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.

Tips for Fly Fishing Trips to the Greater Yellowstone Area

fly fishing trips to the greater yellowstone area

Fly fishing trips to the Greater Yellowstone area in Montana or Wyoming are not cheap. I’ve made not a few fly fishing trips to the Greater Yellowstone area. And I’ve assembled a few tips that come from a decade of making annual trips from the Midwest to the West, as well as from the two decades I lived and fly fished near Bozeman, Montana.

I suspect these tips will apply — at least to some extent – to other regions in United States. But they relate specifically to fly fishing in and around Yellowstone National Park.

1. Go in the Fall or Spring

If summer is your best or only option for a trip, you can have a great time. But there are a couple reasons for planning a fall or spring trip.

First, you will avoid the crush of tourists and crowded rivers which come with summer. Second, you can fish “runners”—the fish headed up-river either to spawn or to wait below spawning beds for eggs which drift down the current. If you’re new to fishing, rainbows spawn in the spring, while brown trout spawn in the fall.

You can even catch the tail end of grasshopper season if you go early in September.

I should also point out that fall flights, vehicle rentals, and hotel rooms or cabins are cheaper during the off-season.

2. Choose a Fly Shop

Fly fishing success depends on knowing where to fish and what fly patterns to use. The best information you will get comes from the staff at a fly shop. I recommend visiting a handful of local fly shops on your first trip. Then pick one and build a relationship with the fly shop owners. The advice is free, yet you may get even more helpful intel if you are a paying customer year after year. So buy your leaders or next pair of waders at the same shop once you find one you like.

3. Book a Guided Trip

I can’t over-emphasize how much you will learn and how much intel you will gather when you hire a guide for the day—or for a half-day. You might be able to go back again and fish the same stretch of river on your own. Some fly fishing guides have even encouraged me to do this. But it’s a courtesy to ask a guide if he or she will take clients on this stretch another day. If so, ask about some other places you might try.

Splitting the coast with a friend always makes sense. Drift boats are set up for two fly fishers anyway. Also, the custom is to tip 15-20%. If you can split the cost with a friend, a day in a drift boat or wading with a guide will be worth every penny.

4. Create a Sustainable Schedule

When Dave, my podcast partner, and I fly to Montana for a 4-day or 5-day trip, we fish every day. However, we’ve learned to pace ourselves. We act like we are in our mid-30s, at least for day one. Then, reality hits. We are both in our mid-50s. So if our Fitbits tell us we have hiked 8 miles during a day of fly fishing, then we might get a later start the next day. Or, we might follow a more strenuous wade trip with a float trip

Also, build in a bit of down-time. If you hit the river at the crack of dawn, take time for a nice mid-day lunch. Or stop early to get dinner at a popular steakhouse before it gets crowded.

Enjoy the drive along the river or through Yellowstone National Park.

5. Keep the Last Day or Two Free

It took us a few years to figure out this tip. We sometimes wished we had an extra day to return to the hotspot we stumbled into on day one. Now we build a “flex day” or two into our schedule to make this possible. Where we go on day four or day five depends on where we had the best success. This means you are better off scheduling your guided trips earlier in the week.

Fly fishing trips cost time and money. So do your best to make the most of them. These simple tips will help.

S4:E1 6 Fly Fishing Trends Shaping Our Sport

fly fishing podcast

Never has there been a better time to be a new fly fisher. The only word is “more”: more gear, more videos, more podcasts, more articles, more fly fishing shows, more YouTube channels, and more exotic fish to catch on a fly rod – than ever before. In this first episode of Season 4, we identify six fly fishing trends that appear to be on the rise. Since we started in June 2015, we’ve published 156 podcast episodes and 156 blog posts. What a blast!

Listen now to “6 Fly Fishing Trends Shaping Our Sport”

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.

What fly fishing trends have you noticed? What did we miss? What are you most concerned or excited about?

WOULD YOU REFER OUR PODCAST?

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.

That is the most simple way to help us grow!

Download a Podcast App on Your Smartphone

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 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

We’ve published a book for regular-Joe-and-Jane fly fishers called The Fly Fisher’s Book of Lists: Life is short. Catch more fish.

One person who purchased the book called it “cliffsnotes for fly fishers.”

To switch metaphors, perhaps it’s more 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!

Buy it today on Amazon for only $13.99!

S3:E24 One Fine Fall Day in Yellowstone National Park

fly fishing podcast

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

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!” 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!

S3:E12 Fly Fishing Grizzly Country

fly fishing podcast

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!

The Glacier Park Grizzly Attacks that Changed Our Relationship with Bears

night of the grizzlies

Glacier Park grizzly attacks are, today, not exceptionally rare. But they were 50 years ago, when an unimaginable night of terror unfolded in Montana’s Glacier National Park. Shortly after midnight on August 13, 1967, a grizzly bear dragged a 19-year old woman, Julie Helgeson, from her sleeping bag and mauled her. She died four hours later at 4:12 a.m. This was the first fatality from a bear attack since the park officially opened in 1910. Then, less than a half hour later, it happened again.

