to get a little giddy, because sure enough, there were large cutthroat chasing his fly on most casts.

I've been fishing long enough to know many of my shortcomings as a fishermen, and one of those is that I tend to start seeing things by the end of a long day on the water, but these shadows were too well defined to be imagination. Deep bright red along the flanks suggested that at least some of the fish could have rainbow ancestry mixed in, but I've also caught enough large cutthroat to know they can be brilliant red as well so who knows.

Fly Fishing the Yellowstone River

Yes, who knows, because while some true giants that I'm convinced were in the 25 inch range showed, the best landed was in the 18-19 inch range. That said, both of us were ecstatic at the fish that were caught. I do my best to not complain about the catching. Complaints can affect your fishing mojo negatively.

What I can say is that I'm sure both of us will fish that same pool again the next time either one of us is out in Yellowstone. Best of all, we both know what fly they seemed to really appreciate. Notice I'm not telling here, but for the record, it is a fairly common streamer pattern you should find at just about any normal fly shop.

The rest of that day was anticlimactic. There were plenty more fish to be caught after this epic pool including some nice ones on the hopper setup. A few hit the hopper, while a good number hit the nymph that was trailing underneath. Eventually I set the hopper rod down and went back to streamers because the hopper rod was almost too easy. We didn't fish as late as sometimes, probably because we were both beyond satisfied.

The memories of those big fish though kept us pondering and both of us were ready to get up early and head back to the Yellowstone if it wasn't for Kevin's need to depart the next morning. I had some vague plans to sight see and enjoy the scenery the next day. Even though the sun set early at that time of year, both of us were tired enough to enjoy a good supper and a bit of conversation before turning in to our respective tents for the night.

Just before dark, the sunset lit up the meadow that was my usual early or late day fishing spot whenever I was in camp. The rich glow painted the perfect end of day picture as the moon rose to the east until, moments later, the sunset itself was worth a shot.

Junction of the Gibbon River and Solfatara Creek at Norris Campground

Sunset along Solfatara Creek at Norris