Monday, October 5, 2015

Save the Best for Last: Yellowstone Park Day 4

On the last day of our trip Gracy’s dad was headed back home, so it would be just the two of us today. Gracy had told me the day before that this was my day to plan, and plan I did. The best thing about my planning was that it included something for everyone: a drive somewhere we hadn’t been, a hike up to an alpine lake, fly fishing, and scoping out the hillside for the chance to see a wolf. 

This plan of mine was presented a few days ago, but was shot down due to the distance and because I had mentioned fly fishing. Sadly, anytime I had mentioned fly fishing in any of my plans for this trip it was shot down... until the last day.
“I think that’s where we pull over.” Gracy said, as we approached the trailhead for Trout Lake. 
“Alright!” I said happily, and parked the car to gear up. 
Gracy was ready first, and went over to look at the signs that were posted.   

I walked over to Gracy after I had locked the car, and she turned and gave me a concerned look.
“What’s the matter? Are you bear-anoid?” I asked. 
Her look quickly changed from concerned to annoyed. 
"Did you just make that up?” She asked. 
“Yep, because it’s funny!” I smiled. 
“It was stupid.” 
“What do you mean, that was good stuff!” I said. “Do you get it? It’s like you are paranoid, but about bears.” I said, still smiling.
“Yes, I got it.” She said. 
“I have my bear bell, my bear spray, and I can run faster than you.” I said, to reassure our safety.   
“Whatever, I’ll just trip you.” She said back with a smirk, and we started our hike.       

The hike was short and sweet, and as soon as I saw the water I started gearing up my fly rod. 

The wind started blowing a bit to give the water a little chop, and clouds rolled over to threaten rain. Though the sun had been covered it was still a nice warm day, and so we started our hike around the lake.  I followed behind, casting my fly into the lake in search of a fish.  There was no surface activity to be seen anywhere on the lake, so I was just shooting my line everywhere. Suddenly a burst of color rose up to my fly just inches under it, and my eyes widened as I waited for the take. Then... the color slowly faded back into the deep; the fish had just refused my fly.  

We were almost across the lake with no more interested fish, so I switched to a streamer. I did have one good follow with the streamer, but that was it. The first part of the day was over, and now it was my turn to get some time on Soda Butte Creek. 

We pulled into a parking spot, and I geared up quickly and hit the water with little farewell to Gracy. She was prepared with a book to read and binoculars for animal watching; She also let me know, before I escaped, that I only had three hours to fish before we had to get back to our dog, Kiwi. 

A smile grew on my face as the sound of rocks crunched under my feet on the banks of Soda Butte Creek, and I approached my first spot to fish with little expectations... There were anglers everywhere, and I had passed up many other anglers that had fished this spot already; in fact an older gentleman had told me that he had already caught three fish in the hole I was headed for, but they had stopped rising to his fly. I thanked him for the bit of information he gave me, unhooked my caddis from the fly rod, and gently presented it on the creek. WHACK! A fish took my fly as soon as it hit the water, and I set the hook fast. I quickly looked over to see if the the gentleman was still close enough to talk to, but he was already too far away to share what fly was working. The fish bolted deep, which jolted my rod tip down hard and recaptured my attention. I quickly regained control, and brought in my first Yellowstone cutthroat trout of the day. 

Perhaps with my fish caught so quickly the next one wouldn't come as easily... I was wrong. After applying some dust on my caddis, it hit the water and another fish took. 

I set the hook and smiled, because I knew this was going to be one of those days.

I could do no wrong; the fish gods were smiling upon me, and I was already hooked into my third fish on my third cast. 

My brother would love this river, I thought to myself as I fought my fish. We would take turns catching fish, and make a fun video for my Dad to watch. But right now I was by myself, and the best thing about that was that I didn’t have to share any of the fish.

I try to make it to Yellowstone Park as many times as I can because there is so much to discover.  Everytime I return home a fellow angler named Thad always tells me about Soda Butte Creek. “It’s my favorite river in Yellowstone. Skip all the other rivers along the way, and you won’t regret it!” He would tell me, and now I finally understood why. 

After releasing another fish, I flicked my fly right back out and a fish didn’t take. 
“What the heck!” I yelled, having to recast.  
The fly hit the water, and I saw the yellow eye of a fish as it came up and refused my fly. 
“Oh, you want to play that way huh?” I said to the fish. I brought in my fly and clipped it off... only to replace it with a smaller version of itself. 
“Refuse that!” I said, laying it back out into the creek.

