What a Fly Fisher Saw One Fall Day in Yellowstone

fall day in Yellowstone

You never know what you will see during a fall day in Yellowstone. Here are 9 sights from a memorable day of fishing in Yellowstone National Park:

1. A bull elk bugling at Mammoth

Even though this huge herd bull and his harem were occupying a manicured Park Service lawn, his raspy bugle reminded me of the days when my dad and I hunted elk during archery season about 35 miles north of Yellowstone National Park.

An elk’s bugle is one of the most stunning sounds in nature.

2. A tourist trying to coax a deer to eat an apple

No kidding. A tourist with a camera in one hand and an apple in the other outstretched hand had a mule deer doe within twenty yards. Apparently, the font size on the “Don’t feed the wildlife” sign at the park entrance wasn’t large enough for this tourist to see.

3. A grizzly track on the bank of the Yellowstone River

I felt a chill go down my spine when I spotted this track right along the river. At this point, my fishing partner and I were on a remote stretch of the Yellowstone about 3.5 miles from our trailhead. We both checked the position of our bear spray canisters on our belts.

4. Healthy cutthroat trout

We both caught some fat, colorful Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. They were all 14-17 inches with football-shaped bodies. I caught them on hoppers, terrestrials, and streamers. The fishing was solid. We each landed 8-10 cutts.

I’ve had days where I’ve caught more on this stretch of river. But it was still a satisfying day.

5. My fishing partner sliding off of a rock into the river

Since we had such a long hike (see below), we decided not to wear waders. We opted for hiking books and nylon pants. We knew from prior trips that wading the stretch of river we planned to fish was not essential.

At one point, though, my fishing partner was crouched on a rock fighting a fish when his feet slipped and he slide into the water. He got wet but was never in danger.

I may or may not have laughed.

Also, I will not confirm whether or not this fly fisher was my podcast partner, Dave.

6. A bull bison blocking our trail on the way out

On our return, we climbed to the top of a small plateau and instantly spotted a brown animal on the trail in front of us.

My first thought was “Grizzly!”

As I reached for my canister of bear spray, I realized a bull bison was lying down on the game grail in front of us. We made a wide circle and left the bull undisturbed. He stood up to face us and confirm we were leaving.

But he didn’t make any hostile advances (unlike the bull bison we encountered a few years before on the same trail).

7. My Fitbit watch showing 22,324 steps

At the end of the day, I felt like I had hiked 8 miles. But my Fitbit showed 22,324 steps and calculated the distance as 10.4 miles.

My response was “10-4, good buddy!”

8. An elderly couple struggling to stand on a retaining wall above Tower Fall

I saw this right after leaving the Tower Fall parking area. Their view was stunning. But so was the drop-off below them. I shuddered when I thought about how many people in Yellowstone have fallen to their deaths.

9. A wrecker pulling a jeep up a steep bank

The final “sight” which impressed me was a wrecker pulling a Jeep Wrangler up a bank. The driver had obviously driven off the road—whether by swerving or simply veering off the edge where there was no shoulder. Thankfully, the bank was not steep or the driver would not have survived.

So what should I make of what I saw?

I’m not sure I learned anything new. Still, what I saw on that fine fall day reinforced some long-held convictions:

    The sights and sounds of a fall day Yellowstone are stunning. Aspen leaves burst with color, and the bugles of herd bulls and satellite bulls pierce the morning air. It’s hard to beat mid-September.

    It is wise to carry bear spray.

    It’s better to share the experience with a friend than to be alone — especially when your friend provides a bit of entertainment.

    Fall tourists are no smarter than summer tourists.

    There is a new vista and a new danger around every bend in the road or trail.

    Mid-September is simply an awesome time for a fall day in Yellowstone.

Second Thoughts on Barbless Hooks for Fly Fishing

barbless hooks for fly fishing

Fly fishers often frown on barbed hooks. One guide and blogger wrote: “Barbs are barbaric.” The rationale is that a sharp barb on a hook damages a fish’s mouth when removed. Barbless hooks for fly fishing, however, slide out like a greased pig through the hands of its pursuer.

I was on board with moving to barbless hooks until a friend made an observation that caused me to question the whole idea.

Post-Release Survival

My friend observed that a landed trout’s survival depends more on how quickly it is released — and kept wet during the release – than on whether the hook is barbless. In fact, he argued, it’s easier to land a trout more quickly on a barbed hook than a barbless one. That is, the time that it takes to reel in a trout on a barbed hook is less and thus enables the fly fisher to release the fish more quickly.

