Fall is my favorite season in Yellowstone Country. The crowds thin out, the colors change, the fishing picks up and the wildlife comes out in full force. Nothing says “autumn” to me like swinging flies on the Madison in the park.
The past few weeks have thrown off my calendar, though — the park has been closed, and these signs were everywhere.
West Yellowstone was a ghost town — it was like the season ended six weeks early. Every few hours I checked the news to see if a deal had been struck — mostly I saw news about how the shutdown was affecting americans across the country.
With a deal struck on Tuesday, I knew I’d be in the park on Wednesday. I’d get in there and have at those fish that hadn’t seen a fly in over two weeks. I packed up my TFO switch rod, a few soft hackles and some tippet, and jumped in the car as soon as the temperature broke freezing.
Swinging flies at the end of the season is relaxing — after a year of tricky casts, tough mends and difficult drifts, it’s nice to fall into simple rhythm — cast, mend, look at the scenery, take three steps and repeat. It’s meditative.
I may not have missed paychecks, I didn’t have to worry about feeding my family, but I was locked out of a landscape that has worked its way into the very fiber of my existence. I was locked out of my favorite place on earth. I was locked out of my playground, my church.
Suddenly the line went tight, and with the splash of a golden tail a big brown turned and ran downstream, pulling drag with him. He fought hard, had multiple drag-peeling runs and tried to wrap the line around my feet before I brought him to hand, snapped a quick photo, and sent him, full of life, back into the stream.
It was finally over — the shutdown, the waiting — it was fall and I was catching beautiful, colored-up browns in the park. It was time to get back to the important things — protecting the trout we love and the places they live, enjoying these places with our family, and perhaps most importantly, we can get back to fishing the places that calm and soothe our souls.