Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth

Photo of the Month: Ol' Gator Mouth
Showing posts with label Yellowstone 2015. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yellowstone 2015. Show all posts

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


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


Tuesday, October 06, 2015

Yellowstone Cutthroat Love the PB&J


With my Yellowstone vacation wrapped up, I'm still deciding whether or not I'm glad to be home or not. Like all good trips this one had to end, but not until I had caught plenty of big trout and enjoyed some unseasonably warm weather. Foul weather and large numbers of lake run fish would have been nice, but not waking up to lots of snow and freezing temperatures was also nice.

One of the best parts about the trip is that I threw streamers or hoppers almost exclusively except for when I dropped some soft hackles off of the streamer or large nymph for the lake run fish. Lots of streamers were thrown including one of my favorites, the PB&J.  As it turns out, Yellowstone cutthroat love the PB&J just about as much as Tennessee tailwater trout do. This despite the fact that there are not any shad around on the Yellowstone River, but the lack of shad did not seem to make the fish shy about eating it. Apparently it is just one of those patterns that catch fish under a large variety of circumstances.

I'm still in the middle of processing the many gigabytes of pictures that I took. Starting in another couple of days, I'll be guiding pretty steadily for a while also. That means that Yellowstone reports will come along but may stretch out over the next month or even two. Thank you for your patience. In the meantime, watch the Little River Outfitters message board for an initial abbreviated report and also my Facebook pages for the Trout Zone and Trout Zone Anglers for pictures and other tidbits from the trip. Some pictures will also show up on Twitter.

If you are looking for a guided fly fishing trip this month or next, the calendar is getting close to full. Book sooner as opposed to later or else I will be out of open dates. Right now, I have October 21 and 22 available as well as some days the last week of the month. November is looking a bit more open as of right now, but the inquiries are starting to come in so don't wait too long. Contact me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com if you are interested in a guided fly fishing trip in the Smokies or on the Caney Fork River.