Photo of the Month: Backcountry Brook Trout

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

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

Friday, October 23, 2015

Day of Days on the Lamar River: Yellowstone Day Two

Lamar River

Fly fishing in Yellowstone is all about tough decisions. For example, should I fish the Lamar River today or perhaps the Yellowstone? Or the west side rivers such as the Madison, Gibbon, or Firehole? Or numerous other fantastic streams, rivers, creeks, lakes, ponds...well you get the picture. I suppose it is a good problem to have, and like most other decisions in life, the best way forward is to simply decide and be done with it.

So I found myself headed for the Lamar River Valley in the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. My second full day in the Park was bright with promise and more than a hint of the unseasonably warm afternoon in store.


After the great breakfast at Canyon the previous day, I almost stopped again a second time, but knew that I had plenty of food that needed eating. With the chilly early morning, this kicked off a routine that stayed largely intact throughout my camping trip: drive to my fishing location early, and then eat breakfast by the water while things warmed up. That proved to be a winning formula that I'm still using here in Tennessee. Upon arrival in the Lamar Valley, I found an open pulloff and fixed a breakfast of bagels, yogurt, granola, and carrot sticks (hey, I needed something fresh!).

After eating, the water nearly at my feet was still open so I quickly donned my waders and rigged up a rod appropriate for the conditions. My 9' 5 weight Sage Accel seemed ideal for the mix of nymphs and midges early in the day that would, I hoped, transition to dry flies or even hoppers in the afternoon. Little did I know what was in store for me that day!


In the first 70 yards or so of water, I saw a couple of fish that lazily crept up to glance at a heavy tungsten bead head Pheasant Tail nymph, but they just weren't ready to commit to such an offering. Just upstream, a large pool was formed where a riffle dumped into a seemingly bottomless hole. To one side there was a large rock formation sticking out into the current with a large back eddy on the upstream side. And in that back eddy? A big foam mat with noses poking through regularly to take some microscopic bug.

Not one to shy away from a challenge, I forded the riffle across rocks that were surprisingly slick. I was wearing my Patagonia boots with rubber soles and found they just weren't as good as felt. Creeping into position just above the back eddy, I started casting my hopper with the heavy beachhead nymph dropper. A couple of half-hearted slashes told me that they knew what hoppers were but probably just weren't expecting to see any this early in the day. A change of flies was in order. A smaller dry fly was my first attempt, but these fish were more stubborn than your average cutthroat. Next I dropped a Zebra Midge behind the dry fly and that proved to be the answer and good for 3-4 fat trout.


Eventually I decided that the majority of fish under that mat were probably either spooked or just getting smart so I headed on upstream. Fording the riffle was again treacherous, but just short of impossible. In other words, I was nervous the whole way, but in the end it worked just fine. Vowing to stay on my side of the stream from here on out, I moved up to the next pool, this one a nice bend pool.

All things considered, this pool just didn't seem like the midge factory that the previous spot had been. With a lack of rising trout, I returned to the hopper/dropper setup and significantly increased the dropper length for such deep water. Slowly working into the inside of the bend, I was finally throwing my flies into the riffle at the head so the nymph would sweep over the drop off. Just as I had hoped, the hopper shot down after several drifts and when I set the hook, a big golden slab flashed.

As with most situations where you have a big fish on the line, my heart momentarily stood still before panic set in. Just as quickly I realized that only a calm effort on my part would ultimately help me to land the fish. Talking myself through the fight, I fought the fish and countered its every move. Every time it would start to come up in the water column, I caught a glimpse of those bright golden flanks. Finally I slipped the net under and the fish fell in just as the nymph fell out of its mouth. Talk about a close call.

The big cutthroat would prove to be one of the largest I landed during my trip, measuring right at 19 inches. After such a long fight, I didn't want to go through the whole hero shot routine so I took a couple of shots in hand and then let it go.


Heading upstream, I had a couple of shots at decent fish before running into another group of anglers. My morning was more successful than I had hoped for, and so I happily headed back to my car for a break. It was time to look for another spot.

By this point in the day, a few things were coming back to my remembrance. Just the day before, a gentleman I spoke with had mentioned that the Lamar was muddy when they passed it. The week before, rain had fallen across the watershed. Known to muddy easily and clear slowly, the Lamar is said to fish extremely well if you hit the stream on the day that the water is clearing, or at least that is what my memory was telling my based on repeated readings of Craig Matthews and Clayton Molinero's  Yellowstone Fly-Fishing Guide. As it turns it, both the book and my memory were correct. I was in the middle of the day of days, one to remember for many years to come. The afternoon was warming even more than I had anticipated with the temperature gauge on my car pushing into the upper 70s. Driving towards the next spot with my windows rolled down, I heard the sound I hadn't dared to hope for this late in the season: grasshoppers!!!!

Having driven past the junction pool where the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek join many times over the years, for some reason I never actually stopped to fish there. As it turns out, that was a mistake. The hardest part about fishing here is finding it open. Normally there are other anglers already fishing it, but on this day of days I found it open and beckoning me.

This time I found rising trout. Best of all, they liked my hoppers. I'm not fancy when it comes to fishing and tying hoppers. My hoppers are simple foam and rubber leg jobs, quite similar to the classic Chernobyl Hopper. Apparently the fish liked them though as they chewed threw one and then another until I was glad that I had fly tying materials and a vise along with me. I would be tying again that evening.

Lamar River cutthroat trout

Eventually, I did something I never thought I would do and quit fishing. At some point, it is probably greedy to keep catching trout under such conditions. I was more than satisfied and decided to hike up to Trout Lake just to see the scenery and see if any fish were moving around.

After a quick but intense hike up the hill, I headed straight for a spot that normally holds a fish. Sure enough, there it was. The hopper was only mildly interesting but a beetle was much more intriguing. Enough so, in fact, that I hooked it after only 2-3 casts. A quick circuit of the lake and a hike up to the next lake above provided some great views but no more trout.



By this time, the sun was headed towards its rendezvous with the horizon. Recognizing that I had enough time to head back to camp and still fish an hour or so, I decided to make a run for it. The Gibbon was calling. Along the way, I found the usual bison and also some bighorn sheep posing for tourists taking pictures so I joined in the fun.




After shooting this picture, I was driving again, headed towards the highlight of my trip. Of course, I didn't know that at the time...

To Be Continued