Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

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

Friday, January 08, 2021

Glacier Day Three: Hiking to Hidden Lake, Pole Bridge, and Fly Fishing the North Fork Flathead River

After pushing close to ten miles on our second day in Glacier National Park, we were not sure how our energy would be for day three. Accordingly, we planned an easy day that involved hiking to Hidden Lake. This trail starts at the Logan Pass Visitor Center. From a previous morning, we already knew that the parking lot would be completely full by 7:00 am. That meant an early start.

One advantage of the early starts we were getting every day was the chance to enjoy sunrise every morning. This is something I always enjoy as a fishing guide since I’m often on the road by five or six each morning. For this day of hiking, we hit the road by about 5:30 am and were none too early. We got one of the last parking spots when we arrived at the Logan Pass Visitor Center around 6:30 am.

Our plan was to wander down to Hidden Lake and maybe even enjoy some fishing. This lake is supposed to contain Yellowstone cutthroat trout that are relatively easy to catch. The Tenkara rod was packed accordingly along with snacks, bear spray, water, and of course our cameras. We had our quick breakfast of fruit, granola, yogurt, and nuts and noticed quite a few other people doing the same thing. Soon we were done and ready to start moving.

Views on the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail


Hiking to Hidden Lake in Glacier National Park  

As we walked across the parking lot and up the stairs to find the beginning of the trail behind the visitor center, we were excited for what the day might hold. This excitement was quickly tempered when we found a sign at the beginning of the trail announcing a closure from the overlook onward. Apparently, the trail was closed because the cutthroat were spawning, and the bears were concentrated in area of the outlet stream looking fish to eat. Another bummer, but also another reason we need to return to Glacier National Park for another try. Still, we were already there and ready to walk. Up to the overlook we went.

This was the most crowded trail we hiked in Glacier with only the Avalanche Lake Trail being anywhere close. The reason for these trails’ popularity becomes obvious when you realize that they are two of the shortest trails and also two of the more scenic. Soon, we would be looking for longer hikes that would offer more solitude. At this moment, though, we were just happy to be tourists and see the sights.

The trail is a boardwalk for quite a distance. This helps protect the fragile alpine environment (please stay on the trail!!!) and also inadvertently provided some type of structure for marmots to live under. We found one of my favorite creatures of the Rockies early in our hike, and I had to stop for some pictures before moving on.

Marmot near Logan Pass Visitor Center on the way to Hidden Lake Overlook


The trail heads slowly uphill towards the southeast flank of Clements Mountain. Wildflowers were abundant here. While I was tempted to pull out my good camera, I kept using my cellphone and snapped a few quick shots of the glacier lilies which reminded me a lot of the trout lilies back home in Tennessee. In hindsight, I wish I had spent more time photographing them as we wouldn't find many more during our time in Glacier National Park. I didn't realize it at the time, but we were already late in the season to be finding them. Most of the specimens we saw were already starting to fade and wilt. 

Up high, large snow fields were still blocking the trail. We joined the throng of hikers slipping and sliding our way across the snow. As you hike, you are surrounded by big views everywhere you look. We could easily have spent our entire day wandering along this short section of trail with our cameras, but we had other plans. 

Mountain Goats Near Hidden Lake Overlook

Approaching the overlook, we noticed some mountain goats off to the north side of the boardwalk. They were really close to the trail. It was time to get out the “good” cameras instead of our cellphones we were using for quick pictures. One thing that both myself and my lovely wife enjoy is wildlife photography. Seeing animals that we don’t have in Tennessee is a highlight of our trips out west. We both turned our backs to the incredible scene of Hidden Lake and started photographing the mountain goats. The pictures were not anything fancy, but we were nice and close which made for good crisp pictures. 

Mountain Goat at Hidden Lake Overlook


Soon enough, the mountain goats wandered off and we turned back to the scene before us. Hidden Lake is spectacularly beautiful. I hate that we didn’t get to hike on down to the lake, but we enjoyed the views we had and the extra time it saved allowed us to enjoy some other portions of the park.

Hidden Lake Overlook in Glacier National Park


Finishing the Hidden Lake Overlook Hike


Snowfields on the way to Hidden Lake Overlook

With our cameras already out, we sauntered back towards the trailhead rather slowly. Taking lots of pictures along the way, we eventually were back near the beginning. 

