Ho Hum motel

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 II

Bacon.

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.

Biscuit Basin.

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.

Bisquit Basin Bison.

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.

A Grand Slam, almost. (Wrestling the Narcoleptic Goose, Part II)

(One may have gathered from the title that this is the second in a two-part series. In order to fully enjoy Part II, one must first read Part I. That being said, even then one may not enjoy Part II)

Over the course of two days the Firehole produced for us in typical fashion:  solid numbers of willing browns and rainbows, most in the 10” – 12” range, but a couple slightly larger. At one point I saw Marck headed upstream from where we’d just come and asked where he was going. He’d apparently seen but not landed a big brown in a nice hole the previous year, and was going back to see about sealing the deal. Right, whatever. An hour or so later he returned, smiling.  When he announced that he had caught the brown and it was BIG, I called Bison shit. He maintains that he caught the fish. I suggest the altitude was getting to him. Nearly all the fish were enticed by dead drifting a magical nymph pattern that I would tell you about, except for the fact that I would not be invited again on this trip if I did. I will tell you that this secret weapon can be found at either Bud Lilly’s Trout Shop or Blue Ribbon Flies or Arricks’s Fly Shop or Jacklin’s Fly Shop or West Yellowstone Fly Shop or Madison River Outfitters in West Yellowstone, but only at one of them.  99% of the fishing was subsurface without an indicator, which makes it a little easier to tolerate nymphing. We encountered one impressive BWO hatch during which only a couple fish were caught. Too much of a good thing proved to be the case, and with literally a gazillion real bugs hatching, our imitations were largely overlooked (mighta been due to less-than-perfect presentation, too). Still, it was amazing to see browns rising every few feet in a stretch of water that had hardly yielded a fish just a few hours earlier in the day. But considering the Firehole was running higher than average for this time of year, I had nothing to complain about, other than a couple of nearly sleepless nights as Stan’s roommate. Mother Nature threw everything at us, from driving snow to sunbreaks and everything in between. It’s always unpredictable fishing at 8000 feet in the Rockies during late Spring.

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Ready for the next leg of our journey, which hopefully would involve some bigger fish, we departed the comforts of the Ho Hum motel in West Yellowstone at 5:30 AM in order to be at the Rock Creek Mercantile by 10 o’clock – the time designated for meeting up with our guides for the day. Two full days of wade fishing and perhaps 4 total hours of sound sleep had left me a bit loopy, but it was nothing that a cup of Joe and the promise of fishing the infamous Rock Creek wouldn’t cure. A stop at the golden arches in West Yellowstone for a quick hit of caffeine turned into a skunk, as the coffee machine was broken. This was not the way to begin a day that required a 4 hour drive, and the lack of java did little to lift the spirits and puffy eyelids on board the Soccer Mom Express. I volunteered to take the wheel for this first leg, knowing that at this early hour of the morning there would be few cars on the road and I could drive in a relative state of shame-free anonymity. Aside from a bull moose galloping alongside the road, I don’t recall seeing another living creature until we pulled into Big Sky for coffee. That’s not to say that there weren’t other vehicles on the road, but the lack of caffeine insured that the senses remained dull and I don’t recall seeing anything other than the moose, who glanced sideways at us in a manner that bespoke his thoughts:  “Nice mini van.”

Properly revived by the ample supply of coffee acquired in Big Sky, we made excellent time heading westbound on I-90. We pulled into the Rock Creek Mercantile with 15 minutes to spare and were greeted by proprietor Doug Perisco, who was hard at work in his chair on the porch with a good cigar. The first order of business was to check into the cabins that we’d be staying in that night. In our excitement to arrive at Rock Creek, we had failed to draw the straws which would assign sleeping arrangements for that night. I watched as Stan carried his duffel bag toward the entrance to The Small Cabin. I quickly grabbed my stuff and sprinted toward The Big Cabin. After having bunked with Stan for the previous two nights I was looking forward to getting at least one night of decent sleep while on this trip. Survival of the fleetest of foot – my decisive action would have made Darwin proud. Marck was right on my heels, and as soon as we’d secured our lodging or the night, we shared a moment of silence in honor of our friend Nash, who would be bunking with The Goosemaster.

