Lagniappe

At almost every turn in Alaska, whenever something happened, we were greeted by the phrase “It’s a part of the ‘Alaska Experience’”.  I cannot tell you how many times we heard that phrase… from guides, to airline employees, to fly shop owners, to merchants, to restaurant servers and more.  I think it’s part of the lexicon for Alaskans to remind you that you’re definitely NOT in the lower 48 anymore.  

While I will be writing much more later, I wanted to share just a few of the “happenings” which cause this phrase to be uttered.  You’ll note that I’ve included one picture to this gallery post to depict each of these “happenings” that coincide with each of the sections below.

Rain & Wind

When we arrived in Anchorage, it was sunny and 72 with no wind.  When we left Anchorage for Intricate Bay Lodge, the clouds had formed and were a harbinger of things to come.  At dinner the first night, our host shared how the past week at the lodge, the temps were in the upper 60’s and 70’s with sun and no wind.  As it turned out for OUR week at IBL and in the Katmai NP area, we had temps in the low-mid 50’s with winds in the sustained 20-30 mph range …. gusts exceeding 40mph… and rain regularly pelting us.  We had one sunny (but windy) day in the Katmai area.  When we went to fish the Kanektok with Alaska West, we had a similar experience, albeit with less wind, but similar rain… and yes, one day of sun!  

I can still hear Chase at IBL and Cole at Alaska West telling us… “It’s a part of the ‘Alaska Experience!’”  Mind you, Chase said it when we were landing at “Pothole” near Moraine Creek in a rainstorm with a ceiling of maybe 200’ for T-Bird to land the Dirty Girl… repeated it as we carried the rafts, coolers, paddles, etc… up and down the ridge to our put in spot…. and then as he fought those sustained 30 mph winds with 40+mph gusts for 7 hours. 

Cole used the phrase when we arrived at Quinhagak along the Kanektok River in a rainstorm without our rain gear as we were about to embark on a 30 minute jet boat ride upriver to our Alaska West tent camp.  We were wearing trash bags as rain gear on our legs, covering ourselves as best we could, which leads me to the next “Alaska Experience” topic.

Picture 1 Note:  We’d just finished a day long raft trip on Moraine Creek in crazy harsh winds and rain.  The knees you see just sticking up are our guides who were exhausted from fighting the wind.  Barb is the one all covered up in the bottom of the picture trying to avoid the weather.  We waited like this for about 30 minutes before “T-Bird and the Dirty Girl” arrived to pick us up and fly us back to the lodge.

Luggage Issues

You see, we HAD actually packed our rain gear, right on top of our luggage, expecting to get it at the terminal in Quinhagak when we landed.  Our plan was to put it on in the terminal before boarding the jet boats for the trip upriver.  Great plan…. right?  

As it turned out, right after we boarded the Ravn Airlines “Nanook” in Anchorage for our flight to Bethel (an intermediate stop on the way to Quinhagak…. more on this another time), a ground crew member came aboard and informed us that several bags had been “bumped” from the flight due to weight restrictions, but that they’d be on the very next flight to Bethel.  When we arrived in Bethel, after a long delay there due to “Rain and Wind” (see above), we found out that both Barb and I had been the “lucky losers” and our bags had been pulled in Anchorage.  No worries however, they were coming on the very next flight to Bethel, then onto Quinhagak.

I’ll spare you in this version of our “Alaska Experience”, and just say that our bags DID make it on the next flight from Anchorage to Bethel, but the airport in Quinhagak was closed due to…. you know what…. “Rain and Wind”.  We didn’t see our bags, with our rain gear right on top, until noon the next day.  Our “note to self” for our next trip to Alaska was…. in addition to carrying on all your medications, passports, toiletries and such in our carry on luggage, pack full rain gear as well.  

Picture 2 Note:  The two “big” bags in the top 1/2 of the picture are the ones that got “bumped” from the flight.  The bottom 1/2 of the picture shows the bus and trailer that is holding all the bags that DID make it on time to Quinhagak… as well as the rain that was coming down at the time.

Travel

First of all, just getting to Alaska isn’t the easiest of things to do…. but once there, the REAL fun begins.  Alaska is known as the “Air Crossroads of the World” due to the number of flights that occur daily, including all the sea plane flights.  Since there are only a few roads in Alaska, most travel is done via plane.  Each small village, many of which are native Alaskan villages, has an airport.   If you look at the Ravn Airlines map, you’ll see just how many destinations there are in Alaska.  Ravn operates 10 “hubs” for flights to all the villages it serves.  Even more so, this doesn’t take into account all the private float planes stationed around the 3197 “officially named” lakes (and 3 million+) lakes that dot the landscape of Alaska.  

