Outward Bound, and Back

Before leaving Yellowstone, Leighanne and I stopped for a walk through the incredible Norris Geyser Basin featuring the massive and unpredictable Steamboat Geyser. Luckily for us, the geyser had erupted recently, shooting off steam and water to heights several times that of Old Faithful, thus staying active with a vented morning afterglow. It was a great reminder that the whole of America’s first national park is an active volcano of sobering dimensions.

Madison River

Having learned that the salmonfly hatch, the huge western stonefly, was occurring on the Yellowstone, Madison, and other rivers of the region, I was reminded also that I’d never been able to fish these northern rivers quite this early in the season. July 8th might be kind of late for this oversized stonefly in some areas, but on the Madison River in Montana it was coming off by the mountain-load. It was hatching so strongly, in fact, that the three-inch fly didn’t seem to really interest the well-fed browns and rainbows of the river.

Steamboat Geyser, Yellowstone…

In my two days of fishing the wind-swept Madison with its backdrop of the sunlit Gravelly Range, I raised only one fish to the #6 dry fly, but that one was a monster. The fish rose from the evening depths, and it almost took. Fast water has a way of insuring that an angler’s strike be made precisely at the critical juncture if the fish is to connect and come to hand.

the so-called salmonfly…

That said, I did fight a 17-inch Madison rainbow to the net (and caught a few smaller fish on the West Fork)  that took the relatively modest #12 Adams. Go figure. Then, after a mosquito-plagued camp-out near Ennis, Montana, we proceeded through historic Virginia City for a quick stop at Twin Bridges, the place where Winston fly rods are produced and where the Ruby River joins the Beaverhead. My introduction to the high and muddy Beaverhead was memorable, thanks to a heavy, headshaking brown that took a Muddler Minnow and stretched to nearly 18 inches along the rod.

drifters on the Beaverhead…

I was interested in finding clear water, so I thought that the Missouri headwaters might be worth inspecting. The drive to the famous tail-water north of Helena seemed too far and too exhausting, though, at this point in our journey, so we opted for a visit to Bozeman where we spent the night and then prepared for a revisit to the Gallatin River which I hadn’t fished since 2001.

one of the many surface-feeders on the Gallatin…

It was a fine day on the Gallatin. The sun was out; the hatching bugs were everywhere– Pale Morning Duns, Tan Caddis, Salmonflies, and even the Green Drake– and I was ready for the rise. In the lovely canyon reaches up near Big Sky, I caught rainbow after rainbow and even one wild brown. No cutthroats, unfortunately, and no fish larger than about 14 inches, but the trout that came to hand to be released were lots of fun. Additionally, there were bald eagles, American dippers, western tanagers, and even a “hatch” of 20 or more magpies that kept flying over the river, one side to the other, capturing imagination while I waited for a trout to rise.

Beginning our long trek home, we reentered Yellowstone National Park and experienced numerous places that we hadn’t seen before, exquisite locales such as Grand Prismatic Spring, the stark beauty of the eastern burnt lands, the snow-streaked mountains near Sylvan Lake, etc. Yellowstone is so large and varied that it’s guaranteed to show you more on each visit that you make. The big advantage that I saw in visiting this region early in the summer rather than waiting later in the season is the presence of birds and wildflowers in all their glory. The biggest drawback is, of course, the crowds that you encounter; and if you’re an angler, there’s the issue of heavy water.

yellow columbine, Pebble Creek, Yellowstone…

The Absaroka Mountains and the canyons of northern Wyoming were impressive and invited the spirit of exploration. The North Fork Shoshone River begged me to add it to my Angler’s Bucket List. Fringed gentian, larkspur, tufted evening primrose, and sunflowers formed alluring banks of color along the highway. The Big Horn Mountains and the rock formations east of Cody floored us with red-faced Triassic freshness and a pre-Cambrian antiquity (two to three billion years of age). As for the long distance views from the high plateau of the Big Horn Mountains, they should be a mandatory experience for politicians and other power-grubbing Egos in the world who need a bit of a reality check. I’d recommend it, as long as the bigwigs don’t get shipped to the place en masse.

in the Norris Geyser Basin..