The quicker the time from the hookset to the release, the better.

What Studies Suggest

Of course, advocates of barbless hooks cite studies that suggest such hooks lead to a lower post-release mortality rate for trout. Simply “Google” the topic, and you’ll find plenty of articles discussing these studies.

You might be surprised, though, when you discover a few biologists and fly fishers who question the results of these studies.

Two decades ago, Doug Schill, an Idaho Fish and Game research biologist, looked at several studies done over the years and found that barbed hooks led to a negligibly higher mortality rate — 0.3 percent. He noted that a particular creek in Idaho had an average annual mortality rate of 30% to 65%.

“It is normal for fish to die at that rate,” he said. “So that 0.3 percent makes no difference.”

If he is right, that is well within the margin of error. Some studies simply show little correlation between barbed hooks and higher mortality rates.

The Larger Problem

I think there is an even larger problem related to fish mortality research.

Many studies simply do not and cannot account for enough variables to determine their accuracy. A family friend is a leading medical genomic researcher — probably one of the top five in his field in the world. He conducts prospective and retrospective studies and analyzes large data sets as his day job.

Yet he frequently scoffs at the confidence people have in the data. For example, the accuracy of any large pharmacogenomic study of cancer patients is determined by the gritty details, such as “Did the patient take the pill every day for three years,” and “How can we verify that she did?”

The problem almost always lies in the data, how it is collected, and whether it can be fully trusted. It’s the old “garbage in, garbage out” problem.

So many scientific studies are simply not conclusive. That doesn’t mean I don’t believe in good science. I’m not a Luddite. It’s often non-scientific people, however, who talk the loudest and express the most emotion about the conclusiveness of scientific research. My podcast partner Dave has a saying, “Always confident, sometimes right,” to describe such people.

Personal Experience

Some anglers base their conclusions (understandably) on personal experience. But this does not come any closer to solving the problem.

I have read and listened to passionate accounts of how barbless hooks are the only way to go. Isn’t the issue common sense?

Yet others insist, from their experience, that barbless hooks for fly fishing create more problems than they solve. One angler claims that barbless hooks actually penetrate further than barbed hooks, creating more damage on their entrance than barbed hooks do on their exit.

This is why I have not jumped on the barbless hooks bandwagon.

I respect those who use barbless hooks for fly fishing, of course. And I always use barbless hooks when the law requires them. When in Yellowstone National Park, for example, I definitely use barbless hooks. I respect the laws of the land. I pinch down the barbs.

Fish-friendly and Conservation-Minded

But as conservation-minded as I am, I currently do not use barbless hooks when I have a choice. I’ve notice that other conservation-minded friends and fly fishing guides don’t either. I’m certainly open to changing my mind on this, though it will take more than the latest study to convince me.

In the meantime, I will land fish as quickly as possible, use forceps to remove the hook, and release a trout as quickly as possible. And always with wet hands.

S3:E24 One Fine Fall Day in Yellowstone National Park

fly fishing

Yellowstone National Park is no doubt our happy place. It’s one of our favorite places to fish, especially in the fall. This fall we fished the Yellowstone and Gardner near the north entrance of Yellowstone Park as well as the Madison River near West Yellowstone. In this episode, we recall one fine day on the Yellowstone River in mid October.

Listen now to One Fine Fall Day in Yellowstone National Park

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last segment of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

Do you have a great day on the river from this past year? Wed love to hear about it. Please post your stories below!

By the way, we’d love for you to refer our podcast to a friend, your TU chapter, or fly fishing club. Be sure to pass along our podcast to others.

Other Episodes in the One Fine Day Series

    One Fine Morning on the Little Jordan

    One Fine Evening on Wisel Creek

    One Fine Day on the Blue River

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To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Fly Fishing Podcast” on the top navigation.

The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists

For this episode, we are the Sponsor!

We’ve published a book called, The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

We like to say it is a book of bite-sized snacks. Maybe even like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Visit Amazon to get your copy today!” target=”_blank”>Laughter Really Is the Best Medicine When Fly Fishing

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last segment of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

We’d love to hear some funny stories from your time on the river? Or even while hunting.

By the way, we’d love for you to refer our podcast to a friend, your TU chapter, or fly fishing club. Be sure to pass along our podcast to others.

