9/5-11: Ah, what a difference a day makes. Our planned long fall trip through Wyoming and Montana to fishing spots we'd either never or seldom visited started out on a high note. The first day's drive from Vail through Rawlins and further north to Lander went off like clockwork.
In this very nice mid-Wyoming farming community, we opted to drive further up and take a look at the Middle Fork of the Po Po Agie River (river being something of a misnomer given the flow of this modest stream. Following the signs in town leading to "Sinks Canyon State Park" (god knows what that meant), we drove up a pretty high mountain valley and pulled off the road at what seemed to be a protected parking lot adjoining the river.
Walking down the path towards a viewing platform high above the river, we read the signs describing this water. Apparently the creek - or river if you will - disappears from sight into the ground roughly four hundred yards uphill from the place we were walking. Then it - the water - reappears directly below the platform we strode toward - and very interestingly - the place the water "rises" from the rocks below, contains hoards of wonderful rainbow trout. The fish are protected here. They were not stocked. The simply either migrated into this set of pools or they were born here and grew to significant sizes with no help from anyone - aside from the fish feeding bin that is available at the entry to the platform.
For a quarter the viewer can buy a handful of fish food that can then be thrown into the pool for the enjoyment of the pool's inhabitants. And enjoy it they do.
While the quality of the resolution of this photo of the upper pool is modest, the numbers of fish visible surely is not.
These trout range between twelve inches and twelve POUNDS. The experience in watching them is akin to looking at the breeder fish pond of any major fish hatchery.
Nevertheless it was very interesting and we repeated it on the trip back from Montana. That night we found a nice dispersed camp site on forest service land just above the state park and right next to the river.
With a thunderstorm threatening, Sue opted to continue with her crossword puzzles, but I set off to the tumblehome, very boulder ridden water of the small creek and cast for a half hour or so. It was actually nice fishing for smaller rainbows and a single twelve inch brown.
The rains came this night with the passage of the first cold front we encountered. However, the next morning dawned bright but brisk and after breakfasting in Lander (we like the town), we headed up through the reservation to the upper part of the Wind River. The first of many disappointments greeted us when we finally got down to the stream. It was not running particularly high but was chocolate brown. Nothing improved as we neared the headwaters, nor did any of the feeder streams get any better either.
Ditto for the creek flowing to the west off the pass down towards Moran Junction. The Snake itself was an ugly greenish brown too. As we had the rest of the day to try to find some water, we headed towards Jackson and gassed up just across from Flat Creek. Thought about hiking to that tough piece of water but with a howling north wind and spitting cold rain, it was unappealing too.
Driving back north we crossed the Gros Ventre and found it to be running low though clear so we turned up that river a few miles and pulled off at a couple of easily accessible parking spots.
I rigged up and gave the stream a try here and there and actually had a bit of decent success, releasing near a handful of finespotted cuts between twelve and sixteen inches.
Hope sprang eternal! Back up towards Teton Park we drove and wound our way down to Schwaybacher's landing. With Sue still more interested in staying warm, I did the long dry braid hike to a generally nice section of the Snake. Today it was a dog. High and cloudy water meant no strikes on this river, so the effort was for naught.
Giving up on this part of Wyoming we then made our way through Teton into Yellowstone and eventually got to West Yellowstone later in the evening. Camped just north of that fishing village, had breakfast the next morning and continued up the highway towards the Gallatin, but stopped on an old favorite stream - Grayling Creek.
We'd been very successful here back in '02, though this year the water levels were much lower and fish far fewer.
Sue consented to suit up for this wade and had much more in the way of results behind a downed, waterlogged tree. Sizes were nothing to speak of but at least she caught fish.
Back south we went after an hour or so here, turning down the Madison at Hebgen Lake. The river was in very nice shape and color above Slide Lake and we spent a good couple of hours working the bank and the midstream boulders - but again without much success at all.
Last time through Sue had released the largest rainbow of her life but this time around it was nothing but fingerling rainbows along the bank. I had absolutely no strikes and found that to be inexplicable.
Continuing on past Slide Lake, I pulled off at a steeply dropping section of the river here. Despite raging and dropping wildly, there were tiny pockets of holding water by the bankside willows and I finally did have a bit of luck.
A #14 white rubber leg WRS was quite popular with the local inhabitants and I'd guess playing six or eight fish and missing roughly that many more strikes.
The sizes of these rainbows was not great - best being maybe fifteen inches - but they were incredibly strong fighters, obviously having to deal with the wild water in which they lived.
The rest of the Madison was a dud (for us). I hiked a half mile of Reynolds and then another bridge section below it and had nothing come to a fly whatsoever. Very disappointing.
