“Be careful Jim”, I said to my guide as he unhooked and then handed me my first West Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout. “I think he must have swallowed the fly rather deeply, or maybe it’s in his gills since he appears to be bleeding.”
My guide, Jim Hickey didn’t even bother to look up much less answer my unsolicited advice. He deftly removed the hook and then handed me a rather plump and healthy trout from the South Fork of the Snake River.
“He’s just fine” Jim said without even a hint of sarcasm. Hickey, who releases thousands of cutthroat trout each season, was no doubt used to the rookie mistake I’d made. Seeing the blood red portion of the fish just below the gill plate, I assumed, he had been injured. “Now I see why they call them cutthroat trout I said rather sheepishly.” Jim just grinned and leaned back on the oars of his Clackacraft Drift Boat.
I settled back comfortably into the drift boat myself and thought back to the day before. I’d flown into Jackson Hole, Wyoming by way of Denver, and was mightily impressed at the site of the Teton Mountains as my plane rumbled onto the tarmac in the late afternoon. After disembarking from the plane I quickly spied my fathering-in-law John Johnson, standing in what passes as a waiting room in the tiny airport at Jackson.
John, who spent over 30 years in forestry service, is 6 foot 6 inches so he’s not hard to spot in a crowd. He was beaming at me and I could see he was as eager to go fishing as I was. Over the years he’s become my fishing partner when ever I go out west, and since he knew the area fairly well, because of his forestry service days, he wanted to show me the sites before we headed off to our hotel room.
Are Those Buffalo?
A few turns from leaving the airport we spotted a pair of mule deer and as if that weren’t enough, down along a small creek I spied a bull elk stopping to take a drink. I could hardly take it all in when John pointed to a herd of brown beasts moving along the edge of the sage brush in the distance. I picked up John’s binoculars and I saw my first herd of buffalo.
“Wow”, I exclaimed like my 3-year-old son. “Look at the buffalo!” John, who was driving cut his eyes at me and said curtly “Beau, those are bison, not buffalo. Buffalo,” he continued, “are found in Africa, bison are on the great plains of the West”.
A Guide’s Guide
The next morning found me standing on the second floor balcony of the Angler’s Inn in the town of Jackson Hole, Wyoming trying to soak in all the scenery. Our hotel was just what anglers are looking for clean, affordable rooms, with an environment that’s rustic and quiet as a grave at night. The “no vacancy” sign I’d noticed coming in the night before was a common sight in Jackson and I was glad I’d made my reservations much earlier in the month. By 8:30 that morning Jim’s pickup truck pulled into the parking lot and we quickly stowed our gear.
I’ve had the pleasure of knowing Jim Hickey, a partner in World Cast Anglers, for nearly 10 years. I first met Jim when he and his lovely wife Jenny were guiding in my home state of Virginia. Jim is the consummate professional guide that can handle a drift boat better than most folks can drive their car. He’s constantly tinkering with fly patterns—his Hickey’s Condor is a must for Virginia smallies—and is a superb caster to boot. Of all the qualities that Jim possesses as a guide, however, his best skill is how he handles his clients.
Finding the Strike Zone
I’m not a novice fly angler by any standard, nor do I consider myself an expert either. I was humbled however at how long it took me to get into the groove of fishing this extraordinary river. There are two main methods of fishing here when casting dry flies is not your first choice.
One method is to nymph with a double rig. A No. 10 prince nymph is usually followed by a dropper. The dropper can be any variety of smaller patterns down to size No. 24. A small amount of weight can be added above the first fly and a double indicator is used about two feet above the first pattern. Nearly all of this fishing is done from a drift boat so angler’s rarely have to cast much more than 30 feet at the outside.
To say that strikes here at this time of the year are fast and subtle is a great understatement. I fished for nearly 4 hours before I really felt like I was finding the strike zone. That’s not say I didn’t catch fish in the early part of the morning, I just know I missed many, many more than I caught. This type of fishing is certainly a numbers game and landing 50 trout in a single day can be done.
The second method of fishing here is to use streamer patterns which are cast tight to the river bank. This technique will result in much larger fish, but anglers may go 30 minutes without a good strike. This method of fishing is exciting since you can see the fish charging your fly, but also proves nerve racking since you don’t know when the strike will come. Often fish strike right before the fly reaches the boat. John landed several nice trout in the 16- to 20-inch range and lost perhaps a dozen others.
As the day was nearing a close I began casting a No. 4 white zuddler tight to the bank. After a few moments I began to be distracted by the awesome scenery and was sort of on auto-pilot casting and retrieving my fly, all the while looking at the buttes and river side cliffs. All at once my line stopped and I was slammed back into reality as a massive cutthroat turned with my white zuddler in his mouth. I took in a huge breath as I could tell the fish was easily 24 inches. In a split second he spit out the fly and lazily headed back for the bank, my fly line slumped in the water for lack of tension.
Despite the loss of this monster trout the day went on pleasantly enough with Jim gently rowing John and me down the river. I learned a lot on this trip to out West. The main thing I learned is you really have to pay attention to what you’re doing. You never know when you’ll cross paths with a massive trout while fishing, or see a buffalo while driving. Did I just say buffalo? I meant bison.
Contact: World Cast Anglers;www.worldcastanglers.com; 800-654-0676.
Beau Beasley (www.beaubeasley.com) is a career Captain with Fairfax County Fire and Rescue and a proud member of Local 2068. His first book Fly Fishing Virginia: A No Nonsense Guide to Top Waters was released April 2007.