Tuesday, 21 July 2015

(Near) Perfection - USA 2015

If I could create the perfect day of fly fishing it would go a little like the day I describe here. I was following up on the last of Norm's tips, still roaming in Wyoming. My destination was the head of a long valley where the mountains finally came together and brought an abrupt end to the gravel road I was driving on. I doubt I would have come by the place if it wasn't for Norm. I parked my car at the end of the road and followed a trail for about a mile, skirting a fence and private ranch. The fence ended along with all other sign of humans and National Forest - with open fishing access - extended for mile upon mile up the remote valley. The day, a Sunday, was hot but a gentle breeze added some relief from the heat. Being a weekend day I expected to see more fishermen but I encountered only one. I guess the lack of road side access and the short hike in puts off the lazy legion. I contrasted this pleasing isolation with a fork of the same river in the next valley over. That fork has a road running all the way along it and cars were parked in most of the pull out areas and fishermen crowded the water.

I pause from describing my near perfect day of fly fishing - in keeping with my American fishing experiences the only other angler arrived after me and jumped into the water about 100 metres upstream. I reeled in when I was finished with my pool, having caught three brown trout and two whitefish from it on a stonefly nymph, and stepped out of the river to overtake the rude chap. I was there first and had right of way, and I sure as hell was not going to take his sloppy seconds all day. As I approached him he left the water and briskly started to walk upriver, leaving untouched some pretty good looking pools while stealing furtive glances at me over his shoulder. It became apparent he was trying to stay ahead of me! I resolved not to lose this war of will and we both trudged on for some way, eventually seizing the advantage when I cut across a wide bend after he made the mistake of following it. I left him trailing in my dust and was tempted to yell out 'sucker!' or something to that effect but thought better of it. I did the polite thing - I kept on walking and left him a lot of water to fish, but I also did it to reduce the chance of him catching up to me. I never saw him, or any other person, for the rest of the day.

Looking back down the valley towards civilisation

I'd set up my tent at a nearby camp ground the night before. Grizzlies were meant to be in the area but I had a peaceful enough sleep with my bear spray within reach. I didn't pause to think how I'd get at the spray from deep within the folds of my snug sleeping bag if a bear were to attack my tent. It takes quite an effort to unzip my sleeping bag when the hood's drawstring has been pulled tight to leave the cold out and only a slit to breathe. When I was some way up the valley I heard an unseen animal move in a thicket. I made noise and moved on swiftly. Some hours later as I was making my way back down the valley I again heard a rustling sound from the same thicket. This time I noticed two detached deer legs with the fur and meat still on them very nearby. Grizzlies are meant to be very unpredictable around animal carcasses and I quickened my pace without stopping to investigate why there were loose animal parts about. Later that night after I had settled in to my tent to sleep I heard an animal cracking twigs beneath its feet while it moved nearby. My torch beam hardly penetrated into the then eerily quiet woods. I took no chances and slept in the car, even though it was probably just an elk.

Back to the fishing, trout were eager to take a nymph and for much of the morning I caught brown trout of a very good average size. Any drop off where the water darkened in colour to an opaque green could be relied upon to cause my indicator to dip below the water, although not every take resulted in a solid hook up.

I swear I caught the same cutthroat trout within a matter of about five hours separating events. The fish was caught from the exact same lie each time and was very strikingly coloured in hues of yellow and pumpkin orange. It was the only cutthroat I caught that day, albeit twice, when I was expecting to encounter more. I later learned a huge flood in the valley some years ago decimated the cutthroat population but strangely had much less of an effect on the browns. The cutthroat took a Parachute Adams second time round, when a hatch of grey drakes had the fish looking up.

With the dry fly accounting for several fish in the late afternoon this day started to tick almost all the boxes. It was made complete when I caught the final fish on a streamer. The best was saved for last. I vividly recall the spike of adrenalin which surged through my body when the trout hit my streamer with a ferocity I have never witnessed from a trout before. It moved out from a drop off downstream of me with such furious speed that when it hit my fly I actually got a huge fright. It tore away in the fast current and I followed it gingerly down the rocky bank, praying for my tippet to hold. I only truly appreciated its size when I saw it in the net.

