Photo of the Month: Bycatch

Showing posts with label Yellowstone National Park. Show all posts
Showing posts with label Yellowstone National Park. Show all posts

Thursday, March 25, 2021

Yellowstone National Park Fishing License Fee Increase

Yellowstone National Park is at it again. If you remember from my piece on the Gibbon River back in 2010, park management in Yellowstone has done some rather curious things over the years. At that time, it was "restoring" a stream with a species that had never occurred there naturally. Lots of pushback appears to have encouraged them to modify that plan somewhat. Still, I'm guessing that at some point they'll have some interesting ideas about that again. In other words, the fisheries department in Yellowstone does not always operate on good science.

Now, Yellowstone National Park management has found an opportunity to hopefully increase revenue and is specifically picking on anglers in the process. Apparently we have not been paying enough for our Yellowstone fishing licenses all these years. The remedy is an over 100% average license fee increase for 2021. Yes, you read that correctly. 

Here is the overall breakdown. The 3 day Yellowstone National Park fishing license is going from $18 to $40. The 7 day fishing license is going from $25 to $55. Finally, the Yellowstone National Park annual fishing license is a true deal, going from $40 to only $75. Seriously, who dreams up these types of license increases?

I'm tired of hearing about how costs have been increasing as has been argued locally when license fees have increased. If wages had increased over 100% since the last fishing license fee increase, then this would have made sense. By the way, the last fishing license increase for Yellowstone National Park was apparently in 2012. I sincerely hope your paycheck has increased over 100% in that time. Mine hasn't and I'm guessing most other people haven't been so lucky either. 

So, in only nine years, Yellowstone National Park needs more than double the fishing license revenue? That is absurd. Thus, now you have a Park who has obviously poorly managed their resources in the past (go back and read the article I mentioned above before disagreeing please), looking to get more than double the revenue for managing the same resources

If you are interested in the full press release from Yellowstone National Park, you can find it HERE. While Yellowstone is still extremely high on my list of favorite places to fish, I'll be making far fewer trips now than before. If I'm going to pay fishing license fees on par with what states are charging (part of their logic in raising fees this much), then I'll buy one for a whole state where I have a lot more fishing options at my disposal. I love Yellowstone. This won't completely prevent me from visiting, but it leaves a bad enough taste in my mouth that my overall number of visits are going to be drastically reduced. And maybe that was their goal all along. If they can reduce the number of visitors and anglers, then some of the crowding issues will be resolved. Hopefully for those of you that still visit regularly, that can be a possible silver lining. 


Wednesday, December 05, 2018

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River in Yellowstone on a Cold Rainy Day

If I had to pick one river that draws me back to Yellowstone National Park time and again it would be the Gibbon. Primarily featuring gorgeous meadow water, the Gibbon River also has some canyon sections, water falls, lake run fish, and huge resident brown trout. The Gibbon River is also a stream facing significant challenges and unfortunately may not long be a stream worth fishing. Despite those challenges, fly fishing the Gibbon River still provides some of my favorite fly fishing in Yellowstone. In my most recent Yellowstone trip, I had a chance to spend a little time on this wonderful stream. Before that story, here is a bit about fly fishing the Gibbon River as well as challenges facing this incredibly unique fishery.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Lower Meadows

The Gibbon River can be split into several distinct sections. The lowest and probably most famous water is from Madison Junction upstream to Gibbon Falls. This section hosts tremendous numbers of large rainbow and brown trout from Hebgen Lake from fall through early spring of each year. The brown trout head upstream from the lake through the Madison River on a spawning journey that eventually finds them in either the Firehole River or the Gibbon River. Rainbow trout move into the system as well for the same reasons. While many anglers make the journey to Yellowstone in October to fish for these incredible trout, I prefer fishing areas upstream from this section simply for the challenge that they present.