Views along the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail


I finally slowed down long enough to enjoy some of the wildflowers before continuing on to the car. The spring beauties (second picture) were the first that I actually recognized although all the wildflowers were beautiful. The coiled lousewort (first picture) was one I had to look up later. I found out it is closely related to one of my favorites, elephant head lousewort. Seriously, they look like tiny pink elephant heads!


Spring Beauties on the Hidden Lake Overlook Trail


Searching for Wildlife on Going to the Sun Road

Back in the parking lot, we made someone very happy when they discovered we were about to leave. Vehicles of all shapes and sizes were circling continuously in search of a place to park. Access is definitely an issue at this park, and with the shuttle system shut down because of COVID along with the entire eastern side of the park, this problem was exacerbated. As we exited the parking lot, I turned the car east.

We decided to drive as far as possible and look for bears and other wildlife. This would become another daily ritual. Whenever we finished a hike with time to spare, we would drive along the Going to the Sun Road in search of wildlife. The road was open all the way to a roadblock along Saint Mary Lake. With the east side of Glacier National Park completely shut down due to COVID, people had to turn around at this point. 

We stopped at the Wild Goose Island Lookout and took a few pictures before continuing onward. We were lucky to find the lake calm as glass and reflecting the mountainous background like a mirror. This side of Glacier tends to be windy, so this was quite the treat. 

Wild Goose Island in Saint Mary Lake


On this day, the wildlife managed to elude us except for some glorious views. As we headed back west, a stop at camp sounded like a plan along with a trip to town. We wanted to pick up a few groceries in town and check out a different section of Glacier National Park. 


Fly Fishing the North Fork Flathead River near Polebridge, Montana

After the town stop, we headed north to Pole Bridge. This area of the park does not see as much visitation as the famous Going to the Sun Road, but there were still plenty of people around. One bonus of this portion of Glacier National Park lies in the fishing regulations. The North Fork of the Flathead River can be fished without a fishing license, provided that you are accessing it from Glacier National Park and not from Montana state lands. My good friend Bryan Allison had given me a tip on fishing that area, so I was anxious to give it a try. Thankfully, some reasonable access was not too hard to figure out. 

The warm afternoon breeze had me thinking hoppers. I quickly rigged a fly rod with a big foam bug and was soon wading in my sandals. Surprisingly, the fish would at least check out my offering but were being a little shy. I’m guessing they got at least some pressure based on both the fishermen’s trail from where we parked and also the constant parade of boats going by. At least a few of the passing boats contained anglers.

Finally, after switching flies a few times, I settled on a small yellow stimulator and was soon catching plenty of fish. They weren’t really picky exactly, but they did want something a little more natural. Despite my hopes, there wasn’t a massive grasshopper hatch in progress and the fish were looking for aquatic insects hatching. The bright sunny day had some caddis popping along with a few smaller stoneflies. Interestingly, they weren't as interested in nymphs or pupa patterns as they were in dry flies. Cutthroat trout just really like dry flies!


The fish here are not big, or at least I didn’t find any large ones. They were larger than the small fish at Snyder Lake the day before though. They were also reasonably willing to eat a fly, at least once the correct fly was tied on. I caught a few and offered the rod to my wife, but she declined. I got the idea that she might prefer to continue our search for animals, so before long we were back on the road. It was getting later in the day now, and we hoped to find some wildlife moving about.

North Fork Flathead River cutthroat trout near Pole Bridge
  


Back to Camp For the Night

Apparently it was not meant to be. We made the drive back down to the Glacier Campground via the Camas Road through Glacier National Park. There were some nice meadows but no wildlife feeding in them. The hot weather probably had most of the wildlife either in the woods or at higher elevations. We made it back to camp in time for a leisurely evening. We had another very early start ahead of us to find parking at one of the most popular trailheads in Glacier National Park. Back in camp, we found one last bit of wildlife for the day...

