We left off Part 2 with our final night in West Yellowstone, where some of the Rangers may have had a bit too much fun, if there is such a thing. Actually, there is such a thing, and if you’re feeling not very good in the morning, even fishing can leave a lot to be desired. Fortunately I happened to feel just dandy the next day as we headed off to meet my personal nemesis, The Cornhole River (also known as the Madison at Three Dollar Bridge). This river in this location has never welcomed me with open arms, with the exception of last year’s personal best day on the Madison (6 fish landed). Most years I tend to scratch out one or two fish if I’m lucky, often one or two fewer than that. The only good thing about the Madison, in my opinion, is the setting: it’s absolutely beautiful. With the Madison Range of the Rockies right in your face it can take one’s mind off the angling misery.
The weather continued to be delightful as it had been on the previous two days of fishing. And that delightful weather had also responsible for slower catching than had the weather been less delightful. In other words, things didn’t look good for a day on a river that typically kicks my ass even when the weather sucks.
We geared up for a day of wet wading (a first here), took the requisite team photo, and dispersed to various sections of the river to
waste a perfectly nice day do some angling. Jimmy and I headed downstream while Marck (with Morris on his heels) paid the toll to cross the bridge and headed upstream. Nash headed upstream on the near bank, as did Goose.
I crossed paths with one other angler who was headed back to his truck after having a tough morning on the river. He said the weather had been crappy until just recently, and the fishing had been great, until just recently. I hadn’t had a bump yet, so I agreed with him that the weather was beautiful and the fishing was slow.
The river was running a bit lower, and quite a bit clearer, than what we normally encounter this time of year. Still, there was a lot of water moving downhill so wading very far from the bank wasn’t an option. I was about to step off the bank into a shallow channel when I saw a nice fish dart from beneath bank. If I didn’t catch anything all day at least I’d seen a fish.
Downstream a short ways my indicator dipped and despite that I assumed I’d merely bumped a stick, I set the hook. The stick didn’t fight particularly hard, but it was a heavy stick and took some finesse to land it. Turns out it wasn’t a stick at all, but a nice brown in the 20″ range that took the small dropper in the upper lip. Without a net (left unintentionally, again, back at the truck), it was tough to land the fish. I did manage to bring it into shallow water for a hook extraction without snapping my 5x. Off the fish swam to eat more and hopefully gain a bit more enthusiasm—the fish was healthy, just semi-catatonic in the cold runoff. I couldn’t really blame the fish, after all, when I’m cold I don’t feel much like fighting either. I would like to have hooked up with him later in the year when the water temp was a bit warmer and he wasn’t feeling quite so lethargic. However, I probably wouldn’t have landed it had if that were the case.
Over the next few hours I scratched out 5 more fish, including one 16 inch rainbow that seemed hell bent on making it downstream to Ennis (the fish was a grand scrapper that showed no signs of brown trout lethargy). Every fish I hooked fought harder than the big brown; even a couple small browns in the 10-12 inch range showed more gumption than their 20 inch brethren.
I gradually fished back upstream and made my way back to the truck for lunch, feeling pretty damn good about the success of the morning, and less confident that I would fair as well in the afternoon. I was right about that. After a cold piece of pizza from the night before I headed upstream on the near bank and fished for another hour and a half without so much as a wiggle in my indicator.
I did have the pleasure of being low-holed by some yahoo carrying two rods who decided to set up 100 feet below me and thrash some nice water. I patiently waited for him to move along but he had apparently snagged his hook and was standing on a rock flailing in vain to get unstuck. I shook my fist in his general direction, whispered under my breath, “Get off my damn lawn you punk kid!” and proceeded to walk around, and below him. As I fished down I glanced over my shoulder and he was still standing on that rock, shaking his stick. I didn’t catch another fish the rest of the afternoon and headed back to the truck, still pleased with my morning catch which equalled my personal best day on this river.