So…. the “Alaska Experience” of course includes jets, prop planes of assorted sizes and for sure, float planes including our fav, the “Dirty Girl”.  In addition to planes, there are also rafts, drift boats, jet boats and a bit larger boats for tooling around the waters of the state.  We were even introduced to a new aviation moniker…. IFR flying.  When the ceiling is incredibly low, you go IFR…. I Follow River!  We came to think of it as an amusement ride, banking left and right as you parallel the river below, only about a few hundred feet up.  

I have to say, the jet boat rides were an adventure as well, with that same amusement ride feel to them.  We traversed some landscape that you wouldn’t have imagined navigating by just looking at it.  

Picture 3 Note:  Just a few of our transportation adventures during our “Alaska Experience”.

Wildlife

 Yes…. there is wildlife in Alaska… lots and lots of it.   At times, we would have to remind ourselves of where we were to remember what we might encounter.  While in Anchorage, we really weren’t TOO worried about bears, but definitely had to watch out for moose.  When we were on the rivers in Alaska, we most definitely had to watch out for bears.  Amazingly, we did… kind of…. get used to seeing them around us.  We were always aware and looking around regularly, but really weren’t too afraid when we saw one for two reasons.  One… the bears had ample supplies of food with all the salmon in the rivers, and two, our guides had both bear spray and carried hand guns, just in case.  Our only “sketchy” times were those in which we ventured out to the rivers on our own, without guides.  Needless to say, we always had bear spray and we made LOTS of noise along the way.  We still saw bears each time we went out, but really never felt too threatened.  We also encountered moose and more eagles than you could count.  We came to appreciate all of these wildlife encounters as a part of the “Alaska Experience”.  

Picture 4 Note:  The wildlife in Alaska is so spectacular, especially the moose, eagles and of course, the bears.

Fishing

The ultimate reason we came to Alaska was to fish the final 5 rivers of the TU Top 100 book… Kenai, Russian, Copper, Alagnak and Kanektok.  That said, we also came for the “Alaska Experience” shared in this post whether we realized it at the time or not.  The fishing in Alaska is EPIC to say the least.  There are so many species to target…. so many big fish to battle… and so many rivers, creeks and lakes to explore.  We had an absolute blast fishing them all and yes, are already plotting our next trip to Alaska in 2020.  

Picture 5 Note:  On our last day on the Kanektok, our guide put us on 6 different species of fish… this pic captures 4 of them… Chum, Rainbow, Sockeye and Silver (Coho).    We also caught grayling and dollies that day.

As we were fishing our way through the TU Top 100 book, friends would ask us “What is your favorite river?”   After a lot of “ummm ummm’s”,  we would usually tell them “it depends”.  We talk about the fishing experience, the “vibe” from the fishery and community, the scenery and of course, the fishing.  Well, after fishing all of the Top 100 streams, we can confidently say, that if the measure combines the quantity, quality and diversity of fish, we have a #1….. the Kanektok River.  The other rivers in Alaska shined as well but we sure hit the jackpot during our week on the Kanektok with the guides from Alaska West.

To be honest, just getting to Alaska West was an adventure.  For us, it started with boarding the Ravn Airlines “Nanook” prop plane for a flight from Anchorage to Bethel, a small village about 1.5 hours away.  We had to fly into Bethel because there are no roads connecting Anchorage and Bethel.  From Bethel, we got on a much smaller single prop plane for the stretch from Bethel to the little native village of Quinhagak.  When we boarded the plane to Quinhagak, the pilot grabbed a rubber chicken and choked it for luck…. before handing it to Barb who sat right behind him.  After landing on the runway and taxiing to the “terminal” (very small building) we jumped in a bus, drove down to the Alaska West boats and jetted up to camp.

Alaska West is a tent camp, based about a 30 minute boat ride up the Kanektok River from Quinhagak.  As you can see from some of the drone footage we shot while there, it’s in a remote area, again no roads anywhere, small trees and tundra surround it but most importantly, it sits directly on the Kanektok River.  The camp only has two permanent buildings…. the “drying” building and the kitchen.  All of the other structures are tents…. the lounge (with the flags on top), the dining hall, the showers and of course, the sleeping tents.  Our tent was named, Chum.  Important to note, the bathrooms were port-a-pots.  While it might sound like roughing it, the camp was really quite nice with great heaters in the sleeping tents, a kitchen team that served us awesome meals, and the “drying” tent which was for our waders to dry after fishing each day.   The “drying” tent was like a sauna and was greatly appreciated as we wadered up each day before heading to the river.  

