Today was my sister Becky and brother-in-law Don’s last day in town. It didn’t look like they were going to go back to New Hampshire with any great fishing stories from this visit. Last week our jaunt to the Henry’s Fork was a near bust (although Becky pulled a hopper away from a beast). Then while they were in Yellowstone Park this week they were blown off Slough Creek by our windiest day of the season. And although yesterday was certainly fun getting three year old Sierra hooked up to some fish at the Victor pond, it wasn’t like Becky or Don got to wade a river for wild rising cutthroats. With that in mind, for their last day I wanted to take them to some place that they were almost guaranteed to catch a few fish. And not just little fish either. I wanted to see them catch some big beautiful fish on dry flies. Piece of cake – right? Well, such a request might be a piece of cake in my boat, but with a three year old and four adults the boat wasn’t an option. We had to walk.
I thought pretty hard about this and last night I came up with an idea – drive as deep into the Canyon of the South Fork as possible and hope to find at least a few cuttys feeding on a riffle. I’ve floated the Canyon several times this summer and the fishing has been no less than spectacular each time. And as long as you don’t mind driving your car up a dirt rod for twenty miles you can access some of this water on foot. By 11 am this morning we found ourselves at the end of the road on the banks of the South Fork Canyon.
We weren’t even out of our cars when Granny spotted a nice cutthroat nymphing. She was leaning out the passenger window staring at a fishy looking spot under a leaning river birch with leaves beginning to turn yellow. “There’s one!” Granny shouted. “Get over here Donald”.
It appeared Becky would be first on Sierra duty as Don already had his vest on and was speeding our way. By now I too was observing the cutty and was glad to see he was also rising to the first of the days hatching PMD’s. He was a hefty trout. He was easily pushing 15”s and thick around the belly. I could see his beautiful orange colorings as I looked down from the dirt road we were perched on. Catching this cutty would make anyone’s trip a success. For starters I had Don tie on a small Chernobyl Ant and wade into position. The trout was weaving in and out of some very strange currents but when I saw the opportune time I told Don to cast. He made a perfect presentation but the cutty had no interest in the ant.
I advised Don not to make another cast and to immediately change to a PMD. I had a feeling we would end up going this route, but it’s so much easier to see a Chernobyl on the water for someone who rarely gets to trout fish we had to try it. Often times the Chernobyl entices the strike. But the Chernobyl is also the type of fly that if the fish wants it he’ll eat it on the first cast. If he doesn’t and you keep trying, he quickly figures out that there’s an angler around and may stop eating everything altogether.
Don tied on a size 16 PMD and began to cast. By now there were two nice cuttys looking for PMD’s and I knew we had a good chance. As expected, the smaller sized fly was difficult to see and Don had trouble landing it where it needed to be. These fish really were in a technical spot and in order to get a good drift the cast needed to be right on the money. Once Don had a feel for the drift he laid the fly right in there and one of those gorgeous cutthroats ate it.
Unfortunately, the cuttys of the South Fork have and uncanny way of not getting hooked. We all saw the mouth close on Don’s fly but when he lifted his rod there was nothing but air. Unbelievable! Now the trout were wise to us and other than a few refusals we didn’t get hooked up.
Then it was Becky’s turn while Don watched Sierra. Granny, Becky and I walked down through some willows to a back eddy where some fresh fish were feeding in a bubble line. Becky is much more experienced than Don so Granny and I just grabbed a seat on a fallen cottonwood tree and watched. As Granny and I fought off some angry ants Becky presented the fly where it needed to be and a cutty ate instantly. But she too missed her first fish. I tell you, these guys really can be tough to hook. Becky was a little frustrated but she threw right back in there and hooked and landed one of the smaller risers of the pool.
Becky caught a few of the smaller trout before hooking a big one. I saw his large jaws close down on her fly and the surprised look come over his face when he felt the hook. Then I watched him take off frantically and bolt from side to side in the pool. Becky’s 5-weight was bent and the game was on. By the time I scurried down to her to prepare to take some pictures the brute had worked his way to the main river. As we all know, the current and power of this river is amazing and the cutthroat had a huge advantage. I instructed Becky to put some heat on him and boy did she ever. Unfortunately it was too much heat and she broke him off.
Becky was bummed to say the least. So were Granny and I. There were plenty of fish but there was little to show on my digital. While Granny and I brought along our rods to do a little fishing, we decided that it was best to leave the good fishing opportunities for Don and Becky. We had some errands to do anyway so we headed back to Victor and they stayed.
Becky, Don and Sierra returned to Victor this evening with big smiles. I knew if we left them on their own they would find a way to outsmart the big cuttys of the South Fork. It turns out that Becky landed several more trout from her pool including one nice one like the one she lost. Don also landed two cutthroats. What made one of Dons catches so rewarding was that one was the first he missed to start the day!