Lagniappe

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)).

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.

We started 2018 on the Guadalupe in Texas (Guadalupe River Update), then visited Arizona to see our daughter in Phoenix, play some pickle ball and watch some Cactus League games.  After Phoenix, we headed up to fish the Lees Ferry again (Lees Ferry Redux).  Finally, we packed up the SaraLinda and headed back to our second home, Bozeman (MT). 

Since we arrived,  the weather has been crazy.  One day we see sunshine and 50-60 degrees…. the next, we awaken to a fresh 2-3 inches of snow on the ground.  What we’ve learned is that this is “typical” for a Bozeman spring.  We also learned that the winter here was anything but typical, as Bozeman and the surrounding mountains experienced almost record setting snowfall.  The snowpack is tremendous which means runoff, when it happens, will likely bring flooding, but will also hopefully bring good water conditions for fishing throughout the year.  Fingers crossed!

While we’ve been out fishing a couple of times on the Gallatin and Madison Rivers, we’ve been spending time unpacking some boxes and getting our place here ready for an extended stay.  However, we always get the urge to take a road trip when we’ve been here for more than a week, and that usually means Yellowstone,  here we come.  You can find our previous Yellowstone adventures at: Yellowstone Spring 2017, Snow Day and YNP Magic.

For now, please enjoy the short music video above chronicling our most recent trip across the northern section of the park.  For details regarding the video, please continue reading below.  

While both the north and west entrances to Yellowstone are equidistant from Bozeman, in springtime, the only entrance that is open is the north entrance where the famous Roosevelt Arch welcomes visitors.   We always pause here, take a few pictures (yes, we’re always tourists here) and make our way up the mountain to the Mammoth Hot Springs area.  

Springtime brings many different animals into view as you travel through the park from Mammoth Hot Springs to Tower Junction. We found small herds of elk near the Arch, as well as along the roadway to Tower.  At one point, we saw a herd meandering its way through a group of bison who were grazing in a small open space near the roadway.  Neither the bison or the elk seemed to mind they were intermixed together as they migrated through the area.

We stopped and had lunch overlooking a valley with a view of what was to come on our journey through the park….. snow!  There were small patches of snow still on the ground as we drove the road between Mammoth and Tower, but only patches.  However, when we stopped for lunch and looked in the distance at the mountains, they were still snow covered.

After lunch, we made it to Tower Junction and continued on the road toward Cooke City (MT), crossing the Yellowstone River.  This north road in YNP is kept open the entire winter to allow the residents (and visitors) to Cooke City to get back and forth to civilization.  This YNP road is the ONLY road open to Cooke City in the winter.  

The road to Cooke City eventually meets up and follows along the Lamar River for a stretch, including a canyon section of the Lamar where we ran across an osprey couple getting their nest ready for the babies to come.  Last summer when we drove by this spot, a pair of eagles were raising their young in this nest.  Turns out, sometimes eagles “steal” osprey nests before they come back to nest in the spring.  The eagles got the best of this nest in 2017, but the osprey beat them to the punch in 2018.

As we continued along the roadway, the amount of snow continued to show itself.  No longer were there simply patches, but snow everywhere.  We were gaining elevation each mile we drove toward Cooke City.

The Lamar River is one of our favorite fishing destinations in Yellowstone, so we stopped at various spots to take pictures of some favorite fishing holes.  We’re not too concerned about giving anything away however, since at this elevation, the river was shrouded in snow.  You’d be hard pressed to see the photo and find it again come summer, when the fishing gets going on these stretches.  

At the point along the road the Lamar breaks away and heads up into the distant mountains, Soda Butte comes into the Lamar, and the roadway follows it all the way to Cooke City.  Soda Butte is another of our favorite fishing spots in the park.  It’s also the favorite of many anglers who head here in summer to catch native Yellowstone Cutthroats.  