We geared up quickly and drove with our guides some 15+ miles up Rock Creek. The river was running high, as we knew it would be, and nobody to speak of had really been fishing the Creek recently. Everyone else was waiting for the salmonfly hatch to start, which could happen at any time (though it would not happen for another few days). Still, our guides assured us the fish were ready to eat, and we strung up our rods with white and yellow bead-headed variations of the woolly bugger. We boarded two rafts that would carry us downstream at a very quick pace and began pounding the banks with our flies.

The Goosemaster

The Goosemaster

I was sharing the raft with Stan (he doesn’t snore while fishing), and we got into fish shortly after the put-in. As soon as the heavily weighted flies hit the bank, we were instructed to give a quick tug and a good mend to allow them to settle into the water. We were drifting fast, which didn’t allow the fish more than a split second to see the flies and make a decision to strike. It took a few attempts and a couple of lost flies before I got the hang of this “Runnin & Gunnin” style of fishing. To describe the day as a combination of whitewater rafting and fishing would be inaccurate only because the water was less white and more the same color as the coffee with creme I’d enjoyed so much a few hours earlier. But it was a thrill to bounce through large waves while chucking flies. Soon we were hooking up at a regular rate with 12-15 inch browns , and an occasional rainbow. Stan hooked a small bull trout, and shortly thereafter I caught a bigger one – not very big by most standards, but being my first bull trout I was thrilled. And yes, I’m sure it was a bull trout.

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It was halfway through our float when our guide proclaimed that a Rock Creek grand slam wasn’t out of the relm of possibilities. The grand slam of trout fishing is when an accomplished angler has a banner day on the water, and successfully catches, in a 24 hour period, each of the trout species known to reside in those particular waters. In this case that entails rainbow, cutthroat, brown, bull and brook trout (even though a bull and Brookie are, as we all know, technically chars). Rock Creek is one of the better rivers that afford the chance of hitting a grand slam, and while I never even pondered such a milestone, I was just happy to have caught a few fish. Even though we had yet to catch a cutthroat, we knew the river had a good supply of them. The likelihood of catching a Brookie seemed unlikely until Stan caught a Brookie.  Now the reality of the Grand Slam seemed well within our reaches. I knew I wasn’t going to be honored with the achievement, but simply witnessing the act was good enough for me. Stan was standing at bat with the bases loaded, and all he needed was to connect with the right pitch. I became a Stan fan, and cheered him on with every cast. For a while I even kept my line off the water so as to give him room to work his magic. The problem was that by now we were in the lower stretches of the river, and the cutthroat tended to be higher up.  Still, each cast carried with it tremendous hope, and you could feel the tension in the air. We were still having fun, mind you, but the mood aboard our raft had taken on an intense focus. Fish continued to hit Stan’s fly, but the fish were not the coveted cutthroats we sought.  I managed to land a cuttbow, but that didn’t count (and besides, it was not I who was in the running for the grand slam). The catching slowed significantly during the last hour of the day, and unfortunately as we reached our take-out, the game winning cutthroat trout evaded us. There would be no Grand Slam for Stan the Man, but we raised a beer and toasted a great day on a great river that provided us with great angling excitement. Between the two of us we had probably landed 30 fish, and we’d each hooked up with a couple species which we had not previously caught. Our day on Rock Creek topped off another great Montana fishing adventure.

The report from Nash and Marck’s raft was that they had brought over 50 trout to the net: Browns, rainbows and a whole bunch of cutthroat which they’d caught in the first 2 hours of the day.

And in case you’re wondering, yes – I did enjoy my last night by sleeping peacefully.  At dawn I awoke to the sound of a large bird, and immediately assumed it was just geese in the cabin next door.  Poking my head out the door I realized that what I’d heard was not a gaggle, but rather a gobble. I’d already filled my turkey tag back in Washington that year, so I went back to bed for another hour.

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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.

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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…?