Our trip from Bozeman to Anchorage via Seattle on Day 1 of our trip went off without a hitch.  Flights on time…. clear skies… soft landings… and spectacular views, especially as we approached Anchorage (pic 1).  We even got a glimpse of Denali in the distance.  What was amazing is at 10:30pm, when we arrived at our hotel, it was still daylight, and stayed that way until 11pm.  

We planned Day 2 of our Alaska adventure as a “get acclimated” day in Anchorage.  Travel days when you fly for 6 hours and have a 3 hour connection in Seattle are exhausting…. not to mention the two hour time difference from Bozeman.  We also needed to pick up a few things and headed to a local store to grab some essentials like waterproofing spray for our boots and head nets for mosquitos and no-see-ems (pic 2).  

After waterproofing our hiking boots (we’re expecting a bit… no no… a lot of rain) we headed to downtown Anchorage for a trolley tour and some sightseeing.  The trolley tour was actually a hoot.  Our guide/driver was a former Miss Anchorage and had her own live variety show in Anchorage.  She also won $10,000 from America’s Funniest Videos a few years back.  We learned a lot about Anchorage and laughed a lot!  We enjoyed the “forecast” board (pic 3)we encountered highlighting a sunny day for 18 hours!  This was a ‘hot” day for Anchorage, but again, we’ve looked at the forecast and have our rain gear ready.  

Anchorage bills itself as the “Air Crossroads of the World” as you can see from their sign downtown (pic 4).  It also boasts the largest concentration of single engine aircraft in the world.  We found out that Anchorage high school students actually study flying starting at 14, do their first solo flights at 16 and by 18 are carrying passengers.  Day 3 is going to find us on both a single engine plane and a float plane as well.  We’ll share more about that experience next week.

When we asked people where we should eat in Anchorage, the one recommendation that kept coming up time after time was the Moose’s Tooth Pub and Pizzeria…. so off to dinner we went!  They brew their own beer under the Broken Tooth Brewing label (pic 5)…. and of course, we sampled some of their selections.  We can now add our names to the chorus who recommend this place for beer and pizza.  

We walked over 4 miles on Day 2 getting to know Anchorage…. and walking off dinner.  Ready for a good night’s sleep and the adventures that await on Day 3…. Lake Illiamna Air Taxi here we come!

 

When we started out on this three year “River Ramble” to fish the Trout Unlimited’s Guide to America’s Top 100 Trout Streams, we knew we were saving the five rivers in Alaska for last.  The other 95 were “easy” in comparison, as we were able to drive to every one of them.  Alaska posed a bit of a different problem as you can see from our cover photo for this post.  We have to fly, on float planes, to get to several of these last 5 rivers.  So on Friday (July 20), instead of firing up the SaraLinda and heading out, we are headed to Bozeman-Yellowstone International Airport and heading north for “30 Days in Alaska”.  

We’ve been advised by all the places we’re staying in Alaska to bring the usual…. rods/reels, waders/boots, polarized sunglasses, fav fishing hat, comfy clothes and necessary meds/toiletries.  Additionally, we were told to bring…. a mosquito net for our heads, 95% DEET bug spray and, of course, we’ll have bear spray with us.  While our guides will likely be packing heat, we’ll definitely be packing bear spray.   

As we’ve been planning our trip, we got out the maps to see just exactly where we’re going.  Alaska is our largest state in land mass and our most sparsely populated.  As you can see from the map (pic 1 above), it’s bordered by two Canadian provinces to the east (British Columbia & The Yukon), the Arctic Ocean to the north, the Pacific Ocean to the south, and to the west, it shares a maritime border in the Bering Sea with Russia.  Remote seems an appropriate description.  But it’s also the home of our highest peak, Denali, and some of the most breathtaking scenery and wildlife on the planet.  While it’s definitely a fishing destination of anglers around the world, “It’s Not About the Fish” applies here as well.  

We’re really breaking up our time in Alaska into 4 segments (pic 2 above), each with its own unique character.  After a short stop in Anchorage, we’re off to Intricate Bay on Lake Illiamna for a week of fishing in which we’ll check off two of the five rivers, the Alagnak and the Copper.  But just to get to fish these two rivers, it requires a “normal” plane ride from Anchorage to Illiamna airport followed by a float plane (pic 3) to get to our lodge at Intricate Bay.  Fishing the Copper River will be easy as the lodge is located near where the Copper flows into Lake Illiamna.  The Alagnak is more of a challenge… aka… a float plane once again to get there.  You’ll also notice on the picture, Katmai National Park and Preserve (Brooks Falls in particular, see pic 4), which we’ve been told is a “must see”, along with yet another float plane trip to get there.  You can see why the SaraLinda just wasn’t an option.   

Segment two is all about sightseeing (along with a little fishing of course) along the road between Cooper Landing and Denali National Park and Preserve.  After we get back from the Katmai/Lake Illiamna area, we’re back to Anchorage, then driving down to Cooper Landing to fish the Russian River (one of the Alaska 5) and do some sightseeing in Seward.   Then it’s back through Anchorage and up to Talkeetna, which began as an Alaska Railroad town.  It’s also a “basecamp” area for exploring Denail and fishing a creek that was recommended to us, Montana Creek.  Yes, we’re definitely fishing MORE than just the five TU Top 100 trout streams in AK.   Then we’re off to Denali National Park and Preserve for a full day of sightseeing.  We’re keeping our fingers crossed the weather will be good and we can actually SEE the mountaintop.  After Denail, it’s back to Anchorage for…..

…. Segment three, which requires a flight from Anchorage to the small town of Bethel, another flight to the even smaller native village of Quinhagak and finally, a 30 minute boat ride up the Kanektok River to our next basecamp at Alaska West (pic 5).  So far, we’ll have been staying in a room, with four solid walls, but not at Alaska West.  Here, we are staying in “tents”, with floors, but basically canvas stretched over a frame that has two single beds inside, a lantern and that’s about it.  The bathrooms are “out houses” strategically located around the tent sites.  There is a dining tent, a drying tent (for waders/boots), a lounge tent and a shower tent.  You can see why they call it a “Tent Camp”… LOL.  This is truly an Alaska bush experience, at least as “bush” as we’re willing to try.   However, the camp is located directly on the Kanektok River which means, no float planes, just getting into jet boats and moving to various sections of the Kanektok, which is the only river we’ll fish this week.

Segment four begins when we boat/fly back from Alaska West to Anchorage.  We’ll meet up at the airport with dear friend James Kelley who is coming to Alaska to fish with us for a week on the Kenai Peninsula.  Once we grab our gear from baggage claim, we’re headed back to Cooper Landing to fish the Russian and Kenai Rivers, both on the TU Top 100 list.  We’ll be floating through the Kenai National Wildlife Refuge fishing the Kenai and hiking along the Russian River.   We’re staying in Cooper Landing in cabins along the Kenai River and enjoying all the “fishing, food, friends and fun” we can.  