I will savour this day in the knowledge that it will take some beating. The scenery, the solitude, the quality of the fish caught, their willingness to attack a fly and the exhilaration of hooking and netting the last fish, the best of them all, made it a heady mix.

I played around with my camera that evening, making use of the evening light as the sun set over the ranches of the lower valley.

For anyone from South Africa, there's something of the Drakensberg in those mountains, isn't there?

Thursday, 16 July 2015

Wyoming Cutt Slam - USA 2015

I spent just over a month travelling around Montana, fishing its big, famous rivers. Rivers I had grown up reading about and couldn't miss even though most of them were much larger than any river I had fished before. It took some getting used to, but even then it was fun and rewarding. I've banked enough fishing memories from Montana alone to last a life time. Wyoming arguably doesn't have rivers quite matching up to the worldwide fame of those in its neighbouring state. I guess that could be a good or a bad thing depending on which way you look at it. The place is still a trout Mecca for sure, with trout rivers, fishermen and fly shops a dime a dozen, but that lack of an elite set of blue ribbon waters allowed me to approach Wyoming a little differently. I decided to focus on the smaller creeks and to give my 3 weight rod an airing after it was mostly left in its tube in Montana. At the same time I thought it would be pretty fun to attempt the "Wyoming Cutt Slam" - the aim of which is to catch four of Wyoming's cutthroat subspecies from their native ranges.

I should also point out that Wyoming's access laws are nothing like the open access residents and visitors to Montana enjoy. Private land means private in Wyoming. To fish the rivers of Wyoming public land needs to be sought out - National Forest areas are a good place to start - and you cannot stray from them onto private land unless you're in a boat and even then you're not permitted to drop anchor or leave the boat.

After a brief trip to Denver, Colorado to swap hire cars I returned to Wyoming in the south east corner of the state with the North Platte River my goal. This is one of Wyoming's world famous trout rivers but one look at it - high and flowing fast - made me decide to fish one of its tributaries instead. I may yet get back to the North Platte a little later this month or next when it should be lower. I camped out on the banks of this tributary and fished it over two days, catching browns and rainbows. This part of Wyoming is semi arid desert, very similar in appearance to the Karoo of home, and it was somewhat different catching trout amongst that scenery and prickly cacti. Garter snakes lined the trail next to the river and I wondered if there were rattlesnakes about. It was at the camp site that I met a great character, a man in his sixties from Kansas who used to be known as Norman but now goes by Norm. He shortened his name when he gave up his old life and material things, telling me Norman is far too boring a name. We drank red wine from camping mugs while Norm told me about his life, his lost love, his many nomadic travels and his happiness. Two kindred spirits with the same passion for fly fishing and travel wanderlust. He told me more than once that he threw a snowball at a monkey in Morocco, and I could imagine his transformation from staid research scientist to thrower of snowballs at monkeys. Norm's eyes lit up when he spoke, his earring probably acquired at the same time he lost two letters from his name. Norm is in the process of writing a book about his life and I will look out for it. I fetched out my map of Wyoming and Norm circled the rivers and creeks where I could achieve the Cutt Slam. Without this info I would have been a little lost.

Back to the Cutt Slam. Wyoming used to have six subspecies of cutthroat trout but the greenback subspecies is now extinct in the state. The westslope cutthroat, the same subspecies I had caught in Montana, is found only in a very small part of Yellowstone National Park, in the north west tip of the state, and doesn't count towards the slam. The slam is made up of the Yellowstone cutthroat (which I had already caught within the state in Yellowstone National Park), Bonneville cutthroat, Snake River cutthroat and Colorado River cutthroat. At some stage in the past these fish diverged from a common ancestor, separated by high mountains and different catchments. Divergent evolution my sister was quick to tell me, using her just completed school biology knowledge. With this evidence before my eyes I listened with interest to a radio sermon denouncing evolution on one of Wyoming's long, straight roads. The chap doing the eloquent speaking proclaimed the world was only something like 5,000 years old and that the Grand Canyon was scoured in a single day by some biblical flood. If you can't pick up any decent music radio stations in Wyoming you can be sure to find religious or country music stations. Sometimes you just need some noise in the background on those long open roads and can't be fussy.

