Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Oct 07, 2013

Sysadmin Note
Part 13 can be found here

YNPThe Gibbon River joins with the Firehole River at Madison Junction to form the Madison River. Ah, the Madison River is one of the most storied rivers in the Park however this story is not about the Madison River it is about the Gibbon River. The source for the Gibbon River is Grebe Lake, and is worthy of an article in its own right. Grebe Lake is located in the center of Yellowstone National Park and when the Gibbon leaves the lake it flows a short distance through a woodland and flows into Wolf Lake. After leaving the this lake it again flows through the forest before breaking out into a meadow and flows into Virginia Cascades before entering the Norris Valley.

The Gibbon wanders through the Norris area then run through a riffle area and enters Elk Park Meadow. It then it runs back into the woods and enters Gibbon Meadows. These two meadow sections holds the largest trout to be found in the Gibbon River above the falls, however these section also offer the most difficult fishing to be found on the river.

After leaving the last meadow the Gibbon becomes a rolling and rollicking pocket water river running through a canyon all the way to Gibbon Falls which drops eighty four feet into another canyon and slowly widens out an as the river approaches Junction Pool, a distance of 4.7 miles, where it joins with the Firehole. In this section it is one again running through a meadow like terrain.

The Gibbon River is one of the most complex rivers found within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park because it is not a single type of river but is in fact several different rivers depending on the section you are fishing. As a point of historical interest, during the exploration of the Park it was noted that there were no fish to be found above Gibbon Falls. Later, during the 1880's, it was discovered that there were Mottled Sculpins above the falls but nothing else.

The first written record of Gibbon Falls was that of William Henry Jackson during the Hayden Survey of 1872 and, according to Jackson, there is no historical record of how the Gibbon River was named, however by the mid-1880's the name was used in official government and commercial accounts of the Park. However, according to Hiram Martin Chittenden, who was an engineer for the Army Corps of Engineers, the Gibbon River and Gibbon Falls was named for General John Gibbon who aided in the exploration of the river. Chittenden did considerable work in Yellowstone Park in 1891 to 1892 and again 1899 to 1906 constructing the North Gate Arch, doing major road work and building the Chittenden Bridge across the Yellowstone River. Furthermore early maps show the Gibbon listed as the East Fork of the Madison.

During 1890 brown trout, rainbow trout and brook trout were stocked into the river above the falls and in 1920 Arctic grayling were introduced to Grebe Lake and the upper section of the Gibbon. In today's world, what you catch in the Gibbon River above the falls depends in part on the section of river that you are fishing.

Below Gibbon Falls you have a resident population of rainbow trout, brown trout and whitefish, however in the fall of the year the is a major run of brown trout from Hebgen Lake, which is located just outside of the Park. These fish run up the Madison River to spawn and this can bring out many anglers seeking to hook a trophy-sized brown trout on the Lower Gibbon River. However, I have found that if you moved upstream away from the area of Junction Pool, say about a mile to mile and a half, you will find plenty of water that sees very few anglers in the fall of the year.

A complete hatch chart for the Gibbon River above the falls is an impressive listing of many insects, however these hatches are at times only in certain locations. Therefore I strongly suggest that you check with the fly shops in West Yellowstone for the current hatches on the section that you wish to fish. Shops I recommend are Bob Jacklin's Fly Shop and Blue Ribbon Flies. I know these guys and they are knowledgeable and first rate people. The others might be fine but I am just not familiar with them.

I as I have stated in other columns, I believe that Soda Butte Creek, Lamar River and Slough Creek offer the best dry fly fishing in Yellowstone Park, and next on that list is the Gibbon River. Not only are there some great hatches to fish but I believe that the Gibbon River may provide the best attractor dry fly fishing in the Park. Yes, when there is a considerable hatch on any river is it wise to match it and the Gibbon is no exception, however when there are no hatches and no visible trout feeding the Gibbon is an excellent river to fish attractor dry flies on and expect reasonable results.