Spider Web at Glacier Campground





Sunday, January 03, 2021

Glacier Day Two: Hiking and Fishing at Snyder Lake

Hitting Our Stride on the Trail to Snyder Lake 

On our first full day in Glacier National Park, we had learned some valuable lessons. Looking to put those lessons into practice, we began a routine on day two that would stick with us the rest of our time in Glacier with one notable exception. The first part of this routine involved getting up rather early. Since we had just come from Tennessee, our bodies were still wired to get up on Tennessee time so this wasn't as hard as you might think. On the other hand, neither me nor my wife are naturally morning people, so there was a strong urge to sleep just a little longer the first few mornings. As we began to reap the benefits of our early mornings, this urge was easier and easier to fight. 

The second part of this routine was to immediately leave camp for the trailhead as soon as we got out of bed. Breakfast and lunch prep could happen at the trailhead since our cooler and other meal items were always in the trunk of the car. We learned early on that getting to the trailhead first was of paramount importance, and we could do other parts of our morning routine once we got there. Parking was at a premium and we simply could not do hikes we had planned on if we didn't get an early start.

The plan for day two came together quickly. We wanted a medium length hike that would feature some elevation gain and loss to start warming up for bigger hikes ahead. The trail to Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park is supposed to be 4.4 miles from the trailhead to the backcountry campsite at the lake. We expected to cover a bit more ground than that with some extra exploring while we were there. 

Snyder Lake Trail Map

The hike to Snyder Lake actually begins on the Gunsight Pass Trail. This trail connects the east and west sides of Glacier National Park, but on this day, we would only be covering a small portion of it. The first mile and a half or a little more of our day was on the Gunsight Pass Trail before the Snyder Lake Trail took off to the northeast. The trail climbed rapidly from Lake McDonald to the trail junction before continuing up to Snyder Lake. As far as climbs went, the steepest part was the early portion of the Gunsight Pass trail. While the Snyder Lake Trail is still climbing, it is a steady but gentle climb compared to others we would do in Glacier.

Early on in our hike, I was quickly distracted by the majestic forest we were traveling through. The hemlocks were recognizable to a traveler from East Tennessee although these were the western variety. Other evergreens grew in abundance as well. There is something magical about any forest, but to someone who is used to mostly deciduous forests, I always revel in evergreen forests more than any other.

Forest near Lake McDonald on the way to Snyder Lake


On the forest floor, I was finding enough flowers to get quickly distracted. In fact, we were still almost within sight of the car when I was down on my knees taking pictures. The wintergreen or Pipsissewa was blooming profusely. Quickly realizing I couldn't photograph all of the flowers, I got back up and tried to stay focused on the uphill climb. There would be plenty more flowers ahead. 

Pipsissewa along the Gunsight Pass trail on the way to Snyder Lake

Wintergreen or pipsissewa on the way to Snyder Lake


Right around the trail junction where the Snyder Lake Trail took off from the Gunsight Pass Trail, we met some backpackers and exchanged pleasantries. They were heading out after a few days in the backcountry and warned us strongly about bears. I think I may have been too enthusiastic with my inquiries on the topic. As we were walking away, I heard one of them say something muffled to which another replied, "At least they have some bear spray." Needless to say, I think they were concerned for our safety. 

Bear Safety in Glacier National Park

Let's just take a moment now to cover some important information. First, if you ever meet me in the woods, I may come across as though I'm out looking for wildlife. That's not exactly true, but I'm definitely always interested in seeing it. Spotting wildlife is a highlight of every trip we take. You might even deduce that I'm a little too interested in finding grizzly bears. However, I probably respect them more than 99.9% of other people do. Yes, I would love to see one while out on the trail sometime, but I'm totally okay when that doesn't happen. In fact, I actively take measures to make sure they know I'm around which probably means I'm eliminating most opportunities to see one. 

While in the woods in grizzly country, I highly recommend keeping bear spray close and easy to hand. I also recommend making LOTS of noise, and I don't mean timid quiet noise. This is noise that alerts anything and everything around to your presence. You'll hear me talking loudly both to myself, my wife, and of course the bears. My favorite is the traditional "hey bear!!!" but I mix it up a lot as well. That gets boring after a little while. 

Some people choose to wear bear bells (say that five times fast). You've probably even heard the old joke about those bear bells. The first time I ever heard the joke was right before my first trip to Yellowstone. I wasn't sure how serious the joke was, but when I hit my first trail in Yellowstone solo and ran into other hikers with bells, it really hit me that I was out in the woods with something a little bigger and badder than me. Ever since, I've hiked a lot in grizzly country, and I've always made a lot of noise. I've even wore a bell a time or two, but honestly they don't make enough noise if you ask me. Your own voice is much better, you just need to remember to constantly use it.

