Guiding for Yellowstone Alpen Guides during the winter months provides ample opportunities for photo graphs. While I am in no ways a professional, I thoroughly enjoy keeping my camera on hand everyday and taking advantage of my time in Yellowstone National Park’s Interior. If I could spend a little less money on fishing and hunting gear and little more money on higher quality lens’, I’d be in better shape for taking pictures. Each day that goes by allows me to see shots that I would like to take depending on where wildlife pops up in the right light or if the sunset or sunrise presents itself. I have a shot in mind, with a great subject of a bison skull, but just haven’t had the opportunity yet to sneak away from the coach and get it.
The Winter Season in YNP is half over and if the white stuff doesn’t start to fall here in headwaters of the Madison, the season could come to an early end in March. However, we do live in once of the snowiest places on earth and are bound to get some February snow fall. Is it time for a snow dance? We started out the day with a drizzle of snow and warmish temps, but it petered out and we got a skiff…just enough to cover the ice and make it slippery than the bottom of the Madison River in the Big Bend.
This week’s daytime highs for West Yellowstone are forecast to be in the 40s. Really, the 40s? If the air displacement doesn’t come up too much, the fishing in the Madison Valley should be really good. Down in the Valley, the river temps have been hovering around 36-39 degrees and slightly cooler in betwix the lakes. Hebgen Lake is 4.4 feet down at this point and the flows out of Hebgen Dam are higher than normal as well. Hopefully, someone with PPL over in Butte is watching this closely as we might just need all the water we can get to fill Hebgen on time, which as some of you know, can be a problem.
Madison River below Hebgen – 985 cfs
Madison River at Kirby – 1050 cfs
Madison – 84%…this would be like getting a “D” in fourth grade math. Sad really…pray for snow.
Jefferson – 103%…slightly above average
Gallatin – 107%…better than the Jefferson
Missouri Mainstem – 118%…great lowland slow pack for this time of the year. It will melt in a couple weeks as the weather continues to warm up come February.
Yesterday we woke to 35 below zero, for the second day in a row. Yes, that’s cold, but honestly I wouldn’t have it any other way. There’s a reason that this area was the last place, in the Rockies, to be civilized. This type of weather keeps the riff raff from really wanting to live here and those who are hearty enough to stick around are usually worth their salt. Today, New Year’s, is a bit warmer with five below at high noon. Still though, it’s too cold outside to hunt birds on the last day or venture out for the first fish of the new year. With any luck, I’ll get out for a ski with my better half in YNP later in the day. For now, I’ll settle to watch the English Premier League and catch up on next summer’s bookings. The Hot Spurs have Chelsea on the ropes thus far with a 4-1 lead.
Norris Geyser Basin has become my favorite hot spot in Yellowstone. With hardly ever a soul around, complete with geysers, hot springs and super heated steam vents, Norris has it all. Rarely do I see anyone XC ski here, but the Back Basin is one of the best little known ski trips in YNP. The next time you come to Yellowstone National Park, skip out on Old Faithful and take some time to visit Norris Geyser Basin.
The Fishing Life: An Angler’s Tales of Wild Rivers and Other Restless Metaphors (2013) compiles Paul Schullery’s best stories fish, flies, water, and the people who love them all. Including articles originally published from the 1980s and later, he adds previously unpublished pieces. Schullery fishes his way from Pennsylvania to Mexico, Yellowstone to Alaska, with stops in the Adirondacks and Ohio. These essays explore conservation, favorite rivers, beloved and scorned varieties of fish, non-traditional fly patterns, and the passion behind fly-fishing.
Schullery is a soft-spoken legend, well-known for his reflections about the natural world. He authored nearly 40 books about bears, fly-fishing, Yellowstone, and two works of fiction. Raised in Pennsylvania, he began his career as a seasonal ranger in Yellowstone in 1972. Much of his writing and research is devoted to the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem, editing the quarterly journal Yellowstone Science from 1992-2009. He also served as executive director of the American Museum of Fly Fishing from 1977 to 1982. I met Mr. Schullery at Montana State University in 2003, when he taught “History of Yellowstone.” I can’t remember most of the lectures, and my old notebooks were trashed along with the futon and PBR cans. I would surely relish the chance to travel back and time and reabsorb every word. Since then, I’ve consulted many of his books for program research. Among his writings outside of fishing, I recommend Mountain Time (1984), Searching for Yellowstone (1997), and Yellowstone’s Ski Pioneers (1995).
