Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Jul 29, 2013

Sysadmin Note
Part 9 can be found here

Soda Butte Creek is approximately twenty miles in length. It is a long major tributary to the Lamar River and is located in the northeast corner of Yellowstone National Park. During the past ten years this stream has become one of my personal favorites to fish and I believe that Soda Butte Creek offers some of the finest dry fly fishing to be found within the borders of Yellowstone National Park.

On October 5th 2011 there was a gathering of fishing friends on Soda Butte and neither the fishing nor the day of friendship disappointed any of the participants. Today wasn't really a guide trip though I have a hard time turning it off and I wanted the day to be memorable for all of us. My son Ryan was home to fish with one of my longtime clients and friend Dr. Jay Swartzwelter of Boulder, Colorado and joining up with us was my long time fishing partner Paul Gates.

My son is a Captain and Company Commander for the 6th Battalion Aviation, 101st Airborne Division and had just returned from his second tour in Afghanistan. Ryan is also a graduate of West Point, and as you might be able to tell by this, I am very proud of him. Ryan grew up in my fly shop and knew many of clients and fished with several as he was growing up.

As I was often busy guiding Paul Gates, who is my long time fishing partner and best friend, often took Ryan with him on many of his fishing adventures. Growing up in a fly shop had its advantages as Ryan was able to spend time with Lefty Kreh, Doug Swisher, Bob Jacklin and therefore turned out to be an excellent fly fisher as well as a creative and dedicated fly tyer.

Dr. Jay Swartzwelter has been fishing with me for going on thirty years and we have shared many different fishing adventures on many of Montana's finest trout streams, but with the press of family and his own grandchildren Doc had not fished with me in a couple of the years.

Ryan had also not been able to return to Montana during the fall for many years due to West Point, tours of duty and the press and responsibility of family, as he is now married and he and his wife are now expecting their first child. Paul is recently retired from teaching but is now busier than ever.

Somehow with the magic of E-mails and many phone calls I was able to get everyone to communicate and able to get everyone in Montana for some fall fishing. A couple of days were spent fishing the pools on the Yellowstone River for brown trout that should have been gathering in the pools prior to the spawning run. The fishing was good but the special part was the chance to catch up, visit and talk over the many days we had spent together over the years was the truly special part.

On October 5th the weather had turn and the expected high was only going to be in the 50's with a strong chance of rain. However, for today's adventure we had decided to go to Soda Butte Creek in Yellowstone National Park, having been on adventures of this type before. Therefore I was prepared with a hot lunch of homemade Chili and Sausage.
We began the journey from Livingston, Montana and traveled south through Paradise Valley with periodic showers and low scudding gray clouds and we as continued into the Park we notice that the temperature was falling and I was hoping that Mother Nature wouldn't get carried away with this cool down and present us with unfishable conditions. The cab of the truck was filled with stories, laughter and the others seldom noticed the conditions beyond the cab of the truck. The traffic was light which we hoped for with the early start and we were moving along nicely until we ran into a small buffalo migration and were delayed for about thirty minutes.

We spent the time enjoying the great scenery of the Park and took photographs of the buffalo plodding up the highway. As you may know the Buffalo is a big fellow and pretty much walks where they want and wildlife stopping traffic is just part of the experience of visiting a stream in Yellowstone Park. We had all experienced this event in the past and none us were in any great hurry.

YNP chronicles

Finally we started up the Lamar Valley and as we approached the area where Soda Butte joins the Lamar there were cars everywhere, the air temperature was now 42 degrees and a light mist was falling and the sight of all those vehicles brought a series of comments. Ryan said "So here is where they are serving that free breakfast." Paul said "October 5th is the date of the Musical Concert entitled Ode to the Buffalo." Doc quipped "No today is National Buffalo teeth cleaning day." Doc is a dentist.

In view of all this intelligence I kept my silence as we moved closer to the source of the stoppage, and as we approached a bend in the Lamar River there was a Grizzly Bear on a kill with a pair of Wolves waiting for their chance to feed. We spent over an hour watching the Grizzly protect its kill from all comers and took many photographs while the Park Ranger were there to keep any of the other onlookers from approaching to close.

Finally at 10:30 am we finally move up to Soda Butte Creek and choose a section of the creek that runs right along the road to begin our fishing. Once we were geared up and on the water we all stop to observe and saw an occasional insect but the cutthroat trout were not showing any interest what so ever!

