Tag Archives: yellowstone

TetonRange

Yellowstone’s Little Sister

Much has been written – and deservedly so – about Yellowstone National Park and its fisheries.  (Take a look at Marc’s articles elsewhere in this blog for some very interesting samples.) What about the Tetons just south of Yellowstone?

The Grand TetonsSince the Tetons don’t bother with foothills, the view from the road is incredible.   Rugged peaks simply erupt from sage-covered flats.  And all kinds of trails lead right into these eye-popping mountains.  Naturally, what makes it a complete destination – at least for the typical Pisciphilia reader – is the nearby fishing.

It’s all about the cutthroats in this part of the world.  Other trout seem to be merely incidental catches.  No need for any size 20 Tricos. Large, attractor dries are the usual fly shop recommendation.

I’m no expert; in fact, I’ve merely sampled the rivers around Grand Teton National Park on a couple of different trips.  Nevertheless, I hope my impressions might spike your curiosity and even help you plan out a possible trip…

The Snake River: This is the one you’ve probably heard about.  It’s a big, wide river with a relentless, pushy current. Don’t even think about wading across!  It parallels the Tetons and then runs south. Common wisdom dictates that a drift boat is the best way to fish it. Nevertheless, it is quite possible to walk along and pick at some very juicy-looking pockets along the bank.   Better yet, if you find some braids, crossing a side channel or two will lead to enough water to keep you busy all afternoon.  You can even feel a little bit smug, knowing you’ll cover those enticing seams more thoroughly than the guy who zipped by in the drift boat.

Fishing The SnakeThe Wilson bridge access, just outside the town of Jackson, leads to a path that runs up and down the river in both directions.   Locals walk their dogs there and you might have to relinquish your spot to an exuberant black Lab.  Despite that, the Tetons form an impressive backdrop and you can definitely find some nice braids.  I have to admit that although the numbers were okay; my biggest fish from the area was perhaps eight inches.  Maybe my technique wasn’t quite dialed in?

There are other places, like boat ramps and the Moose Bridge, to access the Snake River for wading.  Further researching the resources at the end of this article will likely reveal even more.   Although wading is thoroughly enjoyable, the Snake offers a lot of river and a lot of scenery. On my next visit I will seriously look into the guided drift boat option.

The Hoback River: The medium-sized Hoback River follows Highway 191 and pours into the Snake south of Jackson.  There are many access points along the highway and the river has a little bit of everything – shallow riffles, rocky runs, pocket water, and deep glides.  The good water is much more obvious than on the Snake.  It is far more wader-friendly as well and you can cross some sections quite easily. Although the holding spots might be a fair hike apart, there are definitely 8 to 14 inch trout to be had.

The Gros Ventre River: This stream is a little smaller than the Hoback and just as easy to read.  It seems to follow a well-defined pattern of riffles and runs. Crossing it to optimize your drift is possible in most areas.

Despite all this, my catch rate on the Gros Ventre was almost nil. Nevertheless, I know the fish are in there and I’ll be Moose Crossingback. In the meantime, I’ll blame my lack of success on the bull moose that wandered into the stream and forced me to detour around a couple of prime runs.

Speaking of wildlife, the Gros Ventre River runs right by Gros Ventre campground on the road to Kelly. The river is easily reachable from the road and the sage flats in this region are like an American Serengeti. On more than one occasion, bison delayed traffic as they crossed the road.

Granite Creek

Granite Creek is a small stream that is paralleled by a good gravel road as it tumbles toward the Hoback River.  It alternates between pocket water in forested sections and a classic meadow stream in picturesque valleys.  (Think Soda Butte Creek with far fewer fishermen).

The meadow sections were perhaps my favorite places to fish in the entire region.  Although the water looked impossibly skinny from high up on the road, there were actually all kinds of places where the bottom slipped out of sight – undercut banks, around boulders, and just below riffles – where the bottom slipped out of sight.  It seemed like most of these places held fish that were extremely adept at quickly spitting out a dry fly.