Fly fishing the Gibbon River Gibbon Falls
Gibbon Falls - ©2018 David Knapp Photography

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Canyon and Gibbon Meadows

The next section of the Gibbon River is the canyon from Gibbon Falls upstream to Gibbon Meadows. This canyon section provides some great fishing both early and late in the season. Fish are not very large on average although a few larger fish are present. In Gibbon Meadows, the river slows down and meanders slowly across a wide landscape. A few large trout may be found here, but few anglers are up to the challenge of stalking them.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Elk Park to Grebe Lake

Upstream from Gibbon Meadows is another short canyon stretch which ends near Norris in another meadow section. Elk Park provides more meandering meadow water and is also some of my favorite water on the river. Meandering behind the Norris Geyser Basin, the Gibbon leaves the road for a couple of miles before returning and providing easy access near Norris Campground. If you want to fly fish the Gibbon River in its upper reaches, stay at this campground. Above Norris, the Gibbon enters another canyon leading upstream to Virginia Cascades. Above this scenic waterfall is another beautiful little meadow known as Virginia Meadows. This water previously had some fantastic fishing for wild brook trout although I've also caught cuttbows here with more rainbow heritage than cutthroat. Those fish are no longer there, however.

Above Virginia Meadows, the river and its tributaries flow through heavy brush as it descends from Grebe Wolf, and Ice Lakes. This entire section was recently treated by the National Park Service. While well intentioned, the Yellowstone National Park fisheries department is following shaky science at best with their efforts on the Gibbon River.

Gibbon River Restoration Efforts

Restoring native species is an admirable endeavor under most scenarios. Unfortunately, the National Park Service is following a rather broad definition of "restoration" for restoring the upper Gibbon River. According to their own environmental assessment in the planning stages, the upper Gibbon River never contained west slope cutthroat trout nor did it contain grayling. Unfortunately, the National Park Service has decided to prioritize one invasive over another. Long term, the plan calls for the total elimination of "non-native" species all the way downstream to Gibbon Falls. That means that my favorite stream will no longer be worthy of a visit. 

Why? I travel to Yellowstone to fish for the wild brown trout of the Gibbon upstream of Gibbon Falls. In particular, the water around Norris Geyser Basin is specially suited to these beautiful fish. Once they are eliminated and replaced with cutthroat, this stream will be full of an inferior fish and one that is not even native. If it was a true native species restoration, I would have nothing to say even if I did not like losing the wild browns. Since it is not a true restoration, I have no problem saying that I think this is a worthless project that will ruin an amazing fishery.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River for Large Resident Brown Trout

While everyone else is thinking about fishing the lower Gibbon River for lake run fish, I like hunting the giant brown trout that inhabit the upper watershed from Gibbon Falls upstream to Virginia Cascades. These fish are finicky, spooky, and everything else that you would want from large challenging trout. On my most recent trip to Yellowstone, I was able to spend a bit of time on this, my favorite river in Yellowstone.

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River on a Cold Rainy Day

Nasty weather always seems to bring out the aggression in brown trout. This is often the case on the Gibbon River. Under normal sunny weather, fish will tuck up under overhanging undercut banks and in any other piece of shade they can find. These brown trout did not get large by being stupid. However, under cloudy skies and rain or snow, these fish come out to hunt. Truth be told, my favorite time for fly fishing the Gibbon River is mid summer on a bright sunny day. Knowing that the fish are tucked up under those undercuts helps immensely in locating them. However, you just cannot beat a good stormy day to get the fish on the feed. 

On our trip to Yellowstone National Park, the weather took a turn for the worse within our first couple of days. Unseasonably cool weather prevailed, eventually producing the first good snowfall of the season at higher elevations. More on that in a future blog post. Somehow, my wife kindly agreed to let me fly fish the Gibbon River in this nasty weather. The rain wasn't falling when we started, but soon a cold fine rain began to soak our rain jackets. I knew I was on borrowed time since I did not want to make my wife miserable. Thus, I focused on some of the best and also most accessible water near Norris. 

Fishing through this section, things started out rather slow. In time I found out why. The National Park Service restoration efforts had been ongoing and many of the stream's trout appeared to be missing. In their place were pasty pellet head west-slope cutthroat straight from a hatchery somewhere. The brook trout were lacking compared with other visits to this stream. I'm still unclear on whether fish are being mechanically removed (via electroshocking) or what is going on through this section. 

