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.
Best Book of 2014: Wait for Signs, by Craig Johnson
Good books mark my life by chapter and verse. I own many of them. We moved last spring, a little deeper into the forests of Horse Butte. When we bought our new place, I refused to consider living there until I found a place for my bookshelves. Joe and I packed up Pony, Stella, and Oscar, along with everything else which makes up Big Sky Anglers: rods, reels, hackles, hooks, flies, hoodies, hats, wading boots, computers, printers, fax machines, boats, kayaks, oars, old Toyotas, scanners, filing cabinets, waders with holes, waders without holes, rod tubes, books about trout, photos, articles, cameras, bird dog collars, kennels, shotguns, the Dirty Harry pistol (which Joe used to hide in my magazine basket until I pitched a fit), fishing shirts, Joe’s dress shirt, socks, jackets, leaders, tippet, fly lines, and two broken guitar cases. In addition to my books, I brought along a small suitcase of clothes, two NPS flat hats, and 24 pairs of skis.
Almost as important to me as my books is Wyoming. The land speaks through sagebrush, cowboys, broken china tossed off Conestoga wagons, and abandoned sod dugouts in the middle of the prairie. Wyoming is full of elk, pronghorn (antelope), cows, cowboys, deer, and wind. Lots of wind. Mountains, bluebirds, and crisp fall mornings soothe the wounds created by its harshness. Since a lot of great authors also enjoy the state, I possess a fine collection of Wyoming writers, including Craig Johnson, Annie Proulx, Mark Spragg, Gretl Erlich, and CJ Box. They write about the rowdy surroundings and the survivors who call it home.
Between Meeteetse and Thermopolis, Highway 171 cuts through the rough country in a futile attempt of control and symmetry. All around are ridges of rock hiding coulees, dips, and valleys full of antelope, red-tailed hawks, and golden eagles. Geology takes precedence over the engineering egos of the WY Department of Transportation, as the narrow road winds its way south. I love this stretch. Austere in its presentation of natural wonders, it’s a far cry from the in-your-face drama of Glacier or Yellowstone. Wyoming begs you to look for the unknown, hidden at first among a seemingly boring setting of dirt, sagebrush and drab color. But watch for morning sunlight or evening fade, and the earth turns pink and purple. Walk around until you stumble upon the Legend Rock petroglyphs, where people used stone walls into artistic canvases for thousands of years. Hear the stories of the people of Wyoming, hacking a life out of the wilderness and bearing their children along the way. And wait-just wait-until you meet Wyoming personified, Sheriff Walt Longmire.
In Craig Johnson’s Wait for Signs (2014), twelve short stories give personal profiles of America’s favorite sheriff, Walt Longmire. Walt is the main character in a series of novels, recently adapted into A&E’s Longmire. Johnson originally wrote these short works as Post-Its, annual Christmas gifts to readers that subscribe to his email newsletter. Amidst a wintry holiday backdrop, Walt rescues hitchhikers on Christmas Eve, hands out presents from the back of a wrecked Toys-R-Us semi, and investigates miscreant residents of the local old folk’s home. Like the main character in any good crime series, Walt Longmire is always in the thick of a case, even if his jurisdiction is the middle of nowhere, Absaroka County, Wyoming.
Several years ago I first met Walt Longmire one cold night in Lamar Valley. Actually, I was attending a weeklong course at the Yellowstone Association Institute-Lesser Known Scats of Porcupines, Mating Calls of Bison, or some other such awkward and intimate animal knowledge. While wolves howled outside, I huddled in my tiny log cabin with a headlamp and a bottle of wine and read almost all of The Cold Dish. I laughed, I cried, I had to replace my headlamp batteries, and I fell in love with Walt and his perspective of the world. Thankfully I know a thing or two about Yellowstone, because the next morning I was worthless. Walt says, “It wasn’t that revenge was a dish best served cold, it was that it was a dish best not served at all.” Cold Dish is the first of ten in the Longmire series. Set in the fictional town of Durant, Absaroka County, Wyoming, his jurisdiction covers the least populated county in the Lower 48. Born and bred in Durant, Walt was elected sheriff shortly after playing all-state tackle at USC and serving with the Marines in Vietnam. He’s a big man, nearly 6’4 and 240, although his intimidating physical presence is often balanced by a friendly smile. He wears blue jeans and a cowboy hat with his sheriff’s star and sidearm. His department includes Ruby, who mothers Walt as much as she dispatches calls; Double Tough, a former oil rig welder, the Ferg, who ties flies and scouts good fishing holes while on duty, and Vic, who gave up a fast-paced career with the Philadelphia police department to follow her engineer husband for job in the Bighorn Basin oil fields. Henry Standing Bear, Walt’s best friend since childhood, steers Walt true with constant companionship. Walt’s daughter Cady is an East Coast trial lawyer and constant reminder of her mother Martha, who dies of cancer before we ever meet Walt for the first time.
