Friday, September 30, 2011

One Last Hoorah for the Truchas Oeste, Part 1

 In the state of Wyoming cattle and sheep outnumber people five to one, and with just over half a million people it’s the least populated state in the nation.  For the fly fisherman, the prospect of miles upon miles of trout streams, with not very many anglers fishing them, can only mean good things.  
During the summer Wyoming seems to draws people in from everywhere - sightseers and tourists to it’s beautiful national parks, and campers and hikers to it’s many wilderness areas.  However, most fly fishermen seem to pass it by in favor of neighboring Colorado or Montana.  When a well traveled fly fisherman hears that I guide there, at times they’ll ask why I decided not to fish somewhere where the fishing was better or the trout were bigger.  Perhaps their ignorance is my own personal fishing salvation. 
I’d been visiting Wyoming since I was a child. It’s where half of my family is from, where my grandfather first taught me to fly fish and tie flies, and now I’m drawn back there to continue those things - but also to guide and to share that experience with others.  Every summer when I return it feels like I’m home - coming back to a place where the air is cleaner, the water clearer, and the fish more plentiful and willing to take a dry fly with no regard for their own well-being.  It’s the birthplace of my passion, where exposure to fly fishing started me on a trip that hasn’t ended, and I doubt ever will. 
There’s an allure there that few understand unless they’ve been there - the amenities and comforts of home aren’t easy to find, and the dangers of the wilderness are ever present.  However, the beautiful mountains, expansive hay fields, deep canyons, and winding meadow stretches of stream that are home to the trout of a lifetime wait for those who go anyway. 
People ask me all the time how I could possibly go to such a desolate place, and put the rest of my life on hold every summer just to to chase a couple trout.  When I’m in  Wyoming, dropping my drift boat in to a world-famous tailwater, or walking down the banks of a stream that few have ever heard of, nearly shaking in anticipation for what the day’s fishing might bring, I can’t help but wonder how I could possibly be doing anything else.

Arriving in May, you run the risk of running into the end of winter - and if it's anything like last winter, where record snowfalls and snowpacks accumulated much later than usual, you're in for some snowy nights and cold, dreary days.  But after a couple weeks the white snow turns into low, grey, soupy clouds and the daytime temperatures begin to stay north of the 40 degree mark at night.  Summer is on it's way, but it isn't quite there yet.

Finally the sun starts to shine, the snow slowly retreats to the mountains, and the fishing guides are stir crazy and ready to fish no matter how high the rivers are.  For the past few years, enormous snowpacks and warm months of June have meant high water, and lots of it.  This year was certainly not the exception, as unthinkable amounts of snow delayed fishing in certain areas of the Rockies until late-August - dashing the dreams of angler and guide alike.  However, in our neck of the woods we're blessed with a diversity of rivers and streams to fish unlike anywhere else I know of.  One end of the mountains drains slightly lower elevations than the other, and the smaller streams down there, that have some of the most prolific stonefly hatches I've ever seen started to fish before just about anything else in the West.

A pontoon boat, a couple guides that can play double duty on the sticks and with the fly pole, and some cooperative fish are all that's needed to get things going in a pretty big way.

As the water drops a bit more, wading becomes an option, and the streamer fishing on a couple select creeks becomes something pretty special.  This time of year is one of my favorites - the river is swollen with runoff, and stretches that are very productive in the coming months are all but unfishable through June.  The fish, wild as they are, know how to deal with these times of hardship.  Water carries food, and that's what the big predatory browns are looking for after a long, cold, winter.  A properly placed streamer is likely to draw out some of the big boys, and as the saying goes, "everything is bigger in Wyoming."

Wednesday, September 28, 2011

'Bout time

I've been trying to beat the September steelhead skunk for almost 3 years now. It was a long time comin' but today, finally, I got mine... and then some.

Saturday, September 24, 2011


Just returned from a six-day stint in the Northwest corner of Montana. Big wild rivers, native trout, and a Booze N' Bait store. What more could a guy ask for?

