Saturday, May 9, 2009

2007 Northern Rockies Roadtrip - Native Salmonid Marathon

My old blog site is down and my procrastination has burnt me again. Attempting to remember the exact details of a road trip two years after the fact may be difficult but we'll see how my memory is after 40.

This would be my first and only road trip to the Rockies. My fishing partners for this adventure had done his research and it would pay off.

Nearly thirty hours after leaving Parkersburg, WV we found ourselves at Twin Lakes above Wisdom, MT in search of grayling in the native range. There would be no grayling in these waters but there were Montana fence staples.

Our first task before we even wet a line on our trip was to change a tire, twenty miles from the closest paved road. The fence staple would be handed to me the following day in Salmon, ID.

We were able to pick up a few miscellaneous cutthroat and brook trout in the stream exiting Twin Lakes.

Our next day would find us fishing a stream in Idaho in search of bull trout, westslope cutthroat, and Columbia River basin redbands. We had no idea we would find all three in the same stream and in such numbers.

I caught this guy at the first stream crossing, things were looking promising.
With my first ever bull trout under my belt, I felt much relieved. I had no idea what would lie ahead for the day. Within an hour I had all three species under my belt, as we picked up fish in nearly every pocket!
Westslope cutthroat

Columbia River Basin Redband

After each of us had picked up all three species, we decided to head up one of the feeder tribs. This stream would not disappoint either as I picked up a few more of these.

We returned to the main stream and continued to pick up a mixed bag of the three.

One thing I kept noticing on some of these fish were scars. I didn't think anything about it; I figured they were from predatory birds, until I caught this guy. I could actually make out the jaw lines from whatever had gotten a hold on him.

At this point we decided to move upstream, above where the road leaves the stream for good. This section of stream would prove to be no different, as we continued to fish side-by-side and we continued to pick up fish in every pocket.

We finally ran into a decent pool, with root ball on one side and a log jam at the tail. I tied on a small olive woolybugger and drifted it downstream, hoping to pull something large from the log jam. Unfortunately, all I could manage was another small bull trout.

As I stripped in the 6" fish, a wake came out of the root ball across from me. It was like something out of Jaws, with back half out of the water. It was a BIG bull trout and he was after the little bull on the end of my line. He hit it broadside and would not let loose. I yelled for my partner, who had already moved upstream to the next pool.

I was fishing a 6' 6" 2wt rod and all I could do was hold him in the pool in front of me. My partner took a swipe at him with the net and missed! My heart sunk as the big bull let go. As I stripped the half-dead, little bull trout back to me; the big bull hit him again! This time he hit him headfirst and swallowed him to the tail.

All I had to do now was keep from breaking my rod or break the 5X tippet. This time my partner took another swipe at him with the net and connected.

This is and continues to be my only +20" trout and I didn't have a hook in him. Not bad for a 2wt rod and 5X tippet!

We fished for a short while longer before calling it a day. We fished together the entire time on this stream and my guess would be about fifty fish each and three different native species!

The next day would find us searching a couple of different streams, one in search of more redbands and another in search of big bull trout - at the recommendation of an old timer in the little town we were spent the night (population 90).

The first stream in Box canyon was small and overgrown. It was difficult to fish but I did manage one small redband.

We missed the turn to our second stream; actually the turn would have been a path through the middle of a large field. We ended up on the wrong branch of the stream, fishing the exit of a small lake. We caught numerous small cutthroat but no bull trout below the lake.

We fished around the edge of the lake, headed for the feeder stream. We each caught small westslopes in the lake.

Once we got to the feeder stream, we found two things. The first was the amazingly cold water, we had been wet wading but this water was numbing. It was late July, but this sure felt like runoff water.

The second thing we found were more cutthroat.

We did spook one small bull trout, but we brought none to hand.

The next day would find us heading back across Montana, with a final destination of Cody and the start of our quest for the Wyoming Cuttslam.

We chose this pass, the same as Lewis & Clark, to cross back into Montana.

As we ventured back across Montana, we couldn't help but notice the lack of visibility from the massive forest fires that were raging across SW Montana. We crossed into Wyoming at Beartooth Pass and could not believe the lack of visibility. This was the view in 2002, during my first trip across Beartooth Pass.

This was the view during our voyage across Beartooth.

Visibility was well enough that we would see one of the Beartooth locals.

We made our destination of Cody, set up camp and then picked up our other partner for the Cuttslam at the airport.

The next day, after purchasing our license, we would search for the first leg of the slam - the Yellowstone cutthroat. Sixty miles on hardtop and another thirty on gravel put us on the stream in cutthroat territory and it also put us in grizzly territory - which I have an extreme fear of.

On the way from the vehicle to the water, we ran into a forest service employee who informed us there had not been a grizzly sighting in this particular area in several years. That information put me only slightly at ease - I was charged by a grizzly sow in the Lamar Valley of Yellowstone in 2002. She came within 15 yards before she turned to catch her three cubs, but that's another story.

Once we hit the water, we each had our Yellowstone cutts within thirty minutes.

