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L. Woodrow Ross

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West Yellowstone, the Mecca of Fly Fishing
By L. Woodrow Ross
Monday, July 24, 2006

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An informationsl summary of all that Southwest Montana has to offer for the traveler and fly fisherman.

West Yellowstone, the Mecca of Fly Fishing

When we consider almost any topic, there is usually an icon that comes to the forefront of our mind that represents the apex of all the factors that make that topic memorable. West Yellowstone, Montana, is such a topic. It represents the quintessential destination for fly fishermen. It is a “Hope Diamond”, set among the lesser jewels of the west. The abundance of streams and rivers make it a memorable place to visit.
One of the crown jewels is the famous Madison River. It runs west through Yellowstone National Park, turns northwest to Hebgen Lake and Earthquake Lake, and them takes a more northerly direction bordering highway # 287 toward Ennis which is 71 miles away from West Yellowstone. The Madison has been called the “50 mile long riffle”. The river begins its mad dash through the maze of boulders, beginning as it exits Earthquake Lake in a turbulent rush, and maintains the same boisterous nature until it slows down near Ennis and spreads out into the famous braided water before it enters Ennis Lake.
Whirling disease has taken a toll on the Rainbow Trout population, but the Brown Trout have filled the niche. The Rainbows are making a comeback, but the Browns are still prevalent. In the fall, when the big trout run up from the lakes into the rivers to spawn, a big streamer cast across and down and then stripped back in six inch strips will fool some of the big trout. When they take the streamer on an upstream strip, they will try to take the rod from your hands. It is exciting fishing.
There are reported to be some huge Browns in the braided waters near Ennis, but most of my luck has been with the average sized fish. Occasionally, one of the sloughs will seem fishless and it is an indicator that a big Brown may be patrolling the water, keeping the other average trout away and eating the smaller ones unlucky enough to pass too close to him.
The Firehole River runs through the park and is reported to fish well when the other rivers are too cold to be productive. Its waters are warmed by the hot springs that are numerous long its route. During the warmer times when I have been there, the waters were too warm to merit fishing.
The Gallatin River runs from Bozeman to near West Yellowstone and parallel highway # 191. The average fish is not huge, but the numbers are high. We did see some big fish up near Big Sky on one of our stops, but found them to have a bad case of lockjaw the day that we were there. The water runs shallow, but is clear and beautiful.
The big daddy, the Yellowstone River, flows through the park toward the north. Along this path, it creates the famous Yellowstone Lake, which is home to a good population of the Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. Unfortunately, at some point, someone released Lake Trout into Yellowstone Lake and they have reduced the Cutthroat Trout population significantly. The wildlife officials require that any Lake Trout caught in Yellowstone Lake must be killed.
When we were there is 2003, we caught some of the big Cuts up near the Buffalo Ford and had a ball. They were 16” to 18” and great fun on the 5 weight rods. We were treated to the spectacle of the Bison herd feeding up to the bank where we had entered the water, and then they forded the river within yards of where we stood in the river. Few places in the world afford such a spectacle these days. It was unforgettable, and the highlight of our trip.
It is definitely worth the time to visit the Fishing Bridge while you are in the park. At certain times, the huge Cutthroats are abundant near the bridge, affording photo opportunities and making fishermen gawk in amazement at the size and quantities. Today there is no fishing allowed from the bridge or in the immediate area, but it is a treat to observe the fish from above and read about the history of this place where many people fished in past time.
We never made it to the Lamar River, but it is in the Northeast part of the park near
Tower Junction and eventually joins the Yellowstone. The Lamar and it tributaries, Slough Creek and xxxxxxxxxx are great fisheries and provide great sport. They require a little more hiking, and you are more likely to encounter bear activity if you get into the back country.
It’s only a short drive into Idaho to Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. There is some very technical fishing here and some of the best fishermen in the world have come away fishless from this fabled water. If you have an opportunity to go, be sure to take the time to drive up to the headwater springs. No fishing is allowed, but you will see some magnificent Rainbows in the clear spring waters as it gushes forth in prodigious quantity.
We were there in September, 2005 and experienced a brief snowstorm with flakes as big as a golf ball splatting against our jackets as we watched the massive trout fanning their fins beneath the bridge. They were awesome.
The list goes on and on and the opportunities for the fly fisherman abound. There is water and fish to suit any kind of fishing that you prefer. All you have to do is to select the water and the season and you can find the exact conditions and setting that you desire.
Lodging in the area can be found to meet your requirements. There are cabins, lodges and motels. You can go bare-bones or you can have all the amenities if you desire. The residents are cordial and helpful. West Yellowstone has fly shops galore, including such famous places as Bud Lilly’s Fly Shop, Madison River Outfitters, Bob Jacklyn’s Fly Shop and Blue Ribbon Fly Shop. These are names that trip off the tongue with a magical ring. When you enter these shops, you may encounter anyone from the local trout bum to John Geirach, A. K. Best, or other famous members of the fly fishing fraternity. It is a gathering place for those who love the sport. Fortunately, all men are equal before the trout (unfortunately for me, some are “more equal” than others).
Fishing is only a sport and not a religion, although some might dispute this. If it were a religion, West Yellowstone just might be the “Holy Grail” for fly fishermen.

       Web Site: www.lwoodrowross.com

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