Man was it hard to come back to work yesterday. If you have been following my blog you know I spent the last week+ out in Montana visiting my sister and her family, seeing the sights, and . . . FISHING! One of my nephews out there is every bit the fishing fool that I am, and we spent as much time on the water as possible. We had a great time while we were there and I do not think we could have packed more into the time we spent. So let us get on with the report!
We packed all of my sister’s family, 5 of them, and all of my family, 4 of us, into a Suburban and toured Yellowstone NP the first three days we were there. On the way we stopped in Livingston and visited the center of the fly-fishing universe, Dan Bailey’s fly shop.
I bought a zinger there and a bucktail for a buddy to tie up some wiper jigs.
We had a blast inside Yellowstone NP where we saw all the sights and all the wildlife with the exception of bears. My son and oldest nephew even caught a glimpse of a wolf as it trotted over a ridge while the rest of us were trying to find it through our binoculars. We were with all the family seeing sights, so we did not fish 8 hours a day while we were in Yellowstone, but we did manage to fish at least a little bit each day. My son and nephew caught some small brookies and browns from the Gibbon River. I got skunked there, could not hook the little brookies that ate my fly. We cast a few flies on the Madison for a short time one evening, but none of us caught anything there in the short time we fished. The best fishing we had inside Yellowstone was on Soda Butte Creek where we caught a bunch of cutthroats. We fished there the first evening as there were some mayflies and caddisflies beginning to emerge. We caught the cutthroats that night on dry flies, emerger and parachute patterns and the later it got the hotter the bite.
Let me insert a personal note here. One of my favorite websites is the Nebraska Fish and Game Association forum, http://www.nefga.org/forum/ . Their fishing forum is one of the best sources of Nebraska fishing information and fishing reports that I know. I have been privileged to meet many of the participants on that forum as well as many of their directors and moderators. One of those folks became a friend who had offered me lots of good advice. Roger was a gentleman who had done a lot to introduce folks to fishing, help them enjoy the sport and develop a greater appreciation for our fisheries resources. He was an asset to all Nebraska anglers and all of our fisheries resources. I knew before we left on our trip that Roger was battling cancer to the bitter end. He loved to fly-fish and often gave a little good-natured ribbing to those of us who chose to use other fishing gear. He had given me some furled leaders he made and before we left on our trip I sent him a card and promised to use the fly rod while I was in Montana, to use his furled leaders, and first fish I caught every day was for him. Unfortunately Roger passed before I got back home, and I am sorry I missed the memorial get-together that his family hosted. As I understand it the day he passed was the first day we fished on Soda Butte Creek. I imagine Roger might have been watching and grinning from ear to ear as he watched me whip the fly rod back and forth and somehow manage to catch a cuttie or two.
We fished Soda Butte one more afternoon for a short time before we left the park. There were no insects emerging at that time, but you could spot the cutthroats and still get them to bite if you drifted something into their feeding zone. My nephew was definitely the best at doing that.
We spent a little time fishing on the Yellowstone River one day, mostly where the Stillwater meets the Yellowstone. We did not catch a lot that day as we needed more time to settle in and catch some fish.
The rest of our time on the water we spent drifting the Bighorn River in my nephew’s drift boat. We spent 3 whole days drifting the upper stretch from the afterbay access to the Bighorn fishing access (i.e. 13-mile access). If you have never been to the Bighorn it is a world-class trout fishery. It is an incredibly productive tailwater fishery below Yellowtail Dam on the Bighorn River. There are literally thousands of trout per mile of that river, browns and rainbows with the browns out-numbering the rainbows. It is an unbelievable fishery; all you have to do is wade out and start looking and you will see trout. Trout will ease in below you to start feeding in the current break you create as you stand in the water.
You would think that in such a fishery the fishing would be easy. Well I have learned that even on the best waters there are times where you have to work to catch fish, and believe me the Bighorn is fished hard, very hard. The stretch of the Bighorn that we fished is restricted to artificial lures only, and those trout have seen every popular fly pattern drift by their noses many times. Many of those fish have been caught and released multiple times, so beside figuring out the fish, you have to be smarter than all the other anglers as well. On a previous trip we had done very well using crankbaits and we wanted to try that again especially for some of the bigger brown trout. One day that worked very well. The other two days on the ‘Horn it was “Africa-hot” and we worked to catch our fish.
We eventually decided that being versatile was the best way to catch fish. Shallow, rocky riffles were loaded with trout while we were there and we found that you could tempt some of those fish to ease up and suck a variety of grasshopper patterns off the surface. Believe me, there is nothing more exciting than watching those trout come up and do that. In between riffles, especially early and late on our trips we found that we could cherry-pick a few active fish by casting a variety of Rapala crankbaits in the deeper runs. My nephew would drift some small nymph patterns in some of the deeper riffles and runs and could pick up some fish doing that as well, but we decided the ‘hopper pattern/crankbait combo worked best for some bigger fish. The last hour or two on our last day we hammered fish using that 1-2 punch.
OK, I mentioned the one that got away. Late on a blistering hot afternoon on the second day we were drifting along and I was putting that hopper imitation into every likely looking spot along the shore. I made one cast and a big trout came up and slurped it in. I set the hook and missed the fish. That trout wanted the “hopper” real bad and it stayed there slurping and slurping for a hopper it just could not seem to find. After I missed the hookset I went right into a backcast and then plopped my hopper imitation right back on that trout. It ate it immediately! This time I got the hooks into it and started to fight it out into the current. It was a big rainbow, probably the biggest rainbow of the trip. As I am playing the fish, here comes a big clump of aquatic vegetation floating down the river and right around my line. The boys frantically tried to clear the vegetation with the oars and the landing net, but not before the big rainbow ran upstream, made one last spectacular jump and busted the line. Yes, I was disappointed to lose that fish, but it was so cool to do that, I felt pretty smart about it right up until I lost the fish.
If any of you are making a trip to Montana. My nephew is licensed as a guide and would show you a great trip on the Bighorn. If you are interested contact me and I can hook you up.
Lastly, let me share something “tongue-in-cheek” with you. I have often joked about stocking mountain lions, rattlesnakes, itch-mites, mosquitoes, ticks and wild hogs around my best fishing spots. I have also joked about having a top-secret facility where the mountain loins are raised. Well I stopped by there on the trip and checked out the latest “crop”. If you see any of these critters, you are probably in the vicinity of some good fishing! GO FISH!