Tuesday, August 2, 2011

Fishing Yellowstone National Park

Truly paradise! Driving through Paradise Valley.
The Gibbon
H: July 19, 2011: We took the short cut from West Yellowstone through the Park to Paradise Valley--a short cut assuming no bison, elk or moose jams... Our plan was to fish the Gibbon and Gardner rivers along the way. We went prepared, armed with a canister of bear spray that the folks at Blue Ribbon Flies convinced us to buy. Better safe, than sorry (or in this case, mauled). Yikes! Whether we'd be able to pull back the safety latch, aim with trembling hands and pounding hearts, and hit the feet of a charging grizzly 30 feet away--we hoped to never find out.

Our first stop was Elk Park where the Gibbon meanders through a lovely meadow before disappearing into thickets of trees beyond. There were no bugs or rises to be seen so we put on stimulators to see if we could coax some fish action. We soon had several hits and landed some small trout, in the sardine class. Josée and I decided we should embrace the Japanese aesthetic of finding beauty in even the simplest, mundane, and in this case, smallest of things--appreciating the subtlety of each sardine (i mean trout ; ), as gifts from nature.

Josée was determined to catch a particular trout that was alluding her. I decided to move upstream in search of bigger prey. I caught more "gifts" along the way. It started to drizzle and as I looked around, I noticed I had walked far upstream into the trees and was no longer within sight of Josée. I also realized that Josée had the bear spray. Not a good idea to fish out of sight and sound of your buddy and completely alone in YNP without bear spray. I looked at my watch. It was about 3 pm. I hiked back to Josée. We decided to find a picturesque spot by a river and enjoy a beer before heading to our lodge in Paradise Valley.

View from our balcony. A river runs through it--our backyard, that is. 
July 21, 2011: the 2 flygirls took a break from fishing and went horseback riding. Josée was astride a horse, aptly named Frenchie. My gentle white horse was called Cloudy. I must have straddled him with a death grip. After 2.5 hours, my inner thighs were bruised, knees wobbly, and I needed to pop an Advil. But the views from the ridgeline were spectacular! And the smell of pine/fir resin, delicious! Wish I had taken some pics.

The Gardner 
View of the Gardner river from the High Bridge.
July 22, 2011: We decided to head back into the Park and fish the Gardner. Boy, it was such a painful 30 min. drive to the park (breathtaking mountain scenery to the left and right of us with the mighty Yellowstone river center stage : ). Eric had told us about a spot below the employee's village. The folks at Park's fly shop in Gardiner suggested fishing below the high bridge. And Rudy from Blue Ribbon Flies had recommended the 45th parallel. We ended up fishing all three.

At the first two spots, we were completely alone. Both of us kept looking around, on more than one occasion, for bears. Fishing was slow--just a couple landed. On the hike back up to the high bridge, we ran into 3 anglers on their way down. They each wore bells around their necks. I remembered what Dan said in response to my question about the effectiveness of bells in scaring away bears. He said "there's a reason why they find bells in bear scat..." Our last stop, the 45th parallel, was absolutely beautiful. No fish were caught but it was idyllic. We noticed ominous dark clouds heading our way and called it a day.

Fishing the 45th parallel. Storm's a coming!
Slough Creek
July 25, 2011: We saved legendary Slough Creek for last. Last year, we had made the trip into the Park to fish Slough, only to have it thunderstorm and hail when we arrived. The weather was perfect--high 80s and little wind. We ate our lunch and looked out towards the meadow below the parking lot. We spotted a few anglers along with 2 large golden brown shapes moving in the distance. Bears? They didn't look dark enough to be bison. Did the other anglers see them? We weren't sure what to do. A truck drove towards us (a park ranger) and Josée hailed him down. The ranger got out, looked through binoculars, and said, "They're just bison." Whew! We geared up to wet wade.

There were swarms of bugs--just not the kind we were hoping for--only black flies and mosquitos. Using our rigs from the previous day on the Boulder, we started nymphing. But it was slower than molasses in winter. I decided to walk downstream. As I passed a bend in the creek, I noticed several rises by the bank, so I stopped and put on a green drake dun. I saw Josée walking towards me. Also fed up with the lack of action, she said she was going to go further downstream. I told her there were plenty of fish right here. She put on a dry and on her first cast, got a hit. She landed several fish including a nice brown. It was lunchtime for the trout of Slough creek! Meanwhile, I was focusing all my attention on one large fish near the bank. She was behind a patch of submerged branches. It took numerous attempts but I finally drifted my fly, just right, into position. She rose to take it but I was too eager and ripped the fly out of her mouth. She never rose again. I decided to explore further downstream.

Slough Creek "beach".
I reached a wide sandy beach where only one other angler was fishing--a tall gentleman, easily over 6 ft. It was such a pleasure to wade into the cool water and escape the relentless black flies. I caught a couple of small rainbows. One fish came up within inches of my fly, took a look, decided it wasn't for her, and swam back down. I realized then, I was done, too. I was completely fished out--just going through the motions. I lowered my rod, relishing the feel of the water pushing against my legs, and watched the other anglers around me: the tall angler nearby was waist deep in pursuit of trout on the opposite bank; another was stealthily walking the far high bank, making short, crisp casts down below him; another was heading back to the parking lot. I eventually decided to follow suit and check on Josée.

Josée was in the process of changing flies, tying on a hopper. She told me she had just spoken with the angler I had seen heading back. He had been curious to find a single female angler. She proceeded to tell me his life story: he was a teacher from Michigan vacationing with his family in Yellowstone... He had seen a bear the evening before in exactly the spot we were fishing. I told her I was done but she should continue fishing if she wanted. She cast the hopper on the water, immediately got a strike, but missed it as we were busy talking. She said she was ready to go, too. We got back on the trail and caught up with the angler from Michigan. He was very friendly and we were so busy chatting we almost didn't notice the huge bison bull directly ahead of us, blocking the trail. Since it was mating season for the bison, we gave him a wide berth. God only knows what hormones might be clouding his judgment! We backed off the trail and trudged through some foul smelling swamps (bison dung, anyone?) before finally making it back to the car and saying farewell to our new friend. I hope to someday come back to this amazing place and fish every single one of it's meadows.

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