The very fish that had refused me just a minute ago was now dancing on my line. It felt good, not just because I caught it, but because I was also educating it... And a good education is nothing to waste. 
I released my fish and dried off my fly to catch another fish, and I couldn’t help but wonder how much time I had left to fish. I looked back to where some cars were parked, and didn’t see Gracy flagging me down so I went back to catching.

Do I seriously need another picture of a fish? I asked myself as I brought in another one. Yes... 

Okay, I told myself, one more fish and it’s time to walk to the next spot. That’s right.  I hadn’t moved since I had spoke with the older gentleman who told me the fish at this spot wouldn’t take his fly. As much as I wanted to stay, the next fish didn’t take long to catch, and it was time to walk on.

While I was fishing, the thought of a bear walking up on me hadn’t crossed my mind, but now that I was away from the water for a minute I was sure to ring my bell a little extra as I walked. 

I approached a nice deep section of the creek that looked to have good potential. I quickly unhooked my fly and sent it, ever so gently, on the creek. Smack! 
“Aww too easy.” I said in a deep Darth Vader voice. Sadly there was no one around to hear my terrible impression, or was there? A couple came walking by as I was fighting my fish, smiling at me. 
“Are you guys catching fish?” I asked, willing to give info if they needed. 
“Oh yeah, it’s a great day!” The guy said, as he continued walking. 
“Great!” I said back, and went back to bringing in my fish.    

My time was definitely coming to an end. The thought of Gracy being upset at me for spending extra time on the water was not even a concern, because the fishing was so good right now that her wrath would be worth putting up with. Of course, I was bringing another fish in when I had made that decision.

With my lacking time, I stopped taking pictures of fish. I couldn’t keep them off my line, and as soon as I let one go I had on another. All good things must come to an end. After releasing a fish, I glanced back at the cars and saw Gracy standing there. I quickly looked away, pretending I didn’t see her, but I knew that wouldn’t last. I hooked into another fish and let it go before I looked back in her direction to find her pointing at her wrist indicating it was time.

“Just give me ten more casts!” I pleaded as I got within casting distance. 
“It’s passed 4:30, so I have already giving you an extra thirty minutes.” She let me know.
“One!” I said, making a cast onto the fast water sweeping into a deep hole that looked like it could hold a fish. Nothing took.
“Two!” I said, making another cast with nothing taking. 
My fly landed in the fast running water and ended up right on the edge of the bank. A mouth came up and took in my fly, and I made sure I ripped it out of it before the hook could get ahold. 
“DAMN!” I yelled. 
“You’re on four!” Gracy reminded me.
Cast five, six, and seven went by fast, with another hook up and loss on seven.  
“Eight.” I said, making a cast. 
“No, that’s ten!” Gracy disputed. 
“No, those other two were bad casts and didn’t count.” 
“Mm-hum...” Gracy just rolled her eyes at me.      
“Nine, Ten...” I called out each cast. Despite my incredible day I was now pleading for just one more fish, and it didn’t happen. I quickly made another cast. 
“Hey!  That’s eleven!” Gracy yelled, but I wasn’t listening. I watched my fly drift swiftly down the stream, and a fish came up and ate it. I set the hook fast and ripped out the smallest fish of the day.         

Small or not, all I wanted was a final fish on my last cast at Soda Butte Creek, and I got it. We both made our way back to the car, and I geared down to drive back to the cabin. On our way out we came across a bunch of cars stopped near the road. This is a typical sight in Yellowstone, but as we drove by, Gracy yelled, “Bear!”  

Sure enough a grizzly bear was no more than thirty yards away from where I pulled in to park, and I couldn’t believe there were people out of their cars to get closer. It was great to see the grizzly walking along, but then I looked a bit further over the hill to see the very couple I had spoken to on the river. There was a small hill between the bear and the couple, so they had no idea everyone was watching a bear approach them. I opened the door and stood on the seat so I could be higher than everyone, and flailed my arms like a drunk airline marshal trying to stop a plane from going the wrong way. The guy waved back eventually, and I started directing him away form the bear.  He and his wife must have understood my urgency, and quickly got down into a ravine. The bear popped over the ridge where the couple once was, but by then I saw them come into view and out of harm's way.   

We watched the bear walk further and further away, and when it was out of sight we started heading to the cabin. Thanks to the bear, the worry about getting off the river late was not even a concern. Instead we talked about seeing the bear, and how stupid the people were for getting so close to it for a picture... Although... it would have been cool to see a mauling. 