Eventually, the YNP fisheries hopes to completely remove non-natives from this section according to my last information. I'm seriously hoping that they instead allow the brown, rainbow, and brook trout to coexist with the cutthroat. This is a contrived fishery after all and the Park Service should not be favoring one invasive over another. 

With the slow start, I knew I had two choices: either move faster to cover more water in my search for brown trout or slow down and really pick apart the water. When fishing this type of water, the worst thing you can typically do is to move too fast. Thus, I found myself slowing down. Often, this is a part of the process for me. As a Great Smoky Mountains angler and fly fishing guide, I'm accustomed to moving fast. Therefore, I always need to change my mindset and approach when fishing other water. This normally takes me an hour or so. 

Fly Fishing the Gibbon River: Success!!!

Finally, as I was working into some of the best water I would fish on this trip, it happened. I had cast up above a deep bend pool and allowed my fly to nearly dead drift deep into the slot at the head of the undercut. A couple of twitches kept it from snagging the bottom. Suddenly, my line simply stopped. When I set the hook, I fully expected to be stuck to a large pile of weeds on the bottom of the stream. That first head shake told me otherwise. My amazing wife grabbed the net and went for the fish. Because of the heavy tippets I use for this fishing, it didn't take long before I maneuvered the fish to the bank and she slipped the net under my largest brown trout of the trip. While not as large as some I have caught on this stream, it was still an amazing fish.

Large brown trout caught while fly fishing the Gibbon River in Yellowstone National Park
Gibbon River Brown Trout - ©2018 Leah Knapp

I fished a bit longer, catching a few more solid brown trout. However, it was getting colder and the rain heavier. My lovely wife was no longer having fun and that meant it was time to stop. 

Observations on the Gibbon River From My Trip

As I mentioned above, the Gibbon River was simply not the same stream as before. Fish numbers and size were down significantly. I do not know if the National Park Service has modified their approach on this stream. Perhaps they are attempting to mechanically remove the majority of fish in an effort to avoid using poison on such a large stream. Perhaps the change in regulations is hurting this stream. Unfortunately, in conjunction with their new management strategy, the National Park Service removed all limits on "non-native" fish in this section. That does not extend to the non-native cutthroat, clearly demonstrating the hypocrisy of the Yellowstone National Park administration in managing this formerly incredible trout stream. 

If this bothers you as well, I encourage you to contact both the Yellowstone National Park fisheries department as well as the overall Park administration. The Gibbon River will probably not be a good reason to visit Yellowstone National Park in the future unless things change. Before the removal efforts, myself and many others would travel there just to fish this stream. Now, I'm planning vacations to other destinations. There are still amazing places in Yellowstone, and I will be highlighting some of these from my trip this summer in future blog posts.

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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...

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Sunday, November 01, 2015

Day of Days Continues With a Large Brown Trout on the Gibbon: Yellowstone Day Two

Gibbon River brown trout in Yellowstone

As with most fishing trips, my journey to Yellowstone was the result of months of pre-planning. Unlike those last minute decisions to hit local water for a couple of hours, driving 30 or more hours across the country is something that must be deliberated on, planned for, and researched. Oh and do not forget those hours and hours pouring over satellite views on Google maps. Ultimately, this trip was the result of one wish in particular: to fish the upper Gibbon River where large brown trout dwell in some of the most perfect meadow water you will find anywhere. The Park's plan to eradicate these amazing fish convinced me that it was now or never.

Fast forward to my second full day in Yellowstone and you'll find me completely content after several hours the previous day on the Gibbon and an already full day fishing the iconic Lamar River in Yellowstone's northeast corner. Native cutthroat trout had rose all afternoon to my hopper offerings. Now, with the sun sinking towards the horizon, I was nearing my camp alongside the Gibbon River at Norris. Approximately one hour remained to me before legal fishing hours were over and the chill of night would send me looking for a fleece jacket. My gear was ready to go from the previous day's fishing, so there was nothing left but to walk down to the meadow and get started.