After this segment, we head back to Anchorage to catch flights back to Bozeman (Nashville in James case).  Our “30 Days in Alaska” will have been complete.  However, along the way, we plan to “Blog” on our River Ramble site and/or update our Instagram feed every day (well, at least every day where we have internet access).  We hope you’ll follow along with us on our journey to Alaska.  

Ramble On!

Signs

By Tom Burnett

As I was on a 4th of July pilgrimage to find salmon flies along the Madison, I made a customary stop in West Yellowstone at Blue Ribbon Flies where a sign greeted me indicating “fishing reports” for area streams.   As you can see by the first image in the highlight video above, the good folks at Blue Ribbon Flies have a great sense of humor in their fishing reports…. yet…. if you read what they’ve said, they are spot on.  Indeed, there was no “wait” anymore on the Madison, it was full on salmon fly, stone fly, PMD, Yellow Sallie and caddis dry fly fishing.  As I walked back to the Suby, after catching a nice “walk off” rainbow, I stripped off my waders only to find THREE salmon flies INSIDE my waders with me!  Honestly, I didn’t even venture to count all the caddis, PMDs, golden stones and Sallies who’d found their way into the car.  Thick doesn’t begin to describe how much bug activity was happening on the river…. but I digress here, this post isn’t about fishing, but about the interesting, unique, funny, sometimes “salty”, significant and entertaining signs we saw along the way.  Seeing the “Fishing Report” sign at BRF simply reminded me that this was a post you all might enjoy.

Seems logical to begin with some great “Welcome” signs we encountered.   Each community we visited had the customary welcome sign, but standouts include the water town in Cotter (AK), the iconic Roosevelt Arch (Yellowstone NP), the “Best Water on Earth” in Dunsmuir (CA), the “Longest Main Street in America” in Island Park (ID), “Trout Town USA” Roscoe (NY) and the signs going into and leaving the Village of Mammoth. Of course, the “Welcome” into our newly adopted home state of Montana is great with friends, but the welcome to Ennis is priceless, they have their priorities straight.  Speaking of priorities straight, checkout the Craig (MT) sign…. it’s really just a fishing access sign, but really, that’s pretty much all Craig (MT) is….. fishing!   And who could forget our “welcomes” to certain lodging and events like the “Old Hookers” guest house or the Clinton (MT) annual “Testicle Festival”.

In traversing the country via the SaraLinda, we also found time to traverse a few trails, which without signs would have left you lost in vast places like the Pacific Crest Trail, Appalachian Trail, or even creek and ridge trails that connect to such bigger, more well know trails.  Barb did survive our hike to the Panther Creek Trail, but just barely as you can see.

Pure “informational” signs also caught our attention whether it was announcing certain historic “pools”, the Maine tradition of using old saw blades as signs and one ironic sign from a bookstore in NH.  Written in stone was “NOTHING IS WRITTEN IN STONE”.  Still makes me laugh!

Of course, the eateries we encountered had their fair share of interesting signs (and names).  We had “Love Muffins” in Moab (UT),  “SpikeBurgers” in Michigan, enjoyed “Fry Fishing” in Livingston (MT), “groovy” BBQ in Marble (CO), made a “Frostop” in Ashton (ID), found a “Cheese Corner” in where else but Wisconsin, giant cinnamon rolls at “Wheat Montana” and joined the “Breakfast Club” in Mammoth (CA) who was most welcoming to our fishing adventure.  We’re afraid to speak of what happens at the Thunderbird Inn, or even where it is….

Couldn’t resist adding the “directional” category of signs.  The first one that caught our attention was a simple pair of arrows, pointing in the same direction we encountered at a very tight mountain curve along Cedar Run in PA.   We were never really sure what they were thinking but we navigated the curve twice.

Fly fishing in the mountains, we encountered “steep grade” signs frequently…. 6% grade next 2 miles, etc….. until we started down the East Portal River Access in the Black Canyon of the Gunnison…. 16% seriously?  YES!!! YIKES!!!

On a “lighter” note, our Upper Falls view was a bit scary, the folks at Bethel Woods, where the Woodstock Festival occurred, displayed their sense of humor on their roadsigns…. and slightly associated with Woodstock was the interstate sign pointing the way to “Weed”.

The drift boats we took down the streams were often adorned with signs and stickers that made them unique.  Four drift boats that were painted stood out… Rocky Top Anglers, which while an advertisement for the guide service, was unique in its incorporation of Tennessee filled with brown trout spots… the “Casting for Recovery” drift boat with its message and mission of hope…. the “Alumaweld Boat” of Griff Marshall, well built indeed…. but taking the cake was Merritt Harris’ drift boat which had no writing on it, just spots.  Sometimes, the most subtle signs say the most… we caught a LOT of big fish with Merritt.

And then the stickers….  state bird of Michigan?  A reminder “Don’t Suck”.  And one of my favorites, a breakdown regarding “How Badass are You?”   Barb and I have enjoyed every one of these lengths. (NOTE: you may have to pause the video on this one to read it all…. LOL)

To be honest, the “sign” idea started with bathroom signs in fly shops.  We found some very unique ones along the way, including some that are a bit more “salty”….. including the “Fish Naked” series… some that spoke to why you were in the bathroom (hiccup… beer!)… and some that were instructive as to smoking and “how to”….. “Gentlemen”….”Ladies”.

Finally, “WARNING”!!!  Sometimes I wonder why on earth we fly fish given all the warning signs we encounter.  It turns out that the saying “Fish only live in beautiful places”, while so true, could also be written as “Fish, dangerous animals, rattlesnakes and raging rivers coexist in beautiful places”.  We encountered these “warning” signs everywhere… making us aware of the dangers of moose, bison, bears, hiking, swift water and weather.  My favorite is still “Grizzly Bear Area, Special Rules Apply”…. yeah… like STAY AWAY!

We really hope you enjoy our “signs” as much as we have.  Putting this together, I kept humming the Five Man Electrical Band’s “Sign” song.  However, not having the rights to use it, I created an original tune….  Ramble On!

OK…. so right up front let me say, I have a favorite fishing buddy, in case you’ve not noticed already.  We certainly didn’t know we were going to be fishing buddies when we met.  Our desires to fish together didn’t lead us to get married almost 46 years ago.  It is true that once our daughters ended up in different cities well over a decade ago, it caused Barb to decide that if she were to hang out with Chris (our now son-in-law), Krista and me in the Tetons, she’d need to learn to fish, since she’d lost her “hang out on the bank” partner in Kelly.  However, one never knows how a shared interest in fishing might translate into “fishing buddy” status…. but of course, you know how it turned out.

Many of Barb’s friends and family questioned her sanity when she agreed to go on our River Ramble together. I mean, it’s one thing to fish together a few times a year with family, but quite another to sell your home, live in a 200 sq.ft. RV (“SaraLinda“) and travel the country fishing for 10 months a year for two years…. but that’s exactly what we did.  And… we’re still married…. and are best fishing buds!

