No Walk in the Park

Week 3: Cold, wet, rainy... but there are still fish to be caught in the Yellowstone region.

  • By: Steven Spigelmyer
Casting in a blizzard on June

I was always taught that the worst four-letter word began with an F, yet since making my voyage north to Yellowstone National Park, I have been taught differently. Wind, rain, snow and hail have plagued this trip so far, forcing my fishing comrades and me off rivers, under trees, into cars and, unfortunately, killing the bugs that trout eat. As I write this it is June 11, supposedly "summer"; but today I awoke to three fresh inches of snow outside my window: an amazing sight for a Christmas morning, but something that will make even the most avid fly-fisherman cringe. So after being here 20 nights, our fortunes can be summed up in the number of days that we haven't seen one of the dreaded four letter words: zero. Although these elements may make a day on a river or lake uncomfortable, sometimes even unbearable, I will never let them be the sole reason that my waders remain dry.

I went fishing five times in the last eight days, with varying luck to match the weather. Last summer one of my fondest fishing memories was the salmonfly hatch throughout Firehole Canyon. It's something that when timed correctly you will neither forget, nor will you ever miss it again.

From the moment I arrived in the park I began counting down the days, checking the river everyday for girdle bugs swimming to the banks or any sign of salmonfly mania. After witnessing a girdle bug swim out and shed its skin, or shuck, I immediately tied on a big orange alien in anticipation of one of the best days I would have on the river all summer. Only it never happened. It would be warm enough in the mornings for the nymphs to crawl to the banks but by afternoon the snow and cold conditions would freeze them. Sure I worked that 400 yard section of river all day, and I got a few little browns to come and chase my Bunyon Bug; but the smarter, warier and bigger browns refused to give my fly the time of day. The salmonfly hatch I dreamed of all year never peaked, and without the satisfaction of raising big trout to a big fly, I went in search of more.

Hearing local hearsay that there were salmon flies all over the Box Canyon of the Henry's Fork I willingly drove out to Last Chance, Idaho.

My buddy Curtis agreed to row me down the canyon, and who was I to not oblige such a generous offer. But just as the Firehole broke my heart, so did the Box. About an hour into what is usually a four-hour float it was apparent that it would not be an amazing day. Not because we couldn't see salmonflies or because we weren't catching fish; rather, because the largest hail I had ever witnessed began plummeting our hands, heads and covering the bottom of the boat with slick sleet instantly. With no end in sight Curtis rowed like a mad man to try and get us in a heated car. We had been stifled once again.

In need of a break from the vicious early summer months weather, my girlfriend and I decided to drive throughout the park to check water temps and water clarity: especially the rivers and Lakes in the northern section of the park, whose June 15 openings usually lure hundreds to come try their luck. The following are water temperatures and clarities for rivers and lakes of interest, or at least what interested me:

  • Madison: 58 degrees, off color especially closer to Gibbon/Firehole
  • Firehole River Canyon Section: 60 degrees, Chocolaty color
  • Firehole River by Fountain Flat Dr.: 63 degrees, clearest water in Park
  • Gibbon River: 50 degrees, could see boots but murky
  • Slough Creek: 46 degrees, a little off color, but main problem is it is cold
  • Lamar River: 40 degrees, no visibility, wait to fish this!
  • Trout Lake: 48 degrees, beautiful, and worth the hike, fish or no fish

Although this week left me inside watching and re-watching Trout Bum Diaries more then I would like (hey who likes to just sit and watch people catch 30 inch trout after 30 inch trout while staring out a window into a windy and snowy oblivion) I did manage to have some good days on the Madison outside the park again. In the midst of a full-out blizzard, I witnessed one of the heaviest hatches of blue-winged olives I had ever seen. I had trouble locating my fly in the snow but Curtis didn't. After tying on a size 16 Blue Winged Olive, I stood and watched in amazement as he hooked up on fish after fish. I waited till after the storm to try and work my magic, landing one nice rainbow on a green Bugger and a few smaller trout on a red Serendipity nymph size 14 with a bead. After witnessing Curtis land more than 10 fish during the snow storm, it would seem that during overcast and cold days the Madison remains the strongest option for fishermen in search of trout.

No, the conditions aren't perfect, but trout need to eat and fishermen need to fish. So be cold, get stuck in the hail, fend off the snow, untangle in the wind and enjoy fly-fishing in one of the most amazing places on earth.

Steven Spigelmyer is spending the summer in Yellowstone National Park and reporting on his travels for us. When he's not being a trout bum, he attends the University of Nevada.