Moved on to Ennis and then across the pass to Virginia City and finally to Dillon and up the Beaverhead. Another loser of a stream (for waders). Choked by willows with very limited access, the river itself purportedly holds numbers of large browns. A drift boat or cataraft would be essential to fish here successfully. So we camped at the base of the Clark Canyon Dam and made a few listless casts into what water we could reach up there with no results at all.
Our game plan on this trip had been to jog over the passes in Southwestern Montana to visit the upper reaches of many of the famous streams in this state. What we were finding was way too much driving for very little casting, so we aborted the process at this point and drove up the freeway to Butte and continued back east on I-90, hoping we'd find some better water in Bozeman and beyond.
Another bust in Bozeman. Previously we'd had a great time on Bridger Creek just outside town. This year apparently the drought has hit in earnest and we could find only a couple of tiny pools that might have held a fish or two so we passed on any casting here too.
On we went to Livingston for lunch and then up the Yellowstone towards the park. We didn't go far. This river too was an ugly greenish brown from the earlier storm. A couple of pulloffs with a few more unsuccessful casts convinced us to keep moving.
Some interesting signs at the entry to a small ranch on the Boulder River.
On the bridge over the Boulder River in Big Timber the water looked great, but as we drove upstream roughly twelve miles before getting back to the river, by the time we'd crossed the first bridge up there, the water had turned murky due to the mountain storms that have been ongoing.
Pretty much at wit's end now. The trip was really not fun. Too much driving with no casting breaks and those that we did get were unproductive. With the next cold front starting to move over us, we threw in the towel since we had a fallback position in this part of the state. One of Sue's friends had recently bought and refurbished a very nice home in downtown Red Lodge and we had access to it, so that was our next stop.
We spent a comfortable Saturday and Sunday there enjoying being inside and out of the elements which seemed to get worse by the hour.
It rained with mixed hail and snow for at least two days, the temperature on the sign in town never rising above 37 degrees.
Just miserable weather. On Sunday after all the TV events were completed I put on every piece of clothing I had and did do a bit of successful casting on Rock Creek which runs through the middle of town. They were all sub twelve inch rainbows though a heck of a lot better than no fish at all.
Monday we took off south again, looking forward to maybe some fishing on the Clark's Fork River. Nope. Nothing doing. A nice looking middle sized stream, it too was still blown out and unfishable. Into Cody we went for a break at the Buffalo Bill Museum. Great. Love the Whitney Art Gallery. We'll never pass through Cody without revisiting this facility. Next it was time to try the upper North Fork of the Shoshone above the reservoir.
Same problem. Completely blown out and unfishable. It was very frustrating. We kept driving. South to Meeteetse and a shot at the Greybull River. Ditto. Blown out.
Kept going south. Just past the reservation section on the Wind we stopped at Boysen State Park and made a few casts along the bank where worm buckets dominated the landscape. Nothing doing here either, although being a tailwater, the stream was nice and clear.
Past the reservoir we continued, back to Lander and up to our nice spot on the Middle Po Po Agie.
Watched the big fish in the "rise" again, spent the night one more time, and then made it back to Vail the following day with our tails between our legs.
Well we learned some things this time around. Just can't mess with or count on Mother Nature to deal nicely with us whenever we're on a trip. We probably won't try fooling around in Montana again unless there's a really good reason to do so. We've found much better fishing in Wyoming - and that state's a lot closer to our home.
One thing we probably will do though - and will still do it this time of year somewhere in the future - is take a few days in Yellowstone Park itself. All the water there was in good shape when we came through and even though the crowds were a bit heavy, I think we can find some fun on those more easily wadable creeks and rivers.
9/18: The same miserable weather we suffered through (above) on that last trip migrated south to Colorado. A daily series of thunderstorms and heavy rains blew out all the local streams and most still remain unpleasantly close to late spring runoff levels.
Despite that - or maybe in spite of it, I drove over the pass to try some get-me-out-of-the-house-at-any-cost casting this afternoon on Ten Mile Creek. Happily the creek was clear and even with nasty downstream winds, it was great to be on the water again.
OK. The fishing wasn't as great as I'd hoped it would be. Tried a couple of favorite pulloffs from I-70 and wet waded for roughly an hour. Threw a floating rubber leg WRS and trailed it with the old standby BH prince. A couple of foam covered eddies gave up fish to the dry while in the deeper holes and runs, fish found the prince more attractive.
Best trout of the day - and only the one that was not a modest sized brown - was the foot long rainbow pictured here.
It wasn't exactly a thriller afternoon but did slightly cure my cabin fever - and on this tiny stream - that fish qualifies as a monster.
Thursday the dog & I leave for Oregon for some fishing and to visit mom while Sue's in Italy.
We're hoping that our results will be better than we've experienced on other recent trips to that state. Happily when we leave there, our plan is to also spend a couple days in Wyoming on the Grays and Smiths Fork for finespotted and Bonneville cuts respectively.
