Over the first part of the tour, all discussion of great fishing wound up turning to Slough Creek. So we left what was a very relaxing morning on Soda Butte and headed back into the Lamar Valley which meant that I would be rubbernecking for at least the next hour.
I rode with Bruce Smithhammer and what a pleasurable drive it was. His music selection guaranteed that the miles in between would be a treat. When you can be on a fishing trip with people you really haven’t known for more than a couple of days, and the conversation is structured around the amazing technique of Dwight Yoakam’s former guitarist Pete Anderson it is readily apparent that you are in good company.
We pulled onto a winding gravel road with rolling hills all around. From the topography, it was obvious that a river was out there just beyond view…and then we reached the parking lot and I saw what all my friends were so pumped about. This is an active body of water that just begs to be fished.
We all piled out of our vehicles and Chris began getting the lunch stuff out of his ride. As the wonderful spread was laid out for our pleasure, you could see each of us being drawn away from the conversation and the food. We all spent our lunch break taking a bite of food between hard gazes into the creek. Anglers are funny that way. We can be the most focused and in tune of people, but put us in front of fishy water and we instantly become restless. The mind of a fly angler is always reading the water. We are always determining in our minds where the lies are in the stream, where the holding spots might be. A bug can hover round the stream for fifteen seconds and we have already done our own identification which is then followed by a mental selection of fly and size. It is a sickness, but I have yet to meet an angler who feels the need for a twelve step program…about the flies at least.
And so, with full a full belly, we strung up the sticks and hit the trail.
Slough creek is recognized by its meadows. First, second, and third. It is also common knowledge that the further up you go on the creek, the better the fishing. This seemed so odd to me. If the fishing is better upstream, then why not bypass the other spots and move up to the areas beyond the parking lot? Oh how foolish I was. When we set out into the timber it was easy going, then slightly easy, then a bit of a haul. All the while, you are walking beside this amazing creek and staring at water that is just about as perfect as you will find anywhere. It was then that I learned that it was not the distance to third meadow that was the impediment, it was the water itself. Eventually, the water is going to win. The unending enticement becomes too great and most folks will succumb before they ever get to the super fish.
We traveled beyond the first and second meadow. I am looking at this water, and I am getting tired of walking. Then we reach the canyon. A high walled mass of pocket water that is beginning in conjunction with a more extreme hike. We stopped. I looked at Steve. We were both so fired up to fish that we elected to forgo the journey to the third meadow. This would be where we took our stand. So, Steve and I, along with Rebecca and Rich, stepped off the trail and into a massive boulder strewn run of pocket water that would make Gierach drool.
Below the pocket water where we began was a large open area. Looked pretty deep, and though I saw no risers, in my gut I just knew that there would be fish in there. The three of us headed down with Rebecca and Steve moving below me to where this open deep water tailed out into a tighter stream. I moved over to the hard riffles right at the head of this massive pool and began casting just far enough that the fly would engage the turbulent current and drift into the slow water. It was my thought that fish would stack up and be ripe for the picking.
Two or three casts into it, I set the hook on a small cuttie. No more than nine inches, it hit the nymph with authority and in short order I brought it to hand. I didn’t even lift the little guy out of the water, and he swam away in a rush to settle into just about the exact spot where he was holding when I arrived.
Downstream Rebecca was on to fish and landed one that put her in quite a quandary. She had caught a rainbow, which in most cases you would simply admire for a moment and then place back in the drink. However, we had been instructed by our hosts to kill any rainbows we caught which would assist in the full fledged dominance of the cutties. A little unsure as to how to dispatch the fish, she finally just elected to squeeze it until it died then gave it a proper burial into the river where it once called home.
As Rebecca was wrestling with the moral dilemma of the dead rainbow, I had switched to a neversink caddis and using basically the same methodology, I cast up into the rough water and let the fly fall naturally into the slick water. After negotiating the riffles, the fly slowed down with the current and I watched a large fish rise into the same aquatic path as my fly. The big boy hung around and as the fly crossed over it, the tell tale sign of a pending take began to take shape. Then, as if he remembered that he had left something burning on the stove, one splashy flick of the tail and he was gone. I cannot say exactly why he turned away. I had placed that fly in perfect position, it had drawn attention to itself, and then total refusal.
I tried a couple of more casts without any luck so I waded my way around to the area that Rebecca was fishing. Steve began moving his way round to the spot I just left.
Rebecca and I stood together working the water for a while when we heard screaming downstream.
In the Smokies where I live, someone yells bear and unless they have cubs with them, they honestly are not much of a threat. I have seen dogs that are bigger than the vast majority of bear I have encountered in the GSMNP (Great Smoky Mountains National Park), but this was not Tennessee and the bears out here will mess you up.
The very nanosecond that my ears sent a survival message to the brain, I turned and looked at Rebecca. Nice to know that I wasn’t the only one who was filled with adrenaline. It wasn’t really that we were scared other than the fact that we did not know where this bear was located. Then I spotted her, standing on her hind legs and scratching her back against a tree. Big.
It is funny how sometimes our thoughts become reality. Those short ideas that pass through your mind so quick that you barely identify it as a thought at all. I looked at this rotund black mass rubbing its back against the tree and thought to myself, “Glad that sucker is on the other side of the river.” It was at that exact moment when said bear stopped rubbing, looked across stream, and immediately trotted down into the water. While this was going on, Rebecca had yelled upstream to Steve that we had a bear. Steve was probably sixty yards away, and had managed to hook the large trout I had turned earlier.
Steve heard Rebecca, but sometimes there is a wide chasm between hearing and understanding what has been said…such was the case now. So Steve thinks that she is congratulating him on the deep bend in his rod and gets this big smile that protrudes from behind his cigar. She yells again. This time he hears, so instead of a long moment of admiration for the lovely cutbow he has just landed, he snaps a picture and comes to the rescue. See….Steve was the only one of us with bear spray. He was by default the first line of defense and was the last one in line to be mauled. And so, in a manner likened unto Mighty Mouse…here he came to save the day.
By the time our faithful friend and hero had made it over to us, so had the bear. With eyes focused on the lumbering beast, Steve took the forefront, bear spray close to the hip and ready to fire. Steve used to be a cop so I felt relatively confident as to his ability to strike quick aim with the spray. However I was a little uneasy about wind direction and could just see myself catching the downwind drift of this pepper concoction just before I was disemboweled by an angry member of the Yellowstone community.
The bear got as close as maybe ten yards or less. Could have been fifty yards, but when you are looking at a big beast that is on a collision course with you, distance looses all logistical relevance.
Then we began talking to the bear. “Hey bear!” which is actually angler speak for “Dear Lord please get this beast away from us in a hurry because we have at least one other river to fish and I don’t want to miss it.”
Eventually, the bear turned and headed into the woods. While still within our line of sight, it stopped, briefly looked back at us, and proceeded to do that which has always been said that bears do in the woods. The thought occurred to me then that this was just his way of letting us know just what he thought of us, our taunting, and Steve’s bear spray.
We didn’t catch anymore fish, but we sure had one great story to tell when we converged on the parking area.
It has been said more times than you could count that often the best part of a fishing trip is not the fishing. That statement was very true in this case. Oh, to be certain we were happy that Steve hooked a nice one, and we did admire his picture. But on this day, on Slough Creek in Yellowstone National Park, a darn nice trout was trumped by a big black bear. But man what a story we had to tell.