Monday, August 22, 2016

What's Really Going On On Yellowstone River - Outfitter's Perspective

It's been chaos over the last weekend around here. And perhaps more demagogues and misinformation have been circulating in the online world. Some may be true, others aren't. This is the special post. It may be a long one. I go through one category at a time.

My Outfitting operation is open and available, as always. 
Float trip destinations: Madison, Missouri, and Bighorn.
Wade trip destinations: Yellowstone National Park and available Montana public waters.
Private lake/ponds: Burns' Lake in Big Timber, Story Lake in Emigrant, and couple others.

As I've been reporting, Yellowstone Park waters have been fishing well with relatively cooler air and water, compared to surrounding Montana cities and waters. As September approaches, NE streams = Lamar, Soda Butte, Slough = will be better and better. Then soon west side waters will follow = Firehole and Madison.
Now is the time to try private ponds/lakes around here too!! These are lesser-known due to legends of Yellowstone River and spring creeks, however, they host some true trophy trout one can wish for!! Those trout are not easy to catch by the way. You gotta work hard for them - hooking and bringing in!!
As soon as Yellowstone River and spring creeks (and other tributaries) are re-opened, I will keep you updated. 

Proliferative Kidney Disease
On the day of closure

Concise explanation
More detailed explanation
More specific explanation
Please click either one or, might as well, all the links.

We could only guess that perhaps PKX has already been in Yellowstone whitefish. Then this historically low-water, in conjunction with hot & dry summer = high water temperature would have contributed to facilitate its deadly actions.
Here's a big HOWEVER = Why trout are not affected? 
So far ONLY 1 rainbow trout have been found dead by MT FWP.
I actually think I saw the one as I have walked several fishing access sites.

Have You Considered
Following is my own opinion and analysis based on my experience as an avid fly-fisher and a professional guide, including the past few days of "walking".

  • In recent years, whitefish have definitely been overpopulating in Yellowstone River. I have noticed they even seem to have adapted trout rise form during insect hatches and to our dry-flies. 
  • Not to mention whities are taking over where trout usually hold (or where we believe so). 
  • Now consider the low-flow we have this year. Just like everything else with limit & capacity, such as buildings, River has its own limit and capacity - in this case number of fish it can support. That means the most abundant, if not overly-populated, species get treated by nature's own way. 
  • As you have read links above, PKD may eliminate up to 100% of affected species. However we know, on Yellowstone River right now, whitefish are not entirely wiped out.
  • Majority of dead whitefish are 12-14" range, that we can estimate 3-year-old. We have seen 8-inch range are also dead, few among the majority. Then we have NOT been seeing 17" or larger individuals killed and floating belly-up. 
  • What does this fact tell us? 12-14" range whities are most abundant, as our catch experience prove and agree. 
  • But also, those not affected are more likely born immune to or have genes to be immune to PKD. 
  • Why not on trout? Trout seek for cold, running, oxygenated spots/sections of river - that's where we have high potentials to catch them. Indeed major killing occurred from Emigrant to Loch Leven, which we know of to consist of many wide & slow pools. And that's where whitefish are most abundant. 

Gruesome Reality of Closure
First thing first, as a good Montana resident and a sportsman and a state-licensed outfitter, I will follow the rule. Whitefish is indeed one of my favorite catch (may not be for everyone). Have you caught something 20-inch give or take?? That will rock you world - which I will do in the next post. I'd like them to be back. Most Montana outdoors men & women are also conservationists as well. So I bet majority of us, most likely all of us, understand and will be supportive.

However, just like anything else, there are always two-sided stories, that I'd like anglers in other parts of Montana and other states to know. And I feel obliged to report the reality.

  • With the closure of Yellowstone River (float fishing) and Livingston's World Famous spring creeks (my specialty), it's easy for everyone to imagine my outfitting business is heavily affected in a bad way. Certainly not just me. Fly shops are quiet. Lots of guides use Albertson's grocery store as a meeting spot with client, I do too, which has been silent, though I'm not deaf or blind. Suddenly it has become the quietest summer I know in Livingston.
  • It's not just us fishing outfitting businesses. Vehicle shuttle companies, water-craft sales & rentals, furthermore, indirectly hotels and restaurants that accommodate visiting anglers have been heavily affected. Again, it's the quietest summer in Livingston. 
  • Not just fishing - recreational rafting, kayaking, float-tubing, swimming, everything on water is banned. Reasoning is human and our crafts will spread PKD to other water bodies. I bet majority of recreational users are Livingston locals who float ONLY Yellowstone ONLY during summer
  • Besides, PKD are known to die quickly once dried. How can they or their crafts transfer PKD alive? 
  • By the way, boat wash is MANDATE for all the fishing guide after each float trip whether to accommodate different clients or same clients for multi days!! I will do as my routine regardless of how late I get back home. 
  • On August 19th, out of sudden and in the middle of the day, anglers were forced to quit fishing, some directly by game wardens. Is this the act of civilization? Shouldn't be there alternatives? - such as "sunset or midnight of 19th"
  • Those dead whitefish have been left on the banks. Apparently FWP has ONLY counted dead bodies and has not done any acts of cleaning or anything effective. It starts to smell very badly. Shouldn't be there any actions done? 
  • These dead or dying whitefish will attract all kinds of varmints and birds in the area. Aren't they, especially bird, spreading PKD more effectively than human and their crafts?  Shouldn't be there any actions done? 
  • Livingston's spring creeks = private properties.......oh where does this go?