Through common goals of keeping fish plentiful and happy, wilderness advocates and fly fisherman usually find companionable ground. Protecting fish inevitably leads to preserving their natural ecosystems. Chapter 21, “How Can You Do That?” explores the wavy lines between catch and release and just…catching. Returning the trout alive to the stream is a conservation practice designed to prevent overharvest in the face of increasing pressure from anglers, environmental concerns, and habit degradation. All of the sport, yet unlike game hunters, none of the bloodshed. Ah, what a fine compromise fishermen made! However, naysayers of catch and release decry the intense pain fish feel from hooking, playing, and prying the hook from its jaws. Schullery relates his experiences amidst this debate. At a wilderness conference, he is approached by some of those in opposition of catch and release. Their claim is that anglers might as well kill the fish as instead of torturing it without ending its suffering. They kept asking, “How can you do that?!” He pauses to think it over, recalling days of glorious fish and wild water, and thinks, “Oh, but how can you not do that?!” Observant anglers are privy to various natural delights besides the pursuit of trout. Chapter Four, “Antlers Aweigh,” reminds us that fish, flies, and water are a small section of the outdoors. As Schullery is fishing Michigan’s Au Sable River, he encounters a deer swimming upstream. His mind immediately relates the doe to various flies crafted with deer hair, prized for its floatant nature. While pondering the creations possible from the deer’s body hair, he watches her make a 90-degree turn for the opposite shore. Startled, she is laboriously swimming away. Realizing he spooked her, he thinks maybe the value in that day on the river comes not from the fishing, but from the larger experience occurring in the ecosystem.
Fish are as important as those searching for them. Schullery introduces us to different fish, and helps define them according to a sort of anglers’ social class. Reigning supreme are the browns and rainbows of the Gardner, Gallatin, and Yellowstone. In “Home River” he describes the Gardner River as a magic stretch of water that can mark an angler’s soul forever. Catching his first trout on a fly rod there, Schullery discovers hatches, currents, and a whole world the tour busses whizzing past never see. I immediately understood this perspective, if not as an angler, but as a Yellowstone visitor looking for more than bears and geysers. A whole world exists underneath the surface, whether that of the fish in the water, the birds in the trees, or the thriving bacteria mats next to flashy erupting geysers. “So Long, Sucker,” acknowledges that not all fish are created equal. Suckers, for one. The name sucker comes from their tendency to live along the bottoms of rivers and lakes, vacuuming up plants and insects. If suckers were people, they would have weak chins, bug eyes, and wear Cheetos-stained sweatpants. Schullery notes they are often known as trashfish, forage fish, and amongst Vermont anglers, shitfish.
The Fishing Life is a fantastic book. It can sit with pride on any diehard anglers’ shelf next to Richard & Swisher’s Selective Trout. However, if you are interested in the broader aspects of the sport like myself, an evening spent with Selective Trout would find you not understanding much, or dying of boredom. The humor, honesty, and detail of this writing offers more than enough to keep fishermen of any breed well engaged. Bearing in mind this idea that not all anglers are alike, so it stands to reason most will find a good laugh or a moment of reflection. Schullery says,
Fishing-in my case fly fishing- is an opportunity to exercise our intellects and emotions in a realm of inexhaustible wonder. At any given moment we may think we’re in this for just one thing, say the challenge of a difficult fish or the companionships of a fishing trip. But I suspect that most of the time we’re in it for everything we can get, and we’re out there just to see what will develop.
I doubt I will ever wake up one fine July morning and say, “Let’s go float L to P and rip some lips. A dozen over 20” in the boat by noon!” But meandering along small streams in Yellowstone’s backcountry, or fishing for brookies in the pothole lakes of the Beartooths are activities I’ve enjoyed since childhood. Now if you will excuse me, I have to get back to picking out colors for my new wine bar. Those of you who know Joe may have heard about our recent home remodel. He is busy installing my new Jacuzzi, and will hopefully make it to my custom cedar closet by tomorrow. Happy fall.