I've never been attacked by a grizzly and hope never to have it happen. That's why I go to so much trouble to avoid any close encounters. If it did happen though, I hope I would follow the advice everyone should follow. In a nutshell, with a black bear, fight back. With a grizzly, play dead and try to cover your neck and the back of your head while you're at it. Grizzly bears will often come back when you start to "wake" up, so don't go that route too soon. Again, I can't overstate the importance of bear spray while hiking in bear country. Some people choose firearms as well, but that sounds like way more hassle than its worth, and if you don't hit the bear perfectly, it will still come get you. The bear spray is much more reliable. Anyway, enough about bears. Lets' get back to the hike...

Snyder Lake Trail in Glacier National Park

Shortly after turning onto the Snyder Lake Trail, I made the most amazing discovery. Before our trip, I had been hoping to find some huckleberries somewhere in Glacier or on part two of our trip in northern Idaho. Lots of research had me fairly comfortable with identifying them, but so far we had found some of the look alike plants but not the real thing. We had barely started onto the actual Snyder Lake Trail when I noticed some berries on low bushes along the trail. My first taste had me sold. Huckleberries are delicious! 

You might remember that I really like huckleberry ice cream and it is always a highlight of my trips to Yellowstone National Park. We were not sure if we would try any ice cream on this trip for a variety of reasons but mostly due to COVID. So, as a consolation, I had prepared for huckleberry pancakes. Unfortunately, when we discovered our first huckleberries, I wasn't ready to collect them. We would have to hope for another opportunity. After this first discovery, I would make sure I was prepared for huckleberries anytime I thought I might want to collect a few.

As you hike the Snyder Lake Trail, you will begin passing through areas affected by the Sprague Fire. This wildfire happened just a few years ago so the landscape still has that raw look. Because of how recently the landscape has been affected by fire, the trail begins to open up a bit sooner than it otherwise might. Through here, you will definitely be feeling the summer sun. Shade became more and more infrequent until we had mostly given up on finding it. Water breaks became more important as we were still adjusting to the dry western air. However, the sunlight was also helping many wildflowers grow that might otherwise not be there. I soon found some new ones for me including the streambank globemallow and the green false hellebore. 

Streambank Globemallow in Glacier National Park on Snyder Lake Trail

green false hellebore on the Snyder Lake Trail

Tall green false hellebore trailside on the way to Snyder Lake


In fact, I was finding so many flowers that I quickly decided I couldn't waste my whole day on them if we were going to enjoy Snyder Lake. We did manage to get a couple of selfies on the trail. I also took a few of my wife walking through wildflowers that were taller than she was! Glacier is extremely lush with lots of moisture coming off the hillsides to water the various wildflowers.

On trail heading towards Snyder Lake

Lush wildflowers growing tall on Snyder Lake Trail


Eventually, the trail began to level out and we could sense that the lake was just ahead. Snyder Lake is nestled in a high basin at just under a mile in elevation. The lake is surrounded by Mt. Brown to the northwest, Edwards Mountain to the east, and the Little Matterhorn to the northeast. Just beyond Edwards Mountain lies the beautiful Sperry glacier and Comeau Pass, but we'll save that story for another day. The views at Snyder Lake are impressive, but not so much as when you get a bit higher in elevation. However, the reasonable distance from the trailhead and lovely hike make this a definite must for anyone who is serious about hiking in Glacier National Park. It is also a good fallback option when other parking lots have filled up as there is a decent amount of parking at the Sperry Chaley/Gunsight Pass trailhead.

Mount Brown over Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park


The terrain is wide open leading up to the lake, but there are plenty of trees in the immediate vicinity of the lake that survived the Sprague Fire. Nestled among the trees on the east side of the lake is a backcountry campsite. While we often wished we could have been spending the night on some of our hikes, the bugs made you second guess whether that would actually be a good idea. Snyder Lake was nowhere close to being the worst for bugs though and we were able to enjoy a leisurely lunch. Here we found some wildlife beyond the birds we had spotted on the hike in. 