Some of the Rangers were already assembled at the vehicles while the others meandered in shortly thereafter. The consensus was that fishing had been slower than normal for everyone except me, which made no sense—if everyone else had a slower day than normal, I should have been skunked. Marck only caught around 15 fish. Morris recalled catching, “NFC. Maybe 5 or 6″ while Nash had 4 fish (the real victory being that he felt much better than he had earlier in the day). Jimmy caught,”Less than UA, so what does that make me?” Goose caught goose eggs. He hates that damn river more than anyone else, even me.
Down the road we headed, ultimately toward Rock Creek some 4 hours away, where we would spend the night before fishing one more river the next day. But first we stopped for some grub at the Grizzly Bar & Grill (located in Cameron MT, although I didn’t see much to suggest anything other than a wide spot in the road, save for a cell tower (or maybe a ham radio antenna?) cleverly disguised as a tall pine tree.
And fine grub it was—as good as it gets. Our waitress was a comely youngish fly angling person who works at the Grizzly Bar seasonably so she can fish. The chef was also a youngish fly fisherman who cooks food so he can fish. A brief conversation with him revealed that he fishes a LOT, and has his own small business selling hand-tied streamers. I can’t imagine anyone living in that area that doesn’t fish, and if you’re in that area to fish I recommend you make a stop at the Grizzly Bar & Grill to eat. And I recommend the ribeye. Just remember to chew each bite 30 times before swallowing.
The final part in this 4 part series isn’t really worth a post all its own: we fished Rock Creek. It was sunny and even hotter than any of the previous 4 days on the waters of Montana and Yellowstone. The creek was running typically high, though not terribly off color. We started low on the creek and despite seeing a few golden stones, no fish were interested.
We figured our best chances were to chase the salmonflies so we drove 20+ miles up Rock Creek Road, collecting dust and hoping to encounter the really big bugs, which we did: there were salmonflies everywhere, like flocks of smallish birds. Never seen them thicker.
What we did not see was a single fish rise to a salmonfly all day, neither an imitation nor the real deal. We experimented by tossing live bugs into the water and watching them drift downstream through likely current seams. Nothing. I managed one 10 inch cutthroat on a Purple Haze (despite that there was no Purple Haze hatch coming off) and Jimmy threw everything in his fly box at a 15″ cuttie before finally enticing the fish to take his offering (which was not a salmonfly pattern). Goose hooked one small fish that may well have been the same 10 incher I’d caught. There aren’t many places where access to wadable water can be found, and the one spot we found is where all the action (if you can call it that) was to be found.
I don’t know why we even bothered to stop and fish that damn creek. It may be better later in the year when you can actually wade into the water to fish, but this time of year it’s not worth your time unless you’re in a raft.
But I’m not bitter. It is a pretty place, I’ll give it that.
Some things never change about our annual trip, and that is where we stay in West Yellowstone. And the Ho Hum was still there when Jimmy, Goose and myself pulled into town shortly before 9 P.M. The others had arrived several minutes sooner thanks to Marck’s heavy, deformed right foot that had the accelerator pressed firmly against the floorboards of the Soccer Mom Van. They had already checked in and dealt with the dreaded olfactory overload by the time we rolled in. With the weather being unseasonably sultry, the open windows of the office at the cat motel allowed the aroma to waft lazily across the parking lot, ensuring that we would still get to enjoy the fragrance from afar.
As we do every year, we made a couple quick stops to take care of business before eating dinner much too late. The first stop was at the grocery store for tomorrow’s lunch fixin’s and a can of air freshener (for our lavish room). After that it was off to Aarick’s Fly Shop for National Park fishing permits and a few trademark secret weapon flies that always get it done between hatches on the Firehole. Speaking of hatches, the nice weather had resulted in a Tourist Hatch and West Yellowstone was crawling with them. Now, one might argue that the Firehole Rangers are just as guilty as anyone of clogging the Park and West Yellowstone, but we’re not there as tourists: we’re there to fish. There’s a difference—right? And unlike the hoards of foreign tourists, the Rangers have a sense of awareness, personal space, and manners. But I digress. After consuming the too-late supper at the Three Bears restaurant, we retired to the comfort of our lavish rooms for a good night’s slumber. The air freshener would come in handy, repeatedly.
