All good things must come to an end, or so they say. The 2021 Trout Bum Road Trip was ended a day early, but it was still an awesome adventure!
Leaving Yellowstone Park always has me wishing for additional days to explore the wonders, and fishing, found in this magical place. No matter how long the visit, it is far too short. Nevertheless, the Trout Bum Road Trip still had waters to fish, and we had a date on the Snake River with our friend, Mark Fuller of Grand Teton Fly Fishing. In any case, the drive south into Grand Teton National Park is stunning, softening the blow of leaving Yellowstone behind.
We found our campsite in Gros Ventre, then headed into Jackson to check out the spring creek that runs through the National Elk Refuge. As it was early in the afternoon, we decided to do the tourist stuff in Jackson and maybe get some ice cream, before crawling into our waders to fish the evening hatch.
The "Creek" is a well-known secret, meaning everyone knows about it, but no one talks about it. Special opening dates keep anglers from disrupting the Elk on the refuge most of the year, but come August 1st, all bets are off as crowds line up before daylight to cast big flies at very aggressive fish. A local guide told me that the silliness lasts for most of August before the Trout wise up and anglers depart, seeking less selective targets. As we chose the latter part of September to visit, most of the creek residents had walked the stage, receiving their doctorate in artificial insect identification. For those who find our Metolius River challenging, I would suggest bypassing this destination in favor of less technical waters.
As we had nowhere else we needed to be, we lined up a pair of dainty four-weight rods, attached 6x tippet, and hiked into the refuge as the sun headed towards the horizon and local anglers headed home.
The "Creek" winds through a large grassy valley, with only a few trees to shade the clear water. Still, the spring-fed stream runs icy cold, with undercut banks and tall grass offering refuge for native Cutthroat and a collection of introduced salmonids. As I encountered Cuttys during our visit, I can only speak to their presence, but Jennifer did identify and target a large Brown Trout; spring creek residents' habits provide insurmountable challenges at times, as she learned.
The light faded, but Trout still rose to hatches of Mahogany Duns, BWOs, and a few flitting Caddis. Our 6x tippet got increasingly harder to thread into the size 20 flies, which seemed to hold our slimmest chance for success. One final slurp under a cut bank, then release, before we needed to head back to the 4Runner as darkness closed the day.
To this point in the trip, we had seen plenty of action from selective fish in other streams, but the technical aspect of this fishery puts it on my "must return" list. I loved the spotting, stalking, and stealthy presentations required for success in this very intimate setting. We'll be back for sure!
Our camp at Gros Ventre nestled under glowing Cottonwoods, but the stars were the main attraction as we settled in for the night. The clear sky indicated chilly temps ahead, so we prepared with extra layers, retiring early to be ready to meet Mark the following morning at Moose Junction. In keeping with the theme, a young bull Moose sauntered through camp as we tucked the tent and headed to the river.
Grand Teton Fly Fishing is only one of a few outfitters that drift the Snake River in Grand Teton National Park. So I would suggest, if you wish to fish from a boat in one of the most beautiful settings imaginable, reach out to Mark or his crew and book a trip, now. I would also suggest planning your visit for the summer months or earlier in the fall before the Corps of Engineers starts dropping the flow of the Snake River. Unfortunately, we landed right in the middle of the drop, forcing resident Trout to relocate from their hiding spots and making for very marginal fishing. We chose to target them with dry flies and found a few fish willing to eat, but the "you should have been here last week" song was ringing in our ears. Bobbers, Euro Nymphing, or a Hopper Dropper rig would have most likely increased encounters, but we fished the way we wanted and still enjoyed the day.
Even without spectacular fishing, the mountain views and changing fall colors were breathtaking as we worked downstream to the take-out at Moose Junction. Mark is a very talented guide and provided us with a memorable day on the water. We look forward to fishing with him again and picking his brain as we plan our Trout Bum Road Trip for 2022. He is a wealth of information on waters of the west!
We slipped out of our waders, wished Mark safe travels, then headed to dinner at a local pasta and pizza place. Once again, my phone buzzed, this time a text message from a fly fishing icon, Randall Kaufmann. I had sent him a photo in a "where's Waldo?" moment as we entered the Elk Refuge the day before. He enquired regarding our whereabouts, indicating he was just minutes away from our location and would see us shortly. We sipped margaritas while waiting for his arrival, enjoying a spectacular sunset on the Tetons as we swatted away a prolific hatch of cream color midges that blended into our pasta.
Randall arrived, and we spent the remainder of the fleeting day catching up and sharing stories of our adventures. He shared a few photos of wildlife encounters, including a mother grizzly named 399 with four of her latest cubs, and updated us on his angling passions. It was great to catch up, but we still had one day to fish before heading home. So we said our goodbyes and headed for Gros Ventre Campground.
Our Dusty Road Hotel is a comfortable tent securely attached to the 4runner roof, requiring a ladder to access. Imagine our surprise when we returned to camp and found the ladder missing in action. Evidently, someone felt compelled to hijack the ladder for their own use. Having no options available, we packed up camp and started a search for accommodations. Unfortunately, Jackson is not a location where reasonably priced hotels are readily available. A two-hour drive to Idaho Falls was required before we retired for the evening, weary but comfortable in a Tru by Hilton Hotel. (Highly recommended)
So ended our 2021 Trout Bum Road Trip, well, at least the fishing portion of our trip. We headed west the next day, stopping in Baker City to wander the streets there, buying a few delicacies at a local kitchen shop, before checking into a hotel in Pendleton and enjoying an incredible Mexican dinner under the stars in that fine city. As we made plans for next year's adventure, we recounted the sights, experiences, and lessons of the past 12-days. It was an incredible adventure, filled with memories we will treasure forever.
Life is but a vapor, so live it, love the days that you're blessed with, and always look for the silver linings; even when someone steals your ladder, find another way to rise.