Eight miles away, as the crow flies, around 4:30 a.m., another Glacier grizzly dragged another 19-year old woman, Michelle Koons, from her sleeping bag to her death. Two separate grizzly attacks. Two dead. Same night.

Jack Olsen, at the time a senior editor for Sports Illustrated, provided the definitive account of this double-tragedy in his 1969 book, “Night of the Grizzlies.” In 2010, Montana PBS aired a documentary titled Glacier Park’s Night of the Grizzlies, which featured interviews with living survivors of the attack, as well as park officials and hikers involved in the events of that fateful night.

The fiftieth anniversary of the night of the grizzlies reminds us of the fragile relationship we have with the wild places — whether we’re fly fishers, hunters, hikers, photographers, or mountain-bikers.

Necessary Fear

Granite Park Chalet sits just below timberline at the hub of several back-country trails. It provides a breath-taking panoramic view of ice-capped mountains. But in the mid-1960s, hikers trekked to the chalet to view grizzly bears. The grizzlies were nightly visitors due to a long-standing practice by chalet staff members. They dumped garbage and leftover food at a site about two-hundred yards from the building.

Granite Park Chalet was full at sunset on Saturday, August, 12. So hikers Roy Ducat, 18, and Julie Helgeson, 19, headed to a spot about five-hundred yards from the building. Shortly after midnight, Roy heard Julie whisper, “Play dead.” Suddenly, a blow from a grizzly bear paw knocked him five feet away. The bear began biting into his right shoulder. Then it left him and began tearing away at Julie’s body, eventually dragging her down the dark flank of the mountain where rescuers later found her.

They carried her to Granite Park Chalet, but she died after doctors staying at the chalet tried to save her life.

Eight crow-flight miles to the southwest on the other side of a majestic mountain peak, Trout Lake had its own garbage problem. Hikers left behind their trash and unused food, so bears treated the area like a feeding ground. In the summer of 1967, one underfed, underweight grizzly in the area had been terrorizing campers–including a girl scout troop.

When Michelle Koons, 19, and four other friends arrived at Trout Lake late in the afternoon of Saturday, August 12, it did not take the grizzly long to appear. The bear walked into camp and stole food as the campers ran along the lake shore to get out of its way. The group debated hiking out, but it was late in the day. So they pitched a new campsite along the lake shore, built a bonfire, and tried to settle in for the night. The bear returned briefly around 2:00 a.m. and snatched a package of cookies left on a log. Then shortly after 4:30 a.m., it returned and attacked the campers. Four of them escaped to climb nearby trees.

Michelle Koons did not. She screamed when the bear approached her. She struggled to unzip her sleeping bag, but the zipper stuck. The bear dragged her away and mutilated her.

“The incidents that night were the catalyst for the move into a whole new era of grizzly bear management,” recalls Jack Potter, Chief of Science and Resources Management in Glacier National Park.

“We could no longer stand by and either actively feed or allow garbage to be left out for grizzly bears.”

Bert Gildart, a former park ranger in Glacier, remembers flying into Trout Lake a few weeks after the fatal attack to pick up garbage. He and another ranger loaded about seventeen burlap sacks of garbage onto a Huey helicopter. It was garbage campers had left behind.

Thankfully, the policies implemented in both Glacier and Yellowstone National Parks following the “night of the grizzlies” have limited grizzly attacks mainly to surprise encounters rather than predatory aggression. No longer do grizzlies scavenge food out of garbage dumps. Gone are the grizzles that became habituated and lost their fear of human beings.

Role of Humans

In 1975, grizzly bears were classified as a “threatened species” under the 1973 Endangered Species Act. The most recent estimates from the National Park Service show a population increase among grizzlies in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem from 136 in 1975 to 757 in 2014. This has been followed by a decline to 690 bears in 2016. However, the stable number of females producing cubs in Yellowstone suggests that the park may have reached the “ecological carrying capacity” for grizzlies.

So what should outdoor enthusiasts do to help manage grizzly bears and their habitat? Packing out trash and keeping clean campsites is a great place to start. Giving grizzlies their space is another. They are crowded as it is.

“The most distant place in the lower 48 states from the nearest road is 23 miles,” says Douglas Chadwick, a Wildlife Biologist and Conservationist, “which would take a bear a morning to walk out of. There is no big wild left out there. These guys are going to have to learn to live with us, which I think they are doing.”

We need to learn to live with grizzlies, too.

I still shudder when I recall a group of tourists in Yellowstone a few years ago standing outside their vehicles — with their young children — about sixty yards from a grizzly. My children were not happy when I refused to let them get out and join the crowd of onlookers. I still remember making eye contact with a park ranger who was on patrol. He returned my glance with a shrug and a look which seemed to communicate, “I’m not happy about this either, but there’s not much I can do.”

