Thursday, February 13, 2020

Part Four: Montana Upper Madison

After stopping at the Slide Inn for licenses, flies, fly tying tools and intel we were on the water sometime after 3pm.  We headed toward the WF Madison campground area.  I'd have my first Montana fish in a matter of a few casts.  I fished a side channel and casted my hopper with and ant dropper just below a branch of a tree.  After a couple drifts a small brown took the ant pattern.  After catching the fish I returned to the truck to get my river crampons as it was extremely slippery.  I had asked Jeremy at the shop if I should wear them and he definitely recommended them but in my haste in wanting to fish I neglected to put them on.  After sliding in the slower water of the channel I thought it best to go back and get them.
I'd get into the main portion of the river and was definitely glad I grabbed the traction device as the river was swift.  Wading was tiring but I'd eventually get another brown.  Again another dink. I didn't travel all the way to the Big Sky Country for dinks. After a couple hours having bypassed lunch we looked for a place for a bite to eat.  With very few options to chose from we went to the the Grizzly Bar and Grill.
This establishment usually requires a reservation but they managed to get us a seat but having a seat didn't mean we would be served anytime soon.  They were packed and we didn't get our food for a long while which was eating up our fishing time for the evening.  Dinner was excellent and we drove drown to Three Dollar Bridge for some evening streamer action.  I don't recall if we managed any fish that night but I believe I did get one strike.  Once dark we headed toward Raynold's Pass campground for the night.

When we woke I fished around the campsite without any luck.  We did see a bald eagle nesting in a tree on the river which was nice.  Bypassing breakfast we headed toward Three Dollar Bridge for a morning season of streamer fishing.  There we would met up with a fried of Chul's.
After rigging up I took off first armed with an articulated fly I created a few years back to use on the Upper Owens.  Conservation groups are trying to improve the habitat around the river and have put down walking planks around the banks for anglers to use.  It wasn't long before I got my first streamer fish in Montana.  It hit almost immediately when the fly splashed on the water.  Catching a decent fish on a streamer on the Madison was goal of mine on this trip having watched vicariously Kelly Galloup do so both on television programs and youtube videos over the decades.  As the sun rose higher I came back to the truck to grab my hopper dropper rig out of the Toyota.
While my fishing buddy was chatting up his friend, who was traveling his way back to California from Alaska, I took off again upstream.  I only managed a couple on this set up nothing significant enough to write about.  Having bypassed breakfast I was starting to get hungry and went back to the truck to see if we had anything I could eat.  We were low on supplies and with all the cooking gear buried in the bed of the truck so I made myself a freeze dried backpacking food we kept for emergencies. 
I waited for them to return to the truck and during that time I chatted up a nice couple from Minnesota who visits the area every year.  Eventually the crew returned and after a brief break we started to fish below the bridge.  We walked about a mile down before we began fishing upstream.  It wasn't long before I managed my first fish of the afternoon session.
We managed a few more long the way back to the truck.  At that time we headed to the shop to gather some info and to see if there were any cabin available for the night.  Kelly let us know that they were fully booked but told us to try Driftwater Lodge down the road which offers the lowest rates on the Lower.  For the evening Kelly told us to try the river section above Hebgren Lake near the Campfire Lodge Resort.
Before fishing for the evening we headed to the lodging to secure our room.  Their restaurant was opening and since we bypass lunch we decided to grab a bite to eat before fishing the night.   Food was excellent and after a brief respite we made our way up the hill toward Hebgren.  Water was swift.  We were told by Kelly how to cross the river safely but we weren't sure which boulder landmark Kelly mentioned to us.   After multiple days on the road without proper sleep and shower our brains were simply too fried to understand the drawing he gave us.  Later I would figure out the landmark was further downriver.  Evening fishing was tough and while I managed a strike I failed to get a fish on.  The fishing partner managed one before it was too dark to continue.  We returned to the cabin for our first comfortable bed and shower of the trip.  Accommodations were clean and nice.  I would definitely book again in the future.

Thursday, February 6, 2020

Part Three: Yellowstone

After a few hours in the morning fishing the Snake River we ventured northbound to Yellowstone National Park.  After securing an available campsite at Bridge Bay, the highest priority given the scarcity of available sites, we heading to Yellowstone River to try our luck for the last few hours of light.  No fish were taking for us but a couple of Montana boys were slaying them on nymphs. Unfortunately I left my nymph box in the truck and fish were refusing to take dries.  It didn't matter anyhow as I didn't have the required nontox weights to get my flies down anyhow.  I forgot to buy some at the fly shop.   So just before sundown we headed back to camp and made us some dinner.