Monday, September 12, 2011

SoFo Reunion

Our rendezvous with the South Fork had been a long time coming. It'd been almost two years since I'd last plied her waters and she'd been haunting me. For those unfamiliar with the area, the South Fork comes about something like this: The Snake River begins its journey in Yellowstone National Park, winds Southwest through Jackson hole and eventually empties into Palisades Reservoir, which straddles the border of Wyoming and Idaho. When the river emerges below Palisades Dam, it changes monikers and is henceforth known as the South Fork of the Snake. It's a broad, powerful body of water, flowing well in excess of 10,000 cubic feet per second for much of the spring and summer. It is widely considered one of the finest trout fisheries in the West; average fish size is strong and hatches are the stuff of legend. It is home to healthy populations of Snake River Fine Spotted Cutthroat, Yellowstone Cutthroat, Rainbows and Browns, and to some of my finest fishing memories.

I can't begin to explain how many day dreams I had about that river during my hiatus. She doesn't always give it up easy but when she decides to dance, you had better bring your tap shoes because the action can be fast and furious. On this day though she played her cards close to the chest. The high flows of early summer, rumor had it, had put off the bugs and put a serious damper on the normally stellar dry fly fishing. We managed a few fish on both streamers and nymphs, including the first cutty of the trip, but we'd seen only a shadow of the rivers true character.

As much as I truly enjoyed being back on the Southy despite the unremarkable fishing, it created a creeping angst leading up to the last two fishing days of the trip. We'd come to Idaho to catch cutthroat on dry flies and we'd have to figure out just where that was going to happen over the next 48 hours. Admittedly, a tough problem to have.

Wednesday, September 7, 2011

Runnin' and Gunnin'

After 4 days and 5 nights in the Big Horns it was time for a travel day. When we'd mapped out our trip over 8 months ago we'd planned to split our time between North Central Wyoming and Eastern Idaho. While it was tough to leave the ranch, we'd about outlasted our welcome and it was time for the second leg of the journey.

But neither of us were really all that willing to sacrifice a day of fishing by spending it behind a windshield. We pored over maps and tried to gather information, but the only conclusion we could come up with was that there was several hundred miles and a whole lot of blue lines between point A and point B. So we loaded up the truck and hit the road with plans to explore any roadside ditch, creek, pond or river we came across.

It doesn't take long to find water in the mountains, and we were casting to rising fish shortly after the first beams of light glistened off the surface of a creek whose name we wouldn't bother figuring out until later.

Tough to beat a rainbow at sunrise.

We'd gotten a quick fix but still had a long way to go, so we cut the fun short and jumped back in the car, leaving the rods rigged. We didn't get far.

As we rounded a turn we spotted an alpine lake adjacent to the highway. We talked about blowing past it but decided it was worth a few casts. We pulled up to the lakes' edge and jumped out, leaving the car running, to see if we could drum up a couple of fish and cross another body of water off the "list." As we approached the edge of the lake I spotted a tiny feeder stream on the Northeast bank. I hadn't even bothered to put my flip flops on, but curiosity got the better of me. So in my bare feet I began walking upstream to see if there was any water worth casting to.

Two hours later, I returned to the car with cold, sore, scraped-up feet just in time to beat the hail storm that came rolling in.

So we kept truckin'. In short order we were running parallell to another blue line. We pulled over. Alex said he was going to go check it out. I said I'd wait in the car. "Come get me if you find something."

5 minutes went by. 10 minutes went by... 15. I didn't need to hear it from Alex to know what was going on; I grabbed my rod and headed down to find him.

The next few hours were almost surreal. We engaged in a heated game of tag with a massive thunderstorm as we chased trout down the mountain. Plunge pool after plunge pool, pocket after pocket, run after run. It seemd everywhere we put a dry fly there was a fat, vibrantly colored 10-13 inch trout waiting to eat it. A few were better than that.

Even the ditches produced fish.

If you could show them a fly (often no easy task) they'd eat it.

Finally the road and river parted ways and we put pedal to floor in an effort to make up some miles. We'd end up hitting a few more creeks before dusk stole the day from us, but it'd been a memorable one long before the sun set behind the Tetons. We made it to Victor just in time to tie on a good buzz at the Timberline Bar and would sleep well that night while the South Fork of the Snake waited for us.