Sunday, September 26, 2010

Terrestrials and Gulpers in Big Sky Country

Just over a week ago I found myself in West Yellowstone Montana to film two episodes of The New Fly Fisher.  We based ourselves out of the luxurious Hibernation Station a unique complex of log homes nestled right in West Yellowstone.

A few of the Cabins at the Hibernation Station
For me it was a dream come true to have the asphalt of West Yellowstone beneath my feet.  Within an hour’s drive of this small town located on the western approaches to Yellowstone National park are countless rivers and a number of renowned stillwaters.  Rivers such as the Gallatin where a River Runs Through It was filmed, the Firehole, Madison, Slough Creek even the famed Henry’s Fork drew mention on the town’s fly shop report boards.

The West Yellowstone region offers spectacular scenery
We spent the first two days of our adventure filming with fly fishing icon Bob Jacklin.  Bob has been based out of Montana for over 40 years and few know the nearby rivers as well as he does.  Bob’s store, Jacklin's Fly Shop is one of seven fly shops located within this beautiful small town.  It was an honor to share the water with Bob, his casting prowess alone was something to behold.

It was an honor to share the water and swap stories with Bob
The weather was during our stay was, for the most part, spectacular, cool in the morning and close to 70F in the afternoon.  The focus of our filming during the first portion of our trip was on fall terrestrial fishing.  Grasshoppers were active and during our first day’s filming we saw countless numbers drifting downstream.  Many disappeared in large confident rises.  My first Montana trout proved a dream sequence of sorts.  Bob directed me to crawl on my knees upstream to a large bend.  Camouflaged in the grass I dropped my hopper into the main flow that cut diagonally across the run and pushed against the far bank.  My hopper drifted all of three feet when a large set of lips poked through enveloping my hopper and dragging it below.  Fifteen minutes later, after a spirited battle, the 20-inch brown lay in the net ready to pose for the camera.  We admired and released the fish my only regret was not getting a still shot.  We did how ever get the entire take on film so you and I will both have to wait until the show is aired to see it.  During the day we also took other fish including good numbers of lager Rocky Mountain whitefish.  Typically bottom feeders the whitefish rose freely to hoppers.  Due to their under slung mouths their rises were splashy and clumsy.  Not the refined sip synonymous of a brown or rainbow.  I did well hanging my small Stillwater Baetis nymph below my hopper taking a number of good sized whitefish.

Bob releases a hopper caught Rocky Mountain whitefish

The next day Bob took us to the Madison where it flowed between Hebgen and Quake Lakes.  This stretch was what I expected the Madison to look like, not the gentle meadow stream section Bob had us on the day before.  Fishing was not as good but we still did OK.  We managed to film a number of casting and instructional segments.  I also made a point of turning over a number of the larger rocks in the riffles.  The number and size of the large Pteronarcys nymphs I found was staggering along with Hydropsyche caddis.  Some of the Pteronarcys nymphs were as long as my index finger!  It was easy to see why trout in the Madison and many of the other blue ribbon waters in the area are conditioned to look up.  The region is a dry fly fisher’s paradise.

Pteronarcys nymphs from the Madison
The best fishing took place in the afternoon and into the evening so this gave my cameraman Jeremy and I lots of time in the morning to shoot scenic footage and visit some of the area attractions.  Ironically, because we didn’t have permits to film we did not visit Yellowstone National Park.  We did however visit the Grizzly and Wolf Discovery Center.   As listed on their website the center’s mission, “Is to provide visitors to the Yellowstone area an opportunity to observe, learn and appreciate grizzly bears and gray wolves.”  We were able to film large grizzly bears and wolves in their large open area pens.  One of the center’s programs I found interesting was their bear proof container certification process. If a container can last 60-90 minutes in the bear enclosure it is considered certified.  During our visit we were shown a number beaten and battered containers that didn’t all pass muster.  Our visit was one of my personal highlights and I recommend anyone visiting West Yellowstone make time for a visit on their trip planner.  Both grizzly bears and wolves are likely to be seen during your stay and having an awareness of these impressive animals is highly recommended.  We saw a number of wolf and bear tracks along the river and one evening returning home we rounded the corner to see the large brown butt of a grizzly bear crashing through the woods to safety.

Grizzly bears abound in the West Yellowstone region
The second half of our stay saw us on Hebgen Lake targeting the gulping rainbow and brown trout this lake is famous for.  We based ourselves out of the Firehole Ranch for our two days filming.  Firehole Ranch managers Mark Parlett and his wife Kim were unbelievable hosts and Josh Duchateau our guide was a fellow stillwater addict like myself and just fun to be with.  Hebgen is known for its Callibaetis, chironomid, caddis and damsel emergences as are other lakes.  What makes Hebgen so special is the consistent dry fly fishing.  No where else I have fished have I seen fish up on top like on Hebgen.  If the wind wasn’t up pods of fish cruised the shallows ‘gulping’ Callibaetis spinners, duns, damsel adults and terrestrials.  As trout take your fly they make an audible gulp that is quite distinctive.  I did well using a simple winged foam ant casting both to the rise and in front of fish moving in a predictable rise pattern.  Josh took a number of quality fish using a damsel adult.  We didn’t hit Hebgen at its peak as the hatch was winding down and the wind always seemed to follow us.  August is apparently unreal and I am already making plans to return in 2011.  Perhaps even to do a stillwater seminar on Hebgen so if you are interested please let me know or stay tuned to my website and Facebook page.  Other world famous lakes in the region well worth a visit include Quake Lake and Island Park Reservoir and Henry’s Lake in nearby Idaho.

Our guide Josh with a 'gulper' brown from Hebgen Lake
If you ever have the opportunity to visit the West Yellowstone area, do it.  The only challenge would be not spending your entire time on one water or one section of that water.  I am looking at taking two weeks to explore the regions lakes and rivers and making sure I take the time to visit Yellowstone National Park.  Of course it wouldn’t be right not to wet a line in one of the park’s rivers and streams as well!

Yellowstone National Park is literally across the street from West Yellowstone
If you want to see additional images from my stay please visit my Montana album set up on both my personal Facebook page and The New Fly Fisher’s page.

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