1010.16 miles at 1.4 mph. That’s what Garmin’s track has to say about my travels since I turned it on leaving Reno on June 21, 2018. Not including the prequel spent in the high Sierra of California or the week in Reno waiting for news about my Dad. He died on on Father’s Day, back in Virginia and I did not go to see him. I’m still not sure if I can write about it.
Maybe because of that, the way this trip started, it has been different from 2015. There has been a thin shroud of melancholy draped over it. The eagerness I had to explore and find new waters is weighted with my regrets. Revisiting Lamoille canyon in Nevada was refreshing, but also a little sad… the Beaver ponds that had been so full of fish and action were almost barren this time, only a few tiny brook trout to be found. It was work to find fish in the freestone canyon as well.
At Henry’s Fork in Idaho, coming back to the same campsite overlooking the Box Canyon was warming to my soul. I spent more time on the Ranch section this time, studying the water and looking for risers, casting less. It was slow fishing, but I did not get skunked. I always got at least one decent fish each day. I debated internally if I should stay and put more effort into the ranch, to work on my skills as a fly fisherman, or go north to the Madison where the salmon flies were reportedly coming off.
I went for the option of big easy fish, and setup my base camp at the Beaver Creek campground. July the third, I found the salmon flies and the fish were eating them. One great hour or so of action and it was over, but very satisfying. I chose to avoid the Madison on the busy 4th holiday and fish little Beaver Creek instead, which might have been a great idea had I not slipped and smashed my knee on a rock. I have never been so grateful to have screwed up so early in the fishing day, as I was still within sight of the road. And I had my Garmin inReach with me so I could have called for help if I had to.
As it happened, I was able to hobble back to the bike with a driftwood crutch, and managed to climb aboard without dropping the big pig. Back at camp, a friendly neighbor helped me get off the bike and I retired to the couch with a bag of frozen hash browns on my knee.
Then the anxiety hits… am I going to have to find a hospital? West Yellowstone or Ennis? Bozeman? Is my trip over already? How bad is it really? The dent in my kneecap feels like maybe it is in two pieces, and I cannot bend it or put weight on it. If it doesn’t require a doctor, how long should I rest it before going back after salmon fly eating trout? I was able to hobble with my cane the next day, and eventually to load the bike up the ramp into the RV, so I had cautious optimism that it could not be too bad. I moved to Raynold’s Pass and took a day off the water to tie salmon fly patterns and ice the knee.
I fished every afternoon after that, leaning on my wading staff. I got one or two decent fish each time, but not super hot action and only a few on smallish salmon fly patterns. After 5 days of this I went to take a look at Cliff and Wade lakes, and waded into Cliff lake for a few hours (I know right?). The drop off was too steep to wade far enough to get a back cast, and I could not roll cast far enough with the sinking line I had with me so it was a mostly unproductive walk on a progressively painful knee. I finally did find a couple of near shore cruisers that ate a stimulator so again, not skunked.
My seven free days at that campsite were up, and I was a little weary of the crowd on the Madison, so I drove past the rest of the upper river to Ennis and setup next to the lake. I took an entire day off of fishing, and went exploring on the bike.
When I inflated my float tube and went out on the lake, I quickly got into a nice brown trout that ate a leech pattern. But it didn’t have any fight in it and was very slow to recover. The water was about 72 degrees which is too warm for cold-water trout and I had to decide if I should even be fishing. The next two rainbows I caught both had to be re-netted for a long second recovery before they could swim away upright.
While I was camped at the lake, the temperature of the river below the dam increased to a point where no trout would survive after release, and the reports were saying the lower river was done for a couple of months. I took a day trip on the bike to target some high lakes (Axolotl), but there were so many flies swarming me at the first one I tried, it was impossible. I rode on towards the Ruby river but didn’t find a good spot to wade in above the reservoir. I tried the reservoir for a while with no result other than getting a nice bath (needed that!). Then I fished the river below the dam for a couple of hours, and went home with my first true skunk of the trip.
Not having a real plan in mind I’ve headed north to look for smaller and colder waters. Now I’m setup just outside Butte, looking at maps and reading the Montana guidebook, searching for that water that will give me what I need… a day of effortless catching. A day where every spot you target has the fish you expected and it eats your fly, every time. Like those days on Ten Sleep creek in Wyoming and in Wildcat Canyon in Colorado. Or that first time on Lamoille creek back where I started.