The next morning we rose early, intending to grab coffee and breakfast at McDonald’s (in previous years, the only place open at 6 A.M.). The problem was that the Golden Arches wasn’t open, and in fact, new hours posted on the door indicated that they wouldn’t open until 7:30. SEVEN THIRTY?! The only other joint open for early breakfast wouldn’t open their doors until 6:30. Apparently West Yellowstone doesn’t cater to the early rising angler, which further serves to distance us fishermen types from the
other tourists. We skipped breakfast altogether, settling instead for a cup of gas station coffee. Doing without breakfast was undoubtedly a good move since our bellies were still full from the dinner consumed just a few hours prior.
A half hour later we arrived at our starting point somewhere in the Midway Geyser Basin, geared up, and posed for the annual team photo. We were the first rig in the parking lot thanks, likely, to the fact that the tourists were all back in West Yellowstone waiting for breakfast to be served. There was a chill in the air, but the low fog was already giving way to blue skies and the promise of yet another beautiful day of fishing. We’ve had some interesting weather fluctuations in the past, and have fished in every kind of weather imaginable on the Firehole. Until 3 years ago we had always fished the Park on opening weekend (the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend). While a week can certainly make a big difference in the high country of Yellowstone, the weather is reliably schizophrenic and we never know what we’ll encounter until we get there. Even then it can change from hour to hour. The safe assumption is that the worse the weather, the better the catching. I’ll take sun and blue skies over the polar opposite, any day.
We strode off into the lifting fog toward the crown jewel of our annual trip: the Firehole River. Arriving at its banks we quickly noted that the flow was as low as we’d ever seen it. A quick temperature reading indicated that the water was still an acceptably cool 54°F (if you’re looking for celsius you’ll have to go to Canada). The flows had been low the previous year, but with the unseasonably warm Spring of 2015, the water temperature had also been also been 70°F. The result last year was the slowest day on the Firehole I had ever encountered. This year the spring weather had been much cooler (until our arrival) and things appeared to be on a better track this year as I hooked my first fish on the 2nd cast (by compasison it took an additional 30 casts before last year’s first fish was landed). The first fish of 2016 was a hard fighting 10 inch brown (same as last year). The next hour resulted in a couple more fish, but nothing like the glory years when double digits were caught in the first hour. Working our way downstream, the catch rate was well off the average pace for everyone, including the Firehole Master Ranger himself, Marck. I managed to land a few more 10 inch browns and a similar sized rainbow or two. Each fish put a smile on my face; pound for pound these Firehole fish fight as hard as any trout anywhere and they’re a lot of fun on a 3 weight rod.
When the pace of our downstream progress is slow it can be always attributed to really good catching. And there have been many years when posting up on a run for an hour and steadily catching fish was not uncommon. That said, we pushed downstream at a much quicker pace this year. Jimmy and I had talked of the need to slow down and remind ourselves to enjoy simply being there in such a beautiful place, and not get caught up in the rapid pace of fishing.
That wasn’t a problem this year—at least not the pace of the fishing. But slowing down didn’t do anything the speed up the catching: it remained slow throughout the day, though not as slow as last year when the fish total for the UA was 3 fish. I managed to quadruple that number this year, but the real telltale sign of the day’s slow catching was Marck: He normally catches an average of 173 fish on the Firehole; this year he caught around 20 (unthinkable!). But misery loves company, and everyone was well off their average. We won’t even talk about Nash’s day.
Another thing missing this year was the bison. We normally see at least a couple small groups of animals along the way; sometimes large herds. This year we saw one lone bull briefly along the river the entire day. Also missing were the typical crowds of angling folks that we typically encounter as we approach the lower part of the river. We saw perhaps a half dozen other angler folks all day, including a couple groups of beginners who were receiving guided lessons on how to not catch fish on the Firehole.