Cutties Love HoppersHowever, a few actually came to hand. They were solid, gorgeous cutthroats up to 14 inches. Given the size of the water they came from, they seemed like true lunkers,

Granite Creek also had a couple of bonus features built into it.   One was a spectacular waterfall near the end of the road – a great place to simply admire, or cool off by splashing around.  And if you cooled off too much, there were some hot springs right at the end of the road.

Miscellaneous Notes: A standard 9 foot 5 weight worked great on all the above rivers except for Granite Creek, which was more suited to an 8 foot 4 weight.  When large attractors like Chernobyl Ants and Turk’s Tarantulas did not get eaten, smaller patterns like Trudes, Humpies, Irresistibles, and Goddard Caddis filled the gap. Drifting the odd nymph or swinging the odd sculpin pattern also worked.

Resources:

Book: Flyfisher’s Guide to Yellowstone National Park by Ken Retallic.  (It includes a chapter on the Tetons!)

Fly Shops in Jackson, Wyoming: High Country Flies and also the Snake River Angler. (Be sure to check out their websites.)

 

Montana Thunderstorm

Yellowstone – A Multi Part Series – 6 of 6

The passage of time is a peculiar thing. It seems that if we are involved in something we don’t particularly like, the seconds pass thick and slow with now rhythm or pace, everything is laborious and clunky. Then there are days when we are so full of what we enjoy and what we love that it is as if time were racing away at warp speed. It was with this thought in mind that I found myself looking square into the last two days of the tour. I had completely abandoned any concept of time to the point that most days it could have been Tuesday or perhaps Sunday and it would have made no difference. Light and dark, awake and asleep…that pretty much summed up existence in Yellowstone, and by the time I had realized what was happening, I was looking into the face of the one thing I hadn’t taken into account. The trip was coming to an end.

 

After leaving Slough Creek, we drove across the amazing chaos that is Yellowstone and up into Montana. One thing that never ceased to amaze me about this National Park was the quick change of the geographic, geologic, and topographic nature of the landscape. Drive a few miles in one type of terrain, cross a hill, and it is as if someone has plucked you out of one place on the planet and deposited you in another location thousands of miles away. Surreal would be an easily overused word here in this majestic location.

So with the disorientation of time and the sensory overload of the terrain, Bruce Smithhammer and I drove west…our destination was to be the last stop on the trip. We would be spending the next two days in Big Sky Montana and fishing the Gallatin River. Basing my expectations of Big Sky upon what had transpired throughout the week was not wise. Every second of rustic living, every moment of wild and unpredictable environments, every old building and historic structure were in another world altogether upon our arrival in this small Montana locale. We were staying for two days in a two story penthouse of Big Sky Lodge, a place in which the President had stayed a few months earlier. I don’t know the exact square footage of our sky high lodging, but I feel very safe in guessing that we had at least three thousand square feet of living space to enjoy. But, just so we didn’t think we were completely removed from the wild, a big bear was wandering around the parking lot as we were unloading our things. It is moments like these that will enamor you with this part of the world.

After gawking at our dwelling for a while, I hit the rack and fell into the kind of sleep that can only come when the perfect bed meets unreal fatigue. It seemed that I had only closed my eyes and it was morning, and with the rise of the sun we headed out to fish the Gallatin.

The Gallatin is a meandering river, much smaller than I pictured it, but an excellent fishery…with one problem…the fish were nowhere to be found. Six anglers, all accomplished in their craft, were pretty well skunked. My only fish on this day was a complete accident. I was fishing a hopper up against the far bank without luck. I misjudged my distance; hit the bank, pulled it free, and bam…a ten inch rainbow smacked it as soon as it hit the water. My only fish.

Back to the lodge. We were all beyond tired. The week that was had begun to catch up with us. Gathered around the television that evening, we watched the opening ceremonies of the Olympics, laughed, and told stories until late into the night. We had started the week as strangers, just names, people who for the most part only knew of each other from what we had read. I looked around the room and was amazed at who I was with. Kirk Deeter, Chris Hunt, Bruce Smithhammer, Rebecca Garlock…Field and Stream, Trout Unlimited, The Drake, Outdoor Blogger Network. Wow. But the cool thing about it is that the accolades and accomplishments of these people were secondary to the fact that Steve Zakur and I were hanging out with friends.

