firehole river

Up the Firehole: Through the eyes of a Rookie Ranger

One thing nice about having a Rookie join the ranks of the Firehole Rangers this year was that we had us a submissive member along to do our bidding. Not only did he provide the plush mini van in which we traveled comfortably (and in shame) through Washington, Idaho and Montana, but once we reached our destination we had someone naive to check us in to the Ho Hum. Those of us who know from experience the risk associated with stepping foot inside the motel office always resist having to do so–a task administered only after drawing straws. But having a new guy along gave us veteran Rangers a much-deserved reprieve from the cat-fest. It seemed appropriately ironic that the Rookie, whose name may or may not be Morris, was ordered to stand in the face of the olfactoral assault, something he did bravely and without throwing up in his mouth. He also fetched us beers on demand, strung up our rods, bought our meals, and cleaned our gear at the end of each day. Well, 1 out of 4 ain’t bad.

Another benefit of having a Firehole first-timer along for the journey was the reminder of what it’s like to experience this amazing place for the first time. After several years of making the trip I find myself, while still in awe, more focused on the fishing than the bison, the thermal activity, the scenery. Those fixtures are always impressive, but after you’ve been there and done that a few times, it becomes somewhat commonplace. It shouldn’t be that way.

From behind the lens of his pink camera (to match his pink, v-neck Firehole Ranger Rookie t-shirt), Morris captured the magic of fishing this special place. Almost as if from a child’s innocent perspective, I give you the wonderment of the Yellowstone (thanks for the photos, Rookie).

Ho Hum Sweet Home, for a few days.

Day one brings a dusting of Montana powder.

The Goosemaster trudges past the crowds toward vacant water and gullible fish.

Late Spring in Yellowstone, Midway Geyser Basin.

Alas, the mighty Firehole. Let the lines become wet!

The weather would get worse before it got better.

The fishing could not have been any better: The Goosemaster and Marck doubled up.

Marck with the first of 273 fish for the day.

Blah, blah, blah. Whatever, Marck.

The weather broke just in time for lunch.

After which we enjoyed a pleasant afternoon of plentiful catching.

Everyone caught many fish, though some are by nature less accomplished.

Oh look, a hole in the ground filled with water. Wonder if it's hot?

Wait, Marck, this thing's going to erupt in just a second. Don't move.

Streamside attraction.

 

And then it would rain hard, and BWO's would hatch. Many fish eating real bugs, not ours.

 

That night, back at the Ho Hum...

Gooseman pontificates on one of many subjects before we head out for pizza and more beer.

Day two: There are many large animals in Yellowstone.

On this second day there was less snow, more cold. Biscuit Basin, YNP.

Catching was slower than the day before, depending on who you asked.

Jimmy didn't much complain.

The UA would complain, but still managed a fish.

Between naps, The Goosemaster got in on some action.

Marck only caught 167 fish on day two. Ha! Take THAT!

Lunch, under blue skies.

Thus concludes day two on the Firehole.

 

Thanks, Rookie Ranger, for the reminder of what it’s all about. See you next year, if I’m invited back.

The Firehole Rangers: Day One

Some things seem to always change, while others remain the same. It’s that way with our annual trip to Yellowstone to fish the Firehole River: With almost clockwork predictability, we know that certain elements of the trip are going to be very familiar, like an old pair of underwear. At the same time, other parts of the trip will prove to be dynamic and full of surprises. It was that way this year. It was that way last year. And it was that way the previous year and every other year that I’ve made the journey: the same, but different.

Every year, the same core group (more or less) makes the pilgrimage on Memorial Day Weekend. Fishing season in the Park opens on that Saturday. This is a constant. It is always a long drive. Try as we might, we cannot change that. We always meet at Marck’s house at an indecent hour, drive 5 hours where we gas up and have breakfast in Coeur d’alene, Idaho before pushing eastward across the Panhandle and into Montana. Along the way we always note that the Clark Fork River is the color of a chocolate milkshake. With a monstrous snowpack this year, the Clark Fork (and every other river along the way) was running even higher than normal.

Every year we stay at the Ho Hum Motel, and every year the office where we check-in and check-out smells like cat urine. It seemed a bit worse this year. You see, the owner keeps cats. Cats that are free to come and go through an open window. With the long, cold winters in West Yellowstone, it’s obvious that the cats prefer to go. Inside.

