Yellowstone – A Multi Part Series – 5 of 6

Over the first part of the tour, all discussion of great fishing wound up turning to Slough Creek.  So we left what was a very relaxing morning on Soda Butte and headed back into the Lamar Valley which meant that I would be rubbernecking for at least the next hour.

I rode with Bruce Smithhammer and what a pleasurable drive it was.  His music selection guaranteed that the miles in between would be a treat. When you can be on a fishing trip with people you really haven’t known for more than a couple of days, and the conversation is structured around the amazing technique of Dwight Yoakam’s former guitarist Pete Anderson it is readily apparent that you are in good company.

We pulled onto a winding gravel road with rolling hills all around.  From the topography, it was obvious that a river was out there just beyond view…and then we reached the parking lot and I saw what all my friends were so pumped about.  This is an active body of water that just begs to be fished.

We all piled out of our vehicles and Chris began getting the lunch stuff out of his ride.  As the wonderful spread was laid out for our pleasure, you could see each of us being drawn away from the conversation and the food.  We all spent our lunch break taking a bite of food between hard gazes into the creek.  Anglers are funny that way.  We can be the most focused and in tune of people, but put us in front of fishy water and we instantly become restless.  The mind of a fly angler is always reading the water.  We are always determining in our minds where the lies are in the stream, where the holding spots might be.  A bug can hover round the stream for fifteen seconds and we have already done our own identification which is then followed by a mental selection of fly and size.  It is a sickness, but I have yet to meet an angler who feels the need for a twelve step program…about the flies at least.

And so, with full a full belly, we strung up the sticks and hit the trail.

Slough creek is recognized by its meadows.  First, second, and third.  It is also common knowledge that the further up you go on the creek, the better the fishing.  This seemed so odd to me.  If the fishing is better upstream, then why not bypass the other spots and move up to the areas beyond the parking lot?  Oh how foolish I was.  When we set out into the timber it was easy going, then slightly easy, then a bit of a haul.  All the while, you are walking beside this amazing creek and staring at water that is just about as perfect as you will find anywhere.  It was then that I learned that it was not the distance to third meadow that was the impediment, it was the water itself.  Eventually, the water is going to win.  The unending enticement becomes too great and most folks will succumb before they ever get to the super fish.

We traveled beyond the first and second meadow.  I am looking at this water, and I am getting tired of walking.  Then we reach the canyon. A high walled mass of pocket water that is beginning in conjunction with a more extreme hike.  We stopped.  I looked at Steve.  We were both so fired up to fish that we elected to forgo the journey to the third meadow.  This would be where we took our stand.  So, Steve and I, along with Rebecca and Rich, stepped off the trail and into a massive boulder strewn run of pocket water that would make Gierach drool.

Below the pocket water where we began was a large open area.  Looked pretty deep, and though I saw no risers, in my gut I just knew that there would be fish in there.  The three of us headed down with Rebecca and Steve moving below me to where this open deep water tailed out into a tighter stream.  I moved over to the hard riffles right at the head of this massive pool and began casting just far enough that the fly would engage the turbulent current and drift into the slow water.  It was my thought that fish would stack up and be ripe for the picking.

Two or three casts into it, I set the hook on a small cuttie.  No more than nine inches, it hit the nymph with authority and in short order I brought it to hand.  I didn’t even lift the little guy out of the water, and he swam away in a rush to settle into just about the exact spot where he was holding when I arrived.

Downstream Rebecca was on to fish and landed one that put her in quite a quandary. She had caught a rainbow, which in most cases you would simply admire for a moment and then place back in the drink.  However, we had been instructed by our hosts to kill any rainbows we caught which would assist in the full fledged dominance of the cutties.  A little unsure as to how to dispatch the fish, she finally just elected to squeeze it until it died then gave it a proper burial into the river where it once called home.

As Rebecca was wrestling with the moral dilemma of the dead rainbow, I had switched to a neversink caddis and using basically the same methodology, I cast up into the rough water and let the fly fall naturally into the slick water.  After negotiating the riffles, the fly slowed down with the current and I watched a large fish rise into the same aquatic path as my fly.  The big boy hung around and as the fly crossed over it, the tell tale sign of a pending take began to take shape.  Then, as if he remembered that he had left something burning on the stove, one splashy flick of the tail and he was gone.  I cannot say exactly why he turned away. I had placed that fly in perfect position, it had drawn attention to itself, and then total refusal.

I tried a couple of more casts without any luck so I waded my way around to the area that Rebecca was fishing.  Steve began moving his way round to the spot I just left.

