Perhaps you’re one of the chosen few. We all know the type: Those who catch fish when the fish don’t seem to be playing nicely; the ones who cannot seem to keep fish from interrupting their quiet time on the water. I have a buddy like that. Let’s call him Marck (not his real name). Marck is a fishy son of a…gun.
I’ll admit that fishing with Marck can be similar to the morbid curiosity that occurs when we seeing something deeply troublesome–you know you should turn away and never look back, yet you can’t help yourself. And so it is with fishing with Marck: I know he’s going to catch fish when I can’t seem to get a look. My little angling confidence I have takes a beating, yet I continually fish with him, far and near. Maybe I hope to gain the satisfaction of catching a fish that he didn’t. Or maybe I can learn something by observing the Master. I think the reality of it all is that I’m just a glutton for punishment.
Every year on the Friday before Memorial Day weekend we meet at Marck’s house at 4:30 AM and drive to Yellowstone to fish the Firehole River (the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend marks the Park opener). We do this trip on the cheap, sparing all expenses by staying at the Ho-Hum Motel in West Yellowstone. I doubt, in this day and age when innocent terms from the past have evolved into modern slang with entirely different meanings, that anybody in their right mind would bestow that name upon a motel. But this place has been around for a good long while, named during an era when “ho-hum” meant “boring and dull; mundane” (so get your minds out of the gutter). The proprietor is a unique old gal with a penchant for cats–lots of them, that apparently use the carpet in her home/office to soak up their urine. Low room rates bode well for us because we’re on the water early until late, only enjoying the comforts (exaggerated term) of a hotel bed for a few hours at night. At the Ho-Hum you get what you pay for, which is perfect for us because nice lodging would only be wasted on us (same with good beer).
Anyway, back to Marck. He’s been making this trip since just after the park was founded in 1872, and he knows how to get it done on the Firehole. No matter what the fishing reports and fly recommendations at Blue Ribbon Flies or Arrick’s say, Marck uses the same fly every year, without diversion. It’s largely a subsurface game this time of year, and we fish nymphs dead-drifted without indicators. There is a chance for the very occasional blue wing olive hatch, but it doesn’t present itself every year, and sometimes even when a hatch does come off, the fish, for whatever reason, never turn on. So, to this end Marck’s go-to fly is a certain nymph pattern available at only one shop in town, and apparently Marck is the only person who knows how to effectively fish it.
Beyond knowing how to read the water he also seems capable of reading their minds, knows exactly where the fish are, and wades aggressively to get to them. I’ve tried following him a few times, but his inseam is about 12 inches longer than mine, so do the math and you’ll discover how water depths affect us differently. Fishing the Firehole on opening morning will yield fish to even the most unaccomplished angler and I’d be telling the honest truth if I said I’ve caught 25-30 fish on the first day. Well, Marck easily doubles that catch rate. Whenever I look over my shoulder to see if there’s a rogue bull Bison pawing the ground, eyeing me up for a bit of sport, I’ll see Marck with a bend in his rod, or having just released another rainbow or brown, or replacing his ravaged fly; shredded and dull-hooked from excessive action.
Fishing last year was not quite up to previous years’ standards, and just so you don’t think I’m making excuses, we encountered other anglers who proclaimed as much: Experienced fishermen who wore the long faces of despair, having caught single digit numbers of fish after all day on the Firehole. However, in addition to easily catching 30 fish on the
opening day last year (remember, this number was way down from years past) Marck also managed an act of mythical proportions by catching a brown on the lower section of the Biscuit Basin area that he taped at 20+ inches. I’ve never touched a fish on the Firehole over 13 inches (most seem to range between 10 and 12 inches) and if I thought Marck was exaggerating the size of the fish I’da called him out right then and there. But you see, Marck’s not a braggart, either. He’s actually a pretty quiet-spoken guy, reserving comments for stellar fish such as, “It was a nice fish.” So, while one never hears of fish like that being caught on that river, and I myself never saw the fish, I believe him. Mostly. Now, is he capable of having possibly miscalculated the size of that fish? Anything’s possible when you’re fishing at an elevation of 8000 feet. And who knows for certain what sort of havoc the sulfuric gasses emitted from the thermals can wreak on one’s mental capacities. But if I accused him of that, he’d just say I was spewing sour grapes.
And he’d be right.