Now I’m not saying one needs to marry one’s fishing buddy – or – that one’s best fishing buddy should be one’s spouse.  For some, if not many, it’s a pursuit that doesn’t necessarily fit, but when it does…. it’s very very special!   When you watch the “Fishing Buddies” video above, you’ll see a pic of a couple we met along the Madison River in October 2016.  I wish I could remember both of their names, but what I do remember is that he told us everyone just calls him “Coach”.  They come to Yellowstone each October for the entire month to fish the Madison.  They are both in their 70’s and they’ve been married longer than Barb and me.  Needless to say, we aspire to still be fishing the Madison each October for the run of big browns from Hegben Lake, well into our 70’s and beyond like Coach and his wife.

The thing to recognize in this is…. it isn’t because we’re married that we’re fishing buddies, but it’s that we actually SHARE some important factors in what makes good fishing buddies.  Factors like:

Do you like to fish from sunup to sundown and beyond…. or….. do you enjoy the frequent respite for an afternoon siesta, a good meal and/or a few cold adult beverages?

Do you like to fish for a few “big” fish…. or…. catch as many fish as you possibly can?

Are you a dry fly only aficionado…. or…. a use whatever method works kind of angler?

Are you more into wading streams…. or fishing out of a drift boat/raft?

Are you into small streams… or…. big rivers?

Do you like to fish salt water…. or…. fresh water?

Are you partial to moving water…. or…. still water?

I’m sure the list could go on and on, and welcome feedback from readers on the list for sure, but I think you get the gist of things.  The best kinds of fishing buddies are those with which you share the most factors.

The tag line of our River Ramble blog really tells you a lot about us…. “Fly Fishing, Food, Friends and Fun”.  We are not the sunup to sundown types, although we’ve done it MANY times… I mean, of course “It’s Not About the Fish” ALL the time…. but there are days when all the fly fishing stars align and you just don’t want to leave the water.  We’re always prepared for such days.  We always pack enough drinks and extra sandwiches “just in case” one such day reveals itself…. so it’s PB&J for lunch, dinner and the moonlight snack driving back to the SaraLinda.  That said, if we know a great band is playing nearby, or friends are coming in that day… we’ll always choose to leave the river.

As for the fishing itself, we’re “opportunists” for sure.  We’ll fish dry flies, wet flies, nymphs, streamers whatever fly fishing tackle is working best.  Of course, whenever we can fish dries, it’s by far the most fun, watching the fish rise and take the fly from the surface…. instead of watching a strike indicator jiggle or pop beneath the surface…. or even swinging/stripping wet flies and streamers.  But in the end, we’re definitely “opportunists”.  Oh, and so far, we are moving, fresh water folks…. but we know that will be enhanced to include still water (ponds, lakes) and saltwater in our future. And we’ve found, we like to catch fish, big and small, so we’re not too hung up on the “how many” fish we catch anymore.  We’ve heard anglers go through this as they grow more experienced… first,  it’s catch a lot, then catch the big ones, then its “special” ones, etc…. but we find that fishing is an excuse to get outside, enjoy nature, share time with each other and friends, meet new people, enjoy new places… you know….

We’re in the “It’s Not About the Fish” group.   We want our guides to put us on fish if possible, but we also want them to make sure to point out geological sites, historical artifacts, eagles, osprey and of course, animals along our journeys.  We always ask them about local beers, places to eat and live music nearby so we can enjoy the community surrounding these beautiful streams.

As you watch the “Fishing Buddies” video above, you’ll see images of some of our fishing buddies including family members (and family member’s best buds), Sue Doss & Dud Lutton (Bozeman), Bill McCauslen & Ron Reed (Austin) and two who’ve been with me and with us more than anyone, James Kelley (Nashville) and Dan McCormack (Houston).   In addition to the annual trips James, Dan and I have taken for many years now, they’ve also joined Barb and me on our Ramble stops in New York, Colorado, Texas, Montana, Wyoming, Utah (“The Utah Four“) and Tennessee.   While my counting may be a bit off, I list over 25 rivers now we’ve fished together…. and we’re still planning more, including Alaska.

I’d be remiss if I also didn’t mention a few other images you’ll see in the video,  “Fishing Buddies”.  We started out our Ramble on the Guadalupe, with James and Dan of course… but also with guides, Alvin Dedeaux and JT Van Zandt, who it turns out, are fishing buddies from way back.  Watch their “Guadalupe Guide Talk” and you’ll see and hear their stories which are a hoot!  Andy Wagner befriended us along the way, and took us to “The Shanty” along Penns Creek (PA) to meet one of his “buddies”, Jeff Zim, one of a group of “buddies” affectionately called “The Shanty Posse”.   And not to be missed, our four legged furry friends (“Fly Dogs” & “Fly Dogs 2“)who accompanied us fishing, Solomon (Sue & Dud’s), Brookie (Julie Szur, our guide in Slate Run, PA), Sammy (Chris Taylor, our guide on the San Juan) and Desie (Roger & Mary Nelson, Nelson’s Spring Creek (MT)).

Two things brought us back to fish the Green River at Flaming Gorge again… it’s a world class fishery where we’d had an epic time and our fishing buddies James Kelley and Dan McCormack.   Our mode to get back to Flaming Gorge was of course the SaraLinda and our favorite campground, Pine Forest, which was adjacent to where James and Dan were staying.   But first, back to those two things…

The Green is one of those TU Greatest 100 Trout Streams for very very good reasons.  It has some of the largest and most beautiful trout of any of the lower 48 we’d ever seen.  We’d fished it earlier with Ryan Dangerfield (“Flaming Green”) of Flaming Gorge Resort and had an absolutely stellar three days of dry fly fishing.  The yellow sallies were in full bloom on the river and fish were rising to them everywhere.   There is nothing in the fly fishing world more “epic” that hitting a hatch at the perfect time…. gives me the tingles every time I think about all the times on our trip we’ve been fortunate enough to have caught “the hatch”.   We were hoping to catch lightening in a bottle once again, but first… that second thing.

I don’t quite know where to begin about Dr. James Kelley and Dr. Dan McCormack, so I won’t.  I’ll save that for another post (coming soon), but I won’t leave you totally hanging here… well maybe just a bit.  Suffice it to say that James, Dan and I have fished together for well over a decade now and worked together for even longer.  When we’d returned from our River Ramble through the first 95 rivers in the TU Top 100, they’d asked what were our “favorites”, which is always a loaded question since nearly all of the rivers had become favorites for one reason or another.  However, the Green was one of those where we’d had the “E” time, so we decided it was our next adventure together.  They’d already joined us before on several of our stops, so we’d already had the “experience” of fishing with them, which is always a blast and full of adventure.

