Yellowstone Trout Trippin’ Part II
Sunday morning we got a 6:30 AM start to the day by grabbing some breakfast at The Three Bears. The food is always reliably good, although it’s hard to go wrong with eggs, hashbrowns and of course bacon. Again, eating was more a habitual thing than a necessary means of survival since the pizza from the night before was still in the process of being digested. But bacon goes good with anything, anytime, regardless of the need. Bacon good. Let there be bacon.
After overloading our bodies with more food we set out through the gates of Yellowstone once again, destined this time for the Firehole River as it flows through Biscuit Basin (mmm…biscuits and gravy. And bacon). This second day was a balmy 33 degrees and windy to start, so while the ambient temperature was only a couple degrees colder than the previous day, the wind did made sure it felt even colder. At least it stayed mostly dry throughout the day.
We dropped in below the foot bridge and staggered ourselves along both sides of the river. Stan always likes to fish right under the bridge. Come to think of it he does resemble a troll, but it’s hard to fault him for it because he always catches fish there. And this year was no exception. I worked a series of riffles below him, and after witnessing fish after fish on the end of his line, I moved a ways downstream. I caught a few fish, and the wind was in my favor so my casting actually felt pretty good for a change. Mark had his sights set on a stretch of water 1/2 mile away and declared his intentions to catch the big brown that he’d caught last year in that same location. It was a monsterous fish (according to Marck) for the Firehole: a 20+ incher that he accurately (allegedly) marked on his rod (or so he says). Jimmy and Erique fished in the same vicinity as me, and as the day wore on the consensus was that everyone was catching fish. Maybe not quite as many as we’d caught the previous day, but fishing was still very good. We ran into another angler who mentioned that the Biscuit Basin area had been closed for a portion of the previous day due to “bear activity”, so it hadn’t likely seen as much fishing pressure as had there been bear inactivity. We saw no bears, though Marck did notice a fresh track in the mud.
I tend to be more concerned with Bison than bears, because a bear isn’t likely going to waste it’s time trying to eat me (not enough meat on my bones to be worth the trouble). Whenever we’re fishing the Firehole there’s always bison activity, and a bison would likely find great sport in tossing my skinny arse into the air and kicking me around in the dirt. At one point we were all working a run near the road when I noticed a bunch of cars had pulled over and tourists were out of their vehicles with cameras pointed toward the river. I assumed they were photographing Marck as he stood in one spot and caught fish after fish (though he never did manage to reunite with the “20+ inch Firehole brown”). Just then a lone bull materialized in the distance. He sauntered along the riverbank past Marck and the others, and made his way slowly upstream. Toward me. I was standing mid channel in a stretch of fairly fast moving water, and my footing was secure as long as I didn’t try to move. I glanced about and formulated a plan of escape in the event that the bull decided to walk across the river right where I was standing. I really had no good options – retreat would be slow in the fast water, and I had no doubt that I’d be swept off my feet if I tried to move quickly. Getting soaked wouldn’t have enhanced the quality of the day at all. Fortunately for me the bull he kept moving along the riverbank, taking his time as he moved upstream.
After the Biscuit Basin Bison was out of sight, the photographers climbed back in their cars and moved on to the next point of interest, of which there is no shortage in this country. However, one photographer decided that of all the unusal things in the park, the Unaccomplished Angler was worth some space on his memory card. I tried to pretend I didn’t see him, but this individual was fairly obvious as he stood in the open with his 800mm zoom lens trained directly on me. Fortunately a rainbow tightened my line and I was able to show my audience how a real live fly angling man sets the hook, plays the fish deftly to hand and releases the fish quickly and efficiently. I puffed up my chest, cocked my lucky fishing hat just a bit to the side and did my best Clint Eastwood squint (from behind polarized sunglasses). Then I quickly proceeded to put a wind-aided tangle in my line. I waded carefully to the bank and sat down to work my way through the bird’s nest. Knowing that my every move was being documented I made short work of the mess, tied on a new section of tippet and a fly, and strode to my previous location to continue my work. However, the paparazzi had fled the scene. Apparently he hadn’t been interested in the “other” side of fly fishing. Just as well.
