It’s alleged that good things come in threes. Understandable it was my hope that this year’s adventure was going to be nothing short of exceeding expectations and finding the unexpected. Each year, this being the third, prior to traveling I develop a game plan and corresponding itinerary. Not knowing in late winter of the water hardships that would challenge western states I had decided to pursue cutties, in high mountain waters, and float a few tail waters with room for some spontaneous misadventures journeys.
Backing out of my driveway June 27 turning right the adventure begins. Three days later finds me in Bozeman Montana only a short distance from Red Cliff Campgrounds, Big Sky and the Gallatin River. This is a beautiful valley and a great place to start camping and fishing. From this location the Gallatin River, Taylor Creek and the upper Madison, just below Earthquake Lake are close. These three fishing locations permits me to bring to hand rainbows, cutbows, browns and white fish. While there I did find a cake and the icing was the Salmon Fly hatch. This was the first time I had ever experience this huge beautiful fly hatching on a Western river. The first one caught me by surprise, while on the Taylor, as it flew directly into my face. Thinking, why did that hummingbird do that only to realize it was not a bird but an insect. Then I saw another and another and so on as to never forget that experience.
Heading south through Montana’s Yellowstone it’s possible to reach the Ruby Valley, via scenic drive, to my second campsite. From this location the Ruby River (rainbows and cutbows), Beaverhead River (pogo / drop shot fishing over the top - rainbows, white fish and many, many thumping jumping browns), Wise River (brookies and rainbows), and a complete surprise the PD Slue (browns) are within driving distance from the campground.
The third leg of the adventure takes me back to the Bozeman Airport to pick up Judy, my wife. We’re spending the next few days at West Glacier, staying at the Belton Chalet Hotel, sightseeing and floating fishing the Middle Flathead River targeting cutties. This is truly an amazing park with the water gin clear and cutties readily available on dry flies. From there we head over to Hood River to visit our son. Judy departures Thursday from Portland and Willie and I head up to the Yakima River in Washington camping at the Bighorn Campground.
Camping for three days and floating the Yakima for two days we have a big time. The Yakima River, this time of year, is a big river with a heavy flow making it a fast river to float and fish. The first day we fish the gorge and the second the upper river. We are able to bring to hand rainbows, cutties and small coho salmon.
Departing Hood River I head east for Alpine Wyoming to begin the high mountain adventure. The confluence of the Snake and Greys Rivers is adjacent to Alpine. Driving into the high country, on the Greys River road, the next campsite, Forest Campground, is approximately 25 miles into the Bridges National Wilderness. This is truly another beautiful valley with an abundance of trees, which are absent in most western areas, with an absolutely amazing river. This river, and my next stop the Hoback, are waters of dream for cutties with top water flies (large chubbies trailed by a size 16 / 18 elk hair caddis on a 4wt rod). On my first evening, on the Greys, finding a fishy looking hole with a downed tree at its head I place the flies on the water. As they start drifting a nice cuttie emerges from below, looks over the chubby and inhales. Bringing this 16 inch, magnificent, cuttie to hand along with several others the high mountain pilgrimage unfolds.
Spending several days pursuing cutties it’s time to break camp and continue east. Heading east over the mountains to the Green River Valley the land of the rendezvous where mountain men, trappers, travelers and Indian tribes gathered to barter, trade, sell and swap various items in the 1830s. Taking the Green River road north it terminates at a spectacular location overlooking the source of the Green River, the Lower Green River Lake. Finding a campsite I make this my home for the next few days.
After camping, exploring and fishing for weeks it’s time to shake the dust off, eat some fried food and wash it down with a couple of cold ones. Heading south the next town is Pinedale, a town of the old west. Lodging, a few restaurants, beer joints, town hall, churches, car wash a brewery - Sweetwater (which I visit a few times), Two Rivers fly shop, etc. can be found on Main Street. While in Hood River I had made arrangements to fish the Green River out of the local fly shop. It just happens that a guide, Eli Crumley, which we (SRTU) know from the Blackhawk Lodge, in Georgia, also guides out of Two Rivers. We’re able to spend a day on the river throwing streamers and having a big time.