Often on trips like this, when the people don’t know each other, the potential of a train wreck of interpersonal issues is always a potentiality. However, on this particular trip, we just hit it off…everything meshed. It was as if we had done this trip together for years. To say that lifelong friendships were formed would be a gross understatement.

The last day of the tour started with a trip to a local fly shop and an event that will forever define the attitude of Big Sky Country in my memory. After a night of libations and more than one David Allan Coe song being sung loud and out of key, I was parched. Just as you walk in the door of this particular fly shop, there is a soft drink machine. So I stopped there and started digging in my pocket for a buck to feed. I drop in my money, select my favorite citrus laden beverage…and out came a Pabst Blue Ribbon. It was then that the guy behind the counter told me that he could not remember the last time that machine had soft drinks in it. I looked at him and smiled, then I spotted some fly shop hats…one had a PBR style logo with the fly shops name on it. Sold. I still wear it with pride.

Another tough outing on the Gallatin as storms moved in from the west with a ferocity that put every fish in the river down for the day. So we spent the remainder of the morning just hanging out by the truck and talking. Perhaps that was the best way for things to end. In conversation with people who had become friends and may see years pass before their paths would cross again.

This trip and the amazing events that I experienced have forever changed me. It did not make me a better angler, but it did change the way that I go about the craft. The skillset remains, but in some ways the philosophy behind it has been forever altered by this great bunch of people.

Roughly five months have passed, and I am still in consistent contact with these folks. Sometimes it is business, and sometimes it is just to say hi. In the early part of the fall, Steve found himself in my neck of the woods and I took him to the South Holston. I told him where the trout would be, and what they were likely to be keyed on, then I stepped back, cast into water that has never yielded fish, and watched as he pulled multiple fish from the water. It made me happy to play guide for my friend, and in a way it was my gift to him. As we left that afternoon to once again go our separate ways, we said goodbye as if we would be together the following week…because we both knew that eventually we would meet again on a river somewhere.

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.

Madison River Wildflowers

The Madness of Fly Fishing

“Sometimes I caught fish – sometimes I didn’t. …….I lived merrily, mindlessly, uncomfortably on the fringe where fishing bleeds into madness.” – Nick Lyons, The Intense Fly Fisherman

There was a time in my youth when I chased fish with all the passion I had within me – with all the force and vigor and excitement I could muster. I would get up two hours before dawn and drive four hours just to reach the first available trout water. I’d fish all day, stopping only to eat a quick lunch or move to another spot on the river. When darkness fell, I continued to fish – pushing the limit of effective fishing and the legal limit of fishing regulations. A four hour drive back home would end with me dragging myself into the house, leaving all my gear in the truck to be cleaned out the next day, or the day after that perhaps. I was “on fire” for fly fishing and I ate it – drank it – obsessed over it – loved it – was consumed by it. 

 

This went on for some time. Years passed, then decades and then one day I experienced a great tragedy in my life when my father passed away suddenly. At the same time, I lost my job. I was devastated. I stopped fishing almost completely. I think I may have spent time fishing, just a few hours each time, only twice that year. In my salad days fishing happened every other weekend for years and years. I fished only twice in that most terrible year and thought several times that I might give it up altogether. Over the next few years, there were times when I felt like flinging my rod and reel into the lake or river. No, I’m not kidding. I just couldn’t get that passion back, even though when I wasn’t fishing it was still there and as strong as ever.

 

I still consumed fishing articles, photos and chat like they were going out of style. I loved to talk about bass on poppers and trout flies that sit just so, right in the film. I’m still a sucker for hearing  another angler talk about a river that’s new to me. Last year I even took my very first trip out west to fish in Montana and Wyoming. I’m fishing more now – probably twice a month or so when I can get away and I’d fish more often if I had the time and money. So, I had to ask myself – what happened? How did I come back from the brink of leaving the sport behind me for good?