It took us a while to break camp and retrieve our items from the bear box.  Probably longer than it should have taken but after a quick breakfast he were off on the road.  This was my buddy's primary reason for this trip, catching a Yellowstone cutthroat.
We still had quite a drive to make it Lamar Valley.  Along the way we be treated to great landscape and wildlife views.  It wasn't until around 11:30am before we actually made it on the trail of Slough Creek.
We'd have a six mile hike ahead of us to reach our fishing destination.  The hike was moderate in difficultly with the start being the hardest as it was an uphill climb.  It took us about two hours to get reach our entry point.  On the hike in we'd run into several fly anglers on their way out.  After brief discussions the report was the fishing was epic, fueling our march on wards. 
After checking the GPS, we finally found our entry point and made our way in.  At the campsite there was a large tent that housed a group of at least six or more.  We made our way upstream looking for good water further from the tent as the water near it was likely already fished over.  I found a nice looking hole and got not reaction my newly created hopper.
I moved up toward the seam feeding the hole and within about tens minutes of searching I was on my first fish of the day.  Initially it hardly gave a fight.  A couple bulldogs and then it sprang to life and started to give me a few nice little runs once I got it close to me.  The moment I hooked up I immediately called over my fishing buddy but he took his sweet ass time.   I manged to net the fish and almost a soon as I took a pic it sprung back to life and launched out of my hands.  With the fly still in its mouth I managed it back by this time my buddy was there to get me few pics.
With the skunk off the day, I gave the run to my buddy in attempt to get him his first.  While we saw a few in there none wanted to take again.  So we move upstream.   While moving up I saw looking for a spot to fish and Chul shouted to me from across the bank and told me to look behind me.  200 yards away was a buffalo on my side of the river making his way to the water in search of something to eat.  So I slowly hightailed it away from him to give him enough space to do his own thing.
My intention was to give Chul the first run at the water upstream of us but since the buff was too close for comfort I moved further up river and started fishing.  Along a four foot bank I managed my next fish that took as my hopper sank below the water film.
This one was nicer than the previous but not by much.  Now with my second fish to hand I made it a point to give my fishing partner first crack at any upcoming water.  I'd fish below him and get all the sloppy seconds.  It took want seemed like an eternity (at least an hour or more) for him to hook his first fish.  Now relieved he finally got a fish I could finally start "really" fishing again.  As soon as I turned my back though I hear some grumbling and turn back only to see a limp rod in his hand.  "You fucking lost it?!"  I screamed.  While in my head I thought  I'm never going get to fish anymore choice water.  After another hour of sloppy seconds and with his frustration climbing I asked him what water he wanted to fish and I'd fish above him and take the next hole.  So while hiking up the stream I ran into two fly anglers and chatted them up.  They told me that the next bend is the best in the river with a dozen fish every few feet.  Now I had a dilemma.  Do I take it or go back get my buddy and let him have it?  The devil on my right shoulder told me take it. Afterall you haven't gotten a fish in hours and he's blowing all his opportunities.  The asshole angel on my left told me to go back and let him have it.
Should have listened to the guy dressed in red.  I went back told him to forget the water he was fishing and head to the next big bend and fish it informing him what the anglers told me.  As he started to make his way there I started to fish his hole and in a few moments I was on only to come loose after a brief fight.  Chul started his way back to me and said he'd just finish fishing this whole.  I yelled back "FUCK NO!  Go fish that premium water!"
He managed a fish or two to rise but couldn't get any fish to stick and with blood pressure spiking at dangerous levels I told him to take a break and have a snack and relax.  Take ten minutes and get focused.  We did and after calming himself he began fishing again.  I'd move down thirty yards and start fishing behind him. 
I managed to get a couple fish to rise but my luck was gone now and couldn't get any to hooked on.  It took him all the way to the end of this long bend to finally get his first Yellowstone cutthroat.  As we were trying to get him his "hero" shot he fumbled the fish and lost it.  LOL.  What an asshole.  All this effort and no glory pic.  All I could do was laugh at him like any good fishing partner would have done. 
I moved upstream and fished some water until I broke off and was too lazy to rerig.  It was getting late and we still had over six miles to make it back to the truck.  We did not want to be hiking out in the dark in grizzly country.  I went back to Chul and we disassembled our rods to ensure we didn't waste any more daylight on fishing despite the fact the fish were now actively feeding on the surface.  If only we fished another hour...But that wouldn't have been wise.
After hydrating as much as we could we started our hike out.  On the way back we passed through the campsite and a buffalo was roaming around awfully close to their tent.  As much as I was thinking how great it would have been to have a backcountry permit to camp out there so we could have fished more in the back of my mind I was glad we didn't. It's an uncomfortable feeling camping out in the remote sticks with animals that could do some real damage.  Also being only armed with bear spray is not comforting either.   The bear track I found on the riverbank was only a far too vivid reminder of that fact.  As we made our way back we'd encounter a bison path-hogging moving toward us on the trail.  We gave him the right-of-way and we quickly moved off trail and made a roundabout way through the tall grass meadow to bypass him.   For the last 45 minutes of the hike we'd be doing it in the dark.  It's a pretty uneasy feeling I must say. 