As we progressed toward Cooke City, the snow piled up about 3-4 feet along the road.  This part of the park isn’t going to be “clear” for some time to come.  However, we had to stop and take a few pics of how beautiful the snow covered meadows and mountains were.  

On the way back, we of course encountered more elk and bison, but also, a lone coyote ambling along the highway, scrounging for food while taking drinks out of the runoff streams that seemed to be flowing everywhere.  What is so special about visiting the park during this time is how quiet it is.  We drove miles at a time without seeing another car, yet the scenery, geological features and animals that people come from the world around to see in summer, are all on display.  Can’t wait for fishing season to open in the park Memorial Day weekend!

When we drove south out of Virginia on a beautiful autumn day, our first stop was Bristol, home of one of NASCAR’s most famous tracks, the Bristol Motor Speedway.  We had to make a pilgrimage to this legendary half-mile oval and a somewhat legendary Cootie Brown’s for lunch.

Our 19 days in Tennessee featured not only a chance to fish the 6 TU Top 100 trout streams in the state, but also to visit the Great Smokey Mountain National Park with dear friends James and Janice Kelley.  We fished four big rivers more suited to floating than wading (Watauga, South Holston, Hiwassee and Clinch) and two small mountain streams (Tellico and Little).   The fall foliage was in bloom…. mornings were crisp… and it was an ideal time to be in the Volunteer state.

We hope you enjoy this short highlight video above regarding our time here.  Below you’ll find a bit of info on each of the rivers (and GSMNP) we visited along with links to information, “Guide Talks”, fly shops and more.

Watauga

Like every stop along our River Ramble adventure, our first stop was at the local fly shop, the South Holston Fly Shop, to meet up with our guide, Matt “Scooter” Gwynn.  After getting everything ready, we were off “Scootin’ the Watauga” with Matt.

South Holston

We had the pleasure of fishing the South Holston with Matt Champion, the owner and outfitter for the South Holston Fly Shop.  When I mentioned “crisp” morning above, this morning was so cold, we hung out in the shop for an hour waiting for warmer weather before embarking.  Once we did, it was “FISH ON” all day.  We truly had some beautiful “South Holston Views“.

Hiwassee

Our meeting spot for our Hiwassee float trip was a riverside park under a train bridge near Reliance (TN).  When we met our guide, Jeff Flake, of Southeastern Anglers at the park, we knew we were in for a great day full of “Hiwassee Hijinks“.   It all started with a trip to the Reliance Fly and Tackle where the hijinks began and just kept coming all day, including some really gorgeous trout!

Tellico

If you thought naming our first “Guide Talk” with Jeff, “Hiwassee Hijinks” was unique… just imagine what our chat with Jeff after fishing the Tellico “Don’t Ever Ever Fish Past the Barricade” was like!  If you missed this one the first time, give it a listen.  Amazing!

GSMNP

Townsend (TN) is know as being the “quiet” entrance to the Great Smokey Mountain National Park.  We met up with James & Janice Kelley (both native Tennesseans) here and began our “Smoky’s Adventure with the Kelleys“.   We toured several historic sites and structures inside the park as well as some of the most beautiful waterfalls anywhere.

Little

James also came to Townsend to fish with us on the Little River inside GSMNP, so, off we went with our guide, Chad Williams of The Smokey Mountain Angler.  The beauty of this small mountain stream is evident in the video above, including its trout.  Highlights of our time with Chad can be found in our post, “Little River, Little Fish”.

Clinch

Our last (but definitely not least) stop on our 2018 “Ramble” was Knoxville (TN) to fish the Clinch with Michael “Rocky” Cox, owner/lead guide for Rocky Top Anglers.   We had so much fun fishing the Clinch with Rocky and hanging out in/around Knoxville, we know we’ll be coming back…. “Rocky Tops!