Late in the day Jimmy and I approached a flat section of river that would be perfect for when the 3 pm hatch of PMD’s started coming off. We sat and waited and watched another fisherman make 200 casts in some nearby water. He was there for the same reason: to fish dries to rising fish. But instead of taking the calm, calculated approach and waiting for bugs to hatch and the fish to turn on, he flogged the water incessantly. He made some friendly conversation about how yesterday he had absolutely slayed the fish on dries, announcing that “I musta caught 6 fish in an hour…say, while you guys are sitting there, do you mind if I fish through this riffle real quickly?” After a while he gave up and hiked back to his car to ice his casting arm. The hatch never really materialized, though we did manage a couple fish on dries. Marck and Erique converged upon the spot where Jimmy and I had been waiting patiently for two hours. While they sat and watched, I tried unsuccessfully to entice a particularly stubborn fish that had been rising in a foam line several feet below us. It was a tough drift that proved too much for me. Fortunately Marck just happened to be shooting some video, so while a fish was not captured, some excellent footage was. Remember: presentation is everything, especially when fishing a size 18 dry on 5x.
With our hopes of an epic hatch dashed, we retreated to the parking lot, broke down our rods and stowed our gear, bidding a fond farewell to the Firehole. Back at the Ho Hum, we showered quickly and went in search of a good steak. We were on the verge of starvation at this point, and were given some good intel that a new restaurant in town served up some fine steaks. I was hankering for ribs, but was advised to go with steak instead. That was a tough sacrifice I was willing to make, and as we entered the Montana Cattle Company, the smell of grilled flesh set the salivary glands into motion. We were seated promptly, and then began The Long Wait. It was 15 minutes before our waitress stopped by our table with 5 glasses of water. Then she vanished again. Over the next 20 minutes a couple of other restaurant employees, in a hurry to get elsewhere, reassured us that “we’ll be right with you!” When nothing happened, the manager showed up at our table and offered some consolation in the form of a couple plates of complimentary buffalo wings (I’m still not sure that they were actually buffalo wings as they tasted remarkably like chicken). Admittedly it was a nice PR gesture and we inhaled the wings, which were good. In another 15 minutes our waitress, wearing the expression of a deer caught in the headlights, apologized profusely and finally took our orders. The Montana Cattle Company may have been established in 1879, but the restaurant in West Yellowstone had only been open for 3 days at the time of our visit. They clearly were not ready for business and were terribly understaffed. Amazingly, while it took forever to get our orders taken, the food arrived in nearly record time. That proved to be not such a good thing because two of the orders were mixed up, and all of the steaks were either under or over-cooked. I’m anything but a restaurant snob, and I will always give the waitstaff the benefit of the doubt. But a chef in a restaurant specializing in cooked cattle should know the difference between medium rare and overcooked boot leather. Oh well. As the manager pointed, it’s really hard to get good help in a town like West Yellowstone, especially on short notice. I’m not saying you shouldn’t give the Montana Cattle Company a chance to prove that they’re worthy of your patronage, but next year I’ll stick to bacon and pizza. And if you’re looking for work in West Yellowstone, they’re hiring multiple positions.
Fortunately the evening didn’t end on that sour note. As we walking back to the Ho Hum I stopped in at the Book Peddler to see if they carried a particular series of titles featuring Olive the Woolly Bugger. The year before I had paid the owner a visit and told her about the books, and she indicated that she would order them. I never know if shop owners actually plan to follow through with their intentions or just offer lip service to get rid of me. I was delighted that they had the first two titles in stock, though they do need to order more copies of Olive Goes for a Wild Ride. Jimmy did a little bit of rearranging to improve their shelf presence.
What with this being our last night in West Yellowstone, a normal younger group of guys would have opted to hit the town and whoop it up: drinkin’, fightin’ and getting tattoos. We opted instead to turn in at a reasonable hour because we had a date with The Madison in the morning. All except Erique, that is – he had to get up at 4 AM to make a 6:30 flight out of Bozeman. He would be home before we even arrived at Three Dollar Bridge.