Ground squirrels and chipmunks are always some of our favorites when out hiking. Snyder Lake was no different. These bold little critters had clearly been fed from time to time by unscrupulous hikers. We had to keep a close eye on them and our backpacks. The golden mantled ground squirrels there would try climbing into our packs in search of edibles given the opportunity. My wife in particular enjoyed photographing them although I got a few pictures as well. It was good fun for her while I got in my first fishing in Glacier National Park. 

Golden mantled ground squirrel at Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Fly Fishing Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Cutthroat trout at Snyder Lake


You know I would eventually get around to doing some fly fishing. While the Glacier National Park portion of our trip was not really about fishing, I could not completely ignore the fishing either. The good news about fishing in Glacier National Park is that you do not need a fishing license with just a few small exceptions. Make sure to check the current fishing regulations to make sure you are familiar with those exceptions, but the lack of a license requirement actually made fishing here a no brainer. 

The waters of Glacier are largely very low on nutrients leading to rather small fish. There are definitely some exceptions, but as a whole, the fishing is not noteworthy in the least. Thus, the Park does not require a fishing license, but there are still some special regulations you should check into. Certain streams and lakes are permanently closed to fishing to protect native species. Others have seasonal closures. With only one or two exceptions, the Park requires fishing to be done with artificial flies or lures only. Anglers are limited to one rod in use. 

While the fishing in Glacier National Park might not normally produce the same trophy sized fish that anglers are accustomed to elsewhere in Montana, the fish are still hungry, willing, and plentiful if you find the right place. Snyder Lake is one of those places. The fish here are quite small, however. For someone used to fly fishing and guiding in the Smokies, this wasn't a problem. 

I had begun a habit that I would continue throughout our time in Glacier National Park. A Tenkara USA rod would accompany me on nearly every hike. For the most part, I did not do any fishing on our hikes. However, I was always prepared just in case. If you have ever found yourself miles from your vehicle without fishing gear and discovered lots of trout, you know how frustrating it is. I decided I wasn't going to find myself in that position. If the opportunity arose, I was prepared to fish. The rod that I brought on this trip was the Rhodo. This is the rod I reach for most often in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park, but it proved to be excellent for my purposes in Glacier National Park as well. It is lightweight, so I don't really notice it in my pack. 

My Osprey Backpack with a Tenkara USA Rhodo


The small cutthroat trout of Snyder Lake were not at all picky. A small Parachute Adams seemed to be all I needed. Even my wife got in on the action and caught a few fish! The trout were cruising around looking for something to eat. If you got a good presentation without throwing a shadow over the fish, they would generally eat. Fly fishing with a Tenkara rod is interesting since you have a fixed length line. We would wait until a cutthroat trout would cruise into range and then present the fly. Here are a few of the fish we caught. 

Tenkara caught cutthroat trout at Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Closeup of a Snyder Lake cutthroat trout on a Parachute Adams

My wife's cutthroat trout on Snyder Lake

A closeup of my wife's catch fly fishing Snyder Lake

Snyder Lake cutthroat trout caught fly fishing with a Tenkara rod

A nicer cutthroat trout caught while fly fishing Snyder Lake

Fly Fishing Snyder Lake Video

While fly fishing at Snyder lake with my Tenkara rod, I asked my wife to take a quick video. Here is the result. Oh, and while you're at it, subscribe to my YouTube channel please!


Hiking Back Out From Snyder Lake

All good things must come to an end. On this day in particular, we were changing campsites and needed to get settled in to our new place. The original trip plan was to spend a large chunk of our time at Many Glacier. Unfortunately, due to COVID, the entire east side of the Park was closed. We were left scrambling for alternative camping arrangements and stumbled upon the wonderful Glacier Campground in West Glacier. We wanted to be back before dark to get our campsite arranged and supper made. 

Before the hike back out, we made one side detour. There were some small waterfalls at the head of Snyder Lake. Water surges down a steep but short canyon from Upper Snyder Lake to Snyder Lake and we wanted to explore a bit. We worked our way across the rocks around the north side of Snyder Lake and to the inlet creek. On our way, we spotted a golden eagle soaring above but didn't get any decent pictures. Climbing up the hill, we eventually gained a good view of the first waterfall. Looking on up the canyon, I could see a fairly good route continuing towards Upper Snyder Lake, but it was getting late and we really needed to be going. A trip to Upper Snyder Lake will be in my future, but on this day we needed to head on. 