In the pitch darkness we'd make it to the truck eventually but that wasn't the end of our problems.  We had no place to camp and all the sites in the park were full.  We'd have to drive out of the Yellowstone to find a place. This would be add an additional hour to our night.  Eventually after exiting via the Northeast entrance we made our way past Cooke City to finally find a campsite.  Passing several that were filled to capacity.  Eventually we found one.  The last spot in this particular site too.  I'd have to sleep in the cabin of the truck as no soft sided camping was allowed in bear country.  Chul had converted the bed of his Tundra into a sleeping area for the trip so he was fine.  I slept in the passenger seat reclining it as much as I could.  Fortunately the cab of the Tundra is quite spacious so it was equivalent to sleeping in a business class airline seat.   It would do for the night.
I was given the keys to the truck and exhausted I forwent dinner and went to bed after placing all the required scented articles into the bear box.  The campsite wasn't large perhaps 15-20 spots max and I was the asshole who inadvertently woke everyone up TWICE in the middle of the night by tripping the car alarm.  I'm sure I was the most loved person in that night.  We woke early and left immediately after retrieving our items in the bear box.  I didn't want anyone mad-dogging me for waking them up.  Twice. In the middle of the night.   What an asshole.
In town we had breakfast before heading back into the Park for some sightseeing on our way to Montana.  We'd fish the Firehole along the way but with only dinks on dries it isn't much to keep us to stay any longer.  Fish were plentiful but hardly worth our time.  After a little over an hour we decided to head out toward the Lower Madison.

Next: Montana Lower Madison.

Sunday, February 2, 2020

Part Two: Wyoming and the Grand Teton

After catching our Bear River Cutthroat we headed northbound to our next destination Wyoming.  It was another long drive through the western side cutting in and out of the border of Idaho before making it to Jackson.  Once there we stopped at High Country Outfitters for a Wyoming and Yellowstone fishing license.
At the store they gave us the current conditions and directions on areas to fish.  The Snake River Cutthroat was our targeted species on this portion of the trip.  After good reports on various locations we decided on Flat Creek because that was the best spot to get one in the 17-20 inch range.  They told us it would be hard though.  Technical fishing is what the guys told us at the shop.  I was up for the challenge.
Too bad that idea went up in smoke.  Literally.  The hills of Jackson were on fire.  I didn't even noticed it on the drive into town.  It wasn't until we walked to the entrance of the shop and notice a crowd looking into the distance did I turn around and see the carnage.  Water dumping helicopters were making run after run to quash the blaze.  In doing so the main road up 390 was backed up; the very direction we wanted to go.  We sat in traffic for what seemed like eternity before making a u-turn back into Jackson and took the long way around. 
We drove westward into the park circling away from the the blaze and traffic and entered into Grand Teton.  Once in the park we gathered info on potential camping sites.  All full.  The park directed us to some National Forest areas we could boon dock. It meant headed southwest back to the direction of Jackson.
With minimal light and far just far enough away from Flat Creek we decided on an alternative water.  Gros Ventre would be the choice as it was in the direction to where we were camping.  With only an hour of light we managed to hit the water just in front of a neighborhood.  Not exactly the ideal location to fish but with no time to spare we just went for it.  Fish were rising and I did manage multiple dink Snake River Cutthroats but nothing impressive or respectable. That said it added a new fish to the species list.  So not a totally disappointment but hardly a win.
With the park campsites filled to capacity we boon docked it outside the park.  Grizzlies were always a concern and after making and eating dinner we moved camp a few hundred yards away from the scent of food and spent the night.
It was an uneasy night of sleep knowing brown bears are in the area.  All through the night I heard noises and rustling just outside my tent.  It didn't help that the campers a  hundred yards way was walking about.  The wind was blowing so hard the side of the tent kept hitting me in the head.  Half dazed I thought it was a bear trying to sniff my hair. 
In the morning it was time to head back into the park. We set our sights on the Snake River and try our luck for some larger specimens.  First to rig up trout were already rising on tricos once I hit the water.  I had left my trico box in the truck and told my fishing partner who hadn't reached the water yet to go back and grab my other box.  While fish were rising we couldn't get any on the hook.  Spent several hours before deciding to call it and head up toward Yellowstone.

Next up: Yellowstone