Friday, October 2, 2015

A Few Seconds on the Gibbon, Yellowstone Park Day 3

After accidentally fishing over eight hours yesterday, today was family day. This, of all days, was the hardest for me. We drove the upper loop of the park, and passed several lakes, creeks, rivers and streams that I wasn’t allowed to fly fish. I watched with envy as other anglers stood in those very streams fly fishing, and I sat with my face against the window like a puppy wanting to play outside. 
There is just so much more for me to discover in Yellowstone, and I even had a license that covered me for three days... so the real crime would be to not fish today. It was a weak argument, but it worked.  After a long drive, Gracy granted me permission to fish the head waters of the Gibbon River.

I had my wading gear and fly rod together in a flash, and wasted no time getting to the water. 

I flicked out my little beetle pattern in the smallest tail out, and a fish came up and ate it. The hit was so faint, that if I didn’t have my eye on the fly, I could have easily mistaken it for a simple riffle in the water, but I didn’t and set the hook on a little brook trout.  

“You got one!” Gracy said happily, and I looked over, surprised to see her and her dad watching me fish.  
“Yep, it’s a little brook trout.” I said, and unhooked the fish to cast again. Another small take, and another small brook trout to match. I brought in the second fish of the day, and as it struggled to free itself, I took a deep breath to take in the air of my surroundings. 

I had the fish right next to me, and after a quick picture it kicked and came unhooked.  The little fish darted away with a little splash in my face, which made me smile. 
I continued up to the next little hole that looked like it could hold a few more fish. I carelessly casted my fly over to my target, but a branch behind me caught my fly. 
“Damn it.” I said, and sacrificed the fly for lack of time. I quickly tied back on, and with little room for a back cast, I roll casted my fly out and it was immediately hit. 
Could this be an eight inch fish, I thought happily as the fight of the fish actually made my rod bend. I brought in the fish, and saw it was bigger than its fellow inhabitants. 

My life wasn't so bad today, I thought as I released the bigger brook trout back into the water. Just one more, I though as my time was quickly running out. It’s always the last fish that gives you problems, and after a little while I hooked it and brought it in. 

It was obvious I did not want to leave the river, but we had to get back to the cabin to let Kiwi out.  As I stepped out of the river I saw that Dan had his handgun strapped on. 
“You got your gun, huh?” I said.
“Yes, sir. That's just in case you got attacked by a grizzly...” He said quickly, “I’d just shoot ya so you wouldn’t suffer."  

Both Gracy and her dad thought that was just the funniest thing in the world, and to be honest I thought it was funny too. I laughed as I geared down, and just in time. A heavy boom echoed around the mountain, and large raindrops fell hard on the dirt next to me. I packed up my gear and got into the cab of the truck before the rain really started coming down. Large rain drops exploded on the windshield as we drove through the storm, and I sat looking at he water as we drove, thinking: I would still be out there if I could be...

Monday, September 28, 2015

Gallatin River, Yellowstone Park Day 2

It was my father-in-law, Dan, who first introduced me to fly fishing at a family reunion almost eight years ago. He was fishing by himself, and when he returned I asked him about the sport. He explained it to me the best way he could, then at the end he said, “but don’t quote me on any of this because I really don’t know what I’m doing.”  After a year into the sport, I discovered he was absolutely right. Despite his lack of knowledge it’s a shame we only get to fish with each other once every couple years, so it was nice that Gracy okayed a day for me to take him out to the Gallatin River in the park. 

I had yet to fish the small part of the Gallatin that flanks Highway 191 within the borders of the park, so I wasn't sure what to expect. The nice thing about this particular section is that it was only about 20 minutes away from where we were staying, leaving that much more time for fishing.

Terrestrials were recommended to us, but after a long while of fishing with no hint of a fish, we found some water that was a little deeper and cooler. There was a nice run we had approached, and after some dry fly attempts turning up empty, I switched Dan over to a nymph. I was in the process of clipping my fly off, when I heard Dan yelling. 
“Whoa! There we go! There we go!” He yelled, and I looked up to see he was fighting a fish.

I quickly unhooked my net to help out, but Dan had his own net in his hand and was scooping up his fish. 
“It’s a white fish.” I said, “Would you like a picture with it?” 
“Hell no.” He said quickly, and dumped the fish back into the water unceremoniously. 
“That was a nice white fish. Most of the fish here are ten to fourteen inches, at best.”  
“Who said that?” He questioned.
“The guys at Blue Fly.” I said. 
“Well, I’ll get a picture of the next one.” He said, but with the day we were having it was unclear if there would be a next one.   

