Gene Chague | Berkshire Woods and Waters: More fishing exploits from Yellowstone
Last week I wrote about our 11-day fly-fishing trip to Yellowstone National Park. You may recall that four local anglers accompanied me. They were: Paul Knauth and Craig Smith of Hinsdale, Allen Gray of Pittsfield and Michael Shepard of Dalton. In that column, I didn't really get into how well we did fishing.
For the first three days, there were just four of us — Paul, Mike, Allen and me. On the fourth day, Craig joined us for three days.
On our first day, the four of us fished Slough Creek, a gin-clear, slow-moving river. It is very wadeable and holds nice sized rainbow and cutthroat trout. The temperatures reached 90 degrees on that bright, sunny day.
It was on that first day that I met a Montanan, Bill Sheehan, who had been fishing downstream from me and was now on his way out. He stopped to watch me try to catch a big rainbow trout. Standing up on a high bank, he could see my fly and the trout that I was after. I couldn't see the fish due to the glare and eddies, but he could and he directed me to where to cast the fly and whether or not the fish was interested in my offering.
After about a half-hour, it was obvious that I was not going to catch that fish with any fly I threw at it, and Bill asked if he could try for it. I said yes, and after two or three casts, he hooked it. After a 10-minute battle, he netted a beautiful 19-inch rainbow. After releasing the fish, he crossed the river to my side holding something. "Here," he said, "I really appreciate you giving me a chance to catch that fish. It made my day." Then he gave me a fly like the one he had used to catch the fish.
I was really impressed with what he did and told him that I would mention the incident in this column, for it was a fine example of stream etiquette. While talking, I could see that he was wet wading (no waders) and he wore knee pads.
Seeing that I was a novice to this type of fishing, he offered me some advice: "Approach the river with stealth and keep your profile low. Otherwise, the fish will see you because the rivers out here are crystal clear and flow fairly slow with little, if any ripples to break up the line of sight."
That explains the knee pads, for they allowed him to cast his fly while kneeling.
We didn't exactly knock them dead that day. I only got one trout, Paul had a few big ones on but they broke him off. Allen caught a nice cutthroat measuring around 19 inches.
The second day proved to be much more successful. Some beautiful trout were caught that day, with Paul in particular catching a lot of fish. Dr. Charles Wohl, a well-known, superb fly fisherman from Lenox best describes days like Paul had: "The fishing was obscene!" Paul caught his fish on tiny (size 20) blue-winged olive mayflies (Baetis). I had a decent day, too, but never figured out what the trout were hitting. I caught a few on a ladybug imitation and also had some success with a gray drake mayfly (Siphlonurus). I don't believe any of us caught a trout under 15 inches. Bear in mind, these are wild trout, not stocked.
One day we went to see Old Faithful and while in the area we fished the Firehole River. Instead of water temperatures in the 50s, this water was in the 70s due to the nearby geysers. We still managed to catch a few fish there.
One rainy day when we got back to our house in Gardiner, Allen and I fished the Yellowstone River right in back. I got into an unbelievable pod of whitefish that simply would not leave me alone so that I could catch some trout. They are a scrappy fish in their own right. When they stopped rising, the rainbow trout started and Allen caught a half-dozen or so in short order. Craig joined us that evening and Allen and Mike cooked us up a tasty meal.
The next day, Mike and Craig took a guided float fishing trip down the Yellowstone River near Livingstone, Montana. They hired Yellowstone Anglers guides out of Livingstone. They caught some nice fish, but Mike took the big fish of the trip, a 24-inch, 7-pound brown trout. He caught it on a size 8 fly called the Night Stonefly. I don't want to imply anything, but shortly thereafter, Craig managed to impale his fly into the back of Mike's head, purportedly caused by the strong winds that day. Although tangled in Mike's hair, the guide was finally able to get it out while still managing the boat as it drifted down the river.
We were happy that Mike caught that beautiful fish, for he had not yet been able to get out fishing at all this year.
On that day, the remaining three of us fished Obsidian Creek, the Gardner River and the Gibbon Creek. The waters were cold with temps of 43 degrees. Too cold for hatching mayflies.
The following day, Craig and Mike fished Nelson Spring Creek, private waters on the Nelson Ranch. They paid to fish a stretch of that water and caught some beautiful trout.
Having fished in Yellowstone National Park for around 35 years with his father, Craig knew what he was doing and when he joined us, he proceeded to clean our clocks. He caught more fish in his three days with us than we were able to catch in our 11 days, and some of them approached 20 inches.
There was one day when Craig led us on a hike across the prairie for about a mile to fish a stretch of Slough Creek. We no sooner got there when it turned windy and rainy. Fortunately, we had our rain jackets, but it sure got cold. In spite of fish jumping and porpoising, they were extremely selective. The only person to figure them out was Craig. He was using a size 22 or 24 blue wing olive mayfly, not much bigger than a speck of black pepper.
After fishing with us for three days, Craig moved on to fish the Madison River and other streams on the western end of the Park, also having great success.
All in all, it was a very enjoyable trip with lots of big, beautiful trout being caught by all.
A couple of incidences did occur which could have made my trip go south quickly. The first occurred in the Minneapolis/St. Paul Airport as we were heading west. While passing through security and sending my carry-on bags through the scanning machine, a security person took out my cell phone and tablet and put them into a separate tray to go through the scanner. After passing through security and about to leave the area, a passenger who followed me in line shouted that I had left those two items. Oooh! On that cell phone was my future flight and boarding pass info.
The second incident occurred when we were sitting outside on the deck on our last evening in Gardiner. Paul asked if I had gotten my boarding pass information yet. I hadn't. While processing the information, he discovered that I wasn't on the same flight out of Bozeman as they were and that my flight was scheduled 2 hours earlier than theirs. Because we had rented only one vehicle, it meant that everyone had to get up 2 hours earlier and leave for the airport by 7 a.m. We all had to scramble that evening to get our bags packed and ready to travel early the next morning.
If it wasn't for Paul checking my flight information, I would have missed my flight.
Either of those two incidents could have really messed up my trip. Who knows where I could have ended up. I could have been the second man whose fate is still unlearned, and never will return, not from "neath the streets of Boston," but from up in the "big sky" of Montana.
Fortunately, all ended up well. We all joined up in Minneapolis and flew to Albany on the same flight.
Gene Chague can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 413-637-1818.
TALK TO US
If you'd like to leave a comment (or a tip or a question) about this story with the editors, please email us. We also welcome letters to the editor for publication; you can do that by filling out our letters form and submitting it to the newsroom.