Saturday, August 21, 2010

Madison, Gallatin and Cutty Creek

Going out to Yellowstone with the family presented a great opportunity to fish some of the classic waters that form near the junction of the Idaho, Montana and Wyoming. There were almost too many to chose from so I created two conditions: 1) I wanted a trip were the whole family could participate and 2) I wanted a chance at a Cutthroat. Dick Green at Bud Lilly's Trout Shop recommended a wade trip on the Gallatin which seemed just fine.

The whole family started the day fishing the Madison river. Ann was along to photograph, check out the flora and fauna and the boys were going to do some fishing. The day started cool and foggy with a threat of rain. Chris managed a small Brown and another one that LDR'd while nymphing. I managed about a dozen fish on. Three LDR'd, one a nice Rainbow, and I got a bunch of Rocky Mountain Whitefish to the net the biggest of which was around fourteen inches. Big and Fat. They look and fight much like a large dace - big fight for about thirty seconds then dead weight to be reeled in. All fish came on nymphs either a Prince or a small Caddis Larva.

Chris, Sam and Travis

Sam taking a break

We then headed over to the Gallatin River and fished there for an hour or so. There I managed two Rainbows, one a nice fat one of about fourteen inches, on a Flashback Hares Ear nymph. Chris sat streamside taking it all in (and sneaking a game on his iPhone) and Sam worked some water upstream without any luck. Ann got a picture of the big Rainbow but she still hasn't shared it with me. The Gallatin is a real pretty freestone stream and I could definitely spend a day just working from run to run. Real pretty and the access is easy.

The Gallatin River
We took a lunch break at a nearby picnic area. The box lunch from Ernie's Deli in West Yellowstone made such an impression that we made sure that we stopped in there every day thereafter on the way into the park. The food within the park is universally awful.

I had mentioned to Travis earlier in the day that my goal was to catch a Cutthroat Trout. He mentioned that the waters we would be fishing wouldn't likely be Cutthroat water. However, he mentioned that there was one small stream that might yield a Cutthroat but it would be a hike. The family agreed that it would be a fun adventure so we left the Gallatin behind and set out to this new stream.

The creek, let's call it Cutty Creek, crossed the road in several places but the spot that he felt would give us the highest likelihood of catching a cutty was well off the beaten path where the stream took a long detour into a deep canyon.

To get to the canyon we hiked about a quarter mile across a field and forest to an abandoned roadbed that you couldn't see from the main road. The forest in this area had clearly burned at some point in the past decade or two and the trip was slowed by having to climb over many fallen trees. This was to be a theme for the remainder of the trip.

One thing I've never heard from a guide was a briefing on bears. The particular creek we were fishing was located in the Grizzly Bear Management Area. Fortunately we didn't have an encounter with a bear but Ann and Travis were both carrying the large pepper sprays that are allegedly effective when faced with bear trouble.

An abandoned roadbed made the walk in bit easier as we climbed and then followed the ridge above the canyon. Once we were well into the canyon we scrambled down the canyon wall to the floor. The trip down the steep slope was challenging but the entire clan handled it like a trooper. I fished at the first set of pools and managed a couple of small Rainbows and my first CutBow -- a Rainbow Cutthroat hybrid. The fish came to either a Royal Wulff dry or the dropper below -- I switched between a small prince for a zug bug. They seemed to work equally well.

I also managed a few wild Rainbows in this stretch from six inches to about eight inches. All beautiful fish who slashed at the flies with abandon.

Cutbow Water
We climbed above the waterfall in the picture above and bushwhacked our way through some pretty tough willows and deadfalls. We worked a bunch of pools including one where I managed a rainbow and Chris managed a Cutbow to the net. Sam fished the same pool and managed to get one fish on but it shook the hook.

We continued to work upstream at times wading along the banks, at times scrambling over deadfalls and at time seeking any path through the canyon's maze.

Ann streamside
Sam, Chris and Travis preparing to fish
A wild Rainbow
Reminders of the forces that shape the landscape
Scrambling uphill to find a way through
And back down when the way is blocked

Chris' CutBow
Streamside Fishin' Family Foto
A representative deadfall
Sam leading the way down one scramble
As we progressed towards the upstream end of the canyon I fished every likely run and pool. The water here was at a fairly steep gradient so it was more pocket water than anything else. I got a few slashes and one fish on but nothing came to the net.

Towards the end of the day we came upon a most spectacular pool. Long, deep and moving just fast enough to keep the trout from getting too good a look at the fly. The family halted streamside so I could get a few casts on the pool before we marched through. The first drift I got a hard strike on the bushy Royal Wulff fly and landed an eight inch Cutthroat. Mission accomplished! (as in I achieved my objective, not in the George W. Bush victory in Afghanistan way).

Finally, a Cutthroat
We ended the day working out way out of the upstream end of the canyon and across a large willow filed through which the creek meandered. All told, we probably covered about a mile and a half but the up and down, crawling around certainly made if feel longer. It was a great day of fishing and it was a special treat to have the family along.

The remainder of the trip provided some brief stops along the Madison and Gibbon Rivers. I managed a few small browns but nothing spectacular. I was very eager to get back and fish a bit of the Lamar and Soda Butte Creek which we had seen the first day. However, in order to get out to the northeast side of the park we would have had to go through a one-lane construction zone that would require up to an hour wait going in each direction. I can get traffic at home.
The upstream end of the canyon

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