To seek out the trout you have to have an idea of their different catchments, some headwaters separated only by a few miles as the crow flies but hundreds of miles by roads around the mountains. Here are the results - the three subspecies I needed were caught in three days.

Bonneville Cutthroat

I drove into Bonneville cutthroat country in the far south west of the state where Utah and Idaho meet Wyoming. Bonneville cutthroats are the state fish of Utah.

Idaho to the left, Wyoming to the right, Bonnevilles ahead!

At first I tried dries and nymphs but only had interest from these chub looking fish.

 I switched to a streamer and soon had my first Bonneville within a matter of three casts.

These fish couldn't resist my streamer. I later read on Wikipedia that Bonneville cutthroats primarily eat other fish and it all made sense then.

Snake River Cutthroats

I pushed on north, following the western edge of the state into the Snake River drainage. I took a dirt road into the forest for 11 miles and fished a small canyon section of a beautiful river. At first I struggled through a very 'trouty' looking stretch with only one small cutthroat to show for it, but an osprey's nest perched on a dead pine tree leaning precariously over the river probably explained that.

Again, it was the same streamer that accounted for all the fish that day. Streamers have allowed me to fish water I would normally have passed up. I caught the best fish of the day from a deep depression formed by rapids.

This subspecies is characterised by fine spotting, and some people refer to them as 'fine-spotted' cutthroat.

Colorado River Cutthroat

I crossed another mountain divide into the centre of the state and the Colorado River system. I initially planned to fish a little creek only for a day but I found the going tough and only caught one cutthroat (and three brook trout).

The fish that sealed the slam

With that solitary cutthroat I had achieved the slam but I couldn't help feeling I hadn't seen the best of this creek so I set up my tent on its banks and stayed the night. It hadn't helped that I'd hooked and lost what appeared to be a brute of a 20 inch cutthroat which took a streamer stripped past an undercut. I'm glad I stayed and fished the river again the next morning.

It had rained overnight and again in the cold morning as I lay wrapped in my sleeping bag. When the rain passed I cleared camp and hit the river. I caught a few typical looking Colorado cutthroats but then caught a much larger fish, around 16 to 17 inches, which looked like no other cutthroat I've seen. Curious.

I didn't think I would beat that fish that morning but I did! Rain started to pelt down and at the same time a hatch of small mayflies started to emerge. I missed several fish on a dry fly and just as I felt like calling it quits I decided to fish through one final pool. I flicked out a Parachute Adams, a nothing cast as the strong wind practically put the fly at my feet, but I let it drift past a boulder with some deep water behind it and to my surprise it was sipped in incredibly gently by a large fish. After a few days of fishing with a streamer, it was pleasing that the largest fish of them all took a dry fly - and this single act alone probably saved me from becoming too much of a streamer junkie! I reckon this fish tipped in at 20 inches. I took one quick snap while it was in the net, then set up my self timer for a 'trophy shot'. The result speaks for itself... the fish hit the water and darted away under the nearest undercut. Typical.

The Parachute Adams in its lip gives an indication of the fish's size

I now qualify for a colour certificate from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department proclaiming my slam achievement but I doubt I will send away for it. I'm happy just knowing I tempted Wyoming's cutthroat trout from their native ranges and learned something about them in the process.

There's still one or two of Norm's recommendations to fish through before I'm done in Wyoming.

Friday, 10 July 2015

In the Shadow of the Tetons - USA 2015

When I was in Seoul earlier this year I stopped in at an American bar for a beer and got talking to a professional photographer from Jackson, Wyoming. He pulled out his phone and showed me some of his work. Out of the many great images he'd taken one in particular stood out, a moody monochrome shot of an impressive mountain range. This guy was well travelled and I guessed the Andes in South America. "Nah, those are the Tetons, five minutes from my home". I'd never heard of them or seen images of them before but I made a mental note to see them with my own eyes when I got to the U.S. 