Coming soon– Devils Tower, the Badlands, and the Driftless of Wisconsin…

sculpted horses in a field, Montana…

tufted evening primrose, Wyoming…

Sylvan Lake, Yellowstone…

sulphur springs, Yellowstone…



About rivertoprambles

Welcome to Rivertop Rambles. This is my blog about the headwaters country-far afield or close to home. I've been a fly-fisher, birder, and naturalist for most of my adult life. I've also written poetry and natural history books for thirty years. In Rambles I will mostly reflect on the backcountry of my Allegheny foothills in the northern tier of Pennsylvania and the southern tier of New York State. Sometimes I'll write about the wilderness in distant states, or of the wild places in the human soul. Other times I'll just reflect on the domestic life outdoors. In any case, I hope you enjoy. Let's ramble!
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17 Responses to Outward Bound, and Back

  1. Brent says:

    For some reason, I remember (perhaps incorrectly) stopping at Grand Prismatic Spring. The geothermal feature that I’m remembering was so wide that the boardwalk surrounding it took almost half an hour to (slowly) walk. And the size of the spring made it hard to gauge the colors and scale from ground level.

    Anyway, what an amazing place. Yellowstone is so big and varied that it could easily comprise 4-6 smaller national parks well worth a visit themselves. Have you read about the Thorofare corner of the park in the southeast, also known as the section of the lower 48 that is furthest from ANY road?

    • It’s kind of confusing… In clarification, Grand Prismatic Spring is in the Norris formations, and you may have visited the place. It does have a big walk-around, and is found just beyond Excelsior Geyser Crater which I’ve labeled incorrectly in the picture as Steamboat Geyser. I hadn’t seen this long walk back when you possibly were there. I remember the Mammoth formations quite well. Anyway, all of it is quite amazing nonetheless. Thanks for the comments, and I’ll have to check on that Thorofare corner. We passed near there on our exit, I believe. Quite beautiful!

  2. plaidcamper says:

    Thoroughly enjoyed reading this, Walt! The area around Bozeman is one of my favourite corners in the west, and it looks like you had a wonderful time on the rivers. Even the bugs are big out there…
    It’s land that leaves a mark on you, and space that needs to be treasured, that’s for sure.
    And there’s more to come? What a trip!

    • Plaid, Traveling these western areas always leaves a new mark on me, a positive energizing one, the kind I’m sure you easily recognize. The bigness of the land and sky and bugs, too, is the largesse of the Earth given to those who can appreciate. I’m glad you liked the post, and thank you, as always.

  3. Bob says:

    Appreciated the tour Walt. I’m wandering Yellowstone next summer.

  4. Bob Stanton says:

    Great post, beautiful pics, as always. I hear tell that the Beaverhead is where the big fish lurk. Seeing the horse sculpture without reading the caption, my first thought was, “What the hell are wildebeests doing in Montana?”

    • Bob, For me. fishing the Beaverhead was like walking a weedy bank of a canal, with deep muddy water and a feeling that the big ones were close by. Didn’t have my camera with me, but the brown I caught in there was a very fat and feisty 18-incher. As for the “wildebeests”, yes. The represented are only about half the horses in that herd. They seemed strikingly realistic, even their tails were blowing in the wind.

  5. Awesome! In my trip to Yellowstone two summers ago, the one major feature we didn’t get to see was the Grand Prismatic. We were in a tour bus and the parking lot was just too full! Also have to echo Bob’s comment, that photo of the “horses” kind of freaked me out before I read the caption. Wonderful summary!

  6. Thank you, Michael. Yeah, the WildBeasts/Wildebeests of Montana. When we first saw them speeding along the highway nearby, we thought W/T/F and turned around for a closer look… Real horse-tails waving in the wind, the look from beyond… Glad you liked the post! The likes of Grand Prismatic could fill a book, and the parking lot was close to full when we, too, got there pretty early in the morning.

  7. Les Kish says:

    Quite the tour Walt. A nice series of posts from your trip. You got to see and fish more the Yellowstone country than many of the “locals”.

    • Thanks for the compliment, Les. Yeah so many streams so little time, but it was fun. Maybe next time I’ll have to see if you’ll show me how to fish one of your spring creeks, eh?

  8. loydtruss says:

    Great post featuring areas in the park that my wife and I didn’t get to visit when we there in 2015. My biggest regret while in the park is not getting to fish. Landing those 14″ trout and under against the backdrop of the beauty of Yellowstone had to be special. Thanks for sharing

    • Thanks Bill, Obviously one needn’t be a fisherman or even have a particular focal point for enjoying the Yellowstone region but, for me, the fly-fishing/birding/hiking elements are a key to that enjoyment. Hopefully you’ll have an opportunity to fish there on your next visit.

  9. Walt, you described perfectly some the reasons I love the West. Sounds like you’ll be making plans for a return trip as well.

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