As we made our descent down the small mountain, we could see the curves of the creek cutting through the pasture below. Our pace quickened as we anxiously hiked down the gravel path into the valley. It was the last day of our trip out west and we were excited about the prospect of catching a few last cutthroat trout before heading home—a 16 hour drive 1,000 miles east.
The days prior were spent fishing the Jackson Hole area. The Grand Teton range offered a picturesque backdrop, whose only flaw was created by smoke from western wildfires. As each day came and went, we became more accustomed to the high mountain streams and the approach we needed to take to fool the cutthroat trout that swam in the waters. Foam and dry flies were the meal of choice, which offered an exciting surface eat from each fish fooled by our rarely perfect presentations. Regardless of our inexperience with cutthroat, we applied the tactics used back home for brown and brook trout and managed to find some success.
As we stepped into the stream for the final time on the trip, it hardly rose past our shins. With little for holding water and the first several dozen casts going unnoticed by any trout, our optimism started to shrink. The stream that had caused early excitement was now opening room for doubt; however, having already committed to the hike into this stream, we waded up in hope of finding better water.
A few hundred river yards upstream we were greeted by a pool that looked to be about 10 ft. deep, with a perfect little run pushing moving water throughout the pool. It looked extremely “fishy” and brought back some of the optimism that had vanished earlier. After only three casts, Abigail had a trout sip down her pink hopper and instantly put a good bend in her 5wt Sully. From downstream, I quickly crawled over the rocks separating the two of us with my net, excitingly telling her to “hold on!” After making a few dives down into the deep blue pool, we scooped up the cutthroat and realized it dwarfed many of the other fish from the trip. We high fived each other, took a few quick photos, measured it and sent it on its way—17 inches—the day was made!
Abigail was riding high from her recent catch, so I took the lead for the next pool, only to find that it too looked very promising. Two big boulders formed a narrow but quick run that tailed out into a nice long pool. After a few casts my hopper was slurped down by a fish that proceeded to make several darting runs upstream in an effort to escape. My first catch of the day was secured in the rubber of my net within a short time and like Abigail’s it was a good-sized fish. The day had gone from good to great!
Having both caught our largest cutthroat of the trip within minutes, we debated calling it a day. We had a long hike back to the truck and a 3 ½ hour drive to Billings, MT looming over us before the day’s end; but days like this are rare, and neither of us were ready to quit, so we proceeded upstream.
Generally, when something is working, it’s best not to make any changes—if it ain’t broke, don’t fix it, right? We would generally tend to agree, but as we approached the next deep corner pool, we noticed trout causally sipping small bugs from the water’s surface. Noticing that this sipping was a pattern, we added on a few extra feet of light tippet and exchanged our hoppers for a small dry fly.
Good fortune continued to fall upon us and within mere minutes, Abigail had a trout “slurp” the dry that had just been tied on. “It’s another good one,” I heard her say as I ran through the water to assist with the net. Sure enough, yet another quality cutthroat found itself in our net—we couldn’t believe it!
Noticing how many trout still seemed to be eating, I moved into the pool where Abigail had just been. I carefully observed the water looking for active fish to target. Forty feet across the stream, near the opposite bank, I saw a big fish swell up through the water to eat whatever insect had just crossed its path. “I found my next fish,” I told Abigail, and made one of my better casts of the day about 2ft upstream from where I had just seen the fish rise. As my dry made its way downstream, the trout exercised a similar pattern to what I had just witnessed and came up to take down my fly. The water was so clear I could see everything play out. We laughed as I fought the fish, not believing how great the fishing had been that afternoon. Yet another quality fish found the same temporary home as the others before it—in the bottom of my Dead Drift Net’s rubber basket. We took a few quick photos and were faced with a tough decision. This time, we decided that we would quit while ahead, call it an awesome day and make the hike back to the truck.
After a 90-minute hike that included a bison, a bear print, a wolverine or badger (still undetermined), a family from Boston, and a tumble down the trail by one of us, we were back at the truck. Our fishing adventure had concluded, but what a way to end the trip! Four of the largest trout of our trip came in the last few hours. Persistence had paid off and caused that sort of satisfied exhaustion that comes after a long day of good activity. As we drove up and over the 11,000ft mountain pass that evening, we looked back at the landscape we had just spent the past week camping and exploring, but looked forward to the hotel bed and takeout pizza that awaited us that night in Billings, MT.