I thought about nymphing for a while, then remembered my experience with the mouse the previous day. I had slipped one in my pocket that morning, just in case, and decided to tie it on. I shot the mouse pattern so close to the bank that it skimmed the overhanging grass before it splat down in the river. CA-BLAM! A big brown trout came up and slapped it hard, but I did not connect with it. I slapped my fly back down, but nothing came back up.  I knew there was a fish hiding in that undercut bank, so I took the mouse off and tied on a streamer. The streamer slapped the water hard when it landed above the fish’s home, and when it drifted down to its home I stripped the streamer back.  WAM! It was like I had hooked into a dropping anchor, and I could see the fish doing its best to run in the gin-clear water. 

“DAN! DAN!” I yelled fighting the fish, but Dan was too far downstream to hear me.  The fish was not tiring any time soon, and I did everything I could to maintain control with my 4-w.t. fly rod. The fish was finally starting to tire, but the fight was far from over. The fish would come within netting range, then kick away fast when it spotted the net. Unless you are ready to let the fish run if it wants to, this is the time when they are most likely to break off. That has happened to me far too many times in the past, so when the fish darted away I was ready. 
Whether he heard or saw me fight a fish, Dan was on his way over , but by then the fish was tired enough to come in. 
“I thought you said they only get 14 inches?” Dan said, looking at the brown trout in my net. 
“This fish is a monster in this river, and I will probably not get another one here that is this big again.” I said, and held up the fish for a picture.   

I dipped the fish back into the water, and it stayed with me for a little bit before kicking away.

I stood up tall with triumph, as I watched the fish disappear into the river. 
“Fish the undercut banks...” I said, pointing them out, “... the fish hide there to protect themselves from predators, and will come out to eat.”
“Sounds good.” Dan said, and we split up to work different banks of the river.     

I tied my mouse pattern back on again, and slammed it down on the banks in search of another big fish. The chances were slim to nil, but you never know. When mouse-ing, I tend to never throw in the same place twice. The thought behind that is if a fish is willing to eat the mouse, it will decide to eat it on its first opportunity. With this thought in mind I walked downstream, casting my mouse to different spots each time. Sometimes I would cast right on the bank and pull my mouse into the river like it had decided to take a swim; that's when a fish, bigger than the brown trout I had just caught, materialized out of nowhere, gunning for my mouse. It all happened in a second, and after one swipe it went back into hiding. 
“Dan! Dan!” I called out, but got no response. I wanted him to have the opportunity to hook this fish, so I went looking for him. After a feeble attempt to find him, I went back to where the big fish was hiding. There was a very slim chance it would come after my mouse again, so I tied on my streamer and launched it in the home of the fish. My black streamer came racing out of the undercut bank with the fish right behind it. BUMP! I felt it hit, but I knew better than to set the hook now. BUMP! Again the fish hit my fly, but there was no solid connection.  The fly was getting dangerously close to me, and if this fish saw me it would dart away and not come back out. “BOOM!” The fish moved in for the kill and nailed my fly only feet away from me. 

The fish immediately knew it had done something wrong, and bolted back to its home. There was no stopping this fish. My reel screamed to life as the fish went deep under the bank for safety. I kept the line as tight as I dared to pull it back out, and continued the fight where there was less of a chance of getting a snag. The fish tired more quickly that the last, and so I held it at bay before I netted it. 

Dan had showed up to get a picture of me and my prize fish. 
“This one is bigger than the last one!” He said. 
“I honestly can’t believe it.” I said with a smile. 
“I tried calling for you and walked over to find you so you could try catching this fish.” I said, as I tried to get ahold of my fish.  
“Well, I would have just screwed it up.” He said. 
“That’s true...” I said with a smile, and held up my monster cutthroat trout.    

I placed it back into the water, and held its tail before it kicked away and back into its home.

It was hard to believe we had already spent the whole day fishing on the Gallatin, but it was time to head back. 

We did run into some dry fly activity, which kept us on the water a bit longer. Dan hooked into a few cutthroat trout, but lost them in the fight. The hatch didn’t last long, so we continued back to the car. I could have easily stayed out until dark, but I knew if I did there would be hell to pay. This is suppose to be a family trip, I reminded myself, and after a quick calculation I realized I had just kidnapped my father-in-law for eight hours to do nothing but fish... There was no qualms about it, there will be hell to pay.

