By Roy Hawkins
It was one of those days when everything that could fell from the sky except a Tunguska class meteorite. Rain, snow, sleet, and hail pelted us from the moment we got out of the pickup to pull on our waders. My son in law, Jim Wood, along with my grandson son Hayes, and I were fishing one of the West’s great trout rivers, the world renowned Gibbon. On the afternoon of our arrival in Yellowstone, Hayes and I fished for an hour or on the equally famous Madison River, and took several nice Browns. The following morning found us on Nez Perce Creek just above its confluence with the Firehole River. These streams are all part of the same drainage system with Nez Perce creek flowing into the Firehole, and the Gibbon and the Firehole flowing together to form the Madison. We had a great time catching small to medium sized Browns and Rainbows in the Nez Perce
After lunch we decided it was time to try the Gibbon. There, I had one of my most frustrating experiences ever as a fly fisherman. In rapid succession, I hooked and lost five Browns, two of them on the same cast! However, Jim did well and Hayes did even better! Shortly after we began fishing, I heard him yell and looked down river to see his three weight rod bent double as he battled a good fish. To my later regret, I moved on and missed what turned out to be the best show of the entire trip, for Hayes soon hooked a Brown of about three pounds. That pushed the envelope with a fly rod designed for pan sized fish. The big trout eventually took my grandson fifty yards down river. There, his dad, after running at breakneck speed to catch up with Hayes and the fleeing fish, was able to scoop the Brown onto a sand bar. They then took pictures and released the trout. Soon after, rain forced us to give it up for the day. However, we left the river determined to return the following morning, rain or shine.
We did return and it DID rain, AND sleet, AND snow, AND hail. Not only did the skies open with a vengeance. The temperature hovered between 34 and 36 degrees, and the howling wind made casting difficult. That’s tough fishing anywhere anytime, but it was an especially rough day in June on guys from Mississippi where the heat index at the same time was 105. My grandson son soon demonstrated wisdom beyond his fourteen years, and announced he’d had enough and was going to the pickup. Jim and I kept casting.
In the end I was glad I stuck it out for I caught four nice Browns that morning redeeming myself from the debacle of the day before. All four trout took a #14 Soft Hackled Pheasant Tail Nymph. Some of them struck as the result of a technique known as the Laurel Creek Twitch, named for the stream in Tennessee where we first used it. To employ The Twitch, one simply lets the fly hang in the currant, and jerks it back and forth. Often this movement triggers a strike from an otherwise reluctant trout. It was the third fish of the morning however that made the entire trip worthwhile for yours truly. After casting the Pheasant Tail into a deep pool, I twitched the fly a couple of times. Immediately a huge boil appeared at the end of my leader, and a millisecond later I felt the weight of a very good fish. The trout bored deep, refusing to show itself other than to provide an occasional flash from his brilliant sides. Then totally without warning the fish shot from the water to rocket a good three feet into the air. I could do nothing but hold on and pray my leader and hook would hold. They did, and I eventually eased the big Brown from the water. I admired the fish for a few seconds, and then released it back into the river. I soon decided however that I too had had enough. Upon arriving at the pickup I discovered my son in law had reached a similar decision, although he’d caught several nice fish.
The following morning it was snowing like there was no tomorrow. So we boys decided to give up fishing until the weather improved. Instead, we spent the day with the rest of our group: my wife Patsy, my daughter Jenny, and granddaughters, Halea and Sadie Kate. As a family, we took in the sights of Yellowstone National Park through a veil of falling snow. At noon, we enjoyed a picnic in a virtual blizzard! Fortunately, we did have a roof overhead.
We eventually did get to fish again, and Hayes took another Brown of about three pounds from the lower Gibbon, while Jim lost a big trout that snapped his leader after rising to an Elk Hair Caddis. The two also got run off the river by a rampaging buffalo bull they first took for a grizzly bear as it ran through the woods in their direction. A little later a bison crossed the river and forced me off the stream into a grove of lodge pole pines, not one of which I could climb. So, I decided my only option would be to play tag in the trees with the buffalo, until one of us dropped from exhaustion. Fortunately the bovine decided not to push the issue and soon departed.
The last hours of the trip were spent fishing the Nez Perce and again I had a redemptive afternoon, taking four nice Rainbows, and a small Brown. Although, it was time to go home, I had fulfilled another of my life goals, that of fishing the glorious Gibbon and its tributaries with my Grandson.