Some months later I drove past this spectacular range on the way out of Yellowstone National Park. This was still in Wyoming where the east slope of the mountains put on their most impressive face. Their snow-capped peaks dominate the land for as far as the eye can see and act as a boundary between Wyoming and Idaho. A few days later I was in Idaho on the west side of the range. I fished a creek in the shadow of the Tetons and caught my first trout from Idaho.

Wednesday, 8 July 2015

Montana Rodsmiths

I was far up a tributary of the Big Hole River, completely lost in my thoughts, when I felt the presence of eyes on me. I hadn't seen another living thing (besides several fish) for a couple of hours and I quickly scanned the pine trees. As my eyes settled on a large shape I involuntarily swore from fright like a little girl. A very large dog, almost white, stood stock still and stared at me with intensely dark, baleful eyes. We stood frozen in time for seconds just staring at each other and then he started to bark, deep sounds echoing up from his enormous frame. I shouted something, fearing a charge, and he ran off into the woods and I was able to let out a sigh of relief. I was done fishing and followed the river downstream and eventually came across the dog's owner. We chatted for a while and when I mentioned I'd just split one of the sections of my rod he offered to fix it for me gratis. It was one of those chance meetings when you know the stars are aligned. I'd just met Zac Sexton, rod maker, part owner of Montana Rodsmiths, video maker and fly fishing guide. A couple of hours later I was at Zac's home in Butte, having a beer, talking long into the night about fly fishing and had a spot on his couch for the night. By then me and the dog - Chetco, a Golden Retriever/Kuvasz cross - were on friendlier terms and in the depths of the night I woke to find Chetco snuggled up on the couch next to me like we were old pals.

While Zac kept hold of my rod so he could fix it, he gave me two of his hand made Montana Rodsmiths rods to use in the meantime and I disappeared back into the mountains with them and my tent. I have to say, both rods performed exceptionally well. His 7' 4 weight was ideal for a little, bushed-in creek I fished. A slow to medium action rod, it was light and presented dry flies well and was responsive at the time of the strike. The other rod, a 9' 6 weight, was used to cast dry flies to hungry grayling for a couple of hours in breezy conditions and the rod performed beautifully, turning over tight loops at distance in the wind. I was impressed by both rods and the quality of their build and finishing. Those who have read my blog for a while will know that I don't endorse products and that there is nothing commercial about my blog at all. So I hope this in some way supports my independent view that these were decent rods and are definitely worth a look at if you're in the market for a new one. At the same time, you will be supporting a small independent business with an enthusiastic and passionate owner, which to my mind beats jumping on board the bus with the mass produced big boys. Get in touch with Zac about specific tapers and personalisation and you will find him in his element.

I especially appreciated the effort that went into their unique rod tubes made of "beetle-killed blued pine", milled by local families. It was a beautiful piece of work and a lovely place to keep a fly rod when not in use.

Here are the links to Zac's rod making business and video site:

Montana Rodsmiths

Fish Whispering TV

Monday, 6 July 2015

The River Beat gets a Facebook page

If you use Facebook feel free to check out this blog's brand new page here. If the mood takes you hit the 'like' button and that way you will be notified of new blog posts without having to check in here for updates. I also intend to post up pictures of trips and events which may not have made the cut for the blog and any interesting fly fishing videos and links I come across. This blog will remain my main outlet though, and a Facebook page will likely be as high tech/down with it as it will ever get!

Sunday, 5 July 2015

Henry's Fork - USA 2015

I'm going to go out on a limb and declare the world's most famous trout river to be the Henry's Fork of the Snake River in Idaho. There can't be many fly fishermen who have not heard of it. There are other contenders of course and in the end it's a bit like trying to decide which of Manchester United and Real Madrid is the more recognisable football team. Henry's Fork is steeped in lore and the Railroad Ranch section, or just "the Ranch" as it's known to locals, is its most famous and challenging. References to this section of water abound in angling literature. Here the fish grow big and they do it by outwitting anglers through their ultra selectivity and talent for spotting drag. My guide book describes the experience as "graduate school fishing for Ph.D. trout" and I couldn't pass by and not accept that challenge.