Our first morning, we met at the Resort, were introduced to our guides… Ryan (who we fished with before) and Dalton… and proceeded to debate just exactly where to fish.   The Green is divided into three sections:  A, B and C.   Each is a day’s float, but you can also float AB (last half of A, first half of B) or BC (you get the idea).  The “A” section is generally regarded as the most scenic, flowing through a tight canyon with towering red bluffs.  This section is also generally regarded as having more fish, but slightly smaller fish.  We decided to go “bigger” and fish the “B” section and a bit of “C” as our day’s float.  We weren’t going to be fishing dries, but a twin nymph rig of a “Neon Nightmare” wire worm followed by an “Iron Sally” nymph was our ticket.

We put in at Little Hole and within 100 yards of the ramp, Barb had already hooked into an 18” brown.  The morning continued in exactly that way, with regular hook ups and many landings.  We broke for lunch at the Tree Tops Camp on the river where we met up with James, Dan and Dalton.  There are several campsites along the river that are only accessible via water and luckily we found one empty for our lunch of fried chicken.  We shared stories of our morning, fish hooked, fish landed and after a bit of friendly “trash talking” about biggest and most fish, we headed back to the river.  

The weather was picture perfect all day and the fishing continued to be productive.  Each of our boats picked up double digit fish in both the morning and afternoon, but even more impressive was the number of 18-20” fish we landed.  At one point, Ryan rowed us back up to fish the inside of a run.  After a long cast upstream and about 4’ of drift, my strike indicator plunged downward.  This wasn’t a gentle take but an all out eat and the fight was on.  After a few minutes, a 22” brown found its way into Ryan’s net.   Later that afternoon, back at the resort, I was surprised when Ryan handed me a hat with “22” embroidered prominently on the crown.  Needless to say, I wore it later that night around the campfire to remind everyone who landed the largest fish of the day.   Of course, James would remind us that he “hooked” the biggest fish, a reportedly 24” rainbow, the biggest Dalton had ever seen in the Green, that afternoon.  But as the saying goes, until there is a picture in the net, its simply a “fish story”.  

Day 2 of our Flaming Gorge, Green River fishing adventure was a walk/wade trip along the “A” section, up from the Little Hole access site.   Dan was the first, and only, to hook and land a fish, a beautiful 18” brown trout he snared out of a mid-river riffle.  We waded several different spots of the “A” section but found that no one was getting bites that morning.  About 11am, the big “W” began…. WIND!  

We decided to head back to the Little Hole area and have lunch.  We’d packed our usual, turkey/cheese and PB&J for lunch.  After fighting to keep everything from blowing away, James and I headed back to the water for a few more casts before the wind about blew us over and downstream (it did blow my hat off which James deftly recovered with his wading staff).

Our next stop was to drive down to the beginning of the “A” section, which sits directly below the dam.  The water here was moving very fast so we carefully waded out and began fishing the inside seams of some fast moving water.  Dan was again the only one to pick up a fish, a small brown, but a fish nonetheless….. more than James and I were able to muster.  That evening, we went back to our campsite for burgers, a campfire and more fish stories.  

Day 3 was another guide day with Ryan and Dalton, but we switched it up…. James and I loaded in with Ryan, while Barb and Dan shared the boat with Dalton.   We’d originally planned on fishing an “AB” float, but the reports from the “A” section weren’t very positive regarding the quality/quantity of fishing.  We could have told them that in advance given our walk/wade fishing experience.   So we launched down the “B” section again, and once again, this time in the first 50 yards, James hooked a brownie.  

As we proceeded downstream, two things happened….. we continued to hook and land several fish in the 18-20” range and the wind continued to build.  By 11am, the wind was blowing around 20mph, primarily downstream.   While this made the casting a bit of a problem, it REALLY made the rowing a nightmare.  Both guides were dealing with winds and waves pushing them either into the bank (in our case, going down the left side) or away from the bank.   I hooked myself about 3 times as the flies on my backcast got pushed into me.  Mind you, when we COULD get our flies into the water and get a drift, we were still picking up fish.

The other reality we were facing as we were pushed downstream by the wind was that our “day” trip was quickly becoming a “half day” trip.  We were flying downstream at a very fast rate.  We passed our Day 1 lunch spot at about 10am.   When we broke for lunch at 11:30, we were only a couple of miles from our takeout spot.  At the rate we were going, that was only about an hour away.  

After lunch, we headed downstream to fish a few more riffles, but we found another diversion we’d seen on Day 1 that we wanted to explore…. the John Jarvie Historic Ranch.  In 1880, John Jarvie, a Scotsman, built a ranch on the Green to sell goods to locals and travelers alike.  It was an ideal spot along the river, where a natural river crossing was present, used by fur trappers, travelers and local natives.  The area, called Brown’s Park, was so remote, it was also a hiding spot for outlaws including Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid.  We had a great time visiting the site, learning its history, and playing frisbee with Turk, the BLM manager’s dog.  

Day 3 had been an experience.  One rule of fly fishing is to never speak the “W” word while in the boat.  It’s considered to be bad luck and will only bring more “W”.   Anymore, I’m not sure about this custom, as while we never mentioned “wind” as we were fishing, it didn’t stop steady winds of 20mph with gusts over 30mph from hounding us.  We were exhausted from fighting it all day, but still had enjoyed a great day of fishing.   We relaxed with dinner at the Red Canyon Lodge before turning in early.

Day 4 was moving day from Flaming Gorge to Heber City (UT).   Along the way we stopped in Duschesne (UT) and fished the Strawberry River below Starvation Dam.  We were still fighting the wind but saw some beautiful water.  Unfortunately, the bends we fished had already been fished out by anglers who’d been keeping fish.  We didn’t even see a fish on the river, but we did find some other “old goats” along the river.

We arrived in Heber City without a spot for the SaraLinda.  James and Dan had already booked a room at the Swiss Alps Motel, but we’d winged it, thinking it wouldn’t be a problem finding a spot.  Unfortunately, we’d not realized that a major outdoor concert was happening at one of the two campgrounds in town, and all the campsites (and hotels) in town were sold out.  We were thinking this was going to finally be the time we’d be staying in a Walmart parking lot, but the owner of the Swiss Alps Inn invited us to park next to their garage and spend the night there.  They even had water and electricity there for us to have the same “creature comforts” of staying in a campground.  We were lucky and blessed to have found such generous hosts for the night.  

After setting up, James, Dan and I headed to the local fly shop, Fishheads, to grab a few flies and head to the Provo River for some evening fishing.  We nymph fished a couple of spots along the river while listening to the concert just up the road from us.  After getting nothing nymphing, we headed to another spot downstream, tied on a size 16 caddis, and fished to rising trout at dusk.  We were not to be shut out as this time, it was James who kept us from being skunked, landing a nice brown trout.  We headed back to our motel (SaraLinda parking spot), had dinner at the Dairy Keen (not to be missed in Heber City) and crashed.  Our day had included a 3 hour drive, fishing two different rivers and being lucky enough to have found a spot to rest.  