Longmire is a hero, a comic, a ladies’ man, a lawman, a father, friend, and completely infallible. Propelled by a clear sense of right and wrong, his heart usually finds the right way to get there. In my favorite story, “Ministerial Aid,” Walt confronts a domestic abuse situation. A few things are a little odd about his approach- he’s hung over and wearing a bathrobe. Its New Years day and Walt finds himself in between the troubled couple, all the while still confronting his grief about Martha’s recent death. His own redemption emerges from helping others besides himself. He thinks, “Just then, I thought I might’ve caught sight of that first ray that shoots over the edge of the earth like a hopeful thought, and maybe, just maybe I might’ve felt something. ‘Well, like the rest of us…’[Walt] sighed. ‘She’s just waiting on something.’”
Walt’s way with women follows him on most cases. In the “Divorce Horse,” he and fellow Absaroka County heartthrob and his best friend Henry Standing Bear look for a stolen pony. Walt muses, “The much-storied case of the divorce horse was the kind of situation familiar to most rural sheriffs, one of those disputes you ended up getting involved in even thought it had nothing much to do with law enforcement.” Johnson inserts hints of his involvement with Undersheriff Victoria Moretti, who is half Walt’s age and moves twice as fast.
Faithful BSA readers might feel tricked by my post, as they realize I’m not reviewing a book full of fish. Ha! Gotcha. In a scene from “Messenger”, Henry and Walt catch a few creels full of brookies, with designs on releasing them into the frying pan for dinner. Ok, so it’s not Isaaz Walton. But it is full of wit, humanity, and most importantly, Wyoming. Not ready for a full book of Walt just yet? Dip in slowly with Wait for Signs.
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 valley is void of snow. Not trout though, they are there. It’s been warm thus far in December and the rest of the week looks to be fabulous fishing weather. All this snow melting and general warmness has given me the itch to fish and with a world class trout stream like the Madison, just a short drive away, I figured it would be a good plan. The river was empty today, as it is so often this time of the year. Rigged with a single dry, I walked way down below Three Dollar and poked around for an hour or longer and found not a head – the hatch was light too. After fishing blind for a bit longer, I made the switch to a shallow nymph rig and caught fish till I felt that everything was right again.
If I didn’t have guide training for YNP beginning on Friday, I would pack up Stella and head to eastern Montana till the snow fell. Most of us are wondering when Winter will actually begin. The West Gate of the Park opens on the 15th, but we won’t be driving a bombardier in Yellowstone anytime soon. Recently, I’ve come to the realization that Cody would be a grand place for Molly and I to live, however, this would only be for the months of November and December…the bird hunter in me has come up with this plan, but at this point it’s just conceptual. I also want a second draht, an airstream that comes with big sacks of money and another shotgun. It’s not that Cody is a bird hunter’s paradise, it just happens to be a bit closer to bird hunting paradise.
Tomorrow is Veteran’s Day.
I did not serve in the United States Military, my grandfather did in World War One. I have no possible idea what his experiences were like as he passed before I was born, but sitting on my desk are two spent .30-06 cartridges from his funeral. There were times growing up when there was an overwhelming feeling to join the Military. Frequent trips to Army Surplus stores throughout my youth yielded various backpacks, fatigues and other camping gear; patches were my favorite pieces to collect. At one point in high school I sat down with a recruiter from the Marine Corps and asked him some questions. He asked me a few and once he realized that I had blown my ACL playing soccer, he was less interested in my service. That was alright with me, I was actually more afraid to enlist than I was of heading off to college. Two high school friends enlisted in the Marine Corps, during my freshman and sophomore years we wrote letters back and forth – I still have those letters.
