Cutthroat Trout and Bison

Road Trip Trout Adventure - Day 2

For all its relentless visitation, Yellowstone National Park has some of the finest fishing in America.

The reasons are its location--Yellowstone sits at the headwaters of the nation's largest and longest river systems--and the fact that only about 1.5 percent of its three million annual visitors are here to fish.

We are here to fish, and today our destination is Slough Creek, a lazy, meandering stream in the park's northeastern corner. Slough is known for the prodigious size of its cutthroat trout and for the technical nature of its water. It is gin clear and flows slowly, so fish have plenty of time to inspect your fly pattern, spook at the shadow of your line and wait for the next morsel to float past their noses.

But it's September and fish are fattening up for the fall, so I'm hopeful we can fool some of these savvy cutts with the seductive wiggle of grasshopper imitations. For trout, grasshoppers are like prime rib, big meaty chunks of protein that can be hard to resist.

From Cooke City, we drive through the Lamar Valley, famous for its concentration of wintering wildlife--including wolves--and have to stop to let a herd of bison cows and their young calves cross the road.

We are accompanied by Troy's friend Jeff Strom, a trout bum from Livingston, Mont., who fished Slough yesterday and proclaimed the Chaos Hopper to be the gimme pattern.
**
CAUTIOUS TROUT**
First pool, nothing. Then sippers cautiously rise from the depths to steal emerging insects in the surface film. I try for two hours to coax a cutthroat to my hopper. Trout approach my fly, then make a last-second rejection and slip back in the dark water.

So I give up on the "gimme" pool and move to the next hole downstream, where a gang of lazy bison bulls lays on the far bank, wallowing in the sand and watching the day unfold with imperious, almost bored, gazes.

I see a cutt cruising the shallows. I cast my Chaos in front of the fish, twitch it and Bam! Fish On! The fish was a 17-inch cutthroat, its throat slashes crimson as lung blood.

Next fish is a longer but skinnier cutthroat, copper and bronze like a maple leaf in October. Then I catch a cutt-bow, with ruby and blue flanks like a rainbow but wearing the bright throat slash of a cutt.

We fish downstream on Slough, instead of hiking upstream to the first, second and third meadows where most anglers encounter fish. Here, the creek is a succession of flat, featureless water broken by lively riffles and deeper grottos. Here's where the fish are, picking up insects delivered by the current in narrow chutes.

Jeff and I are just figuring out what pods of sipping trout are keying on--brown drake emergers--when we notice the bright afternoon light become muted, then covered over by dark, malignant looking clouds. Before we can cinch cameras and fly rods, the wind lashes us with cold rain. We huddle in streamside willows, soaked to the core, and unanimously decide to pull the plug on fishing for the remainder of the day.

LIGHTNING, HOT TUBS
Before we could can dry, we had to get back to the car. It isn't a long or difficult mile, but the jags of lightning ripping out of the black clouds give us pause. Troy is toting his very metallic video camera, Jeff carried another tripod, and I carry a pair of graphite fishing rods. We are walking lightning rods as we cross the meadows, but because there is no cover in the stream valley, we figure we are safer on the move.

Finally, we gain the Flex in the parking lot, grinning through our soaked clothes at the other anglers huddled in their pickups, and quickly strip out of our togs and into warm, dry jackets.

We sit in the Ford drinking a welcome beer as we watch the storm sweep out of the valley, and are just about to rerig our rods when we see another mass of clouds scud over the horizon.

"How wet do you want to get?" Troy asks as I eye the clouds, then my rod. "Not enough," I return, and started the car. It's 5 p.m., time to head to Mammoth Hot Springs, where we have a cabin with a hot tub waiting for us.

We turn onto the highway just as the skies opened, and with windshield wipers whipping we can barely see through the deluge. Good call.

We're in Mammoth tonight, eating a fine meal in the lodge and soaking our trout blues in the hot tub, preparing for tomorrow, when we'll float the Yellowstone River through Paradise Valley.