Friday, May 10, 2013

Out West

I was just looking at the blog, and realized that it has been a little over a month since I last posted on here. I knew it had been a while, but I didn't think it had been that long. I also know that I haven't been online as much lately commenting on other blogs, which I still love to read. I'll try to do better, hopefully with summer coming I can spend a little more time reading and writing. There's plenty to blog about here lately, from spring turkey hunting to the garden, and hopefully there will be time for some smallmouth and trout fishing soon. I've got several posts planned, so hopefully this place won't feel so neglected. I'll also try to keep the spam comments cleaned up around here, it had gotten pretty ridiculous while I was away. In the meantime, I hope you enjoy this story about a fishing trip from several years back. As always, thanks for stopping by and reading my ramblings. 
- Joseph

I started this blog with the intentions of rambling about North Carolina outdoor experiences, and this is still the main focus but I decided to write about ramblings a little further west in this post. Several years ago, I had the opportunity to visit Jackson, Wyoming and see Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks. The aunt and uncle of one of my friends spend their summer in Jackson, WY volunteering at the Yellowstone Visitors Center, and they invited us to come spend some time with them fishing and exploring Yellowstone park. Of course, I couldn't make a trip like this without taking my fly rod along and fishing some of the famous water that I had heard so much about. I had just recently starting fly fishing at the time, so I threw the old familiar spinning rod in too as a backup. However, I only used the spinning rod once, and wound up fly fishing almost the entire trip. I think this experience helped solidify my interest in fly fishing, although I still have and occasionally use the very spinning rod that accompanied me on this trip.

Growing up in NC and having never traveled to the Rocky Mountains, I had no idea just how impressive they would be. My first look at the Tetons came when we landed at the Jackson Hole airport. I had no idea that mountains could be that high! This was when I began to realize that I was in a very different landscape than I was used to.
Fishing the Green River

My first experience fishing in Wyoming was at the Green River near Pinedale. This was a completely new experience to me, fishing a large river in the middle of a prairie setting. Where were the rhododendron and hemlocks that always seemed to catch my fly? I didn't catch any of the huge trout that my friend's uncle, who we were staying with, had sent pictures of before our trip. However, I did manage my very first trout outside of NC, a small brown that took a Royal Wulff. I remember that trout well, because it was my first western trout and I had actually tied the fly I caught it on. At that time, I had just began tying my own flies and I was worried that my flies wouldn't be good enough to catch fish, especially out west.

First Wyoming trout
This trout, and a few others, helped build my confidence that maybe I could catch a few trout on this trip. I also had the experience of catching a whitefish, something that I had never seen before. After fishing the Green, we headed back to the camper to plan our trip into Yellowstone Park in a few days. In the meantime, we decided to try fishing the Snake River below Jackson Lake dam to see if we could catch our first Snake River fine spotted cutthroat trout.
Snake River

The Snake River was the next place I fished in Wyoming, and I will never forget the experience. As we were fishing, I witnessed a bald eagle fighting with an osprey over a very nice trout. That aerial battle distracted me from the fishing for several minutes, with the end result being the trout was dropped in the water and both birds went fishless. This alone would have made the day for me, but there were trout rising and I had to figure out how to catch one! Catching a cutthroat was one of my main fishing goals on this trip, because I knew it was possibly (hopefully not) a once-in-a-lifetime chance. Finally, I had some success fishing with an elk hair caddis. I missed a nice trout, and then a few casts later I had my very first cutthroat! It wasn't very big, but it was a Snake River cutthroat trout, and that made it a trophy worth remembering.
Snake River Cutthroat Trout

After the Snake, it was on to Yellowstone! As much as I love fishing, I only fished about half of the days we spent in the park. The scenery was just too much to miss. Elk, buffalo, and deer were everywhere, and we even got the opportunity to see wolves from a distance one evening in the Lamar valley. We saw all the major sights while we were there - Old Faithful, the Old Faithful Inn, Mammoth Hot Springs, the West Thumb area of Yellowstone Lake, and more mud pots, fumaroles, hot springs, and geysers than I can recall the names of.  I have tons of pictures of the park, but since this blog is focused on hunting and fishing, I will spare you most of the pictures of geysers, waterfalls, canyons, and critters. However, I can't help but include a few before I talk about fishing in the park.

We have arrived!

Local Traffic
Upper Falls and the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River

Old Faithful 

When we explored the area around Yellowstone Lake, one interesting feature I saw was what is known as the Fishing Cone. There are geothermal features all over Yellowstone, and this one was basically a hot spring inside a cone in the edge of the lake. According to the information sign, in the old days fishermen would cook the trout they caught in the lake by simply dropping them into the boiling water in the spring! Of course this has not been allowed for many years, and I'm pretty sure that all cutthroat trout are catch-and-release only in the park now, but it could be an interesting solution to the lake trout problem in Yellowstone Lake!  

The Fishing Cone - Yellowstone Lake

After sightseeing around the park, we decided to do some fishing. I don't know about now but at the time a 3 day Yellowstone Park fishing license was $15, which seemed like a bargain compared to most out of state licenses! We started off fishing the Madison River inside the park, but were skunked. I saw fish, and I saw some very nice ones, but I couldn't figure out what they wanted to eat that day. After giving the Madison a try, we moved on to Soda Butte Creek to try for some Yellowstone cutthroat trout. This was a little more like what I was used to, a small stream with eager trout. 

First Yellowstone Cutthroat
We were able to catch several cutthroats in Soda Butte, and they reminded me of the wild trout in our mountains. They didn't seem too selective about fly pattern, but they were cautious and spooked if you got too close or made a sloppy presentation. I was thrilled to be there, catching a new species (and subspecies) of trout, and in Yellowstone! In fact, I was so focused on the fishing then that I didn't notice I had company until my friend's uncle showed me this picture that he made while I was fishing.

I'm ashamed to admit I didn't see this deer
I'm just glad that it was a deer and not a grizzly! This trip was one of the highlights of my fishing career, and I tell my wife often (probably more often than she wants to hear) that we need to take a trip back out west so she can see the incredible sights (and I can fish!). I have no plans to ever move away from North Carolina, but I do think that anyone who has not been to Yellowstone or the Rocky Mountain west owes it to themselves to see it at least once in their life. If you are like me, once will not be enough!

Thanks for stopping by!

- Joseph