Why go outside, when I can go inside?

To say that it’s a stench would be inaccurate. It’s more than just a smell–it’s an assault on the olfactory system. It stings the eyes and gets on the back of your tongue, causing an involuntary gag reflex, and quite possibly paralysis. Only Stan is capable of standing in the face of the sensory attack because he can’t breath through his nose anyway. But in all fairness, the rooms are all clean, cat-free, and cheap. Cheap is good.

What up, Stan – cat got your tongue?

Every year the weather is unpredictable. We know that going in. Fishing at an elevation of 7200 feet in the Rockies guarantees sun, rain, driving snow, sleet, hail…we expect it all. Sometimes we’re pleasantly surprised. This year we expected the worst because the weather forecast was calling for 3 days of cold and snow.

The streets of West Yellowstone: May 28, 2011

On Saturday morning the streets of West Yellowstone bore a trace of slushy snow (“winter mix” as our local meterologists like to refer to it) that had fallen overnight. That didn’t surprise us. It was 31 degrees as we made our way to the Golden Arches for breakfast. No reputable restaurants were open at 6AM so we did what we had to do.

The weather looked daunting as we entered the Park and made our way to Midway Geyser Basin. We always fish this section the first day. Always. But as we geared up, the sun shone upon us and clouds parted. With blue skies immediately overhead and freshly fallen snow covering the ground, it was a good morning to be alive. A good day to be going fishing. The Firehole Rangers were ready to launch their assault on the gullible rainbows and browns that had not seen an artificial fly in at least 7 months. We were armed with the secret weapon fly that always gets it done. Always. There is no deviation. We were a tough band of angling warriors. We were soft-hackle tough.

The Firehole Rangers

Occasionally someone will show up with a new piece of gear, but one thing is for certain: Stan the Goosemeister will always have the same stuff as he had the previous year and every year before that dating back to the 1940s. He’s reliable. Jimmy is a man of many hats, literally, and has a different hat for every day. No two hats are the same, and that never changes. Not everything remains the same, however: Marck was sporting a new pair of Redington Sonic Pro Zip Front Waders, and Nash had a brand new pair of Redington boots and quickly discovered that snow sticks to felt. Especially new felt. I personally don’t mind the extra couple of inches that the snow adds to my height, but walking can be a little tricky as Nash soon found out.

There was a group of 4-5 other anglers who had walked in ahead of us, but as is the case with other fishermen every year, they always fish a section of the river that’s closest to the road. We like to hike in a ways and get away from the crowds. We always do, and without fail we have the entire river to ourselves for the better part of the day. Catching was a little slow to start, for me anyway, and it wasn’t until my 8th cast that I caught a fish. I wasn’t too bothered by that–I was distracted by the beauty of the morning. All around us were ominous clouds that threatened to descend upon us with a wrath. However, with the exception of a couple snow squalls that blew in and blew out relatively quickly, we enjoyed a strangely nice day on the water. We didn’t expect that, but it was a nice surprise for a change.

As I’ve suggested, fishing is always good on the Firehole. Some years the flows are lower than others (this was not one of those years), but the levels never seem to impact the quality quantity of the fishing catching. For some (Marck), the catching is better than for others (everyone else). That’s a foregone conclusion. But even the most unaccomplished of us caught 25-30 fish during the course of the day. There are no great surprises when it comes to the fish of the Firehole. Most of the fish are 10 inchers: a mixed bag of rainbows and browns. Catch rainbows in the riffles and browns in the frog water. Browns hit the fly and put their heads down. Rainbows hit the fly and come uncorked. That is an assumption you can put money on, except for the one brown I caught that went airborne.

A few fish are 12 inchers. During a hatch of PMDs and Blue Winged Olives that came off, as expected, during and after one of the snow squalls, a couple of 14 inch rainbows were had. No matter the size, these are all hard-fighting fish. With water temps averaging in the mid to upper 50’s (due to geothermal activity in and around the river) these are not catatonic troutcicles – they’re hard-fighting leapers, movers and head shakers. On a 4 weight rod a 10 inch Firehole fish feels much larger. A 12 inch Firehole fish is a lot of fun, and a 14 inch Firehole fish will have you wearing a shit-eating grin from ear to ear.