I found the water temperature to be 44 degrees with an air temperature rising to 45 degrees. There was a slight breeze out of the south and a continuing mist so I suggested that a two fly nymph rig might be the ticket. As we could expect a possible hatch of Gray Drake or Fall Drakes I suggested that we use a size 12 Olive Hare's Ear nymph with a size 16 Black Sawyer Pheasant Tail nymph dropped 12" behind the Hare's Ear.

I also suggest that we play with the placement of the strike indicator and bounce the nymph rig right along the bottom; and soon we were catching fish. The catch rate wasn't fast and furious but steady if you thoroughly covered the water. Around 11:45 am I left the group to start lunch as I had a feeling that with the weather change we were not going to see much of the Gray Drakes or Fall Drakes however with these conditions I felt the Baetis hatch would start early and be heavy therefore I decided that an early lunch was in order.

I might mention that even though we were fishing right off the road we saw no other anglers. I think that the weather had discourage others from venturing out on the water.

As soon as lunch was hot and ready I called to the others and the rush was on, as I watched them scramble up the bank. I thought that, boy if the Baetis do come early and are as aggressive as these guys the fishing will be great.

Lunch was filled with more stories and a great deal of laughter and the large pot of chili disappeared like magic and was topped off with several cups of hot coffee, and we all agreed that the hot lunch was the ticket on a day like this.

The weather was holding steady with a light breeze and 46 degrees with a light mist and an occasional shower would move through and after lunch we returned to the river and saw an occasional drake but the trout were just ignoring any of the adult insects that were on the water. A week ago during much better weather I had fished Soda Butte Creek in this same area and on that day the Baetis hatch didn't show up until 4:00 pm, but today I figured that the hatch would come earlier and it did.

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The Baetis hatch began at 1:45 pm and continued on until 5: 20 pm. Once it began the hatch became extremely heavy and soon every trout in the river was feeding. Paul and Doc wandered upstream and Ryan continued to fish right along the road and fishing and the catching was just plain OUTSTANDING, and for me the pressure was off and everyone was catching trout so I spent time with my son. Mostly he did the fishing and I did the photography. For those of you who have sons that you fish with you will understand. I have caught my fair share of fish but I surely enjoy spending time with my son and watching him catch fish, pointing a good fish or recommending a pattern or suggesting an angle of presentation, just passing on the information that I have gained over a lifetime of fly fishing and guiding other fly anglers.

YNP chronicles

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After a while I wandered upstream to see how Paul and Doc were doing, not that I was worried and both are extremely good anglers, it took me a while to find them and they had really wandered, I guess I should have hung a cowbell off one of them, but finally I found them and just sat down and watched as two skilled anglers worked the rising trout. I finally I joined them and we trade quips about slow reflexes and failing eyesight, you know the comments like "Jeezs I have seen better reflexes on a corpse," and "Oh come on, Ray Charles could have seen that take!"

I was just good fun among anglers who have fished together for a very long time and we all thoroughly enjoyed ourselves. I finally wandered off to a little corner that I know of to catch a couple of these willing trout myself. For about an hour I lost myself in the pleasure of working difficult trout but even though I was not guiding I started to feel guilty and had to go and check on everyone to make sure that they were still enjoying success.

They were all still catching trout and my fears were groundless, soon I returned to fishing and all was well. I noticed that the hatch was beginning to taper off and that it seemed to be getting darker and I looked up and saw that a major mass of scudding black and angry clouds were heading our way and you could see the sheets of rain bearing down. By the time I collected everyone up the hatch had faded and the water was still. We barely made it to the truck to gear down when the storm struck and the rain was somewhat heavy so we sat in the cab of the truck drinking coffee and sharing notes on the fishing, the flies and presentation methods that we used and chided each other on missed fish or in my case and over eager strike which promptly broke off a very good cutthroat and darn near broke its neck! Or the misstep that caused the nameless angler to suddenly sit down among the cries of "Oh bored already" and "Hey old timer do you need a hand" and all of us then applauded.

We never did see another angler and the fishing day was as perfect as a fishing day could be, the weather was a little ify but some of the best fishing days are often in less than stellar weather. But the fishing was only a small part of this great day; it was the buffalo on the road, the grizzly on the kill with the wolves in attendance and the fact that we were all together again fishing one of the great rivers in Yellowstone National Park. Soon we would split up and go our separate ways and who knows when or if we will have a chance to all gather together again.

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

The following is a list of the flies that we used during the Baetis hatch along with images of each of the patterns.

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Weighted Baetis Nymph

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Baetis, Soft Hackle-Spider

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Para-Surface Emerger Baetis

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Baetis Foam Floating Nymph

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Baetis Paradun

Sysadmin Note
Part 11 can be found here


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