The Yellowstone River
A good friend of mine, Tom Manion, an Engineer with Bloomsdale Excavating, has been trying to get me to go on a fishing trip to Montana for the past few years. There always seemed to be a reason that I couldn’t go…OH I remember now, I had to work. Funny how much more fishing opportunities I have had since I retired from teaching and coaching. The trip to Montana with Tommy has been on my mind for a very long time. When I called Tom a couple of months ago and told him that I was going to go to Montana this year, he was excited, but told me that he was already going up with our friend the famous wildlife artist, Al Agnew. You have probably seen work by Al with Bass Pro Shop or the cover of Outdoor life, or maybe his work in a gallery somewhere. Al is also an accomplished fly fisherman, preferring streamers over just about anything else. I needed to find someone to go with me and I immediately thought of my good friend Corky Stack, who is also an engineer. Corky has his own business in St. James MO., Stack Design and Consulting. Corky thought about the idea of going to Montana for about 2 seconds and said YES. I started getting our flight, hotel and car rental lined up immediately. A month later Corky and I were in the air headed to Livingston Montana. We met up with Corky’s son, Lance, during our lay-over in Denver. Lance had a couple of days of vacation coming so he flew up with us for some R&R. The three of us checked in to our hotel in Livingston that afternoon and immediately called our good friend Tom Coleman. Tom, a bioengineer, was a fishing guide in Livingston, before he developed his own business, Aquatic Design & Construction in Livingston. The office and nursery are located on an island on the Yellowstone. Corky, Lance and I spent the rest of the afternoon fishing off of Tom’s island. We caught several white fish and I caught a couple of browns. That evening Manion and Agnew arrived in town. We all got together for a great meal at the Rib and Chop Restaurant and planned our float trip for the next day. We were to meet our guides at the “Crack of 8:30” and go to Dan Bailey’s fly shop to get our fly supplies for the day.
YELLOWSTONE FLOAT TRIP
We all started with streamers in the morning, woolly buggers and double bunnies mostly. I actually caught a whitefish on a #4 yellow and brown woolly. A Whitefish is a rare catch with a streamer according to our guide Dennis. Dennis spends most of his time guiding fishermen in the summer and running an Elk Hunting camp in the fall. I believe you can find it at Montanaelkhunting.com. Fishing was very slow that morning and a break from throwing those heavy flies and a need to satisfy the growling in my stomach was necessary.
As we rounded a bend in the river we saw the other two boats in our party set up for lunch on a rare gravel bar along the north shore. The box meals of shrimp and rice gumbo had been prepared ahead of time and boy were they delicious. A nice cool Neptune beer (local brew) would have been great, but I would have to wait until supper at the Rib and Chop for that. While I was taking pictures of our party, Tom Coleman’s Lab, Molly, ate my Scone cookie. At least I got to take one bite out of it. Manion had bought them that morning at our breakfast gathering hole, the Montana Cup. Just down the street from the Murray Hotel
After lunch we started to see some caddis coming off. Could this be the famous Mother’s Day hatch? We sure hoped so; it was one of the main reasons we went to Montana. A chance to see for ourselves the enormous hatch the river is famous for. As we came around another bend Dennis decided to row us over to a foam eddy to see if fish were on the caddis. The further down the stream we went the more caddis we saw. Sure enough, they were taking the little critters off the surface in the foam. They were trapped in the eddy foam going around and around. The fish just followed the foam eating the flies as they drifted down and got caught in the eddy. I tried using a dry fly, but couldn’t find it in the foam. A cast outside the foam didn’t attract attention. I decided to use what I usually fish with, soft-hackles. I had tied some up before I left just for this hatch. If I couldn’t see my dry, I knew I could feel the wet. Two casts later I was into a 16” rainbow that went crazy. I ended up catching a cut-bow and two more rainbows out of that hole. Lance broke off a good fish and Corky landed a very nice 18” brown. We had more water to cover and the wind was really starting to blow. It was very common and tremendously frustrating to make a cast and have your fly land 20 feet upstream from the target. 20-30 MPH winds make it very difficult to cast and a hard day for a guide trying to row a drift boat, especially with the wind blowing upstream. Our guide, Dennis, earned every penny that day. I can only imagine what his back felt like at the end of the day. We made a couple of other stops when we could see heads rising to the bugs. Al and Tom found a nice eddy and caught some good bows off the hatch. The caddis were popping out of the water like popcorn out of a pot like my father used, when I was kid, long before microwave popcorn bags were thought of.