Rebecca and I stood together working the water for a while when we heard screaming downstream.

“BEAR!”

In the Smokies where I live, someone yells bear and unless they have cubs with them, they honestly are not much of a threat.  I have seen dogs that are bigger than the vast majority of bear I have encountered in the GSMNP (Great Smoky Mountains National Park), but this was not Tennessee and the bears out here will mess you up.

The very nanosecond that my ears sent a survival message to the brain, I turned and looked at Rebecca.  Nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who was filled with adrenaline.  It wasn’t really that we were scared other than the fact that we did not know where this bear was located.  Then I spotted her, standing on her hind legs and scratching her back against a tree.  Big.

It is funny how sometimes our thoughts become reality.  Those short ideas that pass through your mind so quick that you barely identify it as a thought at all.  I looked at this rotund black mass rubbing its back against the tree and thought to myself, “Glad that sucker is on the other side of the river.”  It was at that exact moment when said bear stopped rubbing, looked across stream, and immediately trotted down into the water.  While this was going on, Rebecca had yelled upstream to Steve that we had a bear.  Steve was probably sixty yards away, and had managed to hook the large trout I had turned earlier.

Steve heard Rebecca, but sometimes there is a wide chasm between hearing and understanding what has been said…such was the case now.  So Steve thinks that she is congratulating him on the deep bend in his rod and gets this big smile that protrudes from behind his cigar.  She yells again.  This time he hears, so instead of a long moment of admiration for the lovely cutbow he has just landed, he snaps a picture and comes to the rescue.  See….Steve was the only one of us with bear spray.  He was by default the first line of defense and was the last one in line to be mauled.  And so, in a manner likened unto Mighty Mouse…here he came to save the day.

By the time our faithful friend and hero had made it over to us, so had the bear.  With eyes focused on the lumbering beast, Steve took the forefront, bear spray close to the hip and ready to fire.  Steve used to be a cop so I felt relatively confident as to his ability to strike quick aim with the spray.  However I was a little uneasy about wind direction and could just see myself catching the downwind drift of this pepper concoction just before I was disemboweled by an angry member of the Yellowstone community.

The bear got as close as maybe ten yards or less.  Could have been fifty yards, but when you are looking at a big beast that is on a collision course with you, distance looses all logistical relevance.

Then we began talking to the bear.  “Hey bear!” which is actually angler speak for “Dear Lord please get this beast away from us in a hurry because we have at least one other river to fish and I don’t want to miss it.”

Eventually, the bear turned and headed into the woods.  While still within our line of sight, it stopped, briefly looked back at us, and proceeded to do that which has always been said that bears do in the woods.  The thought occurred to me then that this was just his way of letting us know just what he thought of us, our taunting, and Steve’s bear spray.

We didn’t catch anymore fish, but we sure had one great story to tell when we converged on the parking area.

It has been said more times than you could count that often the best part of a fishing trip is not the fishing.  That statement was very true in this case.  Oh, to be certain we were happy that Steve hooked a nice one, and we did admire his picture.  But on this day, on Slough Creek in Yellowstone National Park, a darn nice trout was trumped by a big black bear.  But man what a story we had to tell.

Greenback Habitat

The Green Fish

I passionately enjoy catching genuine, pure-bred cutthroat trout.  Regarding the Greenback, there are places where this is possible, albeit catch & release–which suits me just fine.

Oh, wait—the Denver Post said a study of cutthroat genetics revealed that “pure greenbacks” only exist within a four mile section of Bear Creek, near Colorado Springs.  Which means…all other greenback populations are…lowly hybrids! Additionally, greenback cutts are native to the South Platte, but Bear Creek is a tributary of the Arkansas.  This fact alone calls into question whether or not they really are “pure greenbacks.”  The Center for Biological Diversity circulated a press release that says “some scientists believe [this population] to be a long-lost subspecies known as yellowfin cutthroat.”  Well, after more than two decades of recovery work and millions of dollars expended to save what turned out to be hybrids, we apparently know only one thing for certain—Greenbacks: the name fits!

 

So now, the Forest Service, Division of Wildlife, the City of Colorado Springs, Trout Unlimited, and a host of other interested parties are trying to figure out what to do next.  Motorcycles, mountainbikers, and trailriders can still use the trails, but fishing Bear Creek apparently is illegal.

