I fell in love with this place when I lived in Jackson, Wyoming in the late 80’s and early 90’s. I loved the trout here so much I fished this river most days off and every Saturday night for years. I made the nearly two hour jaunt the minute I left the fly shop at 6 PM just so I could fish for a little more than an hour. That magic hour after the sunset was always best anyhow.
Not only are the brown trout huge, they are tricky to catch. When anglers think of brown trout they immediately think of stripping huge streamers. Streamers rarely work here. What’s unique about this place is that the browns thrive on eating insects – mostly the tiny ones. This slow moving piece of water is the most challenging dry fly playground I know and the browns here often make the rainbows of the Harriman Ranch on the Henry’s Fork seem stupid. The difficulty of catching even a single fish in an outing here is what attributed to me becoming a half way decent dry fly fisherman over the years. The place taught me incredible patience. I mastered the art of finding and stalking elusive browns without giving them the slightest hint I existed. I learned to present and drift a dry fly along for 40 feet if needed. And most important of all, I learned to make the first cast count.
This place is a long drive from Victor, Idaho so these days I might fish here one evening a summer. Sounds crazy and this fact bothers me. But Victor, Idaho has its own cool places to fish nearby. Not to mention here in Victor we’re only 45 minutes to the Henry’s Fork. Regardless, I dream of this place all the time so tonight was a special night and I’ve been excited all day long.
Granny and I arrived at my old stomping ground at about 6:30. Darkness sets in about 9:15 so I had nearly three hours to fish – again, the best time of day to be here. Granny was whipped from work and opted to relax in the car. It was a little breezy as I wadered up amongst a wall of mosquitoes, but by the time I started stalking the banks the wind all but stopped. The lake like section of river was a mirror. I could see if a fish rose a 100 yards any direction as I stood and stared. For the first 20 minutes there was nothing but then finally I saw a small rise.
Here, often the smaller and more subtle the rise, the bigger the fish. If you see a dimple that barely breaks the surface beware. Better yet, if you hear a sip but can’t locate where it came from expect a huge trout nearby. The rise I saw was small but left a few bubbles. Big trout don’t leave bubbles. They know how NOT to draw attention from predators. The little guys are still learning. I watched the little guy for another ten minutes or so hoping to see what I wanted but didn’t. So to get a little practice, I moved in on the smaller trout hoping he was one of the rare 12” brook trout I used to catch here. But he wasn’t. On my first cast I nailed him and he was no more than a 10” gorgeous little brown. I shook him loose and went back to the hunt.
It wasn’t till 8 or so that I spotted my first excitingly large brown. He didn’t making the tiny sip I was looking for but rather exploded on a dancing crane fly along a grassy bank. Normally an aggressive feed like this comes from a hungry and easier than normal to catch 19 incher. As I crept up the bank to make my cast from behind another trout rose out in mid river. From my glimpse of his rise he appeared much bigger. Stupidly, without putting any thought into it, I launched a cast. Remember earlier I said, “And most important of all, I learned to make the first cast count.” well, this cast was a joke! What the hell was I doing? Twenty years ago, even ten years ago I never would have made such a hasty cast. And sure enough, not only did I scare away this big fish from the middle of the river, but my bank feeder spooked too. It, I, was a disaster!
I went on to have my worst fishing performance of the year. I could do no right. I screwed up a couple other nice fish with my lack of patience. Then I finally got a pig to eat and I missed him. What caused me to work too fast was that the whole night clouds were building up. There were thunderstorms approaching and once thunderstorms hit here the fishing ends abruptly. Sure enough, just when I stopped swearing over the missed fish the brewing thunderstorm cut loose and my glassy calm playground turned to a frothing sea of whitecaps. My night was over and the fish had brutalized me!
It’s the difficulty factor (and mosquitoes) that protects this secret place. I know only about three friends that can catch fish here with regularity. And even they, like me tonight, can get their butts handed to them on any given outing. Its places like this and situations like tonight that make us better anglers. I could have run to easier fisheries every day off when I was in my twenties but I wouldn’t have learned what I have. And tonight I relearned what I forgot.
It’s 12:45 AM and Granny and I just pulled into some trees down some dirt road outside of the East Entrance of Yellowstone to sleep. Normally I’d sleep under the stars but this area is grizzly infested and so far this year the bears are a little unpredictable to say the least. We’re sleeping in the back of the Exploder. Tomorrow we meet my sister Becky and family to fish the Lakes of Cody, Wyoming. I intend to apply lessons learned this evening!