I think what it all came down to, was that I had to realize two things: that I didn’t have that 24-hour-7-days-a-week passion that I had in my youth, and that not having that passion was OK. Once I stopped worrying about the fact that I didn’t go fishing as much (and frankly didn’t catch as much either) I was able to begin to enjoy my time outdoors again. These days it’s not so much about the fishing. It’s more about being outside and enjoying time spent around the water. It’s the feel of the river on my legs and the fleeting glimpse of a deer on the drive home. Now that I’ve had a couple of years of this relaxed fishing life, I think I rather prefer it to living on, as Nick Lyons so accurately put it …the fringe where fishing bleeds into madness.” Maybe someday you’ll be there, too. Maybe you already are?

The author taking business into his own hands.

Yellowstone – A Multi Part Series – 3 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 third of a six part series recounting my adventures. This was my first trip to Yellowstone.

In part two, we saw how involved and messy gill netting for the small lakers can be.  But what about the big boys?  What about the mature adult that is actively reproducing?  Obviously the whole gill netting thing will not work on a fish that size. So instead of the spider web analogy, lets switch over to the corn maze.  Easy to get into one…not so easy to get out.

What happens is this.  A huge live trap net is set in the lake.  This massive enclosure has a series of extensions on it that are like long hallways.  Hallways that are hundreds of feet long.  Big guys swim in, hang out, can’t find the exit.  And then the men on the boat go to work.

This is where the action really picks up.  We left the gill net boat feeling pretty satisfied with what we had just participated in, but we literally had no idea as to the massive undertaking necessary to get rid of the Lakers.  Yellowstone Lake is big and very deep which is perfect for Lake Trout.  They are literally in Laker Valhalla in this majestic body of water, and they do get big.

The crew starts out by retrieving the net.  I never quite figured out if the net was stationary and we were moving or vise versa, but either way, we were in for the surprise of our lives when the catch started revealing itself.

There are some fish that get caught in the net, but most are still alive when the crew started hoisting it aboard.  But the big show was the huge net enclosure that held numbers of biblical proportions.  The sheer number of big fish was astounding.  To compare what we were seeing to the 167,000 plus that had been retrieved up to that point just blows your mind.  I caught myself looking out at the lake an just trying to grasp just how many leviathans were swimming in those waters.

In the picture below you see a tub full of dead Lake Trout.  To get an idea of how large these fish were, the box they are in was about two and a half feet by twenty inches by two feet.  Just about every fish we brought to the boat would be grip and grin status.

 There were several tubs stationed at the rear of the boat.  By the time our work was done.  Every tub would be full.  It bears mentioning again that this operation is taking place, every day for at least ten hours per day.

Tracking devices are placed in some of the Lakers.  The use of these trackers is to identify movement of the fish throughout the lake.  Listening stations placed in various locations in the lake will monitor movement of the fish as they go about their day.  The hope is to positively identify spawning locations so that they can begin the arduous task of killing eggs.  There is still an ongoing discussion as to how they could best accomplish this.  Everything from UV rays to a vacuum system has been brought to the table.  The Park Service, Trout Unlimited, and The Yellowstone Park Foundation are actively pursuing their options with a hope to tackle this next battlefield soon.  The telemetry study was started in August of last year.  141 tags and 40 receivers were implemented.  As of this writing, there are 221 tags and 55 recievers on and in Yellowstone Lake.  This is not a cheap undertaking either.  Trout Unlimited purchased 153 tags at a cost of 85,000 dollars and the National Park Service purchased 68 tags at a cost of 25,000 dollars.

And yes, some of the Cutthroat are caught.  Here is the statistics as best as I can recall.  In a day when we caught probably close to 1,000 trout.  I only saw two Cutthroat dead at the gill net boat, and I think there were maybe five live Cutties on the live net boat.