Waterfall at Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Selfie at waterfall at Snyder Lake

I also paused long enough to take some pictures of Snyder Lake from another angle. This day was amazingly calm which offered some beautiful reflections in the lake. Calm winds are a rarity out west, so we greatly enjoyed this fine summer day. 

Snyder Lake as viewed from the head of the lake

Looking down towards Snyder Lake in Glacier National Park

Not too far down the trail, I began to get distracted by wildflowers again. Glacier National Park has incredible displays of wildflowers, and I was enjoying every new discovery and some old favorites. The colors of some of the flowers were almost fake they were so brilliant. The first is Alberta beardtongue (I think, please let me know if you have a better idea!) or some other penstemon and the second is one of my favorites from our trip, the purple monkeyflower. I'm a bit unclear on why it is the purple monkeyflower when the color is obviously pink, but then I'm not the one naming these things. 



The late day sunlight was filtering through the trees as we descended back towards Lake McDonald. When we arrived back at the car, we had covered 9.75 miles according to my wife's watch. We were tired but not sore. A good supper and a well deserved night's rest was all we needed or wanted. The next day's adventure would arrive soon enough and we wanted to be ready. 

Snyder Lake Trail in the late day sun


Thursday, December 31, 2015

The Trout Zone's 2015 Year in Review

With the end of the year comes the usual "Year in Review" posts proliferating on your favorite fly fishing blogs. Mine is no exception. This is a long running tradition that I try* to accomplish every year, not for my readers but for myself. Not everyone is able to enjoy the adventures that I experience on a yearly basis, and reliving those moments reminds me of how blessed I truly am.

If you are interested in catching up on some previous years' posts, here are a couple of my favorites.

2014 Year in Review

2011: Quality Fishing


Just looking over those two posts reminded me of the great times I've had. I'm also reminded of the tough times. Checking the archives reminded me that I did not do a year in review for 2013. That probably has something to do with a transition back to TN from Colorado and career change. Regardless of how exciting that can be, it also comes with a lot of stress and difficulty. Thankfully, 2015 has been a very good year, both for the second year of my new venture as a fly fishing guide, and also for my own fly fishing and exploring opportunities.

Early in the year, I had one of those memorable days of streamer fishing that every streamer junkie dreams about. As it turns out, that would be a precursor of things to come.

As the winter continued, the early pleasant weather of December and January gave way to some of the nastiest winter weather. Not one but two ice storms pounded the Cumberland Plateau. In between the crazy weather, I did manage to enjoy some time on the Hiwassee and experienced first-hand how successful the delayed harvest has become.


Once the ice hit, we were knocked out of business for a while. With electricity (and Internet) out for 10 days, I returned to the days of the pioneers. Turns out that is not necessarily a bad thing! I got to bed early every night (what else was I going to do?), building up strength that was then spent cleaning up from the general devastation. We're still seeing and hearing limbs coming down from the ice storm.


As we rolled into March, some of the biggest news of the year happened, at least if you were a Smoky Mountain fisherman: Lynn Camp Prong was opened after a multi-year closure to restore the native southern Appalachia brook trout. There are still way too many people fishing that stream for my taste, but another year or so should fix that as people get it out of their systems and move back to trying other equally good (or arguably better) waters.

Also in March, I added a new state to my list of places fished. A pleasant trip down to South Carolina to see my cousin gave us time to catch up and get some much needed spring fishing in. Tennessee was still trying to catch up from the cold weather and our spring hatches were a bit delayed. In South Carolina, I found both bugs and rising trout although most fish were caught subsurface.

Shortly thereafter, I managed to sneak away for a day of brook trout fishing in the Smokies. This turned out to be one of my favorite days of fishing for the year. Admittedly, I do have a few of those. Another was soon to come in fact.


Squeezing a fishing and camping trip around a guide trip, I managed to fish more new water (I did that a LOT in 2015!). This time it was a trip over to the North Carolina side of the Park. Not only did I get in some streamer fishing (there's that theme again!), but I hiked up a stream that I had wanted to fish hard for a while and had a banner day.