 I fished the Ranch for a day and an evening and boy, I can confirm it is tough! The weather was hot and the skies were bright and those are probably the toughest conditions to fish in. As a result, the best fishing, when things started to happen, was in the cool evenings as dusk settled in. Trout rose as the skies darkened but even then were difficult to tempt. During the heat of the day I saw no rises and when my team of nymphs drew no interest I sat on the treeless banks and waited for the evening, snoozing through the hottest part of the day when the river banks were eerily quiet and devoid of anglers.

I got skunked on that first evening. I had about four small fish snatch at my dry fly but none were hooked. I saw two large trout in the eighteen to twenty inch range feeding on the surface but both melted away and disappeared after my fly drifted over them the third time. Both banks were lined with fishermen and women and I didn't notice much action from them either. "It's a good place to be taught a fishing lesson" said one. "I'm off somewhere else where I can actually catch a fish" said another.

It's a huge river through the Ranch section, where it contours through a vast meadow, but in most places the river is shallow enough to wade across. The meadow setting, with hills to the west, makes it an attractive place and wild flowers along the banks add to its charm. Gulls appeared en masse in the early afternoon to snatch mayflies from the air. It was still too early for the trout to show an interest but it was a sign of things to come.

After that first evening I promised to hit the river early the next morning but I slept in and enjoyed a few cups of coffee at my camp site in the trees while I finished a gripping novel. I arrived at the river just before 11am, when there were still a good few fishermen about, but most were finishing up and making their way back to their cars. I felt a little guilty about my lazy morning but I soon began to feel better about it when the general consensus from the fishermen I passed was one of frustration. "There's just no bugs" said one. "I've been here since 7am and had one take which I missed, that's it." I started to feel quite glad about those extra few hours of sleep and then reaching the climax of my novel.

I hadn't seen a single rise since I had arrived so I tied on two small nymphs and fished them unsuccessfully for a while. One of the river's old boys passed me and we got speaking. He told me he fishes this section of the river every day and I told him how lucky was he was to do so. "It has been tough" he said, "there just ain't any bugs for them to rise to, but don't worry they're there feeding sub surface." I agreed and said "yes that's why I've tied on two nymphs" which I showed to him, hoping with all his experience he'd tell me if I had the appropriate patterns on my line. He looked at me in horror and disgustedly exclaimed "Nymphs! This is dry fly only to rising fish here!" He turned his back on me dismissively, the conversation over while I tried to ask him when last he'd seen a fish rise and I heard him mutter as he walked away "we don't fish nymphs here." Had I just encountered Frederic Halford's ghost? Of course there is no such regulation - it's fly fishing only but you can use any fly you want - and the way I see it, it's a bit like religion. You're free to follow any religion you want but don't preach it to me or get angry if I don't follow suit.

It's a good thing the old boy wasn't around to see me fish a streamer later that day. Dries and nymphs had not worked so I figured why not. I cast out a black and purple sculpin and on it's first retrieve, strip, strip, strip, it was smashed by a very large fish. I saw its tail leave the water and smash down on the surface causing a large splash of broken water. My heart raced. This was one of the Ranch's big fish. And then... nothing... my fly had broken off and I exhaled a great breath of air which I had unknowingly been holding in. That was my one chance and it was missed.  A little part of me, admittedly only a tiny speck, was grateful that I wouldn't have to explain to the old boys that I had caught one of their prized denizens with a lowly streamer!

I waited out the heat of the day, fearful that I would leave the Henry's Fork without a fish to show for my time on this famed water but as the evening wore on, I finally hooked one of the little guys which had for the past hour been snapping fruitlessly at my dry fly. As it came into the safety of my net I breathed out a sigh of relief - I'd finally caught a trout from the Railroad Ranch and I didn't care what size it was! And the old boys who frequent this river could look on with approval and be satisfied that it had taken a dry fly.

