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  • Monday, June 21, 2010

    Yellowstone's Hidden River

    worms and flies just feet apart
    segments seldom fished

    .. Just downstream from the Barn's Holes on the Madison River is a sinuous reach of this fabled river.
    .. The river, in this reach, is at or near grade and begins meandering as if it was in an enormous meadow.
    .. Giant sweeping curves with point bars and cut-off meanders characterize the river. This character is significantly influenced by the hydraulic damming effect of the bridge at Highway 191 and the lake level of Hebgen Reservoir.
    .. Artesian springs and surface seeps punctuate the bank with wet and sticky bogs. These are hiding places for fry and incubators for damselflies and dragonflies and mosquitoes. Fish food all.
    .. Additionally, the river is transected by the boundary between the Gallatin National Forest and Yellowstone National Park. This line, drawn on a map, is marked on the river banks with clear markers.
    .. Two sets of distinctly different regulations and jurisdictions govern fishing and boating here.
    .. Although we've never tried it, it's possible to drown a worm with one hand and swing a fly with the other and be perfectly legal, (depending on just how wide your stance is.)
    .. The river is rich with weed beds and bugs. The gravel is well sorted and graded in this section as the suspended load of the river transforms itself into the bed load.
    .. Erratic boulders are few, but frequent enough to provide predictable hides and slicks.
    .. The horseshoe bends are delightfully deep and dark. The pools deliver clearly defined current streams and sort out the bugs for the fish. The banks are undercut and some of the holes are surprisingly cavernous.
    .. Dark holes, in fact, are everywhere. Foam lines and back eddy's are easily fished if the angler positions herself correctly. The major swings of the river channel are east and west.
    .. This allows fishing and catching at just about anytime of the day. Shadows come and go with the tick of the clock.
    .. It's possible to stroll back and forth along the banks and fish the whole river without getting wet, (except for getting to the correct side of the river.)
    .. The currents are tricky and the crossings can be treacherous. Spring is the hardest time to get position on the fish. The easy locations are often too sunny or too shallow, or too deep. This may be just the reason that so few fishers bother with this bit of water.
    .. Despite the exceptional catching opportunities, guides seldom take their sports to this water. It's just too close to town. There are travel trailers to walk past. There are no rangers or traffic jams. It just is not "The Real Yellowstone." So be it.
    .. That portion of the park/forest boundary that transects this water is just under a mile long. The river itself is just over 2 1/4 miles long in this segment.
    .. The river within Yellowstone National Park is about 1 1/4 miles long and is comprised of four distinct segments, (0.57mi. + 0.15mi + 0.27mi. + 0.24mi.) as measured by the Google Earth path tool.
    .. Much of the park water requires wading for proper positioning and catching. It's not easy, and the fish know what is happening. They are, nevertheless, not terribly spooky if wading is done gently and deliberately. A staff and good legs are prerequisites for success here in the spring.
    .. The fishing pressure, on the forest waters, from the Baker's Hole Campground is intense during the summer and fall. Not so in the spring. Flies, gear and worms are all used with varying degrees of success on the forest waters.
    .. Luck does not play a major role in this water. It's full of fish. What is important is the character of the bottom and it's relationship to the river level and discharge rate. Understand these factors and the fish just jump on the hook.
    .. Because of it's meandering character the river has a bottom with deep runs at various positions within it's main channel. These dictate holding water and food conveyors. Of course, they change from day to day, week to week, month to month, & year to year.
    .. We enjoy this water because it's possible to imagine that there really is some wilderness around the neighborhood. Despite the nearness of the campground, solitude can be found and enjoyed.
    .. As you read this, migrant throngs of fishers are enjoying the Firehole River and singing it's praises. Yet, probably less than a half dozen folks visit this park water on any given spring day.
    .. Saturday we fished for 4 hours and saw not a single other fisher and just a solitary hiker. Yesterday We had to share the park water with two neighbors and a visitor from Washington.
    .. Right now there are mayflies here, but the queen of the hatches is the caddisfly. There are stoneflies here, but a woolly bugger does a better job than a rubber legs.
    .. Come fall, the deep holes and undercut banks will hold an armada of submarines that run up from Hebgen Lake. This navy is well attended by gawkers and fishers on the shore and in the water. And, again, the park water is hidden from many because of regulation or difficulty of access.
    .. Osprey, eagles, moose, bears, ducks and geese are an ever-present delight. It's possible to have an osprey take a fish from the run in front of you while you dodge the frightened moose as it scatters the mergansers by running across the river to escape a hungry grizzly.
    .. There is usually nothing to fear from the Richardson's Ground Squirrels that inhabit the banks.
    .. This is a beguiling little river segment. It's in plain view. It's a pain to fully access. It's full of fish; and it's seldom fished. It's just about two miles from home.
    .. There's no traffic jam at the park gate. There's no gawker blocks watching critters. There's no visitors festooned with the latest and greatest gear splashing the water in front of and behind you. We like it.