to be close to every fly fisherman's dream. A wilderness fishing
camp with ready access
to wild native cutthroat trout, and so isolated that you won't
see any other fishing groups during your whole stay. This article
is about a six day trip into one of the most remote parts of the
Teton Wilderness just outside of Yellowstone Park.
Cutthroat in the Yellowstone River like this 20-incher are quite common.
first learned about the famous early summer native cutthroat
fishing on the upper Yellowstone while skiing Jackson Hole in
late March, 1995. We had breakfast with long time Jackson guide
and outfitter, Paul Gilroy, who told us about an unusual six
week cutthroat trout fishing season in Northwestern Wyoming.
This short window usually opens around June 20 and closes by
the first week of August 1, and is for cutthroats returning
to the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, and adjacent rivers,
YELLOWSTONE CUTTHROAT These
are 14-18 inch trout probably making the only spawning run in
their life. The males are 3 to 4 year fish while the females
are usually either 4 or 5 year olds. For those of technical
bent this strain of cutthroat is known as Salmo Clarki Bouveri
or Yellowstone cutthroat. The Bouveri is the largest
(in total numbers, not size) of the 14 different species of
cutthroat trout identified by Patrick Trotter in his remarkable
book entitled "Cutthroat": Native Trout of The West.
I recommend this book highly to anyone who wants to learn virtually
everything about cutthroats. (Colorado Associated University
Press, Boulder, Colorado, 80309). Mr. Trotter points out that
the Yellowstone cutthroat probably owes its large population
to the fact that its principal range is largely in a national
park, protected from the ravages of advancing civilization.
Another variety, the Fine Spotted cutthroat, is found mostly
in the Snake and Gros Verntre, and Buffalo rivers. When good
water conditions prevail catches of 20 fish or more per day
during this six week period are customary, and fishermen frequently
report more than twice that amount. That's the good news. The
other side of the story is that it takes a long 8 hours on horseback
to get to one of the few fishing camps in the Teton Wilderness
that specialize in these early summer cutts...and that's a long
Ray Bowers sits on edge after 5 days of horseback riding.
to Paul, fly fishing in the Jackson area offers some fine brown
and cutthroat action on the Snake, Buffalo, Hoback, Gros Ventre
and many other streams and lakes. This fishing has the advantage
of much easier access and is the usual choice of most visiting
anglers. But for me the hook was set and I was already mentally
on the horse headed for the high country. Plane schedules are
conveniently arranged to get you to Jackson Hole by mid-day
which allows plenty of time to make the traditional visit to
the fly fisherman's mecca, Jack Dennis Outdoor Shop. Although
I could write an entire article on this famous shop I'll resist
and just say that it's my favorite store anywhere. At Jack Dennis
you can pick up your Wyoming license ($25 for five days) and
fill in the holes in your fly boxes with some of the local favorites
and don't forget to ask for the currently in-vogue insect repellant.
OUR WAY The scheduled 6:30 am pickup at the Antlers
Motel by Yellowstone Outfitters owner Lynn Madsen was on time
and we were on our way to the base camp 35 miles north in Turpin
Meadows near Moran. Our group included my son-in-law, Paul Vaivoda,
who is an architect from Skaneateles, NY and a newly met fisherman
friend ,Rich Ievoli, a psychologist from Carlisie, PA. At the
base camp we were outfitted with horses and saddles, had our
gear packed on mules for the trip and by 9:00 we were on our
way, 3 fishermen, 2 wrangler guides and a six-mule pack train.
Steady climbing led us up from the Buffalo River valley to Two
Oceans Pass , so named because it straddles the Continental
Divide. (You all remember that one side of the divide flows
towards the Atlantic coast and the other side goes to the Pacific
BY THE FIRE OF '88 The Yellowstone fire of 1988 has
transformed the stately lodge pole pines into ghostly white
sentinels that dominated the forests once we got to the high
country. Of the over 2,500,000 acres of the Park, nearly 800,000
acres were destroyed in this huge fire with several hundred
thousand more laid waste south of Park. Natural reforestation
of this burn area has been slow and seven years later there
is only 12 to 18 inch brush grown up in most areas.
fire damage was evident for most of the 27 mile ride in.
remaining standing dead trees present a constant hazard since,
without any roots, they are constantly falling down with a resounding
crack whenever the wind picks up. Eight hours later, after exciting
stream fordings, spectacular scenery and many deer and elk sightings,
we arrived at the fishing camp in Yellowstone Meadows.