Most of us were back at the rigs drowning our sorrows well before the agreed-upon rendezvous time of 2:30. We shared our relatively meager catch rates and Nash nearly wept as Goose strutted in last, his chest puffed out as he announced that he had landed 8 out of 13 fish hooked.
On the drive back to West Yellowstone we saw another lone bison, along the side of the road. The bull appeared lost, and hot, so naturally we loaded him into the back seat of Morris’s Soccer Mom Van and took him a Bison-Cooling Facility.
Our good deed done, it was declared that the Rangers were also done with the Firehole and would not be fishing it the next day. We spent one more fragrant night at the Ho-Hum before departing the next morning for the next leg our our trip. Before doing so, however, we demolished a motherlode of food, and perhaps a few too many beers, at Wild West Pizza, where it’s not always clear to everyone which restroom to use.
Up next, Part 3: Would the Madison deliver a kick to the nuts again, this year?
Things only seem to be getting worse for Yellowstone. There have been so many reports of tourist idiocy lately that it simply boggles the mind. I posted about some of the incidents here:
And yet, the madness persists. This video posted on Facebook just leaves me shaking my head. In the comments for the video someone used the term “Tourons” to describe these Tourist Morons.
Tourons. Brilliant. Now what we need are t-shirts, the proceeds from which benefit Yellowstone National Park.
If these Tourons keep it up, the Park will be forced to close its gates to the public and only offer guided tours.
Stop the madness. Stop the Tourons.
2016 marked the 10th anniversary of my first trip to Yellowstone as part of the Firehole Rangers brigade. Back in 2006 it wasn’t the same core group as it is today: Marck was, and still is, our ring leader; Goose was there and always has been and Nash was there and mostly always has been. Jimmy wouldn’t come along for a few more years, and Morris, still the Rookie Ranger despite having completed his 6th deployment this year, would come along even later. And ten years ago the Firehole Ranger moniker hadn’t yet been established—that’s a term that was coined sometime in the past 6 years.
Despite that a lot has changed since my first trip, much remains the same, albeit with some slight modifications. One positive change over the years has been our departure time: Back in the early days we would leave Marck’s house in North Bend, WA at 4 a.m. and drive straight through to West Yellowstone. We’ve grown smarter since then and have been stopping, and fishing, along the way. Not only does this provide an opportunity to ply some fine waters, it also reduces the saddle sores. It doesn’t matter how comfortable a vehicle is; 11 hours in the seat hurts and the thought of doing the entire drive in one day is unthinkable. We ain’t as good as we once was (queue Toby Keith).
Jimmy and I departed Wednesday afternoon and drove about 4.5 hours to Post Falls, ID, where we spent the night. Marck, Goose, Nash and Morris would leave the next morning at 3 a.m. (which means that at least two of us were smart). The Rangers met in St. Regis, MT, at about 9A.M. where we gassed up, cleaned bugs from the windshield, and had some bacon. From there we proceeded onward to Twin Bridges, MT; the plan being to repeat the first leg of our trip from last year and fish the Big Hole River. We checked in with Seth McLean, one of two owners at 4 Rivers Fishing Company, got the keys to our lodging for the evening and received instructions to report to the shop at 8 a.m. the next morning. We also got some intel on what flies might catch some fish on a nearby river. With that, Seth rode off into the mid-afternoon on his 4 wheeler, but not before drinking a couple of our beers.
It was decided that the Rangers would kill some time that afternoon with a bit of angling on the upper Beaverhead, so we hit the road to do just that, making a quick stop at Anderson and Platt Outfitters in Dillon so that a couple of the fellas could pick up their licenses. The guy working at the shop suggested a certain couple of size 20 bugs, and when one or several of us groaned at the suggestion, the employee pulled out a little devise and showed how it quickly and easily it threads tippet through a diminutive hook eye. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it with my own failing eyes, and several of the Rangers walked out of the shop with one of these 20//20 Magnetic Tippet Threaders (the guy in the shop definitely saw us coming). I didn’t use mine the entire trip, but it’s reassuring to know that I now have yet another tool—somewhere in my pack—designed to enhance my fishing enjoyment.