Other Articles and Podcasts on Funny Outdoor Moments

    Funny Outdoor Moments

    Stupid Is as a Stupid Fly Fisher Does

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Fly Fishing Podcast” on the top navigation.

The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists

For this episode, we are the Sponsor!

We’ve published a book called, The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

We like to say it is a book of bite-sized snacks. Maybe even like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Visit Amazon to get your copy today!

The Legacy of My Fly Fishing Mentors

fly fishing mentors

It takes a village to raise a fly fisher. In my case, it was a village of fourteen fly fishing mentors who showed up in my life over the years and helped me learn the craft of fly fishing.

I’d love to pay tribute to them by naming them. But I’m not going to do so for two reasons: First, the list would resemble the credits at the end of a movie. Nobody cares about them except the producer and those involved in the production.

Second, I am still a mediocre fly fisher on my best days. So I wouldn’t want to embarrass anyone by citing them as one of my fly fishing mentors.

Perhaps I can pay tribute by listing a few characteristics that they all had in common. These characteristics can help you identify a mentor if you are new to the sport. Or, they can help you be more effective when you get the opportunity to mentor a younger fly fisher.

1. Patience

This is the number one characteristic by far.

My mentors did not sigh or curse (at least not audibly) when I slapped my line against the water, when I was slow to set the hook on a strike, or when my backcast hooked a branch. I may have even hooked one or two of my mentors. They simply went over their instructions again and again.

Bob never raised his voice when he kept telling me to mend my line, and Kevin didn’t roll his eyes when I tried to threat my tippet through my fly rod guides when we were getting ready to fish the Gallatin River.

2. The ability to simplify

Fly fishing is a complex sport. It can bewilder beginners. But good mentors break down complex concepts into simple explanations. One mentor encouraged me to stick with a few simple patterns while I learned to fly fish—the Woolly Bugger, Prince Nymph, Parachute Adams, and Elk Hair Caddis. Another boiled down my first lesson in casting to: (1) flick your wrist when you cast and (2) keep your eyes on the target. Still another taught me that the foam line in the current is the feed line. The simple explanations formed a knowledge base on which I’ve been building for more than three decades.

3. Creativity

Good mentors are also creative.

None of my mentors had me cast to the rhythm of a metronome like Norman Maclean’s father did in A River Runs Through It. But Gary Borger taught me to tie a couple important knots by using a small piece of rope rather than a tiny 6x tippet. He also taught me to pick up my line off of the surface by drawing the letter “C” with my rod tip.

Good mentors traffic in word pictures and analogies. They find vivid ways to show and tell.

4. Unselfishness

I’ve had some faux-mentors who simply left me on my own while they raced ahead to their favorite spots.

Real mentors, however, sacrifice the time they could be fishing and share the prime spots they could be fishing. They act more like guides whose mission it is to set up their clients for success.

I remember my mentor and friend, Bob, taking me to fish for fall browns on the Madison in Yellowstone National Park. He brought his rod along, but he didn’t make one cast that day. He simply devoted his time to helping me read water, cast, and (of course) mend my line. It’s rewarding to teach others to fly fish. But you have to be prepared to give up some rod time and even some of the hot spots you love to fish.

5. Humility

These mentors are some of the best fly fishers on the planet. But none of them felt the need to inform me about this. I had to coax out of them the stories about their fly fishing heroics The best mentors do not have egos the size of a jumbo jet. They do not need to tell you how great they are.

I’m convinced that humility is what enables patience and unselfishness.

Okay, maybe I will let the credits roll. I owe my fly fishing skills to the mentoring of Gerald, Duane, Doug, Kevin, Jerry, John, Murray, Bob, Toby, Harry, Dave, Gary, Leon, and Ben.

Thanks, fellas.

I’m fishing in and around Yellowstone National Park this week, and I’m a better fly fisher for all the ways you invested in my development. I wish you were all here. I still need all the help I can get.

S3:E12 Fly Fishing Grizzly Country

fly fishing

Fly fishing grizzly country should evoke a small amount of anxiety. Surprising a sow at her cubs while making your way along the trail to get to the river is no way to begin the day. In this episode, we discuss the 50-year-old events of the night of the grizzlies in Glacier National Park and come up with a couple takeaways for fly fishing grizzly country.

Listen now to “Fly Fishing Grizzly Country”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoy hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experiences.

Have you ever fished in grizzly country? What precautions do you take? How do you prepare for a day in grizzly country?

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

Or you can simply subscribe to the RSS feed here:

Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists

For this episode, we are the Sponsor!