Apparently, previous rescue efforts used cutthroat populations that were thought to be greenbacks, but were actually western slope hybrids.  My question is what happens now with these fish…we’ve already spent so much time, effort, and money on them.  Bill Edrington of Royal Gorge Anglers in Canon City, Colorado, says that the forest service now refers to these hybrid trout as “The Green Fish.”  This may be a wordplay referring not only to their color, but to cutthroat that were reared in the 1990’s in a tailwater creek of Fort Carson’s Townsend Reservoir.  When I served in the military, my unit camped near this reservoir during a training exercise.  I remember a senior officer told me that greenbacks had been stocked in the creek, but then a drought wiped out the population—all that greenback recovery time & money, erased.

As I recall, pretty much everyone was excited about the earlier greenback recovery efforts.  The general public seemed to think of this as a means to “give back” to the environment, to the cadence of the “go green” motto.  But Adrian Stanley relays in the Colorado Springs Independent that U.S. Fish & Wildlife’s Leith Edgar “…says the findings go to show that the moment we think we have nature figured out, science proves otherwise.”  It’s true; we must be good stewards of our fish & game, but what do we do now with “The Green Fish” hybrids?  After all, they may be small fish that rarely exceed 12 inches, but at least they’re pretty!

Winston Passport Fly Rods

Video: Winston Passport Fly Rods

Winston Passport Fly Rods

We are pleased to introduce a line of fast action fly rods that offer unprecedented performance for under $200. Named the Passport series, these superb quality rods are available in a variety of lengths and weights, fish extraordinarily well and provide exceptional power without giving up touch and feel. The rods are a deep bronze color, and feature ruby wraps and a nickel silver reel seat with wood insert. All Passport fly rods come with a olive green cordura tube that is embroidered with the R.L. Winston name.

Echo Edge "84" Series Fly Rod

Echo Edge “84” Series Fly Rods

The ECHO EDGE rods are the best looking most reliable rod in their price category. Patterned after our extremely popular ECHO2 rods, the ECHO EDGE series sport a deep burgundy gloss blank on the fresh water models, and a deep blue blank on the Saltwater and the 8’4″ models. Tim never seems to be satisfied with the status quo and is always looking at ways to improve upon the older rod designs. With the ECHO EDGE rod project he started with the ECHO2 rods and using newer technology was able to tweak the actions and toughen the blanks to make the rods perform better. The results are the best casting rods ever built in this price range.

Racehorse-Creek

Simple (Puffy?) Sculpins

When I look at a sculpin, I see a bottom dweller with a huge head, big pectoral fins, and a long, skinny body.  I always wondered about an easy way to incorporate these characteristics into my sculpin imitations. One day, while looking at a pink Puff bonefish fly, I had my answer…

Use brass or lead eyes to get it near the bottom.  Add a long body of bucktail or squirrel tail.  Tie in some nice, round hackle tips for the fins.  (Hen hackle works great!) Lastly, build up an oversize head with chenille. The pictures below should give you the general idea:

Brown is my “go to” color and the two brown patterns are tied using natural bucktail on #4 and #6 hooks – my “go to” sizes.

The version with the orange head is for high, dirty water.  It is tied on a #2 hook with squirrel tail.

The green version gets dunked in spring creeks – or wherever there is an abundance of weeds. Olive bucktail covers its size 8 hook and bead chain eyes help swim it over submerged growth.

I usually cast Puffy sculpins slightly upstream and let them sink a bit; then I give them a bit of action with the rod tip as they drift downstream.  I try to keep a tight line and don’t worry too much about drag. Occasionally, I fish them under an indicator like a nymph with a twitch here and there.

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Video: Winston BIII-SX Fly Rod

Winston Boron III-SX Fly Rod – This breakthrough new series was designed to truly handle the most demanding and extreme salt and freshwater fishing situations. And while SX stands for “super” fast-action, the unprecedented power and strength of these rods does not come at the expense of smoothness and feel. Whether you are making long casts directly into the wind, throwing big bulky flies or wielding an aggressive sink-tip line in steelhead waters, these rods will come through. They are unlike any other fast action rod made. Boron III-SX rods feature a superlight matte black reel seat with R.L Winston Rod Co. engraved on the barrel. The trout rods are available with the same wood reel seats as our Boron IIIx rods. The 9’6″ 5 and 6-weight models have fighting butts for versatility and battling larger fish. All come with our graphite rod tube.  http://www.fishwest.net/flyfishing/department/winston_brand.html

Taking a Break

Yellowstone – A Multi Part Series – 4 of 6

In July of 2012, I was selected to join Chris Hunt and Kirk Deeter of Trout Unlimited, Rebecca Garlock, Bruce Smithhammer, Steve Zakur, and several representatives of Simms, The National Park Service, and The Yellowstone Park Foundation in a tour of Yellowstone.  We were directly involved in removal of the invasive lake trout from Yellowstone Lake, stream study on Soda Butte Creek, and stream recovery on Specimen Creek. This is the fourth of a six part series recounting my adventures. This was my first trip to Yellowstone.