The large holding net is brought to the side of the boat and there are literally hundreds of fish swimming around.  A long net is used, and you simply lean over and scoop up a net full of fish.  It is really quite amazing.  And keep in mind that you are scooping netfulls of 20″-30″ fish.  Exhilarating to say the least.  There were a couple that were to big to fit into the net.  You would scoop through the holding net, get the bruisers head in it, and that would be all that would fit.  That is when the crew stepped in and gilled them to the boat.

After the fish are caught.  They are cut, identified as male of female, and the air bladder is ruptured.  A lot were full of eggs.  Thousands of eggs.  This is the point when it all started coming together for me.  We caught and killed a multitude of these fish, but if you also take into consideration how many eggs we removed form the life cycle of the species in this lake, the numbers were staggering.  I really felt like I had done something that was good, worthwhile, and important.  Important to more than just the Cutthroat.  It was important to the total ecosystem of the park.  And that is a very good thing.

Though Lake Trout are a very good food source, and plentiful, these fish are not put into the food market.  My thought was that they could be used to feed the homeless, needy, mobile meals, but the logistics and cost of doing this are just not feasible at this time.  So much would be involved in trying to get this idea off the ground, and the amount of money it would require prohibit it.

So we left that afternoon feeling very good about what we had done.  The conversation among us was like that of a team after winning the big game.  We recounted the events, smiled, shook our heads in disbelief, and made our way north to the Lamar Valley.

 *Photos by Rebecca Garlock, Chris Hunt, Steve Zakur, and Marc Payne

Lake Trout Processing

Yellowstone – A Multi Part Series – 2 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 second of a six part series recounting my adventures. This was my first trip to Yellowstone.

Okay, how many mornings have you awoke, and over breakfast said to yourself…”yep, today I think I am gonna kill a thousand trout.  That is the goal.  Not gonna eat em, not gonna sell em, just gonna kill em, cut em, and dump em in the deep water.  Then maybe call it a day.”

Lets just settle on agreeing that lake trout aren’t baby seals.  Soft fluffy white fur and big watery eyes will trump a cold slimy fish any day of the week, but still…the wholesale slaughter of a trout seems antithetical to the mantra that we catch and release types chant each time we head to the river.  We will pass someone who is leaving with a stringer full of trout and we assess them as if they are pariah; an unclean blight on the angling world.

I speak somewhat in jest, but it is honestly a very strange feeling to know that your goal is a mix of trout and death.  It just doesn’t roll off the tongue very easily…until you actually do it.

Here is the situation. At some point lake trout arrived in Yellowstone Lake.  I say “at some point” because no one is really 100% certain when it happened.  Yellowstone Lake is a Cutthroat lake, end of story.  The population of this amazing body of water has changed dramatically in recent years, and it has become quite frightening on more than a fishing level.  This issue literally effects every creature in the massive Yellowstone that has Cutts as a food source.

Try wrapping your mind around this statistic. In or around 1978, 70,000 Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout were recorded in Clear Creek.  In 2008, the number had dwindled to less than 500.  You read that right…500.  Keep in mind that we are just talking about one creek, God only knows how many feed into Yellowstone Lake.  You start running the numbers and it doesn’t take a lot of thought to determine that Yellowstone is in trouble.

Lake Trout live and spawn in Yellowstone Lake, they access no tributaries, they live in deep water, and they eat a bunch of Cutthroat which do access the tributaries to spawn.  This leaves only one viable solution.  You must get on Yellowstone Lake and kill a bunch of Lakers.  Each female Lake Trout is capable of laying thousands of eggs, and with each passing season, these hungry invasives feast on the Cutts.

HOW IT IS DONE

We were blessed with the opportunity to travel out onto Yellowstone Lake and take part in the removal of the Lakers. After a coffee and a danish at the boat dock, we gathered round and Todd Koel gave us the rundown thus far.

When you can tally up 167,703 lake trout caught thus far in 2012, and your work is no where near done…you have got a huge task in front of you.

There are two primary methods that are being used in the eradication process.  Gill netting and trap nets, and our merry band of anglers, bloggers, and industry folk embarked on what would become one whale of an adventure.

