from Deanna Travis

August 3, 2009


Maybe we did.  It isn’t just the getting older part, ‘tho I will admit to that – it is something else.

Yes, there have been major changes in the rivers. The Yellowstone has always been a difficult river to fish. The angler without a boat is stuck fishing some close to shore shallows, while the ‘big boys’ are floating the river in rubber rafts or drift boats. Depending on the season and some things which not even the experts have been able to figure out,  the Yellowstone can fish wonderfully on one day, and rotten the next day (even if it next day is absolutely identical.)
In all seriousness I asked ‘why’ and was told no one has an answer. It drives even the top guides nuts.

For those of you who have commented on the fact that I write better out here, be aware I actually get to fish out here. Your comments are appreciated ‘tho.  But being here again and yes it really does feel like home, and it didn’t take long for me to see there really are changes. 

The last time my late husband Castwell and I were here was during the drought years, Livingston wasn’t doing well. A Saturday afternoon had two motorcycles on the main street. The river was the color of a chocolate milkshake and about as thick. Totally unfishable.

Today it was almost the same color, results from storms in Yellowstone National Park which dump water into the river. We did see a guide and two fellows on a raft, but they weren’t fishing and Trav commented they wouldn’t catch anything with the river that dark. If you had booked the trip in advance you were stuck with a nice boat ride.

I mentioned differences, you may not be aware there were a couple of huge floods out here in 1996 and again in 1997. One of the Spring Creeks, Armstrongs, almost lost their creek. DePuys Spring Creek was almost totally destroyed. Riverkeeper Bob Auger was pretty much responsible for the rebuilding of the creek. Just having a nice spring bubbling out of the ground isn’t enough to produce a fishery. Trav was working with Bob at that time, and it took huge changes to save the stream, plus create the habitat necessary to have and keep fish in the system.

Keep in mind the Spring Creeks, DePuy and Armstrong, which are connected, are open to the Yellowstone River. Fish are able to swim up into the creeks and do so to spawn as well.

Back to the changes -  can recall having conversations with others who had fished the spring creeks here and their comment was, “It’s all over. The floods have destroyed the streams and all the insects who had survived the flood of the year before (1996).” Certainly the power of a flood of that magnitude would scour the stream bed, and in some places the stream bed was gone! It had been moved several feet by the water power, and since everything was gone, there wasn’t anything for the insects to eat either. 

It took a few years for the creeks to ‘fish’ the way they had, but gratefully they do. Well almost.
The first time in my life I fished a Spring Creek was the summer of 1972. I remember standing in Armstrong Spring Creek, rod in hand, and just laughing. There were fish everywhere! There were Rainbows and Cutthroats swimming between my legs, upstream, downstream, on both sides – everywhere. I had no idea of where to start. It really was a case of too much of a good thing! They had a hatchery in those days, and many of the fish in the stream, especially the rainbows, were ‘accidental’ releases from the hatchery runs.

Today the hatchery is gone but fish numbers are still impressive. I have fished DePuys a couple of times recently and while I have seen plenty of fish, the numbers are nothing near what they were in 1972.

Some believe that the increased pressure from fly fishers has caused the fish numbers to drop. People who fish the Spring Creeks are aware this is a Catch and Release fishery. They aren’t taking fish home. Can just having the increased number of anglers on the water cause the fish to leave, go out to the river and not come back? Are the spawners producing the usual numbers of eggs, or did some of our fellow fly fishers just discover the joys of paying to fish?

Access to private waters has always carried an impression from some of snobbery.  It really isn’t the case, if you want to fish private water and can afford too, hurrah for you. You very well may have a much better experience than someone else on public waters.  I do know the spring creeks here are booked full most days.  

Since we first came here to fish in 1972, there has been a massive increase in knowledge available on fishing the creeks, what insects, how and when. In fact, I was looking at the listing of insects on a white board down at the fly shop on DePuy’s last evening.  Below the listing of the insects was a foam piece with each of the representative flies shown. If you didn’t know when you got there, you should know now.

It just started to rain, and I’ll bet you most of the anglers fishing in the area today are winding up their gear and getting ready to bag it off. In 1972 we all would get into our rain gear and maybe a pair of gloves and continue fishing. Not many today are willing to do that. In fact it is more than a question of the will, it may be that we were more than a little nuts, but fishing was the name of the game; especially since we had made the trip all the way out here just for that reason. You came prepared, and you fished.

The general perception of fly fishing has changed. Instead of the emphasis on fly fishing as an end in itself, it is the trip. The fishing is just a part of it, no more important than the side trips, meals and socialization.

Just a few years ago there would be months of preparation, planning, fly tying, reading, talking to others who have ‘been there’ to make sure all points were covered in advance.

There are still some anglers we know who do put that kind of effort into fishing (Eric Austin, Mark Leszcynski , Betty Hiner) who make an annual trip to the same region because they have already figured out most of the problems.  (We have to have some problems to solve or it wouldn’t be fly fishing).  They have a comfort level there.
Considering the so-called condition of our country, I am amazed at the number of people here in town. Major traffic jams at the gas stations, and the hot local restaurant, the Montana Rib and Chop House, is packed. If you want to eat there you better make your reservation before you go fishing. The food is really good.  The parking lot has far too many drift boats at five in the afternoon. The folks will eat really well – but they sure aren’t fishing.

Montana’s Rib and Chop House on a slow day

Judging from the traffic (who gets cut off in a gas station?) mostly, from out of state, as well as from conversations with shop owners and guides, there is no lack of business in Livingston, Montana this summer.

While some are deeply affected by the current economic situation in the US, fly fishers seem to be able to adjust. We may not travel as far to fish, but we are fishing.

At least they are here.

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