Photo of the Month: Bycatch

Showing posts with label Lamar Valley. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Lamar Valley. 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

Thursday, September 27, 2018

Just a Taste

We left the Bighorn Mountains and Medicine Wheel behind and pointed the car west into the Bighorn Basin. This huge basin requires an extremely steep descent on highway 14A so we took things slow. The runaway truck ramps suggested that not everyone made it happily down this mountain. Even while using low gear, I still had to brake a lot, and so we pulled over from time to time to enjoy the smoky views and let the car have a rest. As we approached the bottom, sunflowers were growing in profusion along the roadway. My final stop before the bottom was to get a quick picture of these.

annual sunflowers along highway 14A in the Bighorn Basin

Bighorn Basin to Cody

Once we got to the bottom, the next hour or two found us meandering across the bottom of the basin towards Cody. A true western tourist town, Cody has a rodeo every night during peak season. We were not there for those types of tourist activities and quickly continued on towards Yellowstone. Our final destination of the trip was within reach, and we were both excited to get there and tired of sitting for so long on the drive out. Little did I know about the gem we would find before ever making it into Yellowstone.

North Fork of the Shoshone River

As you leave Cody heading towards Yellowstone, a narrow canyon seemingly blocks all progress. As you drive west, the road finds a way threading along the side of the North Fork of the Shoshone River. The short canyon is dammed at the head by Buffalo Bill Dam. From here upstream, the river runs through a beautiful high valley ascending towards the east entrance to Yellowstone National Park.

The east entrance to Yellowstone was the only entrance that I had never visited, until this trip. That means I also never drove up the North Fork of the Shoshone River. I can promise that I will now return just to fish this river! The river has an amazing mix of water types, but overall is perfect for fly fishing and promises large trout. I would love to mountain goat my way around the canyon below the reservoir as well someday. Sometimes it requires just a taste to get someone hooked, and that is what the North Fork did to me.

Devil's Elbow on the North Fork Shoshone River Wyoming
Devil's Elbow on the North Fork Shoshone River

Bear Stories

While stopped at a roadside picnic area for lunch, we spoke with a local angler who had quite the tail to tell. Apparently he had been fishing right behind the picnic area one day when an extremely large grizzly strolled down from the hills to the north of the river. The bear came down, walked east along the bank and then crossed just below him in about 3 strides. Mind you, we are talking about a good sized western river, but then these are some seriously big bears as well. He had his artillery out along with bear spray while retreating quickly to his truck. Thankfully the bear had other ideas and kept hustling on south, across the highway, and up into the hills.

After lunch we walked down the the famed gravel bar and imagined the grizzly charging across the river. Note to self, never go ANYWHERE without bear spray in grizzly country. Thankfully we always remembered it while hiking in Yellowstone, but the lesson from that story was always in the back of our minds.

Enter Yellowstone

The heavy smoke was still laying thick over the area as we finally entered the Park and made our way up Sylvan Pass. From this highpoint, we should have been able to see Yellowstone Lake, but instead a see of smoke lay before us. Wildflowers made up for the lack of big views.

As we descended, we noticed a handful of animals in the woods, but mostly we were just focused on getting to our campsite at Canyon for the night. We did stop along the shores of Yellowstone Lake briefly. I hoped that the air would clear in short order so Leah could enjoy the wide views that are usual in Yellowstone National Park.

Smoke enshrouds Yellowstone Lake

First Trip to the Lamar Valley in Yellowstone National Park

After setting up camp, we went for a short drive to look for animals. Leah got her first views of the huge bison herds of the Lamar Valley along with some closeups of pronghorn. The moon was coming up as we returned to camp and was quite spectacular through the haze of smoke enveloping the Park.

Lamar Valley Yellowstone Pronghorn

Lamar Valley Bison walks along Yellowstone's northeast entrance road

Yellowstone National Park Bison cross the Lamar River

Yellowstone National Park and Soda Butte Creek

Yellowstone National Park full moon

Yellowstone full moon moonrise

That night, we got to bed early after a quick supper so we would be prepared for our big first full day in Yellowstone. 

-To Be Continued...

Subscribe to the Trout Zone Anglers Newsletter!

* indicates required