When we mapped out our River Ramble route, we knew we’d be hitting some locations at their “ideal” times for fishing and others not so much.  When we worked on Colorado, we’d planned on fishing the South Platte and Arkansas in October 2017.  In 2018, our plan was to fish the remaining 7 trout streams from the book, “Trout Unlimited’s Guide to Americas Greatest 100 Trout Streams”.  As it turned out, we hit the Colorado fly fishing jackpot.  We hit 8 of the 9 streams under ideal conditions (Big Thompson was way high) and were able to fish dries almost exclusively on most of the streams.  At each location we visited, the water had recently come down, and the fish were hungry.  We were definitely on a “Rocky Mountain High” in Colorado…. just on fly fishing…. winks!

We know you’ll enjoy this highlight video, “Colorful Colorado”.  Below is some brief information about each stream (in order with the video above) and links to our individual posts, “Guide Talks” and more.

Animas

What’s not to like about Durango…. live music, incredible craft beer and incredible fly fishing.  We floated the river with “Crazy Mike” Sulkosky (Duranglers Flies & Supplies), caught fish….. took a swim, had a blast and did our “Animas Antics” guide talk.  Our Durango area adventure then took us on the Durango & Silverton Railroad toward Silverton along the Animas River , but we got off at Cascade Creek and fished.  Talk about an adventure…. we wrote a blog post, “Cascade Canyon Caper” just on this daylong journey.

Arkansas

When we met our float guide, Billy Hicks (“ArkAngler Billy“), for our Arkansas River trip in Salida at the ArkAnglers Fly Shop, we found out he was originally from a small town in Missouri nearby where Barb and I grew up. Billy put us on fish all day as we floated the section right through town.  We were joined by our good fishing buddies, James Kelley and Dan McCormack for more fishing, along with another ArkAnglers guide, Preston Larimer.  We waded in several different sections of the river and found fish in each one.     You’ll notice the epitome of “high sticking” done by Dan in the video.

South Platte

Just up (or down) the road from Salida, we fished the South Platte River with Vinnie Renda (“VSP“) of South Platte Fly Shop in Woodland Park.  We found a few of those fabled browns in the “Dream Stream” and chased them in Eleven Mile Canyon as well.  Several evenings we found ourselves in a local cafe, eating, drinking and watching the Cubs win the National League pennant on their way to becoming World Series Champs.

Big Thompson / Rocky Mountain National Park

We pulled the SaraLinda into Estes Park and headed to Kirk’s Fly Shop to meet up with Jeffrey “Mohawk” Curren (“MO“), our guide for the Big Thompson.  The river was flowing high and fast, but “Mo” found spots for us to wet a line and hook into a few fish.  Our youngest daughter Kelly joined us for some hiking to alpine lakes and viewing wildlife… really wildlife when you see the pic of Barb and Kelly at one of the trailheads.  We found some beautiful fish along our hikes as well.

Upper Colorado

We fished the Upper Colorado both inside Rocky Mountain NP, as well as at several local access points such as Hot Sulphur Springs State Wildlife Area…. small fish in the park, larger fish downstream at the access points.  I even found a nice rock in the middle of the river to enjoy!

Frying Pan

We met our guides for the two rivers near Basalt at Frying Pan Anglers.  Eric (“in the Frying Pan“) Way, our guide for the “Pan” as it’s known, took us to several spots that were more remote from the horde of anglers that flock to this stream in the summer.  Right off the bat, he put me onto a big rainbow that set the stage for our day.

Roaring Fork

July 4th on the Roaring Fork (“Fireworks“) was a trip to be remembered forever.  We put in with Ed Deison, in a drift boat, along with what seemed all of Aspen, Basalt and Carbondale.  There were rafts, tubes and drift boats galore working their way downstream.  However, the “bite” was on…. dry flies, nymphs…. everything worked!  In one of the pictures in the video, you’ll see me holding a big fish, with Ed taking a picture of it…. supposedly because each day the FPA guides see who catches the biggest fish.  Ed thought this was a candidate until as he was taking this picture, Dylan Mendoza pulled up next to us and his client had just caught one a couple of inches longer.  We went back out a couple of days later with Dylan and had a “double”.  We had some tasty BBQ as well at an out of the way joint, Slow Groovin’ BBQ in Marble.