Years later, I find myself saying “thanks for your service” to men and women I’ve never met; it happens in parking lots, at gas stations and just about anywhere it can. I can’t really help it, it just comes out and immediately they light up and are very appreciative. There is something inside me that wants to know more about their service and their time spent defending our freedom, but those are personal feelings and experiences that I am not warranted to know. I have a large list of fishing clients that are serving or who have served in the US Armed Forces. Some of them openly share, others just want to unwind and not discuss “work”. They come out to Montana, not for the fishing, but for the peace and quiet our great state offers. In the drift boat I witnessed grown men, with more clearance than most folks will ever have, completely breakdown and lose their shit. That story in it’s entirety will never appear on the pages of this blog- it just wouldn’t be right. I get it though, really, cause the stress that these men and women are put through is nothing like what the rest of us Joes have to deal with. It’s similar, but not the same. One can’t relate, one can only try to understand and respect it. There is a common phrase used in society today – “the upper 1%”. That’s typically used for the ultra wealthy, but “the other 1%” is now being used for those who served in the Military. Nowadays, only one percent of Americans have served in the Armed Forces. That’s actually quite disturbing and is the real reason why the general population of America doesn’t understand what’s going in the world today.
Another client, who became a friend (as many do), is a co-founder of a program/organization called Words After War. Brandon Willetts is a Navy Veteran and a writer. His father and grandfather are both Veterans as well….it runs in their blood. Brandon and his business partner are trying to bridge the gap between Vets and the rest of us. Their program is gaining ground. One day not too far down the road, they will be the ones who figured out the way to make us understand what’s it like to be a Vet trying to assimilate back into society.
We’ve been fishing streamers and dry flies for the past two weeks or so. Some days have been banner and some days we scratch out a good day on the water. Those who keep their head down and strip it with fishiness have been rewarded here on the Missouri River. The dry fly bite is as good as you are and from time to time a bit of luck is helpful. October is one of my favorites and I really don’t want to fish anywhere else this time of the year. Tom and Harry showed up for a four day run, the Ladies trip was here, Molly ventured in and Heames’ boys are currently in town. Ten more days and two more groups of great anglers. All we need is the weather to cooperate just a little more.
Today was a good day.
Snow, rain, some coffee, a bit of wind and enough sun to make one think that sunshine would be a good thing for a few minutes of the day if only to warm one up and keep one from thinking that rowing is a good idea. Manning the oars is something to be left to those who do it naturally, without thinking. When I row the boat and I have an angler who slips the fly in the spot just as I am thinking how sweet that spot is, everything clicks and the line slides tight. The fish is thrashing, running and jumping and ripping line. It might jump, it might not, but it’s hooked up and the pull is right.
Today was a good day.
The fire next to the kitchen table is keeping all of us, both hounds, a kitty and myself warm on this ultra wet chilly morning. Once again, we slept all night through the pouring rain and woke to the same soaking from above this AM. In a couple hours I will be packed up and ready for the four hour drive to Craig, the self proclaimed fly fishing capital of the world, (however we all know that West Yellowstone will forever hold this title) for my last push of guide trips of the 2014 season. The next month will find me living with Kuhnert and Courtney….tying flies at night, watching play off baseball mixed with some EPL and rowing a boat during the day. Twenty-two trips in total and I can only hope that cloudy weather and cool temps continue to be in the forecast through late October. Greg Falls has been working nearly everyday up north and providing me with weekly reports – they’ve had solid fishing and each day it get’s more Fall-like. The Missouri gives me a chill, it always has and it always will……
An old friend, exceptional fly tyier and fellow guide passed away a few days ago after a two year battle with cancer. Nick, you will be missed by us all….over ten years ago you showed me the $3 dip – that fly changed my outlook on flies and guiding. You were a ghost amongst the rest of us and I very rarely knew where you were fishing. When I did happen upon your rig, I always made a mental note but never went back there with clients. Thanks for being a friend to young guide trying to figure out the way down the river.
August and September were wet as wet as anyone can remember in recent history. The photo above was from early September and our first snow of the year on the level. That was a particularly windy day, out of the north, and I don’t think I ever made a back stroke on the oars all day long. The fish have stayed hungry through September, mostly eating nymphs and streamers, but there were several days of solid dry fly fishing. Small flies like $3 dip, Black Crystal Dip, the DOB, #12 Prince, Olive Serendipities, Pink SJW and #10 black rubber legs were my best flies down in the Madison valley over the past few weeks.
Big Trout are running up the Madison in YNP as I write this. The flows have been higher than normal and the daytime temps cooler as well. What that really translates to is more trout in the system for a longer period of time. October will provide some solid fishing opportunities around West Yellowstone and I look forward to seeing photos of big browns in the month to come. While I love guiding and fishing the Missouri River in October, I will miss swinging flies for the grab of a migratory brown who has been lurking in Hebgen Lake all summer long.
You will very rarely see me all tuxed out like this……my wife is stunning….me? Well, I just look good cause she is standing by my side.. See ya soon Molly! Can’t wait to fish with you on the Missouri.
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
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