Years ago I travel down to the Madison to meet some friends and fish the PMD hatch. We were to meet at Bud Lilley's and I was there as soon as the doors opened and I waited and waited. Finally Bud said I had a phone call and you guessed it, my friends couldn't make it because of car problems. As I started up the Madison every place I wanted to fish seem to have several anglers that day. By the time I had reached Madison Junction I was out of sorts and decided to head back through the Park which took me up the Gibbon Canyon. There was a traffic jam at the falls with everyone in the world seeming to want to photograph the Gibbon Falls that day but once I cleared the area of the falls I noticed that there were no anglers on the river.

The water above Gibbon Falls is classic pocket water rushing and tumbling its way to the falls and on this day it suited my mood. I pulled into one of the many pullouts along the road, geared up with a eight foot rod for a five weight floating line and seven and half foot 4x leader. I sat on the bank for a while watching the water and relaxing and allowing myself to feel the mood of the water.

As I watched the water I did not see a single rise or any insects on the water. Normally I would have selected a nymph and started prospecting, however and old time Livingston Fly Fishing Guide named Ray Hurly, who fished the Park extensively, told me that the first choice on the Gibbon should always be a dry fly as it was one of the finest dry fly fishing streams in Yellowstone Park. Ray was very knowledge on the waters of the park and I paid attention to all he said.

Therefore, I selected out my favorite attractor dry fly which happens to be a Royal Wulff. I choose a size 14 and dressed the fly and the leader and began to fish my way up the stream. On my second cast I placed the fly at the top of a boulder and as it slid down the chute a 10 inch brown trout attacked it like a kid after a chocolate chip cookie and the fight was on. After a minute I slid the net under him and slipped the barbless hook out of his jaw and continued on my way.

Three hours later I had covered about three quarters of a mile and had caught many fine trout, one which was a memorable 13 inches. I had many that slashed at the fly and missed or I missed them.

I walked back down the creek to my truck and sat on the tailgate where I could see the river and enjoy a bit of lunch. After I finished my lunch I decided to move up to Elk Meadows and see if terrestrial would bring any action. If I could find some unoccupied water to fish!

Upon arriving at Elk Meadows I noticed that there were people everywhere, however they were there to photograph and watch the small herd of buffalo and elk that were sharing the meadow and when I began to look along the stream I was shocked to see that no one was fishing. I rigged up with a size 10 Whitlock Hopper with a size 14 Black Ant dropper about 20 inches behind the hopper and began to fish up the river in the Elk Meadows section. I covered the water carefully and slowly and soon had a nice brown on the hopper and a little later another decent brown trout on the ant.

At times the wildlife watchers approached a little closer than I would have liked, but I basically ignored them and went about my fishing enjoying the afternoon. It was very late in the afternoon when I stopped and walked back to the truck. My biggest brown trout looked to be a solid 15 inches took the ant and promptly dove and wrapped around an underwater snag and was gone. It was sure fun to see him and get a hook in him regardless of how brief the hook up was.

As I drove north I arrived at the Norris area where the river crosses the road and I notice that the water was alive with rising fish. I quickly turned around and pulled off by the bridge and went to look and found that the water was covered with small size 20 pale almost whitish duns and the trout were rising everywhere.

I still had my waders on therefore I just had to adjust my leader adding a short section of 5x and then a 6x tippet to bring the leader to 9 foot in length. Then I choose a size 20 Meloche Dun. (This small pale dun was designed by Dan Bailey for Gilbert Meloche to use on Nelson's Spring Creek during the late 1930's)

I walked downstream of the bridge and began to fish my way back to the bridge. Most of the trout were 6 to 10 inches long and were a mix of brown and brook trout. I did take one brook trout that was 13 inches long, which is a considerable brook trout for this part of the Gibbon, and a couple of 12 inch brown trout; but most of the trout were much smaller. Now some may distain is type of action, but I do not. I never met a trout that I didn't like and before I realized it the light was fading and the hatch was ending and I was back at the bridge. There were a few other anglers out fishing that evening but no one came to close and intruded on the charm and delight of the situation. Finally, I sat there on the bank watching the river gurgle and glide beneath the bridge realizing that another fishing day was over but that the memory of it would live on in the pages of fishing journal and in my mind.

So I rose and put away my gear, got out of my waders and began the trip back to Livingston as the darkness fell.

So the next time you have a chance during the summer to try the Gibbon River with dry flies do so and I think you will be surprised by the action.

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

Sysadmin Note
Part 15 can be found here



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