Gibbon River at Norris

The evening got off to a quick start with a couple of nice browns. The moon was already in the eastern sky, rising before sundown since the full moon was still a few days away. A large male bison grazed nearby. I suspected that the traffic stopping and all the cameras clicking along the road nearby were probably more because of him but still did my best to put on a show. Of course, I needed a good fish to cooperate for that to happen.

Working slowly through one of the prettiest bend pools you can imagine, I was surprised to not get any strikes. The deep heart of the pool, larger than most on this stretch, seemed devoid of fish. So did the undercut bank that seemed to go on forever as it curved towards the slot at the head where the shallow riffle poured in. Reaching the riffle without any strikes, I figured it wouldn't hurt and tossed my fly into what looked to be inches deep water. Almost immediately, the line stopped.

When I reared back, I was positive I had snagged a stick or log that had somehow gone undetected because there was no give at all. That only lasted for a fraction of a second though, mostly because the "log" started swimming downstream in the most convincing manner. Onlookers were probably amused to watch me running backwards as I tried to keep everything tight between me and that fish. As it rounded the bend into the deep still water of the main pool, I breathed a sigh of relief before remembering that the hook was barbless. The barbless hook requirement is one of those well-intentioned rules that I applaud for providing some measure of protection for the trout of Yellowstone; however, I'm fairly sure it was actually made to give fisher people like me heart attacks while fighting trout.

Through a series of minor miracles, not the least of which was the fact that I didn't screw things up, the fish somehow came to my net. The fly slipped out of its mouth before it even hit the bottom of the net, but it was in there so I breathed a sigh of relief before taking a moment to just stare at the gorgeous fish now my net. I got a couple of pictures (see top of post) and a fellow angler stopped by and snapped a couple more for me.

Gibbon River monster brown trout
Thanks to Tom Stout for taking this picture for me!

With this fish, both my day and trip were complete. My favorite meadow stream had produced a fish to remember. Everything after this point was just a bonus because this was the fish I had come to catch.

I definitely hope that I get another opportunity to fish this water with brown trout inhabiting the undercuts, and perhaps the fisheries department in Yellowstone National Park will even change their mind on eliminating these amazing fish. The habitat in this stream is definitely more supportive of wild brown trout than it is of wild cutthroat trout. Even more importantly, I hope some of the local misguided support for this project will be reevaluated. The cutthroat were not native to this section of stream so why trade one invasive for another?



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


Monday, October 19, 2015

Welcome to Yellowstone

Mt. Haynes in Yellowstone National Park

Arriving late to Yellowstone can be a risky thing. I always forget how incredibly far it is and how long the drive is across Wyoming. The original goal was to be in the Park by midday on Sunday, but between stopping to sleep a few hours in the car on Saturday night and buying some groceries on Sunday, I arrived in the Park late in the day. The sign at the South Entrance informed me that all of the campgrounds were already full except for at Lewis Lake. Luckily that was the closest so I had a chance to claim a site.

Sure enough, I snagged a site but none too early as lots of forlorn looking travelers were doing the drive around the campground routine looking for a nonexistent available site shortly after my arrival. With an hour or two until sundown, I walked down to the lakeshore and enjoyed the sunset before heading back for an early bedtime. The drive had me tired out, and I needed plenty of energy for the next few days of fishing. 

That night I was reminded how cold it can get in the high country, especially late in the season. However, being tired has its advantages so I slept quite well. The next morning, I was up and packed before sunrise and made it to West Thumb Geyser Basin for an early morning photo opportunity. The early morning sun lit up the steam creating some beautiful views. A big bull elk surprised me on the way. He was wandering in the road and bugling, his breath condensing into vapor in the cold morning air. 

Elk bugling in Yellowstone National Park

West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

West Thumb Geyser Basin in Yellowstone National Park

Moving on down the road, I decided to take the scenic route over to Norris by way of Hayden Valley and Canyon. The idea seemed even better when I found a delicious breakfast at Canyon and a place to buy a fishing license. Full and content, I hurried on towards Norris and grabbed one of only a handful of available campsites. Clearly the crowds were still on the high side considering how late in the season it was. 