Gunnison

We didn’t float just any section of the Gunnison, we floated the Black Canyon section.  Another one of those “bucket list” trips that involved meeting at 6am…. riding to the Gunnision Gorge…. then 7 miles down a road that no one in their right mind would go down without a SERIOUS 4WD, high clearance vehicle.  Then, after 7 miles driving, we walked Chukar Trail down to our waiting rafts on the Colorado.  The fishing was great, but you have to watch “Our Day in the Gunnison Gorge”, which details in video what this trip feels like, including the 19 named rapids.  We visited the Black Canyon of the Gunnison National Park and descending down a 16% grade to the water, found some good fishing holes.  We also took time to visit a very cool mountain town, Ouray, and also found some beer…. of course!

Rio Grande

We laughed as we pulled into the RV park in South Fork (CO) seeing about a dozen RVs, all from Texas.  Seems South Fork is a “home away from home” for many Texans.  We’d met the owner of Wolf Creek Angler at a GRTU TroutFest a year before and were set to fish with them.  We set off with our guide, Aaron Horrocks, and fished assorted dry flies all day with nary a need for a nymph or streamer.  We coined it “Dry Fly Daze“.

We couldn’t resist putting the last picture in.  We’d driven up to Creede to see the small town and eat at a restaurant Aaron had highly recommended.  We stumbled across the Ramble House fly shop…. seemed appropriate along our way.

Note:  The opening video clip is from the Frying Pan and the closing video clip is from a bridge overlooking the Roaring Fork.

Montana has been our second home for years now, and will become our primary summer months home soon.  We absolutely love this state, the spirit of its people, the near perfect summertime temps,  the endless opportunities for outdoor adventures and especially its world class fishing.  Before we even looked inside the pages of the Trout Unlimited’s Guide to America’s Greatest 100 Trout Streams book, we knew there would be numerous Montana streams included.  Below is the list of the 9 rivers included in the book, along with links to our “Guide Talks” and highlights of our time in Montana.

Big Hole

When we fished this river in June, 2017, we found a Big (fast) Hole flowing.  We’d just missed the famous Salmon Fly hatch by a couple of weeks, so we’ll be back.  Another reason to come back is the Beaverhead River which is nearby, and while for some reason excluded from the TU Top 100 book, is itself a tremendous trout stream.  If you visit the area, make sure to make Melrose (MT) your base came.  The true Montana feeling of this small town with the Sportsman’s Motel, Sunrise Fly Shop and Hitching Post restaurant/bar right next to one another is not to be missed.

Big Horn

We’d never fished the Big Horn before our River Ramble, but it has become one of our favorite rivers.  We took a memorable ride on the “Bighorn Mothership” with Merritt Harris and had a “Bighorn Blast” fishing in the area.   If you want to experience catching lots of big fish, this is a fishery not to be missed.

Bitterroot

Bitterroot Chase” Harrison was our guide on the Bitterroot and Pat’s Rubber Legs was the fly of the day.  When Chase learned we were interviewing “characters” along our River Ramble, he immediately recommended someone we had to meet, Andy Carlson.  Andy is a guide/outfitter, fly creator (Purple Haze among others) but most importantly, his “Conservation Leadership” has been critical to keeping the Bitterroot a world class fishery.

Blackfoot

We had the distinct pleasure of fishing with “Ben DeMers on the Blackfoot” River.  Ben, like Chase, guides for Missoulian Angler in Missoula.   It was our first trip on the Blackfoot and Ben made it memorable with both the fishing and his knowledge of the river and surrounding areas.  He gave us tips for fishing Rock Creek as well.  This river was highlighted in A River Runs Through It.