This kind of behavior puts grizzlies at risk just as much as it puts humans at risk.

According to the National Park Service, “There were 58 known and probable grizzly bear mortalities in the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem in 2016. Thirty-eight were attributed to human causes. Four were of undetermined cause, 4 were natural deaths, and 14 [are] still under investigation.”

There are, of course, more complex issues related to grizzly bear management. Within the last few weeks, the Yellowstone grizzly bear has been delisted from its status as a “threatened species” under the Endangered Species Act. Some outdoor enthusiasts celebrate this. Others are outraged. There are good people (and arguments) on both sides. We must continue to listen to each other and work together to insure management practices which will allow grizzlies and humans to co-exist.

No Danger Free Zone

On June 29, 2016, in Glacier National Park, Brad Treat, a U.S. Forest Service law enforcement officer, rounded a blind curve on his mountain bike at about 20-25 miles per hour and ran into a grizzly. The surprise encounter resulted in the grizzly mauling and killing Treat.

No amount of management can make the wilds a danger-free zone.

Last fall, my podcast partner, Dave Goetz, and I fly fished a couple days in Yellowstone National Park. One morning, we came across a fresh set of grizzly bear tracks. Thankfully, we had no bear encounter. But a week later, two fly fishers a few miles from where we were was fishing stumbled into a grizzly bear and narrowly escaped when it charged them.

Whenever I fly fish in grizzly bear country in Montana and Wyoming, I follow the standard safety protocol. I make noise, pack out my garbage, avoid going alone, and always carry bear spray. I did the same when I lived in Montana for two decades and hiked and bow-hunted elk in the mountains north of Yellowstone National Park.

Mountain bikers are, perhaps, more vulnerable to surprise encounters due to the high rate of speed at which they can approach a grizzly. Chris Servheen, who served on the board that reviewed the tragic death of Brad Treat, cautions mountain bikers to take it slow when their sight-distance is limited. He offers this advice to mountain bikers in grizzly country:

    When the trail is thick with vegetation or has curves, we recommend you slow down and shout when approaching blind curves. Speed and noise are the factors that get people when they’re out on their bikes. They’re moving faster and quieter.”

Some outdoor enthusiasts prefer carrying a .44 magnum to a canister of bear spray. Of course, firearm use is prohibited in Glacier or Yellowstone National Parks. But even in national forests or private land where firearm use is legal, I’ll take a canister of bear spray over a sidearm every time.

First, while its effects are temporary, bear spray usually incapacitates a grizzly instantly. Even a bear shot in the vital organs can keep coming.

Second, bear spray is the only safe way to get a grizzly off of a human being during an attack. Several years ago, I bow-hunted elk with a friend in Taylor Fork, a grizzly-dense drainage just north of Yellowstone National Park. We saw a lot of grizzly sign—both scat and overturned logs and rocks—but never encountered a bear.

The following fall, my friend was hunting the same area with an orthopedic surgeon when a grizzly charged them. The bear attacked the surgeon, eventually breaking his fibula, ripping gashes in his thigh and arm, and tearing off his ear. My friend charged the bear and shot it with a cloud of bear spray. Thankfully, the sow and her cubs took off running.

There was no way my friend could have attempted a shot at the grizzly without the risk of shooting the surgeon he was trying to protect.

Finally, the goal is to rescue a human from being mauled — not to destroy a bear.

There is no reason to eliminate a grizzly that attacks in self-defense. Defensive attacks, unlike predatory attacks, like those on the night of the grizzlies do not increase the likelihood that the bear will attack again. The grizzly which killed Brad Treat a year ago did not consume any part of its victim’s body. Nor did it attempt to cache the body by covering it with dirt or rocks. Unlike the “garbage bears” of the 1960s, this grizzly disappeared and has not developed a pattern of bothering hikers or mountain bikers.

Life after the Night of the Grizzlies

Today, about 1500 grizzly bears roam in the lower 48 states. Well, they don’t actually roam any longer. They are confined to particular areas in the intermountain west. About 800 grizzlies live in Montana, including 300 or so in Glacier National Park. Another 600 members of the Ursus arctos horribilis subspecies live in Wyoming in the Yellowstone-Teton area. The combined number of grizzlies in Montana and Wyoming includes the 690 in Yellowstone National Park. An additional 100 grizzlies live in northern and eastern Idaho.

Over forty years after the “night of the grizzlies” in Glacier National Park, the father of victim Michelle Koons expressed no ill will towards grizzly bears. In fact, he expressed sympathy for them. In an interview, he said: “I always would think about what civilization has done to bears, forcing them to do things they wouldn’t ordinarily do.”

Survival of both grizzlies and humans means learning to adapt and keep at a healthy distance from the other species. The grizzlies are learning to do this. Humans must continue to do so as well.