It's a good thing we caught our fish early because as the day went on and the sun went high in the sky, the fishing came to a screeching halt. I picked up one other cutthroat before we called it a day, not without each of us completing leg one of the slam.

The next day would not be a fishing day; it would be a tour of Yellowstone. I had toured Yellowstone before, but one of my fishing partners had not. It would be a long day, but well worth it as Yellowstone never ceases to amaze me.

A mudslide would prevent us from exiting via the east entrance, so it would be backtrack through the Lamar Valley, Cooke City, and Chief Joseph Highway - all told, it was a sixteen hour day.

The next day would put us back in the park, this time in search of grayling. We would not be heading to the most common destination for grayling, the Firehole drainage. We were headed for a small lake in the Yellowstone drainage.

About a 1.5 mile hike put us on this small, spring fed lake.

You could follow the rises as they cruised around the lake. Wait for the risers to come to you and then cast ahead of where they would be. My partner would be the first to land a grayling while my first fish of the day would be some type of cutthroat.

We dodged a lightning storm and fought off the vicious black flies, while catching the very occasional fish. I was beginning to get worried that I would not land my first grayling on this trip, but that would soon change. I was fishing a small, black woolybugger with a nymph trailer when I cast ahead of a rising pod of fish. I soon hooked something, though what it was I was not sure. Whatever it was, it fought well! When I finally got it to net, I was surprised that not only had I caught my first grayling, I had done it in the form of a double.

With all three of us picking up our grayling, we would call it a day - the black flies were simply too bad.

The next day would have us breaking camp in Cody and heading to Hoback, where we would try to complete the final three legs of the slam.

We set up camp on the banks of the Snake River and tried to quickly pick up the second leg in the main waters of the Snake. None of us had experience fishing water like that, it was tough to read and so we hit the tiny feeder creek that also ran through the campground. Luckily, this stream would hold small specimens of the Snake River cutthroat.

We each now had the second leg of the slam under our belts and we didn't even have to leave camp!

The next day would put us in search of the Colorado River strain. Two hours later and several more miles of gravel roads put us on the stream, unfortunately what we found was off-color water. We tried to fish the stained waters with no luck, so we pulled out the gazetteer and picked another stream in the Colorado River drainage.

The next stream was heavily silted but we fished it briefly and I was able to pick up what appeared to be a Snake River strain. We then traveled further south to the next stream in the drainage. What we found in this stream was not cutthroat but a very good population of brook trout.

I love brook trout but that was not what we were in search of, but I was able to add another state to my brook trout list (number 11).

While we were busy catching these little brook trout, the senior member of our group caught this nice Snake River cutthroat on his special "gray nymph".

We returned to camp unsuccessful on our third leg, but we were able to catch a mess of brook trout for dinner. That act would be questioned here in their native range, but they're invasives in Wyoming - and those invasives tasted great over an open fire!

The next day would put us directly south of Hoback in search of the Bonneville cutthroat. We found this small stream running parallel to the highway.

As with the other successful legs to date, we each caught small cutthroat in short order.

In search of larger Bonnevilles, we took another long drive across endless gravel to a slightly larger stream. I did catch a couple of even smaller Bonnevilles and we also landed some nice whitefish, but the larger Bonnevilles avoided us. It did not matter though as we each had leg three of the slam complete.

Before returning to camp, we stopped at a Hoback tributary and picked up a few more Snake River cutts.

The final day in Hoback put us back on the same stream we had tried two days prior, hoping the water had cleared and the Colorado River cutthroat would cooperate. When we arrived at the stream, the water had indeed cleared but we still had to locate the cutthroat.

Again, our senior partner fished the gray nymph and again caught the big fish. It was a very nice Colorado River cutthroat and his slam was complete.

With his slam complete, he would be my net man to insure a photo if I were to catch the final species. I was fishing a dry dropper tandem rig again and I was doing a fine job picking up whitefish!

Again, I was getting nervous as I could see my other partner at the vehicle drinking a celebratory beverage, which meant he had completed his slam. Growing frustrated, I took the dropper off which allowed me to pitch the small stimulator a little closer to cover. That would be the ticket as I soon started picking up small Colorado River cutthroat.

We celebrated that evening with a two-pound burger at a small roadside cafe just outside Hoback. That night we would pack up camp at 3:00 AM with a destination of Estes Park and one more cutthroat species.

Eight hours later we were standing in Estes Angler waiting on my younger brother who lives just outside of Denver. I had previously caught our targeted species that day, but my younger brother and my partner on the Cuttslam had not.

A short hike in put us on the stream and again we all had this species (probably the most beautiful cutthroat) under our belts in short order.

Following the hike back out, there was only thing remaining on this marathon road trip...the drive home. My one and only road trip to the Rockies was successful all around: 6000 miles driven - crossing the Continental Divide in nine different locations, 6 cutthroat species (in their native range), bull trout (native range), redband (native range), and grayling.

This is the link to the video I created:

Northern Rockies Roadtrip

Even after 40, my memory is still pretty good!


1 comment:

Gary said...

Great post Chris, if you get a chance could you shoot me an email about the Southwest trip. You can find my email address on my website.