Two days later finds me at my last campsite just outside of Alcova, Wyoming at Pete’s Draw on the bank of the North Platte River, Grays Reef. Earlier I had contacted the Cowboy Drifter’s Fly Shop and made arrangements to fish two day on the Miracle Mile of the North Platte River. Luckily, I was able to hook-up with Dane Szalwinski as my guide. Dane grew up in Irmo SC, his parents live in Florence, and as fate would have it he ended up guiding at the Cowboy Drifter’s in Wyoming. Steve Storick and I fished with Dane last year. So, for the next couple of days we spend time on the Mile having a huge time catching rainbows and browns.
After nearly a week of camping and fishing the North Plate it’s time to start making my way back to Florence SC. Only after retiring my tent which continued to collapse time and time again. Playing taps, on my cellphone, it was placed in the dumpster when leaving the campsite. Forty-five days from departing home and nearly 9,000 additional mile on my Ford 150 finds me turning left and pulling into my driveway.
Post Scrip - 24 hours on Greys
It truly was an unforgettable experience camping, sightseeing and perusing cutties in the Bridges Wilderness on the Greys River. During the second night of camping I was awakened, in the middle of the night, with the sound of bugling elk on the ridge behind the campsite. Getting up early, before daybreak, the temperature had dropped to the lower 40 allowing steam to drift from my first cup of coffee.
Readying my fishing equipment and other essentials, for a morning on the river, it’s time to make my way further up Greys River. While driving I saw several deer two being mulies. One was a magnificent 4 X 4, perhaps the largest I have ever seen. Studying the maps I had located a good size feeder stream, Cotters Creek, entering the Greys behind an old established DNR campsite. With the cold water stream entering the river the confluence was a sure bet to find some willing cutties. After a couple of drifts and a change in flies, game on bringing several nice cutties to hand. This stretch of water did not disappoint with a goodly number of cutties at the confluence, below it and above with some nice fish holding and willing to take.
Around 1:00, I decided to pack it in and head back to camp for a quick bite before heading back out for the late afternoon bite. Having a spam sandwich, I love those single packs of spam, a can of beans, washing them down with a bottle of Gatorade it’s time to head back out.
With clouds building the afternoon bite might be short lived. Driving up the road, this morning, I had noticed a promising stretch of water with a downed tree on the far bank. Putting on my hip waders I enter the water down stream, finding a few small cutties here and there, the water continues to look very promising beside the downed tree. That is when I heard the first rumble then a second. Looking back the sky had changed with dark ominous clouds moving across the mountain directly in my direction. Quickly moving up stream and casting to the lower section of the tree a few cutties rise and strike at the flies. Then I see a flash and not long after a crack. It’s time to get moving and head back to the truck before the downpour starts. As I make my way across the river I feel the first cold drop of rain hit my shoulder then another. Trying to avoid getting drenched I reach the far bank and start to climb out of the river only to get half ways up, slip and fall backwards into the water. With a death grip on my rod I flounder and splash about, boots filling with water, I craw back to the bank, right myself, and shake off the cold water, like an old dog. This time I am able to climb out of the river, up the bank and onto the roadway. Walking / slushing back to the truck the rain begins to pick up. Reaching the truck the sky opens and the bottom falls out. Standing in the rain I’m wet through and through. Getting back to camp, pulling off my waders, pouring out the two gallons of water, then drying off, I walk over to the tent only to find that it’s collapsed. Had to laugh out loud thinking to myself - dang! Finding the Gorilla tape and with a quick fix, all is right in the world. Well almost, do you recall that can of beens I had for lunch?
Light fading, thunder in the distance, I climb into the tent put on my head lamp, slip into the sleeping bag and pick up a book “The Earth is Enough” - by Harry Middleton. While reading I fall asleep rather quickly. Once again I am awoken, not by elk tonight but, by the haunting howl of a wolf across Greys River.
Taylor Creek near Big Sky Montana
Taylor Creek Rainbow
Wise River Montana
Wise River Brookie
Middle Fork Flathead River
Yakima River Washington (Will Bibb)
Gray River Wyoming
Gray River Cuttie
Green River Lower Lake
Miracle Mile North Platte River