Our return visit to Alpine, Wyoming was a good one. We joked about retiring to this village, if we could afford its balanced charm– its small size, the hub of three rivers, with fly shop, comfortable motel, saloons, and crazy red-white-and blue eatery, not to mention its fantastic mountain scenery. For about a year, I’ve been dreaming to fish the Greys River nearby, and was glad to find that the river road, closed for months because of a landslide during the winter, was reopened and ready for exploration.
Due to mountain run-off, the Greys was flowing high at 1350 cfs, and certainly wasn’t wade-able, but it didn’t take long for me to achieve my goal of catching and releasing the beautiful and gutsy Snake River fine-spotted cutthroats here. The Greys River flows for 50 miles or more through the Bridger National Forest. I caught my first small cutthroats on one of its rapid little feeder streams, and then in the heavier water of the delightful Greys, I hooked and landed an 18-inch fine-spotted that took a conehead Muddler Minnow. I was on my way.
The forests and snow-capped mountains above the Greys took the colors of cutthroat trout by their subtle light-orange fins and raised them into the sublime. Every landscape seemed buoyant. The western tanagers flew above the riverbanks and added their own brand of color to the place. Gentians, gilia, and lupines starred the meadows near the road.
And what can one say about the neighboring Grand Tetons National Park? You’ve seen pictures of those towering peaks, now try to imagine walking in among them, away from the crowds, on a clear and comfortable summer day… The Snake River, the very life-blood of the Tetons, captured our imaginations, too. Bald eagles chased an osprey carrying a trout over the river and eventually succeeded in robbing the smaller bird when the trout was dropped and then snatched up quickly by a feathered interloper. Down below, among the grasses of the riverbank, a family of otters cavorted and did not seem overly concerned by a small party of kayakers passing by.
We had a camp-site on the Gros Ventres River near the park. I fished unsuccessfully for cutthroats on this water pouring off the mountains, high with spring run-off. I had better luck on the Snake, itself, below the big dam inside the park. I fooled another nice fine-spotted cutt (with a streamer) and quickly released it. Earlier, my wife and I had enjoyed a beautiful walk to Leigh Lake, directly under the majestic peaks of Moran and Grand Teton.
If that wasn’t enough, the next morning I saw my first timber wolf while traveling up the road to Yellowstone. I’d seen a large animal cross the highway ahead of the car that we were following. The car moved on but we slowed down long enough for me to turn and look into the woods. There, some 30 feet from the road, a beautiful wolf, colored something like the hackle of an Adams dry fly, looked me squarely in the eye, and man, I was ready for the national park!
We snatched what might have been the last available camp-site in the park, at Pebble Creek, 10 miles from the Cooke City entrance, and got serious with wildlife observations. Bison, of course, were everywhere. The trout fishing on Soda Butte and Pebble Creek was poor because of run-off, so on our second day in Yellowstone I elected to try the Firehole River (70 degree, or 200-degree water, depending on where you thrust your toes) and found it lots of fun for rainbows rising to a dry fly. The Gibbon River, too, was productive as long as I stayed clear of its steaming sulphur springs.
We were lucky to see a second wolf on this visit– a black-phased female on the Lamar, not pleased by the fact that a line of tourists on the highway prevented her from crossing to her den beyond. When a warden informed us of the problem, we got out of there quickly, and in time to see our second grizzly bear of the season, this one prowling along the Gibbon River.
One of my favorite sights of the day involved a big bull bison that we watched as I stood fishing in the Firehole. The old fellow meandered slowly up the highway by the river, lumbering along at a bison’s summer pace, replete with irritating flies, and forced a long line of automobiles and RVs (intent on reaching Old Faithful before its “scheduled” eruption) to stop. To stop cold in the summer heat. To wait until he was good and damn ready to move off the road. A few impatient vehicles tried to slip by him but he figuratively flipped them off by shaking his massive head while stomping on the road.
Meanwhile, Leighanne sat and chuckled in her roadside chair, and I found another rising trout to cast to near the boulders of the river.