TROUT, HATCHES, AND FLIES OF YELLOWSTONE COUNTRY
It actually gave me some fits when I tried to conjure up the title for this series. What had been in my thought were: trout acting strangely (strange behavior of trout) when rare hatches of peculiar insects occur; but also they can act strangely during the hatch of expected/known insects; in either case it's THE Special flies, developed for special situation that become the solution. Then what's new and peculiar in the world's first and foremost fly-fishing destination, Yellowstone Country? The area has been fished and studied for many years, hasn't it? That can be a true statement but also can be an undesirable attitude while fishing there. The more I fish the area, the more I come upon strange behavior of trout and hatches of peculiar insects. The more I experience complicated situation, the more I learn. Then the more I learn, the more I attain a better understanding of trout and insects. In this series of article, I'd like to share some of those. Also here I define "Yellowstone Country" as rivers and creeks that run within Yellowstone National Park and surrounding towns and communities of Montana (including my town of Livingston).
Case #1: Helicopsyche on Firehole River – Part 1
It was late June several years ago. I fished Madison and Firehole Rivers in Yellowstone Park for three days in a row, staying in the town of West Yellowstone. I repeated the same routine for three days with delight and consistent results. In the morning: some of the most enjoyable dry-fly and match-the-hatch fishing on Madison. In the afternoon/evening: some of the most complicated match-the-hatch situations to the date at Muleshoe Bend of Firehole.
For three mornings on the Madison, I fished for trout rising during hatches of White Miller caddis (Nectopsyche) and/or PMD (Ephemerella Inermis & Infrequens). Overall, trout rose with delight. This is the predictable and known hatches of the season on the Madison (how you enjoy and if you do well can be unpredictable though).
White Miller caddis that is common at both the Madison and the Firehole.
Yamamoto's Double Soft Hackled Caddis – White Miller
After the hatches were done for the morning, I went back to the town. I would visit fly-shops or take a nap in my motel room. Then I would go back into the Park just about 5 pm when most sightseers and anglers would drive out of the Park. I could have driven back to the Madison but I chose to fish the Firehole. I drove to one of the most challenging sections of the river; Muleshoe Bend. The average sizes of trout in the Firehole tends to be smaller than those in the Madison. However, these little guys can be as selective as, or much more selective than, than their bigger cousins down below during the insect hatches. Muleshoe Bend consists of some unique structures of cutbanks and river bottom, which produce very interesting yet challenging river flows. Besides fly selections to match the situation, the section requires anglers to cast the right distance, to handle and mend lines, and to set hooks just right. To me, it's simply the best place to fish with a light rod and fine tippets.
So, as I got my gear ready and got in position at Muleshoe Bend in the evening of the first day, White Miller caddis were along the river and I saw rise-rings all over!! It seemed I would enjoy the evening fishing with delight! But little did I know this was just the entrance to the complication.
Dusk at Muleshoe Bend of Firehole River.
Insects That Trout Were Rising For
I tied on a White Miller pattern that I had great successes with at the Madison in the same morning, and started casting to rise-rings. I presented my flies with the same drag-free presentations just as I did on the Madison. No rises on my flies. I adjusted my standing spots to get different angles or got close to rising fish when I could but the results were not any better. Nothing on my flies but the trout kept rising. All I could see were bunches of White Millers flying all over and rise-rings of trout. I finally got to the point that I couldn't take it any longer and I waded toward the bank where trout were rising. I might not have been the best caster or the fly selector in the area, but my presentations and fly selections had been proven to work well. I thought there might be some other different insects present. That would be the sole reason that I was ignored. What I found was: small caddis, mostly size 22. Observing closely, they were much more numerous than the White Miller. Indeed they crawled all over on my waders! What deceived me were the significant size differences. White Millers are large, sizes 12 and 14, in a pale light color. When they are hatching in abundance, it's natural to assume that's what trout are rising for. However, these little ones were more numerous; so trout must have chosen to rise on them.
At that point at Muleshoe Bend, I couldn't identify the little bug other than a "little dark caddis". I just assumed this would be what we'd call "Glossosoma" (or probably one of its species) in our area. I dug my flies in my vest and I actually had Glossosoma patterns that were black bodies in sizes 20 and 22. I picked up one, tied it on my tippet, and started casting to rising trout. Trout started looking up and nibbling on my flies!! Problems solved then? Not at all, because I wasn't satisfied completely since the trout seemed rising on my flies "skeptically". "Skeptically" may be used by human being to express our feelings, because I'm a human being, but I'd like to use the word to express trout's feelings in this situation. They rose on my flies but didn't get hooked well. It wasn't because my hook-set was poor with small flies or fish were too small to hook well. It was hard to describe but the trout were acting "skeptically" on my flies. I managed to bring a few small trout in hand, but I knew I wasn't solving anything. At least I must have gotten the fly-size right but that was far from the answer. In other words, I was skeptical of myself too!
Even to this day; these little ones still look "skeptical" to me in these pictures.
Satoshi Yamamoto, http://leftyangler.blogspot.com, is a guide and a professional fly-tyer in Livingston, MT.