After the morning troutfest we converged upon a spot for lunch. It was here, as he emptied his fanny pack of water, that it became apparent one of the Firehole Rangers had taken a spill earlier in the day. I don’t want to publicly embarrass him or make light of the situation by calling him out, but with brand new felt there is no excuse for losing one’s footing.  And when one’s waders take on water and the remainder of the day is spent sloshing around cold and miserable, it’s no laughing matter.

After lunch we fished out the afternoon until we were tired of catching fish. With flies that were ravaged and tattered we made the long hike back to the rig and called it a day. Mother Nature had showed us a little bit of everything, but mostly she had taken pity on us. Overall the weather was way better than anticipated. That was nice for a change. The fishing was exceptional, as it always is. We had a great time–we always do.

But things were about to change.

Yellowstone Approacheth

In 48 hours I’ll be very close to being in Montana. We’ll probably be just about done with Idaho’s panhandle, headed East on I-90. The destination, as it is every year at this time: West Yellowstone, MT.  The Ho Hum Motel, to be exact. The Firehole River, ultimately. Rather than waste your time writing about what to expect, let me just offer you a few recollections from previous years.  It never varies a great deal, but that doesn’t mean it’s boring or redundant (except for the 14 hour drive).

The weather is always unpredictable when fishing at over 7200 feet in Yellowstone Park. Spring squalls will blow in one minute and we’ll be hunkered down to find a spot out of the driving snow. Then the sun will come out and we’ll be peeling layers. This year, however,  it looks predictably bad.  No matter- the fish will be gullible. It’s opening day of fishing in the park and the rainbows and browns haven’t seen an imitation bug since last fall.  It’s stupid catching, and just what the doctor ordered. Then we’ll hit the Madison near Three Dollar Bridge and all that easy catching will come to an abrupt halt. I’ll get my arse handed to me. So will everyone else. Except Marck.

When I return, I’ll write up my recollections of this year’s trip.  It’ll be remarkably similar to years past.

Last Year, Part I

Last Year, Part II

Two Years ago, Part I

Two Years ago, Part II

Three Years ago, Part I

Three Years ago, Part II

Yellowstone Trout Trippin’ Part I.

With bellies swollen from our recent burger encounter in Ennis, we rolled into West Yellowstone under the cloak of darkness for a reunion with an old familiar friend, the Ho Hum Motel. Oh, and Erique too.  He had flown to Bozeman to conduct a bit of business earlier in the week, and his rental car was parked out front – he had arrived 6 hours earlier and was eagerly awaiting our arrival.  I’ve known Erique for years, and exactly what he does for a job is still shrouded in mystery. It involves prosthetic devices and he has at least one client who makes, among other things, clown shoes (I wouldn’t joke about a thing like that). Jimmy and I moved our gear into room #8 while Marck and Stan settled into the Big Room (#7) with Erique. Turns out the arrangement worked nicely because Erique can saw logs with the best of them (although I’m sure Stan’s reign as “Goosemaster” is in no danger of ending anytime soon). The Ho Hum had undergone some upgrades since the previous year, and the new bathroom tile in both rooms was a welcome upgrade. With the addition of new carpet in The Big Room, the accommodations bordered on lavish (our room still had the same red carpet and slightly-curious-though-not-necessarily-unpleasant smell leftover from 1958). But this isn’t a motel review, and the Ho Hum is always perfectly suited to our needs. We spend just enough time in our rooms to get a little shut-eye each night, nothing more. The day the Ho Hum gets all fancy on us is the day we search for a new dive, and I don’t think we’ll have to ever worry about that.

Normally we’re up at the crack of dawn and enter the park by 6:30 AM. However, we’d arrived too late the night before to purchase our National Park fishing permits so we slept in the next morning. We ate breakfast out of habit more than hunger (again, reference the burgers consumed for dinner the previous evening), and when the doors at Aarick’s Fly Shop opened at 7 AM we were first in line to purchase our permits and a handful of Secret Weapon flies. Erique fancied himself a sweet Dora The Explorer rod, but showed impressive restraint by leaving the shop with only a handful of flies (this was the second time in 6 months that I’ve had to convince a fishing buddy to not give in to impulse buying). We were layered up for the worst weather possible, which is always a likely scenario as West Yellowstone sits at an elevation of 6667 feet. The skies threatened rain/snow as we drove through the gates to the Park, received our information packet and proceeded quickly into Wyoming.  The information packet is essentially the same every year, but that doesn’t keep me from reading it front to back. I always heed the warnings about bison and make a mental note not to become a statistic. I figure as long as I’m quicker than at least one of my fishing buddies, I’ll be OK. I was shocked to learn this year that the Park was founded not in 1872 as I had always thought, but rather much more recently in 1972. Always the voice of reason, Marck quickly pointed out that it was simply a typographical error.  He should know, afterall–he’s been fishing the Firehole since the Park first opened.