We’ve published a book called, The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

We like to say it is a book of bite-sized snacks. Maybe even like a handful of potato chips. It’s an entire book of lists. The goal is to help you find practical help quickly and in an easily digestible format!

Visit Amazon to get your copy today!

S2:E45 Our 5 Most Dangerous Moments on the River

fly fishing guides

Dangerous moments are not always recognized fully in the moment. Several years ago while we fished the Wyoming Bighorn, the temperature dropped 25 degrees in a two-hour period. We drifted the Bighorn while stopping to wet-wade periodically. At the mid-point of the drift, however, we were shivering, unprepared for precipitous drop in temperature. In addition to the rain and wind was lightning, and we had to get out of the drift boat to wait out the weather. Fortunately, the squall passed, and we took out an hour or so later. We lived to fish another day. Some moments on the river are more dangerous than you realize at the time.

Listen now to “Our 5 Most Dangerous Moments on the River”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

We’d love to hear at least one story from your “most dangerous moments on the river” archive. Please post your most-dangerous-moments story below!

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Subscribe to 2 Guys and A River2 Guys and A River

To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

7 Streamside Habits of Highly Generous Fly Fishers

In 2015, an estimated 4.5 million folks over the age of 16 fly fished at least once during the year. That’s slightly more than one percent of the population of the United States. The industry growth roughly tracks the net population growth of the U.S. Though not exploding in popularity, the fly fishing community is growing. And it’s important that new fly fishers carry on the great traditions of our sport.

One legacy is what can only be described as the generosity mindset, illustrated by the catch-and-release movement of the last fifty years, stream restoration efforts, the advocacy for public lands, and the extensive volunteerism of Trout Unlimited chapter members.

Another layer of this generosity mindset is the sport’s streamside etiquette. To oversimplify for a moment: There are takers in this world, and there are givers. The fly fishing community is a “giver community,” and I’ve assembled seven streamside habits that characterize the highly generous fly fisher:

1. They defer to others on the river.

This seems patently obvious, but it needs to be said again and again. This is a way of thinking more than anything. It is not a sign of weakness. In fact, it’s a sign of strength. This mindset believes there’s always better fishing elsewhere, if something or someone is blocking access to his or her favorite spot.

Just to be practical for a moment: If you’re not first to your spot on the river, you’re not the first. Move on. Defer to the person who got there first. Find another run. Move to another river.

By the way, this also applies to fly fishing guides. Just because someone paid you for a great day of fly fishing doesn’t mean the generosity mindset doesn’t apply to you. If you can’t be a generous fly fishing guide to others (those who not your clients), then get out of the business and into a different sport.

2. They give others a wide berth.

This is a corollary to the first point, of course, but we’ve all had days when we’ve come around the bend to see another fly fisher stalled on our favorite run. My first thought is often a prayer: I sure hope she is on her way upriver. My next is, “I sure hope there’s not another fly fisher ahead of her.”

The highly generous fly fisher doesn’t just go up to the next run. He or she goes up two or three runs farther – or another mile. Or leaves to find a different river.

Back to the initial point: There’s always more, not less.

3. They dole out information freely.

I love running into a fly fisher who says, “I switched to a size 18 BWO pattern this afternoon, and I finally started catching a few.” Or, “I fished an olive woolly bugger for a couple hours, but when I switched to nymphs, it was game on.”

No, I don’t think you have to tell someone your secret run. At least I won’t. But the highly generous fly fisher sees the next fly fisher not so much as a competitor but as a colleague.

I once invited a friend to hunt with my family in North Dakota. Once. I never invited him again. He was so obsessed with shooting pheasants, he wanted to hunt the ditches on the way to the cornfield we planned for the hunt – 15 minutes before the 10 AM opener! He was so fiercely competitive, he annoyed the rest of us the entire day.

4. They slow down to teach young fly fishers.

Young does not mean young in age, necessarily. Young means “new to the sport.” I have found so much joy in helping my twenty-something nephew get started in the sport. When he initially engaged me, I had a fleeting thought that I might not be able to fish much, because I’d be so focused on helping him tie on flies, untangle knots, and identify the best runs to fish.

Instead, the common interest created a nascent friendship, and it won’t be long and he’ll be much better than I. I can’t wait.

What I love most about helping younger fly fishers is that they ask questions. They want my opinion. Yea! No one wants my opinion on anything these days (not my wife, not my kids, and not even my dog!).