Yellowstone National Park - USA 2015

Visiting Yellowstone National Park was a lifelong dream come true. The world's first national park is gorgeous. I caught it at a time when the meadows and hills were awash in spring flowers and newborn cubs, fawns and calves were shadows to their mothers - my favourite time of year.

I did the full on touristy thing, stopping along the way to see Old Faithful geyser, the Fishing Bridge and the breathtaking Yellowstone canyon where spray from the thunderous falls formed permanent rivulets on the steep canyon walls. Each part of the park was distinct from the other, the landscape changing subtly from snow covered mountains and cliffs to forested hills, river canyon, open grasslands where vast herds of bison grazed and semi-arid desert.

The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone

Old Faithful erupting on schedule

I kept my eyes peeled for wildlife and saw black bears, bison, elk sporting impressive antlers, pronghorns and deer with spotted fawns. I saw an osprey plunge into a river and emerge with a fish in its talons. I was even lucky enough to see a wolverine on a hiking track. It stood guard over two dead ground squirrels and looked at me ferociously, flattening itself with its hair standing on end, before deciding I was bigger and uglier and it ran off into the grass leaving its meal behind. My only regret was not seeing a Grizzly. I hadn't quite worked out if I actually wanted to have an encounter with one when out hiking. As per the park's recommendations I made plenty of noise when I was alone on a trail - whistling, singing and talking to myself. As I was leaving I met a hiker who said he'd had many Grizzly encounters over the years and with a wink and gleam in his eye he said "we all pay the same price when our time comes. It's about the experience before we go right? You can make plenty of noise and see nothing or make no noise and be prepared to use your bear spray. Just watch out for the sows with two or three cubs in their second year because then you will need three or four bursts of bear spray, so use it sparingly." I nodded along as though a kindred spirit/daredevil but silently promised to keep up my whistling/singing routine when out on the trail.

I was staggered by the amount of traffic and people in the park. The roads were busy, at times many tens of cars moving along in convoy. Securing a camp site proved to be a lottery. You cannot make advance reservations and sites go on a first come, first serve basis. Some of the camp grounds had 'full' signs up by 8am. I was told some of the most popular are full by 6am. My plan was originally to drive and fish and explore and only find a spot at the nearest camp site at the end of each day, but this nomadic approach couldn't work. I realised this when I casually arrived at the park just after 4pm on the first day and the lady in the entrance booth asked me where I intended to sleep. 'In one of your camp grounds' I replied. 'Well, they're all full, you need to get here much earlier' was her reply. Twice I had to leave the park and find alternative accommodation because I couldn't secure a camp site in time. So I ended up block booking a couple of nights at two sites when I got my foot in and used them as a base from which to see the park and explore the local rivers. To my mind the best way to explore the park is by foot. I saw surprisingly few other people on the trails and the number of fishermen dwindled the further I walked. If you don't hike or fish in the park, you'd have to get used to sitting in traffic and I don't see the fun in that at all.

I arrived at the park early the next morning and after passing a few camp grounds with 'full' signs on display I eventually found a nice, private little spot at Indian Creek. This camp ground is at the confluence of three rivers so I snapped it up and after setting up my tent I walked to the largest of the three, the Gardner River, skirting two large bison bulls along the way. I was very quickly netting a little brook trout, and the fun didn't cease for the rest of the day. I usually get a little bored after about twenty fish but this was Yellowstone and I had an itch to keep going and see what was around each new bend of the river. I caught something like sixty brook trout by the time I decided to turn around and head back to camp. A pink 'Chubby Chernobyl' accounted for at least 50 of them.