Monday, September 21, 2015

Grayling Creek in the Morning Yellowstone Park Day 1

There’s nothing like waking up to the cool crisp air of Montana, especially if it’s paired with fly fishing. This particular trip to West Yellowstone was not a fly fishing trip, however. The previous night I drove up with my wife, Gracy, and she was sure to let me know that. So if I wanted to get away it was going have to be early in the morning, and when I woke up I bolted out before anyone could stop me.

The small creek that runs near Lois’s cabin is Grayling Creek, and after passing by it for the past few years it was time to check it out.

With my bear spray on my hip and a bell to ward off evil spirits, I made my way down to the creek. There were deep holes that looked promising, but nothing was hitting my fly when it plopped down. I made my way upstream, slapping my fly in every spot that looked that looked like it could hold a fish. 

Every once in a while I would look over my shoulder while flicking my bell to alert anything that may be nearby, and when nothing popped up I continued upstream. Being cautious of bears is foreign to me, because on my home rivers I don’t have to worry about waking a sleeping grizzly. So with every plop of my fly I would glanced around before taking my next cast; that was until I came to a barbed-wire fence across the river. I don’t think it is legal for land owners to fence off a river like this, but I didn’t know for sure so I walked back to my car to check out a different part of Grayling Creek.

I was bleeding time, and I had yet to catch a fish. I pulled over near another bridge on Grayling Creek that was just outside the boundaries of Yellowstone Park, and it looked promising. The little bell on my hip rang loud as I made my way to the water, and I quickly made my way up until I found a nice pocket of water that looked promising.  

I flicked my fly into the nice blue pool, and a small fish came up and rocketed out of the water. I believe its intention was to eat my fly, but it completely missed the opportunity. I chuckled to myself at the failed attempt and placed my fly back in the same spot to give the fish another chance to eat it. The little fish didn’t disappoint. As soon as my fly hit the water, it came back up and nailed it. I lightly set the hook, and felt the little shaking head of the fish.

Although it wasn’t much of a fight, I was sure happy to have caught a fish.  I unhooked it, and the little thing bolted so fast that a small cloud of soot was the only thing left behind. I quickly got up, made another cast, and was hooked into an even smaller fish. The rod tip of my 4 weight was wiggling with the fight of the fish, and I held the fish at bay just to feel its fight. Despite its size, it was nice to be hooking into some fish.

I had found the honey hole, and in just the knick of time. I had caught all the fish that were willing to come up and eat a dry fly, and I knew if I didn’t check out more of the stream I would never forgive myself.

I hooked my fly to the fly rod, and walked up the stream to find a very large tree blocking my way. 

No worries, I’ll just walk around it, I thought, and did so while ringing my bell...just in case. I got back into the water, and unhooked my fly to see if there were any fish tucked in under the overhanging bushes.

When casting to these bushes I'm not afraid to get my fly caught in the shrub, therefore my fly usually lands about an inch from the bank, which is under the bush itself. I have found that casting this close to the bank can make a big difference on whether or not the fish will take your fly. Just in front of me was another promising spot that looked like it could hold fish, so I casted over to it and my fly landed in the bush. I yanked my fly out which seriously disturbed the bush, but my fly was out. 
“What the hell?!” I yelled.  
The water had just erupted no more than three feet away from where I was standing, and I looked over to see a mouse swimming to the bank and a very large fish trying to eat it.

“No way! No way...” I said with amazement. I had never seen a fish attack a mouse before, and so close. I stood there shocked, and looked around to see if anyone else had seen what I just saw, and of course there was no one. The fish had sunk back into its hole, and even after studying the water I couldn't see where it was lying. That didn’t matter because the fish had already made a huge mistake... It let me know where it was.  I snapped out of the shock of seeing the attack and tied on an old dried up streamer I had stuffed in my vest. Though I could not see the fish, I knew where to throw the streamer.  It hit the water hard and I started stripping back when the fish shot out from under the bush.  The stream was only about ten feet wide, so I could easily see the fish when it took my streamer in its mouth... and I was also able to see the streamer rip out of the fish's mouth when I set the hook.

“DAMN IT!” I yelled, knowing full well that I had just missed my opportunity to catch this fish. I spent a lot of time casting back into the fish’s home, but nothing came back out. It had got away, and I was not happy about it.  I kept replaying the moment in my head: what if I set the hook a little later? What if I strip-set the hook? what if, what if, what if? 
I finally gave up, and walked back down the the original honey hole I had caught fish from just a bit ago.

I did catch a few more little fish, and I must say it made me feel better.

My phone started buzzing just as I was beginning to wonder how long I would get away with staying out here.  

My morning fishing time was over, and it was time to hang out with family... It was going be a long rest of the day.