Last Logbook Entry é for previous day
Our first day back in Oregon. Hooray! (I think.) After camping at the Sand Pass Road junction just north of Winnemucca, we (the dog & I) awoke just before daylight, took down the cover for the back end of the Element and drove off towards Denio and the left turn there to Lakeview just inside the Oregon border.
Chomped down a stored sticky bun on the way past Warner Ski Area before heading down that pass, then looked for and found a sporting goods store that would sell me my seven day non-res. fishing license.
We continued past much road construction towards Oregon highway of 97. Stopped at the first access point for the South Fork of the Sprague River and drove down a twisty road to a well used picnic area beside this tiny stream. It looked good. Only 5-8 c.f.s flows but some deeper undercut banks and a fisheries signs that read - "only one fish over twenty inches". Great! Fished a half mile or so up from the picnic area without a sign of a strike, nor did I even seen a sign of a of fish – fingerling or otherwise.
Moving on. Further down the Sprague we pulled off at a section of the main stem and tried it again. More or less the same results. Half dozen strikes by fish that probably weren't larger than the fly itself.
Moving on. Got to the junction of the Williamson – a very famous Oregon stream. Nothing but massive tendrils of ugly green algae greeted us. At a point where this river actually dropped more than one foot a mile, I did hook a few more tiny trout behind boulders and in eddies. Lousy fishing.
A bit further. Tried Spring Creek by Collier State Park. No sign of any fish whatsoever.
The upper North Umpqua.
Further still. Continued up the highway and past the Diamond Lake turnoff. Drove to Lemola.
Made numbers of casts on the entry stream Lake Creek and more on the upper Umpqua above the lake. Still no sign of fish.
At this point I know I'm not in Colorado. Despite our overcrowded stream conditions, Colorado has 100 times better trout fishing than does Oregon – at least this part of the state. On the other hand, we have no steelhead or salmon over in Buffalo land – whoops, forgot kokanee.
Spent a pleasant, albeit very cold night parked directly next to the shore of Lemola.
The morning was frigid so any thoughts of casting disappeared into the mist that covered that body of water.
Driving further down the North Fork in the deep canyon reinforced any thought of not wanting to get any part of my body wet at this time of day.
We continued through the hallowed Steamboat steelhead section of the river and all the way past Glide to an unmarked dirt road leading again to the river. It was roughly 55 years ago that I landed what I believe was the largest steelhead of my life on a braid of the river here. As I recall (hopefully with some accuracy), the fish was just over sixteen pounds and about 35 inches long. Today, with the river at low late summer season levels, there was not a sign of a steelhead anywhere near me. A couple of smolt to a dry fly was all I could scrabble up in the way of action.
Next stop was another old favorite park – Whistler's Bend - just below Glide where we caught lots of very small smolt and what appeared to be a few similar sized inholding rainbows – none of which were over nine inches in length.
As it was getting close to time to start my weekend visit with mom, we made one last stop at the forks of the main Umpqua and walked another quarter mile of the shoreline there. Yup. Same kind of action. Nothing but feisty little smolt heading downstream to meet their destiny in the ocean.
Did the weekend thing with mom as always. It's quite depressing seeing the decline, but the reality is that we're all headed that direction – some of us faster – some slower. Her history of minor and major strokes have truly disrupted what could have been a very long and surely reasonably pleasant last few years of life.
Rick casting into the murky water of the Crooked.
Upwards and onwards.
Monday morning we take off from Roseburg for a long drive to Prineville and then up the Crooked River towards the tailwater just below Bowman Dam there.
More on this later, but let's fast forward to the present moment. I'm sitting in the Palisades Creek campground on the eastern edge of Idaho where we for one of the very few times in recent memory, are paying for a campsite. Since tomorrow's objective is to arrive on the Gray's River in relative daylight, it was quite essential that we not get to the town of Alpine Junction tonight and try to find a place on the Grays to camp in the dark.
That's been accomplished, and here I type away. Let's start this discourse by acknowledging that I have been thoroughly and completely humbled by a fishing experience on the Owyhee River. Rick and I drove separately to that famous Oregon tailwater mid day yesterday. The stream's quite interesting, being home to what are purported to be monster browns. From what we saw of these fish, I believe the reports are completely accurate.
This is not your typical freestone tailwater, gin clear, and full of spunky rainbows and whatever other etc. fish populate tailwaters in our home state of Colorado. Apparently the irrigation use above the dam "colorizes" the water to a slightly murky green tone. It really wasn't close to the off coloration of the Crooked, but it's still a bit of a shock to seek the outflow from a dam look like this.
OK. On to the fishing – or as I was about to find out – the casting, but not the catching. Alongside the day long midge hatch going on was a PMD hatch. I'm loaded with those imitations and was licking my lips at the thought of racking up a BIG day on the river.