Gallatin

The Gallatin is our “home river” out of Bozeman and we’ve fished it from far up in Yellowstone National Park to its joining with the Jefferson and Madison Rivers to form the Missouri.  Our goto shop in Big Sky is “Wild Trout Outfitters” and we sat down with owner JD Bingham to talk about the Gallatin.  We also took time to feature our local waters with a highlight post “Gallatin-Big Sky Highlights“.

Madison

While the Lower Madison is closer to our Bozeman basecamp, the Upper Madison from Ennis into Yellowstone is our primary fishing stretch of the river.  We featured this river on two different float trips.  The first was “Madison Mayhem” with Spaz out of Kelly Galloup’s Slide Inn.  The second as a “Madison Redux” with Steve Smith out of River’s Edge fly shop in Bozeman.  Needless to say, we really enjoy fishing all the stretches of the Madison.

Missouri

While we both grew up in a small river town, Lexington (MO) on a bluff overlooking the Missouri River, it bears little resemblance to the Missouri River in Montana, especially the section just below Holter Dam.  Our River Ramble “Mighty Mo” trip with Shane Wilson of Headhunters Fly Shop in Craig (MT), was not our first on the river, and it sure won’t be our last.  This stretch of the Missouri is filled with acrobatic, hungry bows and browns ready for an epic fight.

Rock Creek

We fished Rock Creek from Clinton to Phillipsburg and were blown away by the beauty of the area.  We didn’t have a guide for our time on Rock Creek as all of our guides in the area told us we’d be just fine on our own.  Turns out, they were right.  A stimulator, purple haze or parachute adams were all we needed to bring hungry trout to the surface…. so we dubbed our river post “Rock Creek ROCKS!”.

Yellowstone, Middle Section

Like the Gallatin and Madison, the Yellowstone is one of our “regular” rivers to fish and the section between Gardiner and Livingston is our favorite.  We’ve floated it many times with varying degrees of success.  Our last trip, with Jeff Pavlovich of Flies Only Fishing was incredibly successful.  As a matter of fact, we only used one fly to catch a lot of  beautiful Yellowstone Cutthroats…. which gave us our “Guide Talk” title “Chernobyls on the Stone“.  The only modification was between brown and yellow colors.

 

Last year, almost to the day, we fished the Lees Ferry Reach of the Colorado River with Skip Dixon and Kevin Campbell of Lees Ferry Anglers.  We were joined by fishing buddies Dan McCormack, James Kelly and his son, Andy.  What we discovered was one of the most strikingly amazing landscapes you can imagine…. as well as a world class fishery.  At the Lees Ferry put in, we watched as anxious rafters prepared for their journey downstream through the Grand Canyon while we boarded a jet boat for our run upstream toward Glen Canyon dam.  After a great day fishing, Skip and Kevin shared their perspectives on this fishery and its surroundings in Lees Ferry Fanatics.  While we were in Arizona, we also took numerous photos and incorporated them into our highlight video post, AZ Memories.

Our time last year was so good here, we decided to come back this spring.  Skip took us out again on a beautiful day in the canyon.  We found some gorgeous fish that Skip captured in his photos shown above in this post.  I told Skip that our post on this trip was going to be about him and his photos.  He has an eye for photography that captures not just the fish, but most importantly, the surroundings in this magical place.  He also uses a variety of filters to further enhance the images and their meanings.  His pictures are always treasured as mementos of our time with him on the water.

Skip avidly chronicles his time on the river, as well as providing fishing reports.   He takes a very mathematical approach to his guiding, making sure to document river flows, temperatures, hatches and fishing success among many factors.  His methods help assure his clients have the best chances at success on the river.  You can find his reports and chronicles on both his Instagram feed as well as on his Facebook page.

When to come fish with Skip?  Anytime is the right answer, but according to Skip, the summer Cicada hatch is not to be missed.  He also hinted that if you want to target big browns, think about fishing in January or February.  We can’t wait to get back whenever we are in the area to fish the river and experience this vividly stunning landscape.