Each day, we all walked down to the river, assembled in our assigned boats for the day with our guides (see Kanek “Talk”), and headed up, or down river.  We fished all the way from where the Kanektok met the Bering Sea (we couldn’t see Russia, but, it was out there somewhere) upstream to where the Togiak Preserve boundary sign was posted.  Each day, we experienced all sorts of scenes along the river, from amazing views, to small channels teaming with trout, dolly varden and even grayling, to the main channel where we found some very very big salmon (we were hunting for silvers).  We were introduced to the term “tundra turd” (pic in video will be obvious) as we navigated the river.  When we caught our limit of silvers, we’d head back to camp and drop them off for processing (and smoking).  We were often met by the camp mascot, Chum (see pic with Cole holding him).  We even had a “shore lunch” of freshly caught dolly varden where we had another chance to launch our drone (“River Eagle”) to catch some amazing vistas.  

I wish I could tell you how many fish we hooked and how many we landed, each and every day, but that would be an impossible task, because we were constantly being put on fish.  What we’ve tried to do is share with you some pics and videos of both hooking/fighting fish as well as the fish themselves.  As you watch, you’ll understand why we are so enamored with this river.  

We promise you’ll enjoy our Kanektok River Ramble.  And yes, we are already planning our trip back to Alaska West and the Kanektok River.  

Our first week in Alaska brought us to the Intricate Bay Lodge on the shores of Lake Iliamna.  Our transport there was via seaplane with “T-Bird and the Dirty Girl“.  As you’ll hear and see in our highlights video above, this place truly was “Fantasy Island”.

We fished for 6 straight days, including the day we landed at the lodge and were met by our guides for the week.  To get to the rivers in the area, the Copper, Gibraltar, Battle, Alagnak and Moraine Creek, we took the seaplane, jet boats, a big boat and even rafts.  It was always an adventure.

Wildlife along these rivers was abundant, especially the bears.  They put on a show for us repeatedly.  As you watch the video, see if you can spot the fish that jumps when the bear pounces in the river…. and how my eyes move from fishing to the bank in one of the videos because I had an audience.

All this, and epic fishing, what a week.  Our rods were bent with great regularity and usually with an 18+ inch rainbow on the other end.  These fish fight incredibly hard and don’t give up without making a few runs and jumps first.  However, we landed our fair share during the week… the video highlights just a few.

Finally, one of the questions we always ask our guides is “What is it you hope people do or have when coming to fish?”  When we did our “Guide Talk” with the Intricate Bay Lodge guides, Chace explained what we think is the most important….. check out the video above to find out!

We are already hoping to get back to this incredible spot, with these incredible guides and the lodge which is awesome.   For now, we hope you enjoy the video of highlights above.

Ramble On!

One of the biggest apprehensions Barb (and honestly, me too) had in going to Alaska was the concept of taking off and landing in a float plane…. on water!  Neither of us had ever done it. To further the concern, you seem to frequently hear about a “small plane crash in Alaska” in the news during the summer.  Just Google “Alaska plane crash”.  

Why?  There are so many planes and so many trips being taken during the summer tourist season in Alaska.  Small planes sightseeing to Denali, Barrow, North Pole and more, not to mention all of the “fly out” fishing planes headed to rivers and lakes throughout the state.  There is a reason Anchorage is called the “Air Crossroads of the World”, being within a 9 hour flight to 90% of the industrialized world.  It also houses the world’s largest and busiest seaplane base at Lake Hood.  

So it was with a bit of reluctance that we walked up to the plane you see in the “featured” picture on our blog site.  It landed and taxied into the bank of a small lake near the Iliamna (AK) airport.  It’s here where we met Troy “T-Bird” Abplanalp, our pilot, and boarded the “Dirty Girl” for our flight to Intricate Bay Lodge.

Two things to know… First…T-Bird is a character in the truest sense, but also a very, very good seaplane pilot.  We had a blast getting to know him and flying with him on our adventures.  I even got to sit in the co-pilot seat next to him on each flight….erm…. due to my “size”.  Second… The “Dirty Girl” (watch the video as to why she’s called that) is a 1954 de Havilland Canada DHC-2 Beaver, a workhorse bush plane that had flown in both the Korean and Vietnam wars.  Just take a look during the video at the cockpit to see very little “electronics” except an added Garmin GPS device that wasn’t invented until 1989.  To say flying the “Dirty Girl” is old school is an understatement.  

To make a long story short, we quickly became comfortable, or at least at peace, with flying in a seaplane.  Over the course of our time at IBL, we took 12 flights with T-Bird and the Dirty Girl… a “flight” being a takeoff and a landing…. some in good weather, most in rain and wind it seemed.

The video above documents what a “typical” day was for us… although there was usually NOTHING typical each time we flew.  While there will be more posts highlighting “T-Bird” and our “Dirty Girl” experiences (our “Guide Talk” for one), please enjoy the video above.

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)).

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!