Roughly twenty years ago, I watched a special on the Lamar Valley.  Rivoted to the screen I saw this valley of high peaks and rolling hills and thought to myself, “I have got to see this face to face”.

Sometimes the culmination of dreams takes time.

Twenty years of watching specials, reading articles, surfing the net, wearing my wife out with comments, and daydreams too many to number, I finally found myself in the Lamar.

Our band of merry anglers, still giddy from the mornings adventure on Yellowstone Lake headed north and I felt a level of anticipation that almost matched the vast beauty of this place, this amazing place.

At every turn, every rise, every drop in the road, I kept looking for this storied location until finally the expanse of the Lamar Valley opened up before me.

Honestly, it was almost like driving into a John Wayne western.  The rolling hills just begged to be flecked at their crests with bands of Native American warriors.  I chuckle now when I think of this because out of the myriad of sights I would feast on from that point forward on the tour, I kept thinking that there should be a circle of teepees and dark haired natives riding along on white and brown horses.  It just goes to show how much we are influenced by both our childhood and our addiction to media.

I am not going to be able to do justice to the beauty of this place with words.  It is one of those places that you simply must see to fully grasp.

We pulled to the side of the road and off in the distance to our right was the Lamar River.  As I looked it seemed so small, little more than a tiny creek.  That perception couldn’t be farther from the truth.  It was here that I learned the deceptiveness of distance.  In the land in and around The Great Smoky Mountains National Park that I call home, the hills roll, are full of foliage, and the mountains are softer, being as old as they are I suppose that is to be expected.  But here in the land that I call home, distance is just easier to judge.  The point of reference is so close that feet, yards, and miles are pretty easy to judge.

So….after gearing up, we began walking down to the river.  And we walked….and walked…and walked…and then when we were done walking, we walked some more.  When I stopped long enough to look behind me, I was amazed.  Our vehicles were barely visible.  There again, it bears restating that you just can’t imagine how big Yellowstone is until you have been there. And if you have not been there…you really owe it to yourself to go.

The Lamar River is a truly beautiful place, and as we stepped into the water, Steve calmly waded in very close to a bison that was picking grass near the far bank.  Between he and I was Rebecca.  Farther downstream the rest of the party were barely visible as they sized up the water.

I stood for a long time and just gawked at the place.  It was almost like a kid who has wanted a certain gift for Christmas, and once the prized package was in his hands, he is to shocked to open it and play.

With no obvious risers, I tied on a hopper dropper with a prince nymph and set to work.  Each time I cast, I thought to myself, “I am here”.  The effect of my presence in this place was not the feeling of going home, but it was close.  Sometimes your heart will long to the point that the unknown dwells as close as the familiar, and I looked around me as the big clumsy hopper pitched along downstream, in absolute awe.

I realize that I was in a place where fly fishing was king and fish are bright, vibrant, and wild, but I honestly didn’t care if I caught anything or not.  I was present, and sometimes just being aware of that is enough.  This thought would prove on more than one cast to be prophetic because I was so immersed in the place that I missed multiple strikes as the hopper briefly vanished under the weight of a fish as it engaged the prince.

Upstream from me I see Rebecca raise her arm and that familiar flush of the water as a trout realizes that it has just made a critical mistake.  Beyond her, a billow of cigar smoke drifts above Steve.  We are new friends, but the peace and familiarity we share unifies us as if we had been together since birth.

Rebecca slips the trout back in the water, and begins again as if what happened had never taken place.  She is in her zone, and, as she would later recount to me, she has never been skunked on this river.

Chris, Bruce, and Kirk had very little luck and had traveled back to the cars long before our group had it fill.  In a park like Yellowstone, you can expect traffic jams from time to time, and these guys decided to break the monotony of waiting by creating a traffic jam of their own.  They would wait until a car approached, then they would point and spy out into the vast expanse of the valley, of course nothing was there.  Cars would stop, set up cameras, pull out binoculars, gazing out at nothing.  Its the little things in life that bring the biggest laughs, and later that night we would spend a good portion of time chuckling about it.  Honestly, if I were driving up and saw a bunch of people pointing out to the river, I would stop too.

Cold Feet, Forsaken Fish and the Morning After…