Because of our later-than-normal start we were fortunate not to get stuck in rush hour traffic as we drove the 20 or so miles to our favorite spot on the Firehole River.  Apparently the herd of bison that usually take their sweet time sauntering down the middle of the road had already completed their morning commute, so we made excellent time. We dropped Erique’s car off at Fountain Flats, where we would finish out the day, and everyone piled into Mrs. Jimmy’s Suburban for the last leg of our drive.  As we arrived at Midway Geyser Basin (elevation 7251 feet) we noted that the parking lot was nearly empty. Usually the place is filled with tourists and other fishermen, and it’s not unusual for there to be a waiting line at the restroom. Save for 4 or 5 other vehicles, we were the only ones there. Perhaps the colder/wetter than normal spring weather had discouraged all but the most desperate hardiest of folks. The rain increased in volume and the outdoor temperature was a balmy 35 degrees as we strung up our rods, posed for a quick team photo, and mounted our assault on the ignorant trout of the Firehole. The river was running at ideal flows – almost 200 CFS lower than the previous year, and even then it fished pretty well. Anyone who knows the Firehole knows that it gives up trout willingly, and that’s exactly what draws us there each year. Sometimes an angler just wants some easy catching- good for the self esteem. Opening day of fishing in the Park was underway.

Another result of our later-than-normal start to the day was that more anglers were already stretched out along the water where we usually start fishing.  While there weren’t many cars in the parking lot, apparently every one of them belonged to fishermen and there must have been 6 or 7 other fishing folks plying the waters of the Firehole. Our posse of 5 pressed onward a bit farther.  The good thing about the brisk walk is that it warms the body. The bad thing about the brisk walk is that it gets the previous night’s supper moving. The dampness ensured that it felt much colder than it actually was and any bare skin not protected by a layer of fleece and Gore-tex felt the chill.  I hate fishing with gloves, but I hate fishing with cold hands even more so out came the Pro Angler Glacier Gloves.

In typical Firehole fashion, the first cast yielded a first fish, followed by several more casts and several more fish.  These fish hadn’t been harassed in probably 9-10 months, and they were as gullible as they come (though they do wise up quickly). In the first 20 minutes I managed to hook up with 10 or so fish (but who’s counting, right?).  All were rainbows save for one brown, and most were in the 8-11 inch range. Scrappy fighters, too – thrashing, jumping and head-shaking right up to the point of release and sometimes before then. Because of the geyser activity along many stretches of the river, the water temperature was almost 60 degrees. This speeds up the metabolism of the fish and gets them feeding actively and fighting like champs.

A cookie-cutter Firehole fish on a 4 wt can be a lot of fun, and if you’re fishing a 3 wt trout stick like Marck’s brand new Sage ZXL 376-4, every fish is a dandy.  I made the mistake of trying out the ZXL and instantly fell in love with it. It was smooth and soft casting without being a noodle, and paired with a Sage Click III reel the outfit weighed exactly nothing. By comparison my Sage Z-Axis 490-4 felt like a club, and I never thought I’d say that. To be very clear, my Z-Axis is anything but a club and it’s my favorite rod to fish with.  Still, just sayin’ – the ZXL was like holding a feather. Damn you, Marck.  The next time I ask to try out your new rod, deny me the privilege. You’ll be doing me a favor. (Note to Mrs. Unaccomplished Angler: I have not ordered another new rod. Yet)

While we’re on the subject of gear, I am inclined to mention my Sage Typhoon Waist Pack again.  Prior to this day I’d only used it once, and then it only sat in the bottom of Joe Willauer’s boat, getting rained on and fending off standing water.  Well, on this day I finally got to strap it on for 8 hours.  It was comfortable to the point where I forgot it was even there, except obviously for when I needed something from inside one of its many compartments and pockets.  The bag is a great design and very comfortable. Cinching it tight around my waist also provided the lower back support that a middle aged guy like me appreciates during a long day of wading. The cargo straps on the bottom of the bag are nice for when you want to roll up and stow a wading jacket or another bulky article of clothing. I didn’t do that on this day, as the weather dictated that every article of clothing was readily employed- it got neither warm nor dry enough to remove any layers. Two cold thumbs up for the Typhoon pack.