THE CAMP Without belaboring the point, eight hours
is a helluva long time in the saddle for anyone, and especially
for eastern tenderfoots! But the good side of such a long ride
is the almost total absence of any other fishermen during our
entire stay, which was to be four days of fishing. Horses are
the only way in because there just aren't any roads at all and
helicopters are banned by the Forest Service, except in emergencies.
Our camp, at an elevation of 7,700 feet, was located 4 miles
south of the Yellowstone Park boundary, 15 miles north of the
headwaters of the Yellowstone River and 2 miles west of Hawks
Rest Mountain. Temperature in this first week of July ranged
from a frigid 28 F. in the morning to low 60's in the mid afternoon.
Water temperature was around 58 degrees.
camp consisted of two 25 x 25 fly tents, a two man tent for
each person, an outdoor shower, latrine tent and a tethering
and saddling area for horses...and that was it. The one fly
tent served as the cook shack, housing all the food and cooking
supplies. A series of heavy aluminum chests with heavy clasp
latches were required for protecting the stored food from foraging
animals including the occasional black bear. The other tent
was the eating and social area, with a perpetual fire in the
center and a circle of logs for seating.
was also a supply of folding chairs for sitting around the fire
when the logs got too hard, and always a large pot of piping
hot coffee. An important utilitarian feature was the drying
line above the fire which seemed to always be in use.
two man tents were pyramid style with built in floor and were
plenty large for sleeping bag, air mattress and duffle bags.
The tents were pitched in a large open meadow so that they were
not in danger of being struck by any of the falling burned out
timber. The wisdom of this was appreciated early one evening
when a 60 mile an hour wind and rain squall roared down from
Yellowstone Park and left dozens of trees snapped off in its'
daily routine didn't vary much with the only changes being the
different locales chosen for each day's fishing. Early risers
could get in some chilly fishing at several large pools of the
Yellowstone about 300 yards from the camp before breakfast which
was served around 7:30. Paul and Rich each caught some nice
16 inchers on several mornings, mostly on retrieved streamers
(and, horrors...an occasional Mepps spinner!).
One of the pools on the Yellowstone River was only 100 yards from camp.
camp cook, Carla Turner, was up at the crack of dawn and had
the ever present coffee pot on the fire by 6. Breakfast can
be best described as a "lumberjack's dream!". You
name it and Carla made it. Bacon, sausage, ham, eggs, home fries,
French toast, regular toast, baking powder biscuits, fruit,
cereal, juices and coffee by the gallons. While we were getting
our gear ready after breakfast and making our lunch in the cook
tent, the wranglers saddled the horses and packed our waders,
rods and tackle, fishing vests, and cameras on mules for each
days trip. With a total of eight fishermen in camp we usually
divided into 2 four man parties plus a wrangler guide and one
mule. We got under way each day at around 8:30 for a ride of
around 1 1/2 hours to our chosen site for that day.
our first day we fished the Atlantic River in a mountain meadow
near Two Ocean Pass. Earlier in this article I indicated that
water conditions had an effect on the size of catches. So, here
a little about the condition of the streams during our trip
is in order.
Spring of 1995 produced one of the largest and latest snow packs
in the western mountains in more than a decade. That made for
great skiing while we were in Jackson in March, but the late
snow runoff left the streams unusually high. So high, in fact,
that one of the choice streams, the Thorofare, was inaccessable
because the horses could not ford the river.
The Thorofare River provided fantastic small river cutthroat fishing.
