Waiting It Out

Steven here reporting from Yellowstone, Week #2: The Firehole and Gibbon rivers looked more like rivers in Willy Wonka's Factory than blue-ribbon

  • By: Steven Spigelmyer
I was going insane. Hours felt like days, days felt like months and word on the street was it would only get worse. If it wasn't the rain that never ended, then it was the downright frightening talk of run off for three weeks that gave me chills. But it wasn't just the talk that made me feel as if this fishing trip could be stuck in neutral, the proof was right in front of my eyes. The Firehole and Gibbon rivers (which come together to form the Madison) looked more like rivers in Willy Wonka's Factory than blue-ribbon fisheries. Even the usually always fishable Madison stifled me, forcing me to toss and turn in my sleep trying to think of what I was doing wrong. Sure, it's easy to say there's a lot more to fishing then catching fish, like you get to enjoy the great outdoors, or that a bad day of fishing is better then a good day at work. That's what I always tell myself when I'm fishing the Truckee River, and it always takes a little bit of the sting out after being skunked. But could I really sit in the Mecca of fly-fishing and use that excuse? It wasn't going to be quite so simple to ease the pain of a fishless day. No, the only way I could function again would be to have a good day on the river. Actually, make it two.

After throwing big ugly Girdle Bugs, a stonefly nymph, trailed with an Atomic Worm for five days, it was clear that either I needed to change my strategy or find some water I could see the bottom of. Unfortunately the only clear water near Yellowstone National Park is the small section just below Hebgen Dam, before Cabin Creek dumps in its chocolaty flow. I say unfortunately because every time I had driven by, it was apparent that there was not enough river for the amount of fishermen there, and combat fishing has never been my idea of a great time on the river. So imagine my surprise as I pulled around the bend at 9:30 a.m. to see a desolate river. A river begging to be fished, needing to be fished.

I immediately hopped out, threw on my waders and tried to rush my photographer (and beautiful girlfriend) as much as she can be rushed this early in the morning. After finding a safe section of river to cross, we set down the gear on the island, which separates the river. Although my girlfriend is the photographer, she often can't wait to get on the river, and who am I to blame her for that? I set her rod up first and let her go to work as I searched for the perfect pattern. But as it turns out my girlfriend had already picked out the perfect pattern, because she was hooked up on a beautiful rainbow before I could even throw a line. After taking a few pics we released the fish and I grabbed my rod with fervor, knowing that it was going to be a great day.

By the time my fishing partner Curtis arrived, I already had netted several beautiful rainbows, all which were willing to hammer my size 14 Crystal Serendipity. And although the clouds were cascading upon us, there was no sign of the fishing beginning to fade, particularly since we were the only three on the river until one in the afternoon.

When we finally got off the river, my girlfriend had netted two fish while Curtis and myself each caught fish in the 18- to 20-inch range, an amazing fish by any standard on the Madison. It was a day long overdue that helped me remember what fly-fishing in this area is all about. As night fell, and our enthusiasm for the next day grew, I couldn't help but think of the words Brad Pitt's character spoke during his passionate last time fly-fishing in the Robert Redford/Norman Maclean classic A River Runs Through It: "I'll never leave Montana, brother."

After days like this, I understand exactly why it's so hard to leave this place. Enjoy the pictures, but more importantly get out on a river and make your own.

Steven Spigelmyer is a student at the University of Nevada, where he studies journalism. He's spending the summer as a trout bum in Yellowstone National Park and filing weekly reports with us.