Camping in Norris Campground

In no time I had my camp set up, and soon I had a rod strung up headed to the meadow stretch on the Gibbon right by the campground. Shortly after starting, that first Yellowstone trout graced the end of my line, a gorgeous Gibbon River brown trout. 

Gibbon River Brown Trout

Releasing a Gibbon River brown trout

I continued up through the meadow, catching fish here and there, and as the sun was starting to drop in the western sky I decided to head for West Yellowstone. The sky over the Madison was worth a stop for pictures. By the time I got back to camp, I was already completely satisfied with my Yellowstone trip and the adventure had only begun!

Madison River in Yellowstone National Park

Sunday, October 04, 2015

Back From Yellowstone


For the past two weeks, I have wandered at will across Yellowstone National Park, always with two or three fly rods strung up and ready to go. I caught large brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout and mountain whitefish. Taking a vacation with no special plans other than to fish was a lot of fun. The opportunity to wake up each day and decide where to fish on a whim was refreshing, but I'm nearly as excited to get back to my streams in the Great Smoky Mountains National Park and the Caney Fork.

The fish above was caught on the Firehole River below the falls and was one of the fish that had made its way up from Hebgen Lake. Lots of great fish were caught so stay tuned for much more on this great fishing trip including plenty of pictures and even some pattern tips and recipes!

I expect some large trout to be caught on the Caney Fork over the next two months, primarily subsurface on nymphs and midges but also a few nice fish will come to streamers and even dry flies.

In the Great Smoky Mountains, rainfall over the last few days has helped to bump up stream levels. We can only hope for more rain as we go into the fall season but the fishing should be great regardless. Look for fall caddis, blue-winged olives, and still some slate drakes and golden stoneflies to keep the fish fed.  Drop a small nymph or midge under your dry fly to double the fun. Terrestrials will also account for some fish up until the first hard freeze so keep those inch worm and ant imitations handy. Beetles have been gone for a while but if you come across a particularly difficult fish, try a beetle on it.

The dry fly fishing should be good to great for at least the next month and perhaps well into November if we get a good year with no extremely cold fronts coming through until later in the month. Stock up on #12-#14 Orange Stimulators and #18-#24 Blue-winged Olive Parachutes and head for the mountains to enjoy the fishing before winter hits and slows things down.

Sunday, August 23, 2015

Talk To Me About Yellowstone In September

So there is a chance, nothing definite mind you, that I will get to take a trip out to Yellowstone the last two weeks in September. Originally, I dreamed of a long trip covering the better part of three weeks or maybe even a month. Colorado, Wyoming, Yellowstone of course, Montana, maybe even the Green River in Utah, just me and the most wild places I could find, preferably places that were blessed with numbers of quality trout.

The more thought that I've given to this possible trip, the more I realize that I mostly want to just visit Yellowstone. I've never had the good fortune to fish it in the fall but have long wanted to. Unfortunately, or perhaps fortunately, I'm never always quite certain, there is nothing to take me to Colorado other than the fishing and those rivers will be there for a long time still. In Yellowstone, however, while my favorite stream will be there for a long time to come (unless the super volcano blows that is) the very thing that makes it my favorite Yellowstone National Park stream is in danger of being destroyed.

So far as I can tell, the Park has not yet implemented their ludicrous plan to remove the browns, brooks, and 'bows from the Gibbon River, but knowing how such things work, it is surely still in the works. While a good number of people seem to be in favor of the change, they clearly have little knowledge of both cutthroat and their habitat preferences (the meadows of the Gibbon get way too warm for cutts) and also very little knowledge of the gem of a stream that the Gibbon is as is. I'm okay with people not understanding this beautiful stream since it leaves the lunker browns for me and a few select others to hunt, hopefully in a few more weeks.