TECHNIQUES The main body of both the Atlantic and
Yellowstone rivers were also relatively high, necessitating
fishing in their seemingly endless side streams and branches
which were clear and easily fishable. And right from the start
we saw and caught lots of cutthroats, generally on size 8 and
10 muddlers, black and olive wooly buggers, stimulators, and
egg patterns. I started out with a 7x leaders hut after a 2
pound cuttthroat in swift deep water left me staring at a broken
tippet I quickly followed the guide's suggestion to stay with
4x or 5x. In some gravel rimes we could see as many as 20 trout
holding in the current, sometimes with a spawning female rolling
over depositing her eggs while waiting males did their job in
the age old process. Large open spaces of water with few streamside
trees and high brush made for excellent fly casting conditions,
but the high roily water from the late runoff had delayed the
appearance of usual hatches and wet flies were the order for
the whole time we were there. "You should have been here
last year ...at this time it was all dry flies", said head
wrangler and camp manager, Griz Turner,. (Seems like the story
of my life...it always was great last week, last month, last
year!) At four o'clock we rode back to camp, thoroughly pleased
with our first day. My catch for this day was 11, all between
14 and 16 inches. I probably could have caught some more but
I spent a lot of time just drinking in the splendor of the Wyoming
mountains and watching my companions in action. We had been
advised to put a fish in our saddle bag if we wanted trout for
dinner, but tonight's steak menu seemed too good to pass up.
And there's always tomorrow.
Ray Bowers hooks into another cutthroat on a tributary of the Thorofare River.
at camp by 5:15, what did we do? Tossed our gear in the tent
and headed for the afternoon pool where I caught my largest
cutthroat of the trip, a fat 17" beauty with deep coloring
and a bright red slash at the gill. He hit right at the end
of the retrieve, about 15 feet from the bank and actually jumped
right towards me. (I say "actually" because Yellowstone
cutthroats are not noted for being jumpers.) After a dinner
of all the steak you could eat and the trimmings, came my favorite
time in camp (after fishing, of course). Sitting around the
fire, getting to know the other fishermen, swapping stories
about the days activities, and listening to the wranglers' lore
of the mountains.
in our group was Irvin Browner, from Lennox, Massachusetts,
on his 25th visit to the Yellowstone Meadows. Irwin, now 78,
first came here in 1970, and now, by his own definition, "catches
just enough cutts to keep me happy", and still marvels
at the grandeur of these mountain meadows. Rich Ievoli, our
partner on the ride into camp, and Steve Schweitzer, from Chicago,
used the time before dinners to set up their fly tying gear
in the mess tent to replenish their fly boxes. Steve, who must
rank high on any list of most enthusiastic fly tying devotees,
designed a special fly for the Yellowstone cutthroats, and called
it the "Griz Bugger", dedicated to camp manager, Griz
Turner. Great thing about Steve was his generosity, since he
tied enough "Griz Buggers" to give one to each of
us. The fly, which was a combination of a type of olive wooly
bugger and an egg-sucking leech, lured a half a dozen or more
fish to my net.
GrizBugger is nothing more than an extremely fluffy woolly-bugger
and isn't overly inventive. But, for some reason, the
cutthroat of the Yellowstone had a special taste for the
combination of black, olive and orange. I tried other
combinations, including reversing the black and the olive,
but nothing seemed to work as effectively. (And I had
the consensus of 4 other anglers...so I am not as crazee
as this sounds!) Certainly, if you didn't include the
orange egg head, the fly wouldn't produce. I tied the
fly with a few strands of krystal flash in the tail and
used dark olive chenille for the body. Tie the egg yarn
at the head first, it's much easier that way. Either wrap
it on or spin it, it doesn't really matter. Sizes 4 -
8 were equally effective. This fly will be in my arsenal
for any cutthroat fishing I do in the future.
next three days were much the same in activity, but each totally
different because of the fishing venues. My favorite was the
near the Yellowstone in an area known as Castle Creek. The stream
was larger, there seemed to be more side streams and the scenery,
if possible, was even more spectacular. I averaged 10 to 12
fish each day and on Thursday did slip one into my saddlebag
for dinner that night. (With fish of this size, one was perfect
for dinner) The initial thrill of the first day never waned.
Particularly memorable was to see an osprey pick up a cutthroat
out of the water and fly off to the timber. It added to an almost
mystical feeling I had about being in a totally uncivilized
mountain wilderness that's just as it was thousands of years
ago. We were under the constant observation of game animals.