The next morning, we shared coffee while also sharing the images and movies we’d shot, many of which are included in the highlight video above which we know you’ll enjoy.  We started plotting our next fishing adventures, said our goodbyes, hugged and headed our separate ways…. James/Dan to SLC….. Barb and I back to home base in Bozeman.  

There is nothing better than meeting up with dear friends and fishing buddies, sharing fishing stories and other experiences…. reminding yourself its really not about the fish.  Stay tuned for more!

While I made it up to the Firehole for an “Opening Day” road trip, our first true Ramble trip in the SaraLinda began last Wednesday when we drove down to West Yellowstone.   After parking the SaraLinda at the Grizzly RV Campground, we headed into the park to check out the Firehole.  

We decided not to wader up, and instead wet-waded into the river where I’d landed a couple of fish on “Opening Day”.  We started by swinging soft hackles.  After picking up a couple of browns, we headed upstream, further into the park, to a nice spot where two large boulders created breaks in the water that seemed “fishy”.  We started swinging flies again, picking up a couple of fish, before the first rise.  Immediately we put on a White Miller Caddis and picked up even more fish, as you can see Barb’s bent rod in the video above.  

The next morning at 7am, we met Patrick Daigle of Blue Ribbon Flies, our guide for the day on the Firehole.  You may remember Patrick from “YNP Magic”, our Guide Talk with Patrick after fishing both the Madison and Firehole in October 2016.  We met early to beat the crowds heading into YNP and the bison jams that accompany them.  We parked at the Midway Geyser Basin, rigged up, and made our walk downstream along the river.  As we walked, we encountered a lone bison on the far side of the river, who would become one of our “markers” along the river.  Turns out he was there for three days straight.  

What we encountered fishing with Patrick, was a sunny and extremely windy day, two things that typically don’t bring the best of fishing and patience.  Anything hatching was getting blown off the water before any fish could possible take it, so swinging wet flies was the course for the day.  We caught and released a good number of fish, but knew we were limited by the conditions.  It didn’t stop us from having a fun day, a great stream side lunch and the knowledge of spots we might visit again….. soon!

The next day couldn’t have been more different….. cool, calm and cloudy….. aka… perfect fishing conditions.  We took a hike of about 1.5 miles to a spot that we’d thought fishy the day prior.  Along the way, we’re always looking for interesting things, including the bone Barb’s holding in the highlight video above.   And yes, we encountered our lone bison friend once again.   

In less than 15 minutes, a hatch of White Miller Caddis started… a very big, long hatch (see vid).  It wasn’t long before fish were rising everywhere and devouring the real bugs AND ours!   We lost count quickly of how many fish we were landing as browns and rainbows alike were in a feeding frenzy.   After a couple of hours, the hatch waned, our arms were tired from casting and catching, so we hiked out… but stopped stream side for a selfie of two very happy anglers.

Day three of fishing turned out more like our guide day with Patrick, sunny and windy.  Along our hike out…. we first encountered a large herd of bison…. then our lone bison about 1/2 mile further downstream, with an eagle watching over him and the river.  We decided to hike a bit further downstream and found several thermals along the river.  We very carefully traversed them, pausing at times to snap pictures and video.  While the water felt hot tub perfect, we decided not to hop in, but do what we came to do…. fish!  

While the sun and wind made fishing difficult, every once in a while the wind would die, and the fish would rise.  We tied on different flies trying to match what they were eating.  We didn’t have the epic day we’d had the day before, but we still managed to get quite a few to net (or hand in my case).   We fished our way back to our car, trying to pick off one last fish along the way.  

Sunday, we celebrated Father’s Day with breakfast at Old Faithful Inn (OFI), followed by our usual writing postcards and mailing them from the Inn.  Yes, we still buy postcards and send them to family… honing our handwriting skills vs. our texting skills.  OFI is special to us for a variety of reasons; our daughter Krista worked there and our good friend Sarah Lichte Savage, who was a manager at OFI, once took Barb and Krista up to the Crows Nest to take the flags down.  Afterward, we took a road tour around the southern loop in Yellowstone, spotting the occasional bison herd and elk along the way.  We decided not to fish because a) we’d fished and hiked hard the past 3 days and b) it was POURING rain.  Although, looking out now as I write this…. hmmmmmm…. cool, calm and cloudy…. See you next time!

When we started our River Ramble in 2016, we were a bit overwhelmed as you can imagine.  We were plotting how to navigate the USA, fishing 100 rivers (and more)… driving a motorhome (the SaraLinda)…how to use a new camera to capture all of our “Guide Talks” and other video highlights… how to create a blog site (and keep hackers out!)….  whew!  We made a conscious decision NOT to add another piece of complexity to our “Ramble”…. a drone.

Well, we made it two years now and while we are still learning about all of the above gizmos, we are getting ready for “30 Days in Alaska” and ready to add one more piece of tech, a drone.  We did our research, and while there are better, faster drones out there, we picked the DJI Spark drone because of its blend of quality, ease of use and size.  It’s tiny…. fits in your hand.  

On the day it was scheduled to arrive, I anxiously watched out the window and jumped up when I saw the FedEx truck.  I didn’t wait for him to ring the doorbell, having already gone out the door to meet him at the front porch step.  Grabbing the box (and signing for it), I went back inside and began to carefully open the box and all the smaller boxes and compartments inside.  I was so excited…. can you tell?

While I was carefully reading all of the documentation (wink, wink), I charged the drone batteries and the remote controller.  One of the first things I read was the requirement to register your drone with the Federal Aviation Administration.  Yes…. I’m officially an owner of a registered aircraft.  The second thing you were required to do is name your drone… which led us to… River Eagle.   

There were also warnings about this and that including where it was “legal” to fly.  “No closer than 5 miles to an airport without an approved waiver from the airport”.  There even was an APP for that, which quickly showed me that there was no place in Bozeman to fly.  Who knew there were so many big and small airports in and around the city.  So where to go?  

I had an idea…. where is the nearest spot we go where there is NO internet and somewhat open spaces?  The road to one of our fav fishing holes, Beartrap Canyon along the lower Madison River.   The one problem with Beartrap Canyon is often the presence of wind, which as I read the Spark instructions, isn’t the best thing for a first time drone pilot to encounter.  But that led to another idea….

The best time to avoid wind is early morning.  The night before, when I asked Barb if she wanted to join me, she didn’t sound too enthusiastic.  I was so happy the next morning at 6am when I got up, Barb wanted to go as well…  so we headed off toward Beartrap, which took us by our favorite stop at Four Corners, Mama Macs (which we highlighted in our “Opening Day” post).  With breakfast burrito in hands (we split one) we headed west on the Norris Road toward the river.

As we drove along the river, we searched for what might be a perfect spot to fly and eventually came to a day use spot next to a campground at the turn to the road to the canyon.  We found an out of the way parking spot to get as far away from the campsites.  When we opened the car doors, we were so happy…. no wind!  We walked down to several picnic tables that were set down the hill right by the river and proceeded to lay everything out in preparation for our first drone flight.  