A trip across several states and nearly across the country just to fish one stream may sound a bit extreme, and that is where I was hoping for some advice. I'll spend an inordinate amount of time fishing the Gibbon but would like to do more while I'm in the area. I've already fished Yellowstone National Park several times so need more info on how various waters fish during the last two weeks in September than anything. Will the Firehole be back in play yet? How about the lake run fish out of Hebgen on the Madison, lower Gibbon, and lower Firehole? How does the Madison outside of the Park fish at that time of year? Northeast corner of the Park such as Slough, Soda Butte, and the Lamar? How about the Yellowstone in the Grand Canyon or the Black Canyon? Backpacking that time of year would be pretty sweet, but since I'll be solo I doubt I'll tempt the bears too much. Day trips are risky enough by myself I suppose. I've never fished the Gardner. Would it be worth hitting for runner browns in late September or would I need to be out there later in the fall?

Any and all advice would be appreciated. I prefer catching brown trout first, cutthroat second (I would be in Yellowstone after all), and any other trout are just nice bonuses. Since there seems to be a war on browns, and I know the cutts will be there in the future, I'm not as concerned with finding and catching cutthroat even though I'm sure I'll fish for them at least some. Finally, I fully recognize that fishing advice is rarely if ever best shared through the Interwebs for all to read. Feel free to email me at TroutZoneAnglers@gmail.com if you prefer that to answering on here.

Thank you in advance for any and all advice!




Sunday, September 09, 2007

Crazy Timing: YNP Day 3


Crazy timing, a developing hatred of whitefish, and unreal brookie fishing all made up day three of our Yellowstone adventure. The previous day we decided that a trip over to West Yellowstone and Blue Ribbon Flies was in order. In the process, we hoped to check out the Gallatin River.

We got a reasonably early start and headed west without too many delays. Anyone that has been to Yellowstone knows that what looks to be an hour or two long drive can easily be twice that with all the traffic jams where the tourists gawk at a buffalo that decided to park on a nice piece of pasture immediately adjacent to the highway.

Thankfully, we didn't run into that situation much on our way and were soon in West Yellowstone at Blue Ribbon Flies. We went into the shop and were immediately in heaven. This shop has the best large selection of traditional tying materials I've probably ever seen. The selection of hair and feathers was astounding not to mention their patented Zelon. After browsing for altogether too long, I finally decided it was time to get out before I saw all my money depart my wallet. I made my way up to the counter to pay where a gentleman with a slight southern accent was conversing with the guy at the register.

Standing there listening and waiting my turn, I started to realize that this guy looked familiar and then he mentioned something about "back home in Tennessee." In amazement I asked, "Are you Hugh Hartsell?" We had known that Mr. Hartsell would be out there but hadn't expected to see this excellent guide from Tennessee. After all, it is a huge area out there and the chances of running into him were extremely small. Incredibly, he answered in the affirmative so we had the pleasure of spending several minutes chatting with him about the fishing he had been doing in the area. He informed us that the Gallatin was off color which was a bummer since we were planning on fishing there. He also mentioned that he thought the Gallatin was the best option for good fishing in the area based on his experience so far. Still in shock over the unbelievable timing it took for us both to be at BRF at the same time, we eventually said goodbye as his wife was waiting on him.



After finishing up at Blue Ribbon Flies, we decided to head up to the Gallatin anyway. It turned out to be a good decision. We got there and while the water was cloudy, it was still fishable as long as you could cast in the increasingly gusty wind. I started out fishing hoppers figuring that surely the strong wind would be blowing them into the water but I couldn't rise a single fish. Soon after, I switched to a Tellico nymph and things improved drastically.



The first few fish were chunky hard fighting rainbows that put on a great aerial display. Then it happened. My nymphs were drifting through a nice hole when my line suddenly stopped and then shot upstream a couple of feet as I set the hook. A nice fish had taken the Tellico and started bulldogging persistently. Flashes of what looked like gold were soon reaching the surface and I thought it was a good brown. Soon however, I brought a whitefish to hand (my first I might add). I'm beginning to understand why people dislike these fish. More on that another time...



After landing that beast, I soon caught several more rainbows and cutthroat before finally landing one brown. Four species in a couple of hours from one stream was pretty amazing but it was time to move on. The wind had got even worse and we had other streams we wanted to look at.





After stopping to check a few spots, we finally settled on the upper Gibbon where I had fond memories of casting to brook trout in a beautiful meadow setting. It was just as I remembered and we were soon catching brookies and the odd rainbow on small ant patterns. They came in two sizes mainly, small and smaller. However they were very willing to eat and provided nonstop fun on dries which is a good time any day in my book. I even caught one guy that had some serious "teeth."