5. They keep their dogs in the truck or at home.

Speaking of dogs, I don’t believe they belong on the river. I’ve hunted with dogs my entire life, and even the best hunting dogs go AWOL some days. If you are in the wilderness and sure you’re ten miles from the nearest fly fisher, then yes, take along your dog.

But the highly generous fly fisher would never spoil the day of another fly fisher by allowing his or her unleashed dog to walk through runs or startle the fly fisher coming up the river. It’s crazy that this even needs to be mentioned.

If you want a dog with you, go back to the suburbs and walk your dog around the neighborhood.

By the way, did you know that the fly fisher moving up the river has priority over the fly fisher moving downstream? The person moving upstream has the right of way. So if you’re walking downstream with your dog, and it lopes ahead of you in the stream, you are in the wrong.

6. They slough off the slights.

Several years ago, an intense fly fisher (who looked like a Navy Seal) stomped past Steve and me (we don’t look like Navy Seals) while we were hiking a narrow trail to a stretch of river in Yellowstone National Park. He brushed past us with not so much as a grunt. It was clear he had a spot in mind. And he got it.

We were a little miffed. And after we said some unflattering things about him to each other, we laughed it off, spied him on the river later, and moved ahead of him about a mile. We never saw him again.

If you fly fish long enough, you’ll have the chance to be annoyed at someone. Just walk away. No need to get in the last word.

7. They share their gear.

A few years ago, Steve, my podcast partner, arrived at his favorite run on the Madison River to find another fly fisher sitting along the bank. The guy had broken his rod. After catching a couple rainbows, Steve handed his rod to the other fly fisher fisher and told him to give the run a try.

In case, you think Steve is the most generous guy on the planet, you should know that Steve was acquainted with this guy. They had worked together in the past.

That said, however, I’ve broken my rod several times while fly fishing with Steve and he has never offered me his rod. Maybe that’s because one day on the Yellowstone, with a broken rod tip, I outfished him. My eight-and-a-half foot five weight rod became an eight-foot rod when I snapped off the last guide about three miles into the backcountry. Fortunately, the runs were right along the bank, and I could sling the hopper pattern with a modicum of precision.

But wouldn’t it be great to make this a habit if the opportunity arises?

Generosity begins with the idea that there is more, not less – more river, more opportunity, more fish. And so there is no need to horde. No need to compete. No need to be a grump. Just move on and find the more.

S2:E33 Fishing the Wild Places

fly fishing guides

Fishing the wild places is one of the great thrills of the sport. Yes, it’s a lollipop if you are well off enough to fly fish Patagonia, Russia, and New Zealand, but there are many wild places near where you fly fish. Something about the chance of fishing the wild places gives us hope. There is more river in front of you. There’s more opportunity. There’s experiencing nature in its most pristine form. Click now to listen to “Fishing the Wild Places.”

Listen to our episode “Fishing the Wild Places”

Great Stuff from Our Listeners. At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” It’s the last portion of each episode, where Steve reads one of the comments from our listeners or readers. We enjoying hearing from you, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

What experiences have you had fly fishing the wild places? Have you had a fly fishing encounter with “wild”? We’d love to hear from you. Please post your comments below.

Here are some related podcasts and articles that we’ve published on fishing the wild places:

    Fly Fishing’s Wilder Side

    The Trail Less Traveled

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Be sure to subscribe to our podcast feed. You can do that on your smartphone or tablet by downloading a podcast app. The most common app used by 2 Guys feed subscribers is “Podcasts.”

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To see every episode that we’ve published, click on “Every Episode” on the top navigation.

S2:E22 One Fine Day on the Gardner River (Day 1)

fly fishing guides

The Gardner River near the north entrance of Yellowstone National Park is a gorgeous fishery – with the added bonus of deer, bison, elk, and grizzly bears. In this episode, the first of a two-part series, we describe in detail one of the best days we’ve had fly fishing. We caught lots of fish (browns, mostly), got freaked out by a grizzly track along the trail, and was reminded of several key nymph fishing tactics. Click now to listen to this episode.

Listen to our episode “One Fine Day on the Gardner River (Part I)”

At the end of each episode, we often include a feature called “Great Stuff from Our Listeners.” We read a few of the comments from this blog or from our Facebook page. We enjoying hearing from our readers and listeners, and appreciate your advice, wisdom, and fly fishing experience.

We’d love to hear your stories of a fine day this past year on the river. Please post your stories below.

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