I understand it's also a tough decision for FWP too and I hope they are working on some solutions. However there should be alternatives other than total closures and banning.
Happy Family Photo on the Last Day on Yellowstone River
Will this be the first and last time this youngest client of mine has ever been on the river and fished? 

Thursday, August 11, 2016

Cooling Down (Temps, Not Fishing!!)

I knew so............

Hoot-owl restriction (no fishing from 2pm to midnight) on Yellowstone River below Carter's Bridge has just been lifted!! - not entirely but to Springdale Bridge - which is a substantial distance for wonderful fishing!! Indeed, right after the listing on Aug 2nd, weather cooled down. Again and again, though we're experiencing a lower-than-average flow year statewide, trout are NOT going to disappear by the moment notice. It's up to us to find out where they are. And again, I'm not gonna lie to you that fishing could be slow during the heat of afternoon. In that case, fish early in the morning then fish in the evening again!! Find an honest, conscientious, and hard-working outfitter/guide who offers you long-hour trips and services such as................LEFTY!

Fishing has been good and fun around here.
We hiked up to a mountain stream on my birthday. Renee caught all the good trout on dry-flies!
 While I barely caught one whitefish on a dropper-nymph! Here's my birthday whitie!

DePuy's Spring Creek is offering some of the best summer fishing!!
I had a fine angler who was willing to challenge Summer Midges, which is NO easy task. We did see rise-rings. But also we observed that lots of subsurface feeding were occurring. Even those rising trout were feeding in the column, right after they rose to the creek surface. My guiding tactics was Sight Nymphing - more precicely - Sight Pupae-ing or Sight Larva-ing.
This is another NO easy task to accomplish. Angler has to get close enough to watch trout and observe what they are up to, then make precise casting and quiet presentations. Flies must hit the right depth during the short drift. Oh, not to mention,  all of these need be accomplished WITHOUT spooking trout!! Enough said.......
My angler worked hard then his first trout was some of the nicest Yellowstone Cutthroat!!
Learning......... the bottom creature played a major roll in the middle of day.........
We worked hard and he was rewarded with even a nicer rainbow!! It was quite a fight!!

  In the afternoon, midges were still hatching and trout were rising. However, as I seined the surface, I also started to notice lots of ants were floating............ big ones = size 12-14 = were winged. My favorite pattern for this situation is Jack Gartside's Elk Hair Ant.
Stomach result from one of afternoon trout!! This is what we call "Anting the Hatch"!!!
 We had lots of good actions with ants then back to midges in the evening. He completed Yellowstone Trifecta (catching three trout species in a day)!!
By the way, Yellowstone Grand Slam is above 3 plus Whitefish in a single day.
Then Yellowstone Royal Grand Slam is above 4 plus Cut-bow hybrid in a single day.
It's up to you what you want to achieve and make efforts for it............I certainly can be some of the best helps available in the area.......Especially with whitefish as my birthday catch proves...........

We still have plenty of August. Again, done right, fishing is good. I see much less traffic of anglers and boats this summer on MT public waters and in YNP waters. You are welcome to sneak in!!

Friday, August 5, 2016

Destination Northeast

As of August 2, Yellowstone River downstream from Carters Bridge (the first bridge south from Livingston), to all the way to Billings, is listed for Hoot-Owl Closure by Montana FWP, meaning no fishing is allowed from 2pm to Midnight. 