Guide trips were in full swing by the end of April and we were seeing hatches complete with rising trout nearly every day. Not just a few bugs here and there, but lots of bugs across all of the streams fished. Important lessons were learned in the process as the fish become just selective enough that you actually needed to have more or less the right bug on the end of your line.

May continued with more of the same great fishing and catching. Two highlights in particular stand out for that month. The first was a float trip with my dad down the Caney Fork. We spent a considerable amount of time teaching him to both cast and to set the hook, but once that was accomplished things went quite well. Late in the month, around guide trips and other things that kept me busy overall, I had a banner day fishing for smallmouth on a Cumberland Plateau stream that yielded my largest small stream smallie to date.


June was busy enough with my guiding that it tied for the month with the second fewest blog posts. The guiding went quite well, however, with a Father's Day guided float trip seeing a big trout landed on the Caney Fork.

In July, we received a much needed shot in the arm with rain finally falling after an extended period of low flows in the mountains. This cool deluge brought down stream temperatures, boosted flows, and got the fish interested in feeding heavily again. One of the highlights of the year guiding was having a return client nail a big brown trout on a terrestrial in the Smokies. We were both really happy about that!

The streamer theme for the year really took off in early August. A change of plans had my cousin and his father-in-law throwing streamers on high water on the Caney. We found some willing trout and some big ones at that! This fish tied for my largest of the year although I think my Yellowstone trout took the top honors for several reasons.


Speaking of Yellowstone, the last two weeks of September were dedicated to a long anticipated fly fishing trip to Yellowstone. I camped and fished until I was tired and ready to go home. In fact, I still owe you some posts on my trip there! The best day of the whole trip from a catching standpoint happened early, on the second day in fact. It began with epic fishing for cutthroat trout and finished with the big brown trout that I had travelled all that way to catch.


I returned from Yellowstone to a busy guide schedule in the peak of the fall fishing season. This was a great October for fishing across middle and east Tennessee. Float trips on the Caney saw some of the lowest numbers of the season but we still saw quality trout including this big rainbow. Fly fishing in the mountains was excellent. Fish were rising to dry flies well but also taking patterns like my Isonychia Soft Hackle like there was no tomorrow. The fall colors were as good as I can ever remember.


This good fishing continued into November and then December, almost like fall had never ended. The leaves were off the trees but the fish kept eating like it was October. In fact, the largest fish caught on a guide trip this year came in early December in the Smokies. This is actually a very good time to target large brown trout in the Smokies, but we admittedly got lucky since we were not sight fishing to this bad boy. What a great big brown trout!

With the holiday season came rain. Lots and lots of rain. In fact, I unfortunately had to cancel guide trips this week with high water dominating in the mountains. Better to cancel a trip though then to take someone's money and spend the whole day looking for fishable water or at least that's my opinion.

In between guide trips, I still found a few fish for myself to catch as well!


As we move into the near year of 2016, I'm excited to see what is in store for me, Trout Zone Anglers, and fishing across middle and east Tennessee. I'm currently taking bookings well into spring 2016 so if you are hoping to spend a day on the water with me in 2016, book the trip soon. I can tailor a day on the water to suit your goals. If the adventures I had in 2015 look like something you would like to experience, then email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com or call/text (931) 261-1884 to book your day on the water.


*Note that try only corresponds with actual achievement some of the time.

Tuesday, December 01, 2015

Back to Paradise Valley: Yellowstone Day Four

Cutthroat trout on the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park

After a fantastic day on the Lamar River (click the link and read to get caught up if you have not already done so) on just the second day of my Yellowstone 2015 trip, a return was in order. After a fairly tough day with just a few trout to hand, I wanted my buddy Kevin to experience some truly great Yellowstone fishing. As I told him, when you come to Yellowstone you need to fish for cutthroat trout. I figured that we would have a good time and catch some nice trout in Paradise Valley. Between the Lamar which had treated me so well two days prior and also Soda Butte and Slough Creeks, we had plenty of water to keep us busy for the day.