Back to the fishing. The five of us were spread out along the river as another group of 4 anglers passed behind us, hiking in search of some unoccupied water. I overheard one of them mutter something along the lines of, “I’ve never seen it this crowded on opening day before.”  I was thinking the same thing myself. Just then another trout tightened my line.

Lest one should think that catching a Firehole fish on every cast is the rule rather than the exception, it doesn’t happen quite so easily all the time. Yes, catching can be almost silly, particularly on the first day, but even then the angler is not immune to the occasional lull in the action. At around 1pm, just when the guys at Blue Ribbon Flies said it would happen, a small hatch of PMDs started popping.  However, the fish didn’t really turn on, and in a half hour I only managed one fish on an emerger pattern before switching back to a subsurface game. Same for Jimmy. The others had moved on and decided not to waste their time with this sorry excuse for a hatch. As we worked our way downstream I hit a big void in the catching game. To make matters worse, Jimmy kept himself rather busy with hookups.  I grew weary of witnessing his good fortune so I decided to pout retrace my steps and work the last stretch of water a second time. I was sure I’d missed a few fish on the last run, and my tattered fly was replaced with a brand new one in hopes of enticing a few holdouts.

As I walked upstream I noticed a lone bison walking slowly toward me about 50 yards away. I didn’t want to force the huge bull to back down out of intimidation so I decided this would be a good place to jump back in the river, wade to mid-channel, and give him a wide berth (for his own peace of mind). Then the wind kicked up suddenly, which is always a sign of another high country squall moving in.  The temperature dropped noticeably and the rain turned to snow.  Where I was fishing the river is flanked by stands of timber on both sides, which kept me mostly protected from the gale force winds that I would later learn were blowing my compadres off the river just a ½ mile downstream. In my state of heightened focus and determination to dig myself out of the trout deficit into which I’d fallen, I’d completely lost sight of the others. I turned my back to the driving snow and dug in. The big bull decided to wait out the storm and had bedded down in the trees a ways upstream. Every few minutes I glanced over my shoulder to make sure he was still afraid of me.

The storm lasted about a half hour before the wind suddenly – and almost strangely – just stopped.  It grew very quiet as remnants of the snowstorm drifted down softly at this point. It was then that I heard the unmistakable sound of rising fish. I saw nothing and figured they must be sipping emergers, again.  Then the snow stopped completely, the temperature warmed up, and I began to see adult baetis drifting like tiny sailboats in the current, drying their wings as they went. They didn’t stand a chance against the hungry trout. A glance at my watch indicated it was just past 3pm.  I was about to wage battle, so off came the gloves both literally and figuratively. For the next two and a half hours I forgot about the bison and feverishly tossed a #18 parachute PMD to rising trout.  While I wouldn’t call it an “epic” hatch, it was significant and the fish were eager to take my fly as long as the drift was drag free (which it was not always).  I was completely self-absorbed in the good times and lost all track of the time. Call it a serious case of P.M.D. A.D.D.  When my arm finally got tired I checked my watch again: 5:30pm – time flies when you’re having a freakin’ blast.  The others were probably worried sick about me ready to head to the car by now so I decided I’d better reel up and beat a fast track downstream.

As I rounded the downstream bend in the river I saw a couple of anglers, but no sign of those familiar to me. I was puzzled by their absence – surely they’d encountered at least a residual hint of the hatch I’d been selfishly wallowing in, and I figured I’d see them tossing dries in the riffles. When I finally caught up with them after another 1/4 mile I learned that the snow storm had been much more ferocious where they’d been fishing, and the hatch was something only I’d encountered.  I did my best not to gloat because truth be told, I still caught fewer fish overall than anyone else. I’ve determined that it’s my lot in life to bring up the rear when it comes to catch quotas. So be it – I proudly and ocurageously embrace my privileged role as the least accomplished of anglers.