Several mornings I heard a snorting , looked out and saw a pair
of moose, about 10 feet from my tent. We saw hundreds of elk,
mule deer, many other moose, coyotes, a black bear, beaver and
numerous eagles. And porcupines were a big pest because of their
desire to gnaw on saddle leather and reins. After finding some
thoroughtly chewed leather for a couple of mornings, Grit put
an end to the havoc with a couple of well placed shots late
Plenty of guests were around for mealtime...including the young moose who found the campsite grazing the best around.
NECESSARILY FOR THE FAINT OF HEART - AND THE GEAR YOU WILL NEED
a few comments about fishing camps and remember, I'm talking
about mountain wilderness camps where you live in a tent. First
off, and foremost, they're WET! Walking through knee high brush
in the morning dew means wet boots and pants, and mud!. Plus
rain (it does rain, even in paradise!),...it all adds up to
the camp fisherman's #1 friend...a good pair of waterproof shoe
pacs, upper calf height (about 14") If you're wearing Levi's,and
you should, bring three pairs. Add to that twice as many thick
socks as you think you'll need and a good woolen sweater. I
found that I lived in my LL Bean chamois cloth shirts. You'll
need rain gear. (a poncho is good to keep dry on horseback).
Bring a good heavy coat or jacket and forget the bathing suit
(even if the brochure tells you to bring it.). The water is
below 60 degrees and you don't even want to think about swimming.
Remember, it gets cold in the mountains, even in the summer.
Long underwear is recommended, especially since it helps cut
down the chafing when you're on long trail rides and it feels
pretty good at night when you crawl into that cold sleeping
bag. I'm not going to dwell on the obvious things such as sleeping
bags, mattresses, flashlights, etc. You'll get all those recommendations
when you read the brochures. My main suggestion is to assume
that it will be wet and figure how to best cope. Fishing gear
recommendation...a wading staff. These are swift streams with
undercut banks and you need all the help you can get. You should
be able to fit one in a rod case.
afternoon Rich lost his footing wading the Yellowstone and went
in up to his neck in the frigid water. Do bring chest high waders.
You may hear that you can get along with hip boots, but don't
believe it. And, don't worry about bringing too much gear. They'll
pack it all on a mule and he really doesn't care if there's
an extra few pounds. Two rods and a couple of reels are enough.
You'll have the opportunity to make some long casts so I would
bring one 9 foot 6 weight and one 8 foot 4-5 weight.. And don't
forget, there isn't any tackle shop nearby so you better bring
it with you. Ask the guys at Jack Dennis for some recommendations,
and then, believe them. Leave your creel home. Put a small pair
of needle nose pliers in your vest to crimp down the barbs on
your flies. A Leatherman multi tool works just fine and is useful
many times a day. If I didn't mention it, this is all catch
and release fishing. (No ice to keep them even if you wanted
to, and it feels great to get them back in water in perfect
shape). Don't bother with a portable radio (no stations to receive),
but a discman with some of your favorite CD's is a great way
drop off to sleep at nights. Pack some extra batteries. Mine
gave out after two nights and my private concerts were over.
A cold beer or two after fishing tastes just about as good as
beer can ever taste. So if this sounds good to you, by all means
bring along a couple of six packs. Our camp was by an open spring
and that was the cooler for everyone's drink stash. It's easy
to bring a couple of six packs with you and you'll find the
mules, as always, will be tolerant of the extra weight.
Pack mules carrying gear, food and camp supplies to the guests and resident outfitters.
that's about it. After 5 days in the saddle the trip back on
the sixth day didn't seem nearly as long and we arrived back
in Jackson late in the afternoon in time for a long shower and
another visit to Jack Dennis before a good dinner. To sum up
in a few words...wonderful fishing in a spectacular environment,
truly a Yellowstone Adventure.
Outfitters, call 1-800 447 4711 for their colorful brochure.
The trip described in this article includes everything from
the pick up in Jackson to delivery back 6 days later. You can
reach Paul Gilroy in Jackson, Wyoming at 307-733 4314).