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 Post subject: Yellowstone TR--long
PostPosted: September 27th, 2017, 3:24 pm 

Joined: December 5th, 2001, 1:00 am
Posts: 5257
Location: Manchester, ME
So Ken has shamed me into it. All photos (except a few where she let me hold the back-up camera) from my long suffering wife Dee Dee, who fortunately likes taking photos of Yellowstone critters as much as I like fishing.

Due to work conflicts for both of us, we were forced to make this year's trip a little earlier than last year. We flew out September 3 and returned on the 12th. For future planning purposes, having our trip coincide with even part of the Labor Day weekend significantly added to the cost of air fare and (especially) car rental. It also shifted our trip from the snow and cold of fall (which hit about September 15 this year and last) to the heat and drought of late summer. This really changed the fishing.

Last year we stayed in Gardiner, which left us with a 60-90 minute drive (and longer if the bison were on the road) to the NE corner of park where I like to fish and Dee Dee likes the great opportunities for wildlife photos. This year we rented a house through Air BNB in Cooke City. That put us 10 minutes from some of my favorite fishing, which was just past an overlook where we saw mountain goats every time we stopped. Cooke City is close enough to the park that we had bison in the street next to the house twice that we noticed.

Cooke City is small. I think the population is somewhere under 100. It has a bunch of bars and restaurants, several of them quite good, a few shops that sell touristy stuff, a couple of convenience store/gas stations, a handful of motels and rental cabins, and that's it. No grocery store. No fly shop--though thanks to our neighbors in the rental giving me a tip, I was able to buy a spool of tippet at Cooke City General Store. If you need a full service fly shop or some fresh vegetables, you're driving 2 hours to Gardiner or even farther over the Beartooth Pass to Red Lodge.

We stocked up on our way into the park from the airport, and (except for a mid-week side trip to Gardiner for some lettuce and other veggies) found everything we needed. It worked well for us--but it would not if you don't plan well.

Here's about 1/3 of "downtown":

ImageDSC_3550 by pixdee, on Flickr

This mountain is just 10 minutes down the road, just inside the park, and is ground zero for the spread of mountain goats--introduced outside the park for recreational hunting--into Yellowstone. There is concern they may eventually have impacts on native bighorn sheep, which like much of the same habitat.

ImageDSC_4017 by pixdee, on Flickr

Native or not, Dee Dee loved taking their photos.

ImageDSC_4047 by pixdee, on Flickr
She has informed me that a better telephoto lens will be required if we go again. Many of these wildlife shots are lower quality because they've been cropped.

Our first day was a total loss--leave home at 2:30 am, arrive in Bozeman about 1:30, hit Walmart, a grocery store, and a fly shop, then drive down through Gardiner to the Park, and through the Park to Cooke City, arriving just in time for an exhausted dinner. So I was eager to get up and going the next morning, and planned a hike in to the meadow on Pebble Creek. This hike is not long, about 6 miles round trip, but the first mile climbs just over 1,000 feet, then drops back another 400 on the other side to the creek. Dee Dee on the trail:

ImageP9040003 by pixdee, on Flickr

Somewhere early in that hike, I felt something a little bit off in my left knee. I found out later that I had a "Baker cyst" that probably burst on that hike. The result was a little bit of a sore knee all week, but massive swelling of my calf every day--large enough that at its worst I had to pick my pants carefully so they'd fit over it by later afternoon. But the extent of the injury wasn't clear for a few days, and meanwhile there was this lovely meadow to fish:

ImageP9040012 by pixdee, on Flickr

And it was loaded with little cutthroat trout who would take any dry fly you could dead drift over them.
ImageP9040022 by pixdee, on Flickr

They ran from that size up to about 14 inches. I'm told that earlier in the season, just after the spawn in July and until the water levels drop, there are larger fish that migrate up here from Soda Butte Creek, and that as the meadow gets flatter and collects more little tribs, some of the deeper pools lower down hold larger fish into late summer. These cutts seem to be highly migratory, and in my experience where you find small ones there are few big ones, and where you find larger adult fish, you don't find smaller ones. But that reflects only experience in early-mid September, so I have a very partial understanding.

Despite my complaints about the crowds and lawn chairs down near the road, if you hike even a little bit into the backcountry, you pretty much have things to yourself. I didn't see another angler all day. We passed another couple who were on a long day hike, and ran into this woman who was out "exercising the horses".
ImageDSC_3814 by pixdee, on Flickr

Dee Dee said I "looked longingly" after they passed, and I was getting ready to defend myself when she added "I know you just wanted a ride back down the mountain on the spare horse." Guilty as charged--my leg was starting to swell by then. :lol: In all seriousness, if you were serious about getting around and getting farther into the backcountry, a horse would be as much a requirement in that country as a canoe is here in Maine.