On the way over, we had to pass Roosevelt. Just south of that junction was the Yellowstone River falls area. We quickly detoured to see that as the day needed some time to warm up. The trout would be a little sluggish until later in the morning anyway. Nevertheless, our visit to the Lower Falls was brief as thoughts of large cutthroat kept nagging at us.

Lower Falls on the Yellowstone River

Upon arriving in the Lamar Valley, we slowly drove up to Soda Butte Creek. Lots of anglers were already on the water throughout the valley so bypassing the Lamar River was an easy choice. Finally, we found a good pulloff near the Pebble Creek Campground. Kevin was anxious to get started and wasted no time rigging up and heading for the stream. I, on the other hand, continued my now established tradition of a stream side breakfast before fishing. By the time I was finished, Kevin had worked through at least a couple of good looking runs without even spotting a trout.

Just as I joined him on the water, he was working up to a particularly good looking pool. His first cast was on the money and a big cutthroat ghosted out from beneath a fallen pine tree to take a look at his hopper. Both of us got excited but that didn't help convince the fish to eat. A dropper was added to the rig but that still didn't put any fish in the net. We continued working upstream, seeing a few fish here and there but not particularly great numbers. It was obvious that the fish had been pounded all summer. Gullible was not in their vocabulary on this particular day. Thankfully, the scenery more than made up for the slow fishing.

Soda Butte Creek and a large bull bison or buffalo

An angler fishes a pool on Soda Butte Creek

After missing some nice fish and in general getting tired, it was determined that we should head back down the valley to the Lamar and try our luck there. I remembered all too well how it had fished so recently and was convinced we would find some fish if we just found some open water there. Sure enough, the fish were there and easy to spot I might add. The water had cleared even more since I had fished it and now the fish were very cautious in the low clear flows of autumn. I had indeed hit it on the perfect day and was appreciating that fantastic fishing more and more by the day. Still, finding fish is at least half of the battle so we were in business with trout that we could spot.

With time and persistence, trout started coming to hand. Not in the mass quantities of two days prior, but better than going fishless for sure. Hoppers were still getting it done although there were some mayflies on the water as well. Kevin got his first Yellowstone cutthroat right at the junction of the Lamar and Soda Butte. He had spotted big fish cruising a large flat there, rising to various bugs including mayflies and terrestrials. After breaking the first two off, he was happy to land this gorgeous fish.

Lamar River cutthroat trout in Yellowstone National Park

Nearby, I also caught some trout and enjoyed the sweeping vistas. The low water was all too obvious though as you can see in the picture below.

The junction of the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek in Yellowstone National Park

By this time, the sun was moving well towards the horizon and we had a decision to make. Leaving and heading back towards camp would get us there in time for about an hour of fishing in the evening on the Gibbon River. My experience in catching a big brown trout earlier in the week definitely tempted us to take this option. On the other hand, it was at least a good hour to get back and we would be burning valuable daylight to do so. Eventually, we decided to stay on the Lamar and try some different water.

As the river leaves the wide open valley it descends into a short canyon stretch. On both ends of this canyon are some rather large pools I have always wanted to fish. We found an open stretch and found a place to scramble down the steep slope. With daylight getting weaker as nightfall approached, Kevin decided to try streamers. I, on the other hand, noticed some spinners on the water and decided that an appropriate imitation fished behind my hopper might be good. Both of us found some good success! That just happens to be one of my favorite things about fly fishing. If you are persistent, you can usually scrounge up at least a few trout on whatever method you choose.

A closeup of my beautiful dry fly caught cutthroat trout on the Lamar River

A nice cutthroat on the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park

As the sun sank, the low even light made for some great photo opportunities. The mood was enhanced by pronghorn antelope coming down for an evening drink just downstream from me. I almost expected a wolf or grizzly bear to make an appearance and complete the scene. It is probably best that neither showed up though. It was a long run uphill to the supposed safety of my car.

Dusk on the Lamar River in Yellowstone National Park

Far downstream, I could see Kevin still working a section where he had caught a really nice cutthroat, probably looking for one even bigger. I was happy with my nice fish and decided to leave all of the other fish alone. The walk uphill to my car went quicker than I expected. With plenty of time, I took off the wading boots and grabbed a light jacket against the chill already developing. My camera was still ready to work so I snapped one last shot to help me remember that great day I had just enjoyed...

Evening on the Lamar River