After pairing the drone to the controller to my iPhone to the drone network (whew), I hit a button, slid a slider and up it went, 4 feet and hovering, awaiting input.   After playing with the controller sticks a bit, we began our maiden flight.   Surprisingly, it went very well…. flying wise at least.  We found out later that only one of our videos came out, but it was enough to put together the short music video above to share with you.

I promise we’ll get better at this, but this first flight took off, safely flew here and there along the Madison River, and landed safely on the same picnic table where it took off.   River Eagle is headed for  West Yellowstone (MT), but not Yellowstone National Park as it’s not legal to fly in national parks.  Next, we’re headed to the Flaming Gorge and Green River near Dutch John (UT), where we’ll capture images of fishing and fishing buddies; James Kelley and Dan McCormack… can’t wait guys.  And on July 20th, we begin our “30 Days in Alaska” adventure, where we’ll make great use of River Eagle for sure. 

It’s a long story that I won’t bore you with, totally, but Barb and I learned to fish from our daughter Krista and her future (at the time) husband Chris.  Mind you, when Krista met Chris working at Jackson Lake Lodge in Grand Teton National Park during the early summer of 2002, she wasn’t a fisherman either.  However, Chris was an avid fisherman, who ultimately put a fly rod in Krista’s had and got her started, fishing on Pacific Creek in the park.

Pacific Creek is a beautiful small stream that begins high in the Teton Wilderness of the Bridget-Teton National Forest before flowing into Grand Teton National Park.  It flows into the Snake River near Moran Junction.  It’s fish population isn’t nearly as great as the Snake and several other tributaries, but it offers tremendous solitude.  In a park as crazy with people as Grand Teton National Park can be, with everyone wanting to float and fish the Snake, a bit of “getting away from it all” isn’t a bad thing.  So it’s no surprise that Chris took Krista out to Pacific Creek on their days off working at the Main Dining Room at Jackson Lake Lodge where Krista was a hostess and Chris was a server.

That same summer, Barb, youngest daughter Kelly  and I decided to take a trip out to see Krista (and meet this Chris guy she was seeing) and experience the area.  Of course we did the “usual” things in the park… hiking, rafting, searching for moose and bears, sitting in Jackson Lake Lodge just looking up in awe of the Tetons… but while we were there, Krista wanted to teach me what Chris had taught her, fly fishing!  So, off to Pacific Creek.

Not trusting our rental car on some of the roads we’d be on, we loaded into Chris’ “vintage” Chevy Suburban and headed out toward the creek.  We found one of Chris’ regular pullouts, parked the Suburban (took a pic) and headed out to fish the creek.  At this point, Chris was the experienced fisherman, Krista was a budding angler, I was about to learn, and Barb and Kelly were pretty much along for the ride and hike and swim.  It was VERY warm that day as I remember.

We made it down to the creek, got rigged up, and the fishing (and lounging) began.  We never saw another angler or hiker the entire time we were there (remember, solitude).  The creek felt wonderful as we “wet waded” it in our shorts and swimsuits.  Yes, I’m owning up to the pics you see in the video above as I had swim trunks on rather than fishing shorts one day.  Remember, I wasn’t a fisherman yet at this point and from the looks of my white legs, I hadn’t seen much sun yet that summer.

We fished for a few hours, hiking up and down along the creek, didn’t catch many (ANY in my case), but had a tremendous day.  It was fun watching Krista in a new element, fly fishing… and watching Chris continue to help her, as she helped me get started.  I took in as much as I could, but while I really struggled that first day with the timing of it all, I loved being outdoors, in one of the most spectacularly scenic spots on the planet, and sharing the time with family, including our soon to be son-in-law Chris.

In the days we were there in the Tetons, I only caught a couple of fish.  Barb hadn’t started her own journey into this passion of ours just yet, but I think she saw how much fun Chris, Krista and even I was having, and perhaps subliminally she was starting to get hooked herself.  Kelly on the other hand, just enjoyed being outdoors, getting some sun, and frolicking in the water AFTER we’d fished a spot and didn’t get any bites.  I know we’ve said this before, but “It Isn’t About the Fish”.  Sharing this time, in the great outdoors, no cell phones (the won’t work there), just family/friends, is priceless.

So, while Pacific Creek is not on the list of the TU Greatest 100 Trout Streams, it holds a very special place in our fly fishing and family memories.  The whole Grand Teton/Yellowstone National Parks areas are incredibly dear to us and we keep coming back again and again to create and share even more special moments together.   We hope you enjoy the short music video above of some of the memories from those first trips to Pacific Creek 16 years ago.

The phrase “Opening Day” conjures up a variety of images and emotions.  For baseball fans like our dear friend James Kelley, it’s all about baseball.  I’m sure for hunters, “opening day” brings vivid memories of deer, elk, pheasant and more.  For anglers, it’s the promise of hungry, eager, more gullible fish who’ve not seen any pressure from fishermen for many months.  Opening Day for fishing in Yellowstone National Park is always the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.  Since I was in Bozeman this year…… ROAD TRIP!

Before I begin, a quick thought about “Road Trips”.   They aren’t totally about the destination you’re heading toward…. and….. in many cases they are MORE about the journey than the destination.  So, while my destination was the Firehole River in YNP, the journey to get there was just as important.

Having fuel is, of course, a requirement for any road trip but I’m not talking about gasoline, I’m talking about the kind of fuel that keeps YOU going…. food!  My first stop on the way to the West Entrance of YNP was our regular spot, Mama Mac’s at Four Corners.  Four Corners really isn’t a town at all; officially, it is termed a “census-designated place”  at the intersection of US Highway 191, MT 85 and MT 84…. 29 miles to the west is Norris Hot Springs and the Madison River, to the east 7 miles is downtown Bozeman, to the north 9 miles is Belgrade and 82 miles south is the West Entrance of Yellowstone National Park.

At Four Corners you’ll find gas stations on three of the corners, a bar/restaurant/casino on the other corner and two great fly fishing shops, Fins and Feathers and River’s Edge West, right next to Simms Fishing headquarters.  But I digress, this first stop is really about fuel for the stomach and Mama Mac’s.  When do we most often stop here…. breakfast….. for what?… a giant breakfast burrito or their special breakfast consisting of eggs, meat of your choice, hash browns, biscuits and gravy.   If you go, I’d recommend splitting either of these with your fishing buddy, the servings are huge.   It’s all cooked to order, served with a smile and stick to your ribs good.

After fueling up at Mama Mac’s, it was back onto US 191 heading south.  After crossing Spanish Creek just before it enters the Gallatin (a fav fishing spot) you enter the “Canyon” area in which US 191 parallels the river with usually only a guard rail between you and the river.  This whole section of the river fishes very well at certain times of the year and we have many pull off spots where we park and drop down into the river to fish.  This trip, I was alone as Barb was back in Missouri visiting family over the Memorial Day weekend.  However, all along the drive on this stretch, I could STILL hear Barb saying “keep your eyes on the road!”.  She knows I like to take a peek to see how the river flows are looking.  Barb…. I was good….. well, ok…. pretty good.