In the last riffle eddy we pulled off to fish for the day, I broke off a 5X tippet stripping a caddis soft-hackle. I was holding the fly line when I set the hook and all I felt was the tap and the snap. Of course, I had visions of a monster brown breaking that brand new tippet. I think all of the fish I break off are huge, except for the ones I see….reality…probably a bad spot in the line or maybe I forgot to wet the knot when I pulled it tight. I do that sometimes when I am in a hurry to get a line in the water… “Fish are rising”, need I say more.
End of the day on the Yellowstone just above Springdale Montana
We ended the day catching a few fish, but we had a grand time. Al caught the fish of the day that morning, a 20” brown on a #2 black woolly right on the bank in about 8 inches of water. Maybe the hatch will be tomorrow?
We were planning to fish the Yellowstone again, but guess what? Yep you guessed it… surprise, surprise the Yellowstone blew out overnight. The unseasonably warm weather started the melt down in the mountains and the next morning the Yellowstone was, pretty much going to be a waste of time. But the nice thing about Montana, it isn’t very far to another stream, so Corky, Lance and I decided on the Boulder for some wade fishing, Tom and Al decided to float the Madison
As you can see from the picture the Boulder River comes by its name honestly. The entire stream is almost entirely made up of boulders. Huge ones and lots of nice round bowling ball size rocks with just the right amount of algae to make them dangerous. A great stream to wade, but it can be a little hazardous. The lower section of the river has white algae that reminds one of wet toilet paper. We didn’t like messing with the stuff on just about every cast, so we decided to fish the upper stream the next day where there was supposed to be very little to no algae.
Lance had to head back to Denver on Tuesday morning, so Corky and I headed to the upper Boulder. The Whitefish were very cooperative and we managed to fool a few rainbows and browns.
Corky and I split up. I went down stream and he headed up. One of the drawbacks about fishing alone is taking a picture of a fish you catch. I managed to catch some bows and browns on my usual flies. There was a small hatch of mayflies and caddis coming off so I had help locating feeding fish. One of the things I regret was not taking a picture of an ugly Whitefish. I know there are several Missouri Fly fishermen that have never seen one. But they are easy to catch especially if you use any kind of bead head fly… kind of like catching Chub minnows on the Current River… they like bead heads.
The last day of our trip was spent on the DePuy. Al and Tom did not do well on the Madison the day before, but salvaged part of the trip by going to the Armstrong Spring Creek. Al caught a 23” Brown on the Madison but it was only one of 6 fish he caught. I think Tom caught 4… very slow. We heard of one boat that was skunked on the Madison the same day.
We decided to spend the last day on the DePuy Spring Creek; actually the DePuy and the Armstrong is the same stream. We woke up to 26 degree weather and a snow storm. The weather channel was predicting 3-5 inches of snow before it was over. Snow has never stopped us before, so we headed to the stream. The wind was blowing about 20 mph. I guess it always blows in the Yellowstone Valley. It was the only day that I was cold, and we fished in 30 degree temps every morning. The difference was the snow and wind.
It was time to switch from 3X and 4X tippets to 5X and 6X tippets. I didn’t think we would need to get much smaller. It was a perfect Baetis type day. Snow storm and wind. They started coming off about 30 minutes after we arrived. Not a huge hatch, but the fish were rising to them. I managed to hook up with a nice brown that broke me off, then another one and another one. I was getting frustrated breaking off these fish. I decided to switch to 4X and try a larger soft hackle, not a good choice. They wanted the floaters so I had to switch back to a 6X dry. I did mange to catch and land some smaller fish, but I wanted bigger ones. I knew they were here I had seen them at the end of my line. The weather changed in the afternoon, the snow was gone by 2:00 PM, I mean all gone and the temps were only in the lower 30s. It is amazing how fast the snow melts. Three days before we arrived, Billings had an accumulated 17 inches and it was gone when we got there. I switched over to a pheasant tail and changed my tippet to 5X… good decision. I managed to turn more than I hooked, but at least I was getting lots of action.
Corky had a good day landing about 18-20 fish, most of them around 15-16" with the biggest about 18". Tom Manion and Al, particularly Tom had a great afternoon. They must have had the right fly and the right location, because they probably caught 40 or 50 apiece.
As Corky and I were putting away our rods on the last evening of our trip I just had to take this picture. What a great sight to remember for a wonderful fishing trip to Montana.
Sunset looking up Paradise Valley from the DePuy Ranch just south of Livingston Montana.