Once we arrived at the upper Beaverhead near the Clark Canyon dam, we spread out; half the group staying near the dam while the other group ventured off down the road a ways. One problem with a group of 6 guys is that it’s not often feasible to squeeze everyone in on the same stretch of water. So, if you were Marck, Morris or Nash, you would catch a few sizeable fish just below the dam. If you were the UA, Goose, or Jimmy, you would find yourself frustrated in the quest to find wadable water elsewhere that wasn’t chock full of other anglers. The latter group caught nothing and declared the upper Beaverhead to be a lousy fishery.
Note: We floated the upper Beaverhead back in 2010 and caught scads of big fish. But in 2010 we were floating, in rainstorm that would have made western Washington proud. To be on foot, without good water into which to cast our flies, with the sun overhead, was another matter. It was a forgettable afternoon that, if you ask me about it in a year, I will have no recollection of. I couldn’t help but reflect on how remarkably (and painfully) similar it was to last year when we fished the Ruby (Note to self: if there is a dam, fish right below it. Do not proceed downstream in quest of better water).
afternoon wasted time on the Beaverhead we drove to Dillon for some grub before returning to Twin Bridges for the evening. Along the way we stopped to enjoy the view of Beaverhead Rock, a landmark that proved critical to the success of the Lewis and Clark Expedition back in 1805. I’m not sure that the others enjoyed the significance of the location as much as I did, what with me being a Lewis and Clark history geek and all, but since I was driving the Ranger Carrier, I was in charge. Historical significance or not, it is a view worth taking in, which we did just as the sun was set behind clouds that would not be present the next day.
The next morning, promptly at slightly before 8, we showed up at the 4 Rivers shop, eager to repeat the successes of the previous year. In 2015 the UA personally had one of his better days on any river and expectations were high that the successes would be equalled or even exceeded this year (if so inclined the blog entry from last year can be found HERE). Seth and his business partner, Chris Knott (a particularly fine last name for a fishing guide) greeted us, as did Joe Willauer. Joe is a buddy of mine who used to be a fishing guide before tapping out and getting a real job a couple years ago. He is a self-professed ‘hobby guide’ who now leaves his cubicle occasionally to row a few sports down rivers.
In an attempt to hold onto his fishing guide past, Joe’s truck still resembles something a real fishing guide would drive, although now it smells less like a wet dog ass and more like baby diapers. And there’s now a child’s carseat in the back seat as well as Cheerios and Goldfish scattered about the floor, errant snacks from his 3 year-old daughter. The carseat afforded me a view I’d not otherwise have had as we headed off toward our launch point at Maiden Rock. Along the way we encountered a Montana traffic jam, not unexpectedly. When we arrived at the river there was a traffic jam of other sorts, again not altogether unexpected although we’d had the river nearly to ourselves the previous year. Apparently the sun had brought out every anglerman in the vicinity. We rigged up our 6 weight rods and waited our turn to launch. The sun shone bright overhead, promise of a rather pleasant day.
Marck and I fished with Joe while Nash and Goose were in Chris’s boat; Jimmy and Morris with Seth. As noted, Joe guides only occasionally so his boat is now less a tool of the trade and more of a fashion accessory. Accordingly, his shirt matched his boat. And the color of the sky. There would be no clouds to speak of all day.
Due to the fact that very few folks have the attention spans necessary to read blogs any more, by now I have undoubtedly lost most of you readers. I’ll to cut to some highlights and leave all remaining 11 of you with a few photos:
• Marck quickly saw his backing when the spool of his reel flew off and the boat continued downstream at quick pace. Fortunately the spool was retrieved. Most of the backing was not salvageable.