In fact, I was so good that when I wanted to really look, I pulled over and got out of the car to take a peek at the river.  There was this one spot I really wanted to see how the river was flowing; the rapids at House Rock.  As you can see when you look at the House Rock Rapids Video I’ve posted on Vimeo, the rock is literally as big as a small home and at this flow, you really can’t see it all.  Amazingly, with our good friends Ted/Deborah Watson and Don/Kim Freeman, we actually rafted this area a couple of years ago, and while it was definitely NOT at this flow, it was still a bit scary, especially as half of our boat (Ted, Kim and I) had already been tossed into the river at a much less treacherous spot.  Anyway, Watsons and Freemans… I hope you are watching this…. and cringing like I was when I shot the video.

The next stop along the way is often the Big Sky Conoco Travel Shoppe at the turnoff to the Big Sky Resort.  It’s about half way between Four Corners and West Yellowstone.  While we rarely get gas here, having already filled up at Four Corners, it has a great convenience store, a respectable little grill for burgers with a few tables and most importantly, pretty clean bathrooms.  I’m sure you can see the logistics in all of this, right?  Four Corners…. Mama Mac’s…. pit stop half way…. it just works perfectly.

Back on the road, still headed south toward West Yellowstone, you actually cross into Yellowstone National Park for a bit.  Not exactly sure why at this point you pop into the park and then back out before West Yellowstone, but you do.   There is some great fishing in the park section of the Gallatin, and if you’re ever this way, make sure to stop in at Wild Trout Outfitters in Big Sky, right on 191, and see JD Bingham.  He’ll get you the right bugs and give you great Gallatin River fishing tips.  His best one is “walk to fishing spots where you cannot see the road”.

When I finally pulled into West Yellowstone (MT), I did a U-Turn on 191 and pulled up in front of Blue Ribbon Flies.  I was greeted by our friend, Aaron Freed, who has been an invaluable resource in getting us the right flies and sending us to the best locations to fish.  While we talked a lot about our past fishing adventures and caught up on present activities, I was excited to tour the fly stand to pick out some flies for the day’s fishing.  After picking up a few dries and a few wet flies for swinging, I jumped back in the Suby and headed for the West Entrance to YNP…..

And stopped!  Traffic to get into the park was horrendous and backed up past the stop sign back in downtown West…. at least for a mile.  However, being the experienced traveler to these parts, I knew a secret way to cut a bit of time off the wait… and having a Senior park pass, I was able to get into the “fast lane” and make it into the park in about 10 minutes, which as it turned out, really didn’t help me much.

About a mile after entering the park, and being able to drive at the posted park speed limit of 45 mph, I again came to a full stop.  And for the next 12 miles, never got out of second gear (yes, the Suby Crosstrek is a stick so we can tow it behind the SaraLinda).  As a matter of fact, I drove in first most of the way, when we were actually moving.  I knew it had to be an animal jam but thought this one must be big… bears? wolves? moose?  After nearly an hour of “driving” along the road from West to Madison Junction in the park, I came upon what was causing the delays, two bison, just walking down the road, oblivious to the traffic; they were both walking the center line, letting cars pass SLOWLY (aka. stopping to take pictures) as they sashayed their way down the road.  The old saying from the classic Seinfeld episode kept playing in my mind “Serinity Now! Serinity Now!”, but I was already at “Hoochie Mama!”.

Which brings me to our next regular stop (yes Barb, I really missed you this trip, but we’ll be back when you return to Bozeman), the Madison Junction “rest stop”.  I truly needed a stretch after “driving” for well over an hour to traverse the 14 miles from West to the junction as well as a “rest” after drinking the coffee I’d filled into my Yeti at one of those coffee huts.   And while this “rest stop” is a fixture on our trips into the west side of YNP, stopping here always makes us smile, which is why you’ll find a picture of the trash container in the video above.  On one trip, we’d brought some trash in a black trash bag with us, as well as good friend James Kelley’s boots and waders, also in a black trash bag…. can you see where this is going yet?  Yes….  I tossed the wrong bag into this dumpster, and in went Kelley’s wading attire.  The dumpster will live in infamy.

Turning right out of the Madison Junction “rest stop” parking lot, I ventured onto the southern loop road toward Old Faithful, crossing the Gibbon River and climbing up a long winding hill before reaching a plateau.  At this point, the road joins the Firehole River.  The Firehole really only fishes well from Opening Day until it just gets too warm in August, and then cools down in the fall to fish well again.  It’s not just the warm temps that make this river get too warm to fish in summer, it’s because so many thermal features in the park empty into the Firehole.  Aaron had hinted I should fish soft water near the banks, so, the first pull off I found, I parked in a spot Barb would have never let me pull off, given it had a 4-6” lip that dropped onto gravel just about the width of the Suby before falling down rocks into the Firehole.  The spot wasn’t one we’d ever fished before, as we often went for slower flow sections to spot rising fish.  As you see when you watch the video, this spot had fast rushing water that slowed only partially, but slowed enough.

Scrambling down the rock embankment, I found a spot to stand, tied on one of the wet flies Aaron had recommended, and on the first cast felt a slight tug.  Hmmmmmmm… I thought… I have to remember how to set when swinging wet flies.  Another few casts and I actually saw the trout come up to eat the wet fly as it rose on the swing.  A beautiful, 12” brown trout had been enticed as the fly had risen in the water column.  After a brief fight, I got him in, kept him in the water, removed the fly and let him go.  Yes James!….. I mistakenly threw your waders and boots away and do realize that a fish without a picture is JUST a story…. lol… You see, James is one of our dearest fishing buddies (a post on this subject to come soon) and his line about “just a fish story” is always with us.  In this case,  I was fortunate to repeat this cast a quarter downstream….. hold tight… swing… and fish one one more time before deciding to move on.

Moving on, I found another thing Aaron warned me about, the river was going to be crawling with anglers…. after all…. it was Opening Day!  Every single pullout along the road between my first stop and the turn off to Old Faithful was filled with cars, not sightseeing mind you, but fishing.  I saw anglers in various stages of suiting up and gearing up at each spot, or looking toward the water, already in what seemed good holding water.   Given it was already 2:00 and the Mama Mac’s burrito was wearing off, I decided to head to another of our “must stop” spots along this route, Old Faithful Inn and the Hamilton Store.

This is hallowed ground to us that draws us back every time we are even close to it.  We’ve had friends who’ve worked here and our daughter Krista even worked a summer and WINTER here at Old Faithful… the summer at OFI and the winter at Snow Lodge.  If there is one thing you do once you get into the park, it’s just step inside the Old Faithful Inn… and take it all in.  But again, sorry, I digress.