Day Two was mostly devoted to wildlife. We hired a guide, hoping to get opportunities for Dee Dee to get grizzly bear and wolf photos. Despite a tough day--thick morning fog that preventing early morning viewing, heavy smoke that made it tough to see things that were farther away, and a hot sunny afternoon that had the wildlife not moving much--we had a great day. The highlight was a large grizzly bear guarding a bison carcass:

ImageIMG_20170905_100656239_B by pixdee, on Flickr

He lay there like that for hours, but would occasionally rouse himself to chase away the ravens that were trying to sneak in for a bite, or to rip off a bone and crack it open to get at the marrow. (There wasn't much meat left, and I'm told even the head was gone by the next day.)

ImageDSC_3951 by pixdee, on Flickr

Late that afternoon, I got back on what has become my favorite water in the Park, Soda Butte Creek, for an hour or so. It's small, populated solely by native Yellowstone cutts, and despite the circus at a few roadside pools, there are miles and miles of it that look like this
ImageP9110171 by pixdee, on Flickr

or this

ImageDSC_4839 by pixdee, on Flickr

and holds fish that run from about this size up to 20" or so.

ImageDSC_4065 by pixdee, on Flickr

There just don't seem to be any small ones in the mainstem of the "larger" streams, but every time I've fished up into a tributary I find small cutts a pool or two upstream. Again, I think these fish are highly migratory, and have evolved a strategy to ensure that big adult cutts don't eat all the little ones. In two years, none of the water I fished held both fish under 12" and fish over 15". Every stream I fished either yielded dinks and an occasional fish of 12-14", or fish that averaged around 15" and ran considerably larger.

As was the case last year, ants were the ticket to consistently catching fish. There were a few mayflies around here and there, and when they were on the water you had to match them. (Parker's #12 emerger worked well--thanks!) And I caught a few fish on small (#14) hoppers, and a few on a trailing Prince nymph. But 3/4 of the trout I caught all week came on ants--the smaller the better. My go-to rig became a #18 parchute ant (next year I will tie these with orange rather than white wing posts for better visibility), trailed by a #16 or 18 glass bead ant. The sunk glass bead ant was the money fly, though I took plenty of fish on the parachute, too. But ants, and small, was definitely what they wanted. I'll be doing both ant patterns for the Grey Ghosts fly tying come November, so put it on your schedule!.

More to come later . . . .

 Post subject: Re: Yellowstone TR--long
PostPosted: September 27th, 2017, 7:25 pm 

Joined: May 4th, 2007, 12:00 am
Posts: 121
Great report. The one time I was out that way, I couldn't shake the fear of the grizz. What's the secret to relaxing and not looking over your shoulder every 90 seconds when you're in the backcountry?

 Post subject: Re: Yellowstone TR--long
PostPosted: September 27th, 2017, 7:33 pm 

Joined: December 5th, 2001, 1:00 am
Posts: 5257
Location: Manchester, ME
We carried bear spray, made a lot of noise when walking, especially off trail in cover, and hoped for the best. I also reviewed park incident reports and realized I was way more likely to be gored or stomped by a bison or injured in a car accident than mauled by a grizz.

I never did really get comfortable being around the bison, which is pretty much unavoidable. And there were a number of close calls on the road. Distracted drivers in unfamiliar rental cars with lots of large wildlife is a bad combo.

When I post the second part of the report, I'll have more to say about close calls with bison.

 Post subject: Re: Yellowstone TR--long
PostPosted: September 27th, 2017, 8:58 pm 
FFIM Addict

Joined: October 13th, 2002, 12:00 am
Posts: 3324
Location: Sidney, Me
Outstanding photos. Looks like you had another great trip.

 Post subject: Re: Yellowstone TR--long
PostPosted: September 28th, 2017, 5:22 pm 

Joined: December 2nd, 2002, 1:00 am
Posts: 521
Location: maine; now Salida, CO
Nice Jeff! I agree, Soda Butte is my favorite as well. And I will never forget our first trip to the Park. We attended a Ranger Talk that evening in our campground and she drilled it into us that THE MOST DANGEROUS ANIMAL in the park is a lone bison. I've had three encounters (none turned bad) and don't wish for any more.

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