By the time we got back to the car it was 6:30. Day One on the Firehole had drawn to a close, and it had been another good one.  We celebrated by enjoying West Yellowstone’s best pizza at Wild West Pizzeria. A few pitchers of beer went down easily as we listened to a great live band (Tessie Lou and The Shotgun Stars) while watching UFC 114 on Pay-Per-View (cage fighting and Bluegrass – a match made in Heaven West Yellowstone).  The food was delicious and there’s something about a young lady with a Copenhagen can in her back pocket that made the Bluegrass sound all the more authentic. All fights on the UFC card, including the title bout between Rashad Evans and Rampage Jackson, were rather lackluster, but nobody forced us to watch and it was free. So were a couple pitchers of beer (an oversight on the part of our waitress). We tipped well and headed back to The Ho Hum by 11 pm.  Call us old and boring, but we had another date with the Firehole River in the morning, so we opted not to paint the town, just as we opted not to paint the town two nights earlier in Twin Bridges. And like Twin Bridges, West Yellowstone also has a statue of a painted trout in the heart of town. At first I thought it must just be a random Montana thing, but I poked around on the internet and found out that these “Fish Out of Water” sculptures were done as part of a fund raising project. During the summer of 2009, 12 of these painted trouts were sold at a live auction and raised over $60,000 for area charities and the Madison County Economic Development Council.

I want one.

Wrestling the Narcoleptic Goose, Part I

(Unlike yesterday’s April Fools fishtale, today’s offering is absolutely honest and truthful. Only names have been changed to protect the innocent)

Each Memorial Day weekend Marck leads the charge to fish the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park. The list of participants changes somewhat from year to year, but no matter who is in attendance the event always begins with the 4 A.M. departure from Marck’s house on Friday. This means that I have to get up at 3 AM in order to make coffee and drive the 25 miles upstream from my home. Not surprisingly there’s little traffic at that God-forsaken time of day, and I feel bad for anyone else on the road that’s not headed to Montana for some fishing. The annual jaunt from the North Bend, WA to West Yellowstone, MT (a distance of 575 miles or 925.18 Kilometers) is not something one typically looks forward to: it is simply a means to an end. The drive had been far less than enjoyable two years prior as four of us were shoe-horned uncomfortably into my Jeep Cherokee, which lacked both cruise control and ample leg room for anyone other than myself. The next year I missed out on the trip because my daughter’s 4×400 relay team was competing in the state track meet, so Marck made the drive alone and had one of his best fishing days ever. So on this year it felt good to be heading back to Yellowstone: the Jeep was left behind and The Soccer Mom Express pulled out of Marck’s driveway right on schedule with Nash behind the wheel, Marck riding shotgun, and myself and Stan (not his real name) in the second row of seats. While Nash’s wife’s mini van might not be the vehicle a fisherman prefers to be seen in passing through Idaho and Montana, I have to admit that it was like traveling in first class, complete with beverage and snack service and movies on DVD. We made our typical stops in Coeur d’Alene, ID for gas and breakfast (which resulted in more gas), and then at the Rock Creek Lodge in Clinton, MT for a bathroom break and a Testicle Festival t-shirt. During the course of the long road trip we took turns behind the wheel, which allowed us to kill two birds with one stone: First, it offered everyone an opportunity to grab a nap; secondly it ensured that no one would be denied the pleasure of being seen driving a mini van through Idaho and Montana. I’m being sarcastic of course – but truth be told after the first hour I stopped hiding my face whenever we were passed by a 4×4 diesel pickup.

Not the actual van we were seen in.Yeah, that's right.

Even though the drive was as pleasant as this drive can possibly be, one tends to be a bit road weary after 12 hours in a car (okay, a mini van). A good night’s sleep would still be important because the next day would be a long one, spent walking several miles of river and fishing hard. Opening day of the fishing season on the Firehole can be epic so one wants to bring their A game, knowing that the water will be worked hard and a lot of it will be covered in a vain attempt to keep up with Marck’s catch rate. As we pulled into the parking lot of the Ho-Hum Motel in West Yellowstone straws were drawn to determine who would bunk with Stan. You see, there’s the little matter of Stan’s reputation as “one who snores” which mandates the annual drawing. I had successfully dodged that bullet on a previous trip, so I had no firsthand experience in dealing with his reputed snoring. However, one cannot tempt fate forever, and I was left holding the short straw this time. Not to worry, I was also reassured that Stan’s snoring used to be a lot worse before the surgery to repair whatever it was that was causing the snoring to have been so notorious.