I decided to stop in the Hamilton Store and grab a sandwich, chips, cookie and drink to go; it’s what Barb and I always do if we haven’t made our own sandwiches.  I wanted to take it back to the Firehole, find a spot to pull off if I could, and have lunch next to the river, scouting for rising fish.  As I was checking out, I couldn’t help but notice tables of diners eating their lunches in waders.  What I realized at that moment was, Opening Day really wasn’t about the fishing, it was about the experience of Opening Day…. the camaraderie, the bonding, families together, parents and children fishing for perhaps the first time or the hundredth time.  Truly, “Its Not About the Fish”.

I found a parking spot near a tall stand of pine trees, and after I found a spot to put my chair that didn’t have a mound of somewhat fresh bison “poop” near it, I settled in for lunch.  It was peaceful and relaxing to just watch the river flow by.  A few years back, at this very spot, Barb and I were fishing when two bears appeared on the opposite bank. It’s always fun to be the first to spot animals, especially bears, as they emerge into the open.  That time, within minutes, there were bear jams in both directions, but we’d gotten to watch them for a minute or two, just us.  Again digressing here, but it really isn’t just about fishing, but the memories.

This time, no memories in this spot, other than of a great, store bought chicken salad sandwich.  There were no rising fish, no bears, nada, zip, zilch, nothing…. which in some respects made it….. perfect!  Just lunch and a lazy Firehole River flowing.

After lunch I headed back to the spot where I’d caught the two brown trout earlier, partly because I knew if two fish were there, the likelihood of even more fish being there was good….. and partly because again, all the other pullouts were taken.  This time, after a dozen or so casts, and trying two different wet flies, finding no takers, I moved on.

When I’d originally driven into the park, I noticed someone fishing a spot on the Madison River where in the past, Barb and I had slayed’em, thanks to our guide, Patrick Daigle, out of Blue Ribbon Flies.  Granted, when we fished with Patrick it was in October, and big fish had moved out of Hebgen Lake into the Madison and this was late May.  However, I had to stop and try, right?  Also, there was a herd of bison directly across from me, so I had built in fishing buddies…. sort of.  They seemed much more interested in just resting and every so often, nibbling at the grass or butting heads with one another.  After no bites, and realizing I had a two hour drive back to Bozeman, I decided to head out.

It had been a great “Opening Day”, not because of the fishing, but all of the other things encountered along the way.   The sights, the sounds, the air, the water…. even the SLOW traffic all contributed to a memorable day.  But I knew there was one more stop to be made, another of our favs.

Often, after a day in the park, we’ll be heading back to Bozeman, feeling a bit hungry or thirsty, and make a stop at The Corral.  It’s a friendly spot where locals and tourists alike are welcome.  It’s great food, cold beer and right up our alley.  There are snazzier places along the route back, but this one seems like home to us.  This trip, just to quench a thirst, I stopped in for a cold PBR.  You might be thinking, PBR?  Really?  To paraphrase a famous beer drinker, “I always drink local beer…. but when I cannot drink local…. I drink PBR.”  It’s the “go to” beer of fly fishermen and fisherwomen in these parts.

Cheers to Opening Days everywhere… and….

Ramble On

Pteronarcys californica…. two words that strike excitement in the minds of avid fly fishers everywhere…. better known as….salmonflies!  In our fly fishing adventures, we’d yet to really hit a true salmonfly hatch on any of the rivers we fished.  Even before we started our River Ramble, we’d ventured to a couple of Montana Rivers in search of these creatures, but had never quite timed it right.  So when our good friends Sue Doss and Dud Lutton invited us to go fishing with them, on the Henry’s Fork, at the very beginning of the salmonfly hatch, we jumped at the opportunity.

Our first stop was TroutHunter Lodge and Fly Shop on the banks of the Henry’s Fork in Island Park (ID).  Sue’s dog Solomon, as usual, was greeted warmly by everyone and made his home at the front door, welcoming everyone as the came into the flyshop.

After we’d secured our Idaho fishing license, we met our guide for the day, Chris Andelin.   Chris had already picked out an assortment of bugs for us to use for the day and we were thrilled that included in the mix of bead head nymphs and Pat’s rubber legs were an assortment of salmonflies.  Game on!

Barb and I loaded into Chris’ truck and headed for our put in spot near Ashton (ID).  When we pulled into the lot, there were about 6 other guide boats in various stages of “rigging up” in the lot.  While Chris found a spot to park and began getting the boat ready for launch, Barb and I explored the bank and immediately started finding the stars of the day hanging on bushes and blades of grass everywhere.  While it was still early, we knew it was going to be a great day fishing using these giant salmonfly patterns on our lines.  Chris started Barb on a “dry/dropper” rig with a salmonfly on top and one of the nymphs below…. for me, just the salmonfly.

We started off downstream with Chris explaining various highlights about the Henry’s Fork and forewarning us to “be ready” as you never knew when a big brown or rainbow would rise to eat that big bug off the top. Every so often, Chris would pull over to the side, hop out of the boat, and literally pull us back upstream to fish a certain spot where we’d noticed a rising fish or two.  We took a few opportunities to ask Chris questions along the way (edited into the video above) about these amazing bugs, their lifecycle and fishing the Henry’s Fork hatches in general.

As we continued downstream, we’d hit into a few really nice fish, all on the Salmonfly pattern.  This caused Chris to take off the “dropper” flies from Barb’s rig and leave her with just the one salmonfly.  A moment later, my fly disappeared in a flash… I raised my rod high and what I could only surmise was a very big trout had been tricked by my fly.   Several times it took me on a ride, making runs away from the boat.  Chris’ advice was “take your time…. we want this one”.   Chris even rowed downstream and upstream chasing the trout. Barb even had to put her rod down when it made a run back in front of the boat.  When it finally showed itself to us, it was a solid 20+ inch brown trout.

As we continued downstream, a storm looked to be brewing, so, Chris parked us under the Vernon Bridge for protection.  All over the concrete wall of the bridge were salmonflies and the shucks of salmonflies.  The adult salmonflies were everywhere, on our clothing….  on Barb’s hat…. everywhere.  We tried to do a bit more interviewing of Chris, but the wind howling beneath the bridge washed out the audio (although I included some in the video above…. apologies for the sound quality) of our impromptu interview.

After the storm passed, we headed downstream picking off a fish here and there although the storm seemed to put down the number of salmonflies we saw in the air and on the water.  We reached the takeout and caught up with Sue and Dud who’d had a very productive day on the water as well.

We made it back to the restaurant at TroutHunter Lodge where anglers from around the world who come here to experience the salmonfly hatch were busy telling tales of the day’s fishing.  We did our best as well, enjoying a few cold beers and a burger before jumping in with Sue, Dud and Solomon for the drive back home to Bozeman.  And yes, we’re already planning to head back to the Henry’s Fork VERY soon for salmonflies.