Gill netting is not pretty.  It is a messy, smelly, methodical task that takes a strong constitution and a certain degree of speed to do the job well.  So, imagine my surprise when we pulled up to the gill netting boat, and a young blonde coed climbed out and welcomed us aboard.  I envisioned a crew of bearded and somewhat scruffy fishermen using foul language, smoking filterless cigarettes and drinking coffee from an old rusty percolator.  This boat had two gentlemen who were very polite and soft spoken and a crew of nothing but girls.

With my personal stereotypes completely shattered we put our hands to work.  Gill netting was the focus of this boat, and though it wasn’t Deadliest Catch it was pretty intense at first.  The best way to describe gill netting would be to envision a massive underwater spiders web.  These nets are dropped or “soaked” for several hours and basically the fish entrap themselves within the holes of the net, struggle, tangle, and die.  Then comes the dirty work.  The net is retrieved and it is the task of the deck hands to extricate the fish from the nets.  I knew this was gonna be messy when the captain of the boat handed out blue rubber gloves.  Sometimes this involved actually pushing the internal organs of the lakers from one part of their bodies to the other just so they would go through the holes in the nets.  This procedure can also cause what the girls on the boat called “poppers”, I won’t go into details, but imagine a balloon that is squeezed just a tad to much.  Only this balloon wasn’t full of air….

For ten hours a day, six days a week these co-eds place nets, pull up nets, removed dead fish and repeat, and they actually seemed to be having fun doing it.

So where are all the big lake trout?  This particular process is used to remove the smaller fish.  On the next post we will take a look at how the big boys meet their maker.

Tetons

Yellowstone – A Multi Part Series – 1 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 first of a six part series recounting my adventures. This was my first trip to Yellowstone.

 There is always a slight risk involved in dreams.  So often we paint pictures in our minds about these enchanted desires, thoughts that grow, doubling each time they wander across our mind.  Then we are somehow placed in a situation in which we can actually see this dream come to pass and it feels empty, shallow, and unfulfilled.

 Thankfully, this was not the case in my dream of Yellowstone.

 My friend Steve Zakur didn’t touch down in Jackson until late in the afternoon/ early evening which gave me time to soak in the Tetons in their glory.  When his plane landed and we shook hands, the dream which I carried for so long gained life.  Go time had arrived.

 Steve has visited the park several times.  He knew what to expect.  So that evening over drinks we made a plan that in retrospect was quite ambitious.  We were going to start at the south entrance and head northeast before meandering our way around and back to the south entrance.  I had no idea just what I was in for.

The next morning Steve and I took off from Jackson on a grand tour de force of the park.  It was a complete mind blower.  Crazy as it may sound, you literally cannot look in any direction without a photo op.  This place is a photographers Valhalla.

We had not even entered Yellowstone yet, and all I kept saying was “wow”.

Steve, being a seasoned vet of the park, graciously played tour guide for me and just let me gawk at the shear majesty of the place.  It just overwhelms everything about you.  I had thought of this place for so long and had focused so much on getting ready for this trip that it just left me numb.

In the center of the park there is a road that basically is a loop.  That was to be the focus of our day as we worked around toward our final destination which was Flagg Ranch (more about them later), and our rendezvous with the other folks that would be on tour with us for the week.

But of course, Steve and I being anglers, there came a point in which we could wait no longer and fishing became the focus.  Saying fishing became the focus in Yellowstone is almost a misnomer.  There are so many places to ply the angle as they say that you literally are overwhelmed in trying to find a spot.  We settled on the Gibbon which is a smaller river that joins the Firehole to become the Madison.

It was a warm afternoon, the water was perfect for wet wading, and the little browns that call this particular body of water home were willing to at least give Steve and me a taste of just how good it could be.  We ended the afternoon with three small browns each.  Nothing worthy of the grip and grin that is almost a mandatory validation of success (to which I strongly disagree), but we felt the drug that is the tug, and that was quite enough to settle the spirit.

We finally made our way back to Headwaters Lodge at Flagg Ranch and met those who were to be our companions for the rest of the week. (More on that next time.)