I do love this stretch......... I'd ask some longer-time outfitters when the last time Hoot-Owl was assigned on Yellowstone River. This just sounds negative notes on our fishing and outfitting business, doesn't it? However, reading carefully, River is not closed for fishing entirely. It's just the hottest part of the day, during which fishing is slow anyway and not perfectly comfortable for fishers anyway. So I don't take it negative at all. Indeed trout are still there and can be fished in the morning!! Oh, and I don't see many guide-boats on the Yellowstone recently........oops.... I have NOT seen any fish (trout and others) flopping their bellies up and dying.........
Anyways........ we just gotta be careful with handling fish when summer is hot and dry like this, regardless of rivers/sections we are fishing. Of course, for those visiting anglers who are not used to this type of weathers and altitudes, hats and sunscreens are mandate. Also know your body and keep yourself hydrated!

But Then I have many more destinations to fish and take my clients to!!
One of which is my all time favorite Northeast side of Yellowstone National Park!! I don't want to sound overly commercializing but these waters are fishing better than ever!! Miscellaneous insects hatches are good and miscellaneous terrestrial activities are strong, then trout rise accordingly!!

Lamar River: I educated another new & young fly-fisher!

Soda Butte Creek: one of my repeating clients had a great time!
In the afternoon, we came across "micro hatch" at one certain spot of this small stream. It was puzzling at the beginning but we decoded!!
 These Cutts were very challenging and rewarding!!
See you another day!

Slough Creek is fishing well too. We didn't quite get hooked into but did observe some giant trout feeding/rising very selectively...........

Fishing these waters, which are usually very busy and oftentimes crowded through July and August, I do feel much less fishers this year. I can suspect majority of anglers take the online information honestly and oftentimes religiously = low water, dry summer, etc., etc.,............then not heading this way............... Every year is different as every month of the year is different. Keen anglers and guides like myself can read tendencies and come up with optimal methods, just as I've been posting here. So, don't be scared of less-than-average water flows. Trust me trout are still there. Finding & hooking them is up to you!!

Thursday, July 28, 2016

YNP Dawn Treader 2016: Lake - Falls #2

Yesterday, July 27th, exactly a week since my previous Dawn Treader mission, I hit the road in the darkness, again, to the same destination = Yellowstone River below Yellowstone Lake.
It was quite a learning experience a week ago. I wanted to see if I could act better and perhaps the more important factor was that Big Cutt hovering season wouldn't last long.

I rigged up my special set-up and started casting/fishing with the according tactics, that worked last week. It didn't disappoint me!! Just about 15 minutes in, I felt a tug. Again, considering the character of the river, it couldn't be a rock snag. Indeed something was moving and I felt really heavy!! It was quite a tug-of-war under the very early light!!

This was some of the most impressive trout in my notes and most likely it (its picture) will be on my wall!!
Bye bye
Then just at the downstream of the same spot, I felt another tug!
This was one size smaller than the first one or one from last week, yet still very impressive!!

So I caught "twice more" than a week ago. In other words that was all.
I tried some more spots and also sat and waited for rises. Insect hatch was again tremendous!! This time I did observe rises!!...........8 of them........... Slightly disappointed that rises didn't go on in spite of good hatches........

It was another learning & observation day. Actually I often hear from long-time anglers of this stretch that catching only 1 or a few big Cutts is very common nowadays. Regardless of methods or spots I caught these fellas or number of catching results, I am sincerely happy to see them and admire these true ancient and native species in Greater Yellowstone Region.

If you are interested in seeing them, better get out now!! Ideally be a Dawn Treader.......... 
Or it could also be better to think of next year opening day and following days in July. 
If you book a trip with me, you will automatically be enrolled in Team YNP Dawn Treader!!

Bonus shot: Oh-ah? Is this Mr. B?

Friday, July 22, 2016

YNP Dawn Treader 2016: Lake - Falls

YNP Dawn Treader has been revived in 2 years!!
On July 20th, I left my place in Livingston just after 4am. I drove through Paradise Valley and then grand scenery of Yellowstone National Park. I reached my destination before traffic jams, caused by tourists & wildlife combinations. A different parking spot but the same stretch as two years ago: Yellowstone River, below Yellowstone Lake (or Fishing Bridge) to Hayden Valley, one of the most glorious waters in North America.

It was only 6 days since the opening (July 15th). I wanted to wet my line to see if I get connected with the true native giant Yellowstone Cutthroat. I knew it wouldn't be an easy task. At least I could tell that water would be lower than average as observed downstream in Montana. Would that affect fishing, trout, insect hatches, etc? Trials and adjustments, learning and observation, then patience, concentration, perseverance.............. I have ruminated these words over and over through the day.......... To me, it was more like to redefine myself "true meaning of fly-fishing" and "why we do this sport" and to understand, or at least try to understand, "Longest free-flowing river in Lower 48".