– Molly Moore
For other book reviews, click here.
Next week, there will be a VERY interesting lecture in Bozeman given by the Super himself, Dan Wenk. Native Fish Conservation has been a hot topic the past few years with ongoing discussions on Yellowstone Cutthroats, Grayling and the other non-native species of trout….AKA….lake trout, rainbows, browns and brookies. I find it interesting as to why there isn’t talk what so ever about Mountain White Fish. They are native as well, but not one word on this species and how it’s faring in Yellowstone’s waters.
The Native Fish Plan has been taking some heat over the past year and just recently, an article has been penned by Jess McGlothlin, a friend of BSA, in American Angler’s March/April issue. Everyone should read this article, so head out to your local flyshop, buy the shop rats a sixer and read it in the shop.
While this lecture is probably a little too late, one should commend the National Park Service for taking some heat and then responding with some much needed education on the topic. It will be interesting to see if Superintendent Wenk takes questions about the Native Fish Plan as I believe this lecture is more on the history of native fish conservation in YNP than that of the current Native Fish Conservation Plan, however, there is some overlap here, so I would think this will come up anyway.
I personally want to see native fish thrive in YNP, but I am not sold on the way this particular plan was rolled out to the general public. The lack of education by YNP and the NPS has resulted in rumors flying and facts which have been hard to find. I will not write about the rumors I’ve heard as they are alarming to say the least. Why wasn’t there a well thought out plan laid out to inform the public about the Native Fish Plan? Catch & Release has been pushed hard by many different conservation organizations, did YNP expect folks to just go along with the process of killing trout?
If you live in SW Montana or close by and have the time, this would be a good lecture to attend.
You can find YNP‘s Native Fish Plan here. Oh ya, today is YNP’s 142 birthday.
The past month has been a blur. Without a doubt, this season has been as busy as I want to be while snow coaching in Yellowstone and trying to run a fishing business as well. The past three months in YNP are comparable to May, June, July, August, Sept and October, except that it’s much colder. This cold, snowy, windy weather takes it’s toll a little quicker than summer’s warm days and driving these Bombs 150 miles or more each day will wear, even the seasoned guide, to the bone. There are only three weeks left and yes, I will miss this job when it finishes up on March 15th. Where did the winter go?
While these photos show us deep into Winter, angling is not far away. Each day continues to get longer and this will lead to spring. Some folks around here think it’s here, but if you asked a Bison, they would say otherwise. April will be here soon enough and that’s when fishing starts to get really good. We have quite a few spring trips booked this season and if you haven’t experienced Montana’s other fishing season, maybe it’s time.
Montana Snow Pack
It’s been dumping here in West Yellowstone and throughout Yellowstone National Park for the past ten days or so. Not everyday has been a blizzard, but consistent snow has fallen from the skies. Most of this snow has been laden with water and making a snowball straight from the ground has been possible from time to time. Prior to this, the mountains were slim, but now we are back above 100% and headed into the wettest part of winter. March, April and May is when things really get loaded up in the high country. The past several years have a seen a mid-March warm spell, so it will be interesting to see if this occurs once again.
Jefferson River Drainage – 128%
Madison River Drainage – 111%
Gallatin River Drainage – 119%
Missouri Headwaters – 120%
The slower pace of the winter season allows one to truly take it all in, even from behind the wheel of a B12 Bomb. For me, rubber necking and driving go hand in hand as maneuvering the Bomb really isn’t as hard as some think. I love the winter and the solitude it provides in a place often considered over-run with visitors. Winter in Yellowstone is not busy, which is a good thing but also slightly elitist in the fact that YNP’s Interior is not a cheap place to visit in the Winter.
On Monday, I start a seven day run with photographers. We will be staying at the Snow Lodge each night, up before dawn and out till dark. As one of my favorite British YNP photographers says, “lets trundle along and see what we see”.