Friday, June 1, 2012

Hot Water...

Hot tub, anyone?

It's an odd primal urge. I get that.

But when I stand next to one of the dozens of crystal clear--and scalding hot--pools of magma-charged water that gurgle and simmer along the banks of the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park, it's all I can do to keep from jumping in.

The Firehole, too, is a primal body of water. As it flows through geyser basins inside the park, it picks up steaming rivulets of water that, later in the year when the air temperatures climb a bit, make the river so warm it's virtually unfishable. The fish simply move up into the cooler tributaries of the river, or they hunker down and wait it out in water that is barely habitable. But now, early in the season, it's as close as a dedicated trout angler can get to a sure thing.

The best of Yellowstone
So, earlier this week when a colleague and I had a few hours to spare one afternoon, we ventured into the far reaches of the Firehole as it flows through the fabled Midway Geyser Basin. We figured if we got away from the road and all the tourists marveling at the herds of bison guarding newborn calves that we might find some solitary fishing for the river's legendary brown trout.

Turns out, we had a to walk quite a ways. We weren't the only anglers with this brilliant idea.

Walk farther
But we did eventually outwalk our brothers--and this is the key to the best fishing in Yellowstone ... just stretch your legs a bit. And when we did, the fishing was predictably great.

The Firehole's hatches this time of year are also pretty predictable. It's the weather you have to keep an eye on--just ask my friend Kirk Werner, who was on the river just a few days before we were, and had to trudge to the water through a foot of fresh snow. Even so, I'm betting he enjoyed some blue-winged olive hatches and some pretty lively streamer action.

Typical Firehole brown trout
We also had a few blue-wings, but with air temps in the 50s, we also enjoyed a pretty impressive caddis hatch, and dry fly fishing most of the day. That's not to say we didn't go after the big boys in the river's deeper reaches with streamers--I caught a couple of nice browns that might have pushed 18 inches with a weighted black Woolly Bugger. 

But the fishing, truly, is only part of the Firehole experience. There's something unique about having to squint through clouds of sulfurous steam to see your fly, and there's something amazingly wild about casting to river-born trout and having to watch your backcast to ensure you're not inadvertently snagging a wandering bison.

Wild brown trout
There's also the magic of Yellowstone, and that fact anglers, above anyone else who visits the park, get to see what's it's all about, mostly because we, like the bison along the river, like to wander... explore. We'll get off the road. We'll venture off the trail.

We'll see a place that hasn't change much at since it was "discovered" around the time Lewis and Clark ventured across the Northern Rockies.

Wild, desolate, sparse ... and perfect
If you've never experienced the Firehole--with a fly rod in hand, or otherwise--you need to. It's a seminal part of a Yellowstone visit, and is not to be missed. If you want to fish it, you need to get there pretty quickly (I'd recommend by mid-June), or wait until the end of September, when the water cools and the fish come to life again.

You'll see a fabled river in all its glory, and you'll meet wild trout that thrive in a place that is wonderfully desolate, wonderfully sparse.

And among the most amazing fly fishing destinations on earth.

-Chris Hunt


  1. Exceptional. Glad you hit some improved weather over what we had just a few days earlier. Of course, as you well know, it can be nice and it can be miserable; sunny and snowy all within the same day—nay, the same hour—whilst there. Enjoyed your entry very much. You are an Honorary Ranger.

  2. To this relative newbie......Yellowstone is on the list to get to for all the reasons you stated and more.

    Awesome entry.

  3. well done sir...looks like you had a pretty damn good day on the river. probably told and heard some pretty good jokes as well...ha!

  4. For being so called fragile creatures, trout are pretty adaptable. I've never heard of them tolerating a behavior like water temps that change so rapidly. That is cool. When I first started reading about trout it seemed they were pegged as a cold water fish. Then I'd find instances where they live in high desert or even low elevations or elevations that in the grand scheme of things aren't low at all.

  5. Great read and beautiful photos as well. It almost eclipses the fishing story.

  6. Thanks Howard... much appreciated.