There were tremendous amount of insects on and around River!!............where are rising trout? 
Check and fish likely holding spots with nymphs!..................why am I not getting any bites?
Am I fishing at wrong spots with wrong flies?
Then I started to ask myself stupidly - should be kept within me!! - "Are there any Cutthroat in this River?" "Lake trout, bears, and pelicans wiped them off?"

This Zen Argument went on and on through the day...........
Then I got a bite! It was a Cutt though not super big and was slipped off from my fly.
Technically I avoided the "skunk" for the day........ At the same time, that hinted me something.
I went back to where I fished for a short period in the morning. On the other side of river, I saw 2 anglers out of a group of 3 hooked into Cutt (one was successfully netted and photographed). I was sincerely happy for them and reassured that "they are somewhere around here!!"(again, I should keep this nonsense within me but I just can't help being honest about fly-fishermen's emotions).

Then I changed my tactics and fly presentations. For the first time ever on that day, I felt a solid tug. Considering the current and depth, it couldn't be a rock or boulder. Something flashed!! YES!! I was connected with something BIG!!
Then came next challenge to handle. These brutes know how to utilize the heavy current of Yellowstone River for their advantages. One literally has to play a tug-of-war plus follow the downstream without falling in.

My nerve and rig = fly-knots-leaders = held........

What did I learn from this day?
First, I'm sure I can say, though I haven't been fishing or guiding here several decades, that this is the odd year. Number 1 factor would be the water flow, which is one of the lowest in the century of record. As we know the number of Cutthroat have been recovering in recent years. Then as you can see, or as I saw a few others' catches, these big Lake Cutt were fat and healthy. I could only guess that Cutt must have regained after spawning just as usual at average time. Then majority of Cutt would have swum up Le Hardy Rapids to the Lake (or close to) quickly and easily. Also perhaps Lake Cutt = who dwell in Yellowstone Lake rest of the year = wouldn't have felt enough hiding/holding depth and security in the river. Both due to much less than average volume and height of river for this time of year . Then there came insect hatches at the section we would fish at the average time period - no wonder we wouldn't see any rises.
This is only my theory based on my own experience and a few chats with other anglers. I can be wrong. So please take this accordingly. I'm sure there are some angler who claimed to have observed rises and even caught Cutt on dry-flies. That just didn't happen to me on that particular day.

Second, I demonstrated to myself, clients, and even readers of this blog that when I mean trials and adjustments, learning and observation, then patience, concentration, perseverance, I REALLY MEAN THEM!! Easy to say and hard to perform - indeed....... But I did and I believe that was why I was rewarded at the very end of the day.

Will there be another Dawn Treader trip? Perhaps......... Where to? Thinking..........
Stay tuned!

Monday, July 18, 2016

Spring Creek, River Float, & Back Country

Only after I gave a thought for the title and typed up, did I realize that how diverse - places & methods - I fished in the previous week!!

DePuy's Spring Creek is offering anglers all kinds of actions - some are not easy........Summer Midges!!
July 11th, this was the coldest day in July that I ever experienced. It just reminded me of fishing days in March or early April...........

These guys still exist and hatch with their own whim!!
Then fishing can be as fun as one can expect!!
Conquered the morning midge hatch!! Some of the nicest Cutt!!
This angler also struggled with complexity of Summer Midges but eventually he got accustomed.

Then float trip on Yellowstone River is as productive as ever!
This angler started as new but quickly picked up skills. We had some big rises!......didn't connect well......hopefully this kind of angler will come back to Yellowstone River for future trials!!
While we were wade-fishing, my client spotted a snake - which I usually don't notice or care as long as they are not dangerous kinds. It turned out to be one of the rarest scenes we could witness and I was even able to snap pictures!
Trout is not the only one predator on sculpins!!
Renee and I also floated on a different section of Yellowstone River. Another nice weather and great fishing!
 Even I had some lucky shots!! Hopper!!
Next day we headed to Yellowstone National Park. On the way, we spotted bears!! 3 of them almost all simultaneously.
 This the record-breaking experience for us!!
Then we hit the trail to our destination. One of the pristine experience in the Park!!

A freshly tied Garside Pheasant Hopper!
 And then on my new beetle pattern!!
 Last Cutt of the day!! - successfully released!
Golden Stone on the "White Desert"...... we felt slightly misplaced........

I would guess majority of anglers who are planning/thinking to visit Montana are aware of the fact that Montana rivers are experiencing some of the lowest water year. I won't hide it or false-advertise. However, this report = my own fishing experience & destination = will show you that there are many other waters/options that are not on or can't be seen on USGS website.  Those streams hold plenty of waters in their own rights, that run cool and remain so through July and August. Not to mention with plenty of trout and insects!!

If you need honest fishing reports and stream conditions, just give me shouts!