We started casting at Rick's favorite camp area and pull off. Sure enough, there were fish coming to the surface, either for emergers or the winged things. And sure enough, I had zero success with them. We could chase the fish up the gravelly stream bed, but neither of us had even an inkling of a strike.
I think we tried about everything in the box. From nymphal versions to emergers to comparaduns, ad nauseum, it was a complete bust – and really frustrating. These fish either were too smart – or we were too stupid – probably a bit of both.
Anyway we drove around a bit and tried places closer to the dam with similar success. Not even a strike. Humbled I said.
Eventually I did hook and play one large fish on a CDC loop wing stuck in the shuck PMD.
One more strike and that was my result for several hours of casting.
Happily back at our camp site later in the evening,Rick had a few more strikes before the light faded completely, and he hooked and released a couple of nice fish in the twenty inch range.
This morning it was more of the same bad luck for us. We fished up, down, and all around the town, with no more strikes. At about noon both of us had had enough and we drove out of the park and headed to our separate destinations. So this is where I am right now – sitting on the bank of Palisades Creek, hoping that the cutthroats on the Grays and Smiths Fork will be a bit more accommodating to me tomorrow when I try both those streams.
So I'll regress again. The day before we arrived on the Owyhee, we made it to the Crooked around 2:00 in the afternoon.
Went to Rick's suggested campground, crossed the murky river and fished our way until nightfall.
I'll have to admit it was really good here. How the fish can see any flies in this off color water is beyond me, but they do.
Both of us must have struck, hooked, played, or released numbers into the thirty range.
All were rainbows, again mostly smallish, but I did land one that was close to seventeen and may have weighed 2-2 ½ pounds.
We had a great time here and will return – probably around this same time of year as it apparently is optimal for this tailwater.
That's it for tonight as my laptop batteries talking to me and tomorrow going to be a better day – I just know it.
Well, at least part of that prior statement was correct. The batteries were low and have now been recharged by my automobile plug in inverter. As for the fishing today, actually it was worse than on the Owyhee – if that's possible. I arrived in Alpine Junction around 7:00 in the morning and the bank's temperature gage read 32 degrees. That's way too cold to fish for trout. Had a longish breakfast at the local omelet house and slowly drove up the Grays.
At a spot that was absolutely necessary to fish, I read more of the paper and waited for the sun to finally work its way down the canyon. When that event happened, I rigged up, hiked down the stream to a nice run and began casting with a dry/nymph combo. You guessed it – nothing happened.
To reiterate the obvious, the same thing happened all the way up that river. I couldn't buy a strike, nor did I see a sign of a fish. OK. It's late in the season. The river's too cold early in the day. The local bubbas appear to have "wormed" out many of the better deep holes. Hunters were everywhere – and I was discouraged.
Middle section of the Grays.
The Grays turned out to be a great big zero – 60 some miles worth to finally get over the tri-basin divide and start up LaBarge Creek heading towards the Smith Fork.
Past the confluence with the South Fork we drove and continued on down the Dry Fork to the unmarked turnoff to the junction of Hobble Creek and the Smith.
Enough of directions. Drove the difficult jeep road to that spot and tried the water for a bit. Hobble Creek we've never fished, nor did I do so today. It just looks like too long a walk and with no possibility of fish in riffles this time of year, I thought to save it for future exploration.
The fishing here proved to be spotty at best. Landed a twelve inch whitey and missed several strikes, some of which were clearly cuts or rainbows, but rather than waste more time here, we packed up and headed further downstream. At the main Smith's Fork bridge we turned off and made our way up another (but somewhat better) jeep road to a previous camping spot.
This camp site is directly above a fairly nice fishing run. Today it was out of this world. Being maybe forty feet long, we've usually had a bit of success here. This time it was close to unbelievable.
OK again. Here was the setup. A number 16 WRS as a floater/strike indicator. A couple feet back, a #16 heavily weighted pheasant tail, followed by various bead head types.
In the short pool/run pictured here, I would estimate 30-40 strikes.
12-18 fish landed and released of which two were browns (have never seen them on this river before) plus many whitefish, a few small rainbows, and one fourteen inch Bonneville cutthroat.
Unhappily that was the last cut I released today. Not a good sign, but what a great start to the last day of the trip. This kind of success continued all the way up to a fenced off private holding on the river. It was wonderful. I needed it. It's no fun at all to think that your skills as a fisher person are lousy, and it also challenges one's manhood to not have at least a modicum of success on a famous trout stream.
A rare and unusual Smiths Fork brown.
A nice example of the overwhelming numbers of whitefish that live in the river.
Sizes ranged from 12-18 inches.
One of the beautiful Bonneville cuts that seem to, unfortunately, be in something of a decline on this stream.
OK. Signing off. Sitting on the tailgate of the car finishing this chapter. Tomorrow we'll be heading home with an eight to ten hour drive, but at least the trip ended on an "up" note.
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