To insure that which follows does not appear as an attack on his character, let me make it clear that Stan is the type of guy you know you’re going to like the first time you meet him. He’s unpretentious, easy-going, speaks his mind and has a great sense of humor. However, if you happen to draw the short straw a good portion of that appeal goes quickly by the wayside once the lights go out.

DSCN1613

Stan and Nash celebrate our arrival at the Ho Hum.

It should be noted that I am not one to fall asleep right away. My brain is just wired such that when I assume the horizontal position I begin to process typically useless information. While I may not be sound asleep, as long as it’s dark and quiet I’m still relaxing and recharging.  While this is my way, it is not Stan’s way. When Stan’s head hit the pillow that first night, his eyes immediately rolled back in his head, his jaw dropped open, and he was asleep. Not sort-of-asleep as in that magical happy place when you’re just slipping out of consciousness, but OUT as if having just been dropped to the canvas by a thundering blow to the chin and then placed into a rear naked choke. For a few glorious minutes all was quiet on the West Yellowstone Front. And then the storm began brewing.

Slow at first, and not snoring per se – just heavy breathing. After about 31 seconds of this the pace increased and simultaneous inhalation through both the nose and mouth commenced. With such a large volume of air being sucked through both orifices, things started to rattle inside Stan’s sinuses like the shutters on a house during a gale. As the force  of the storm increased, it sounded like something was going to tear loose at any minute and I lay there in shear amazement at what was happening in the bed 4 feet away. At this point I wasn’t yet annoyed – afterall we were only a couple of minutes into it. I was, rather, quite simply impressed. Then it subsided and became quiet again.  That wasn’t so bad, and I naively assumed I could probably fall asleep before another storm system rolled in. However, the next front blew in with unthinkable ferocity and apparently carried with it a flock of geese that landed on Stan’s bed and began a terrible ruckus; fighting, squawking and honking their honkers. It amazed me that Stan could sleep through the violence, so I did what any friend would do when their buddy is under attack: I threw a pillow at him. This didn’t wake him up, but it did seem to silence the geese. Temporarily.

geese

Within 10 minutes they were at it again, and in an act of self preservation I put the remaining pillow over my face and attempted to suffocate myself. I tried not to struggle, but the survival instinct kicked in and I tossed and turned and became hopelessly twisted in the bedsheets. Exhausted, at some point very late that night I managed to lose consciousness and catch a couple hours’ of oxygen-deprived shut-eye. I was just entering that period of deep REM sleep when the alarm went off at 5 AM and rudely jolted me back to conscious reality. Stan was bright-eyed and ready for the day: “Mornin’ Sunshine– how’d ya sleep?” he asked. I was feeling a little less than chipper as I sat on the edge of the bed trying to pry my eyes open so I could survey the damage. I suffer from a mild allergy to goose down, which causes me to get all congested and puffy in the face, and so I squinted through bloodshot eyes, fully expecting to find feathers and goose droppings–maybe even a carcass or two. To my surprise there was no sign of the carnage I had witnessed just a few short hours before. We dressed in warm clothes (there was a fresh skiff of snow on the ground), loaded our fishing gear into the Soccer Mom Express and headed to breakfast. Marck, Nash, Stan and I sat down to a hearty meal at a cafe known as the Three Bears. It seemed a cruel bit of irony that this place would be named after the fairytale in which Goldilocks sleeps peacefully through the night, and I couldn’t help but think that the place should have been called The Mother Goose Cafe. Three of the four of us were apparently well-rested and eager to chat about the day ahead, and somehow I managed to keep my eyes open between visits from our waitress, who saw my desperate need for a steady supply of coffee. Marck noticed that I wasn’t my normal chipper self, and in a tone that suggested great concern for my well being he asked, “What the hell happened to you?” I couldn’t give him an accurate answer because I myself wasn’t sure what had taken place in our motel room during the night. All I knew was that we had two full days of fishing the Firehole ahead of us, and I had one more night of fending off geese. I was looking forward to the fishing.

Tune in next week for Part II: Will the Unaccomplished Angler catch some quality shut-eye, and maybe a fish…?