The next day I fished the Gibbon River. At first I fished above the falls where the river follows a serpentine course through lush green meadows and I caught more brook trout and a handful of rainbows. I moved below the falls and started to catch brown trout. Some measured 12 inches and then from a small, swirling pool between two tree logs I hooked a monster brown of about 18 inches which simply ran off under the downstream log and broke me off. I made a schoolboy error when I forgot to pack mosquito spray. As soon as I hit the trees mosquitoes attacked in a swarm and I had to beat a hasty retreat. If I slowed down, say to cross a fallen tree or sip some water, they would nail me. I drove some way downstream, doused myself liberally with mosquito spray, and when I stepped into the river was surprised to feel the temperature hot to the skin. A few metres away hot water bubbled out of the ground, a reminder that I was standing within the caldera of one of the biggest volcanoes on the planet. I stayed for a while and gave my tired feet a good soaking in the hot water.

I moved on to the north west section of the park the following day, but not before I missed a turn which took me an hour out of my way and over a mountain pass before I noticed. Not surprisingly when I got to the intended section of the park by midday the local camp grounds were full so I was faced with two choices: either drive back into the park and hope to find another another camp site, which was unlikely, or drive the shorter distance to the nearest exit where several other National Forest camp grounds are located. A leaflet given to me when I entered the park listed these camp grounds and confirmed that all of them accommodated tents. I stopped at the first three outside the park but was frustrated to see prominent 'no tents' signs on display at all of them. I had to check in to a motel and it was only then that I heard the grisly reason for tents being disallowed at the local sites - in 2010 a lone, sleeping camper was dragged 25 feet out of his tent and killed by a Grizzly bear. I was suddenly very happy to pay the extra sum for a night in a motel and forego a night in my tent! That evening I drove back into the park and fished a section of the Soda Butte River and caught my first Yellowstone cutthroat trout (and my first trout on a streamer!). These were beautiful fish with especially bold colours on their jaws and gill plates.

This was just the start of my flirtation with the Yellowstone cutthroat species as the north west region of the park is their stronghold. It felt more appropriate and rewarding to catch native trout within the park rather than the introduced lot. I caught several more from famous Slough Creek (which Americans somehow contrive to pronounce 'Slew Creek') on a day when the fish were in a mood to take the fly. Half were caught on a dry and the other half on an olive woolly bugger stripped through the deeper pools (it hadn't taken me very long at all to grow quite partial to the streamer). I walked five miles in to the river through some stunning meadow scenery and only saw two other hikers all day. That is, until I fished through a bend in the river later in the day and saw two fly fishermen jumping in the water just ahead of me. I reeled in angrily and approached them and shouted across the river to them 'It's a big river isn't it?' It was incorrectly interpreted in a positive way because I received a cheery reply of 'It sure is'. 'So why did you decide to jump in right in front of me?' I shot back. I let my anger get the better of me. Usually I don't seek confrontation when fishing. I fish to relax. But this wasn't the first time it has happened in the US and I guess these two just happened to present themselves as the final straw. One of them was good enough to apologise so they weren't bad people. It was 3pm and I figured I'd had enough for one day anyway and I still had in mind the five to six mile hike back out. As I stormed off, feeling a little better at having vented and shown the two the error in their way, I unceremoniously disappeared down some creature's hole in the ground, unseen in the tall grass, leaving only my rod showing above ground. With some effort I crawled out as they watched from the other bank losing all sense of any shallow victory. I slinked away without looking back.

Still, it was a great day, taking in the park on foot, catching willing cutthroat and seeing very few people. I wanted to repeat the experience so the following day I hiked out to Cache Creek, having to depart from the trail to circumvent bison a few times, and fished it down to its confluence with the Lamar which I fished too for a short while. Again it was a day of fine weather and willing cutthroat, only spoiled slightly by the number of biting flies in this valley. Luckily I had packed my buff so my neck, face and ears were covered but my exposed hands got chowed. Bug spray seemed to have no effect on these flies. Their bites could be felt and itched for several days, leaving large pink welts on my hands.

Following a Pronghorn into the Lamar Valley

All in all, the park exceeded my expectations. It was an amazing experience and I can see why many of the people I met in the park have returned several times. I'd love to return again some day and make it my mission to see a Grizzly and the park's wolves. The fishing experience was made even better for being in a truly wild place with the threat of danger and even death constantly lurking at the back of the mind. Unforgettable!