• Joe’s soft hands and cubicle-induced shoulder atrophy caused him to struggle throughout the day. Whenever we anchored up to replace lost flies, Joe could be heard cooing softly as he enjoyed the reprieve from the arduous task of rowing. To encourage him I pointed out that there were two $25 Sears Gift Cards as a tip if he could just muster up the gumption to soldier on. He perked up at the thought of being able to purchase a couple more pairs of Dockers.
• We caught some nice fish but came nowhere near equaling the catch of the previous year. We did catch more whitefish however, including some rather nice ones, so there’s that. We didn’t catch the number of big browns that we had the previous year and Joe told us that a fungus has taken its toll on the brown trout during their fall spawn the past couple years. The largest browns we caught were maybe 18″. In a couple years there should be lots of bigger fish in the river again, assuming the fungus doesn’t continue to cause a decline in the population.
• We had a great time on a great river. The hired hands worked hard and put us on fish. Seth and Chris, the actual working guides, put the other Rangers on more fish than our boat caught, but that’s to be expected. Joe is still a great
guide hobby guide to fish with and I recommend him highly. If you do seek out his services, just be realistic about your expectations. Contact him at Evolution Anglers, but don’t believe the outdated “About” page. He’s now Executive Director at Headwaters RC & D in Butte. Congrats on the recent promotion, big fella.
We departed Twin Bridges and passed through Virginia City, wishing we had a few hours to stop and check out the place (we say that every year). But we pushed on, wanting to arrive in West Yellowstone before dusk—before the large, cloven-hoofed critters come out to cross the road right in front of us. We made one stop in Ennis to clean more bugs from the windshield, then sped along the Madison Valley, past Three Dollar Bridge, the Slide Inn, Quake and Hebgen lakes, before arriving at our ultimate annual destination: The Ho Hum Motel.
To be continued in Part 2…
After scribing the headline I realized the reference to “more idiots” might be interpreted as a references to the Firehole Rangers themselves. To be very clear, that was not my intent. The Rangers may be fools, but idiots we are not. Especially when it comes to wildlife and other hazards in Yellowstone.
Since my last entry, Idiots Invade Yellowstone, the Rangers returned from their annual pilgrimage to the Park. And in that time there were at least two more reports of incidents involving stupidity on the part of Yellowstone tourists interacting with wildlife:
- A woman (whose country of origin was not noted) was knocked down by a cow elk after she got way too close. Read more/see the video HERE
- An Australian man (not a Canadian) was tossed into the air by a bison after he got within just a few feet of the beast. Read all aboot it HERE
Both survived, only because Darwin is being too lenient as of late.
In another unfortunate and highly avoidable incident, a man fell into an earthen caldron of boiling water after leaving the boardwalk at Porkchop Geyser in the Norris Geyser Basin (named accordingly, I believe, because the water is hot enough to boil a pork chop). Sadly, he died. He didn’t need to. Story and video HERE.
The stretch of the Firehole River where the Rangers fish in the Park is riddled with thermal features and is home to numerous bison. It’s an area far from any boardwalk, with no signage warning of the hazards. Fortunately where we fish is also far from the hoards of tourists. It would be way too easy to get into trouble out there without a little common sense, which it seems far too few people bring with them when they visit Yellowstone.
Every park visitor entering Yellowstone receives a packet of information at the gate. Clearly not everyone is reading it because the front page is filled with cautionary advice on how not to become a statistic. And translations are also available in multiple languages, so that’s not an excuse (hear that, Canadians?). Be aware, people. Stay alert and read the warnings. Oh, and also be aware of your personal space and those around you. Standing cluelessly in the middle of a very busy isle at the grocery store, while other shoppers are trying to acquire a can of air freshener for their musty motel room, is just plain rude. 请把移到一边。
OK, I’m done now. Let’s talk about fishing next…stay tuned for a report from this year’s trip.