It turned out to be an excellent day exploring a couple of nice streams. We still had other adventures ahead though including the Lamar and Slough Creek not to mention the Yellowstone...

Friday, September 07, 2007

Yellowstone Day 2: Soda Butte Creek


Day two in Yellowstone was dedicated to Soda Butte Creek. The afternoon closure necessitated fishing earlier in the day and we were on the stream by around 11:00. We fished in the vicinity of Soda Butte and did well, mainly on terrestrials.

Things started out a bit slow for me as I was learning where the Cutts liked to feed and hold but once I figured out where they were, things became easy. It wasn't until just a little while before the closure that I discovered a deadly technique to take some nicer fish. It was really quite easy but provided a lot of fun and entertainment.


I positioned myself somewhere around the head of a pool where the riffle from above dropped off the ledge into the deeper waters of the pool. The best spot was where there was an eddy at the head of the pool. The fish would just stack up in there. The slightly off color water of Soda Butte Creek is really what made this technique work. After I had positioned myself, I would cast my fly just a short distance, never more than 10 feet or so. The goal was to have all my line off the water with just the fly touching. Once I got the fly (foam hopper) on a good drift, I would start tapping my rod vigorously enough to twitch the fly as it drifted through the whirlpool. The fish absolutely went nuts.




This technique accounted for my best fish which probably was around 15 or 16 inches. Unfortunately, the closure went into effect soon after I figured out this method so we had to move elsewhere.

After a quick lunch, we decided on fishing upper Soda Butte Creek above Icebox Canyon. This proved to be an excellent choice and we caught several more fish with most in the 6-10 inch range but a few nice 12-14 inch fish were mixed in as well. The best fly here was hard to determine. It seemed that once you caught a fish or two on one fly, it would no longer be effective. This kept me changing flies quite frequently. Another interesting phenomena we discovered here was that the fish were very hard to spook. Often, the fish would not hit on the first, second, third or even fourth drift. Sometimes it took 15 or 20 casts before a fish would rise. This was strange since I'm used to the willing fish of the Smokies where it is generally agreed upon that you give each spot a few casts and move on.



Despite changing flies often, several fish came to hand to complete a productive and interesting day. That evening, we decided we were going to make the trek over to West Yellowstone and the Gallatin River so we got to bed early. The next day would prove to be amazing...

Saturday, September 01, 2007

The Fun Continues!


Just as promised, I have taken time away from toiling over a textbook to bring you more on West Trip 2007. While I still have a post or two about Colorado, it is time to focus on Yellowstone for awhile.


We arrived in the park on August 6, 2007 and made our way to the Northeast corner to find a camp. We decided on Pebble Creek which turned out to be an excellent decision. After setting up camp and being lazy for awhile, it was time to catch that first Yellowstone trout of the trip. Being 100 feet from Pebble Creek made the decision easy (and the fact that the afternoon closures on the larger streams was in effect). It didn't take long to get that first Yellowstone Cutt and several others, most being 5-6 inches.

After being spoiled by all the hogs in Colorado, we wanted something at least a bit larger so we wandered up the road towards the upper portion of Soda Butte above Icebox Canyon where the closure was not in effect. We soon found a few fish that were a bit more respectable before wandering back towards camp to make some supper.


After eating, we just had to go find some pigs so we went to Trout Lake. Everything I had read about this lake indicated the fish were generally of good size. Upon arrival, we found the lake to have a bit of chop on the surface making spotting fish difficult. However, after awhile it calmed down and we were spotting some monsters. Some fairly large speckled cream midges were coming off but I had nothing in my box to match. I knew that the fish were probably taking midges under the surface though so I tied on a zebra midge and was soon sight casting over a nice Cutthroat. Many casts later, the fish ate solidly. Surprisingly, I had already got this fish to eat twice but had not stung it yet. The gorgeous fish soon came to hand and posed for a brief picture before it swam away.


That wrapped up the first day in the park but we had only begun...