The author and Cassie after the chase on The Stream That Shall Not Be Named.
You know how it is when you develop an intimate relationship with a place. Especially if that place has large, lovely wild trout. You start to feel a sense of ownership—and a distinct reluctance to share it with anyone beyond an exclusive few family members and friends.
Not many places inspire this kind of proprietary sentiment among anglers more than the Yellowstone region. And few non-locals know it better than the Steelhead Whisperer and his family. They make a pilgrimage there faithfully every summer.
I’ve fished some of the famous trout waters in that region. Caught some fine fish, too, on huge orange bugs twitched on the surface, on tiny dries that tested my ability to thread 6x tippet at dusk, on big rubber-leg nymphs with a soft hackle trailer, on olive and black streamers stripped along undercut banks.
But the Steelhead Whisperer returned from the family sojourn every summer marveling about a certain, nameless stream where he and his wife Christy and daughter Cassie always caught fish on dry flies, trout whose dimensions made a mockery of standard trout nets and belied the size of the stream from which they were coaxed.
And he had the photos and videos to prove it.
I began to obsess over this nameless creek. And after several years of not-so-subtle hints on my part, the Steelhead Whisperer and his family relented and invited me to join them in Island Park earlier this month.
I was informed, shortly after my arrival in the dark and being guided into a parking spot by headlamp, that The Plan called for us to visit this stream the next day.
I certainly did not wish to subvert The Plan.
The Plan, however, was forced to accommodate our collective lack of fishing-trip conditioning, so it was a crack-of-noon start that first day. We drove to the trailhead, rigged up and marched off on the approach hike, which meandered for several miles through swaths of lodgepole pines and clusters of wildflowers exploding like tiny fireworks among the sagebrush.
Then, we topped a rise, and there it was. The Stream That Shall Not Be Named.
It was with a mix of awe and horror that we took in this view. Awe, because, well, the view was awe-inspiring even if we had no idea that the creek’s sinuous path through meadow and willow housed trout of a size completely out of proportion to its demeanor.
Horror, because for the first time in all of the Steelhead Whisperer’s visits there, there was another fishing party present.
It was a crushing development. We considered deviating from The Plan for that day, but in the end determined that could have implications for our fishing mojo for the rest of the trip, so we kept stiff upper lips and moved upstream.
After a few minutes of walking gingerly through willows, singing to the dozens of Yellowstone bears likely day-bedding there, we came upon a soft bend where the stream had furrowed a perfect lie along the far bank.
And there they were. Heads.
And some of them were…not small.
The Steelhead Whisperer began to tie flies to leaders. The heads bobbed like apples under the willows fringing the hole. It appeared that, despite the appalling presence of other anglers below us, The Stream That Shall Not Be Named was delivering the goods yet again.
Then, as Christy and Cassie began to cast their offerings upon the clear water, the creek turned off and the heads bobbed no more.
Cast after accurate cast garnered no interest. A change in flies worked no greater charm.
After a while of watching, I moved upstream a bit and found other trouty water. I cast at every lie I could reach and even managed to put my flies on the water as often as in the willows. But no Leviathan rose spectrally from the limpid waters.
I was not yet prepared to doubt the Steelhead Whisperer’s tales of the place. There were photos, after all. But it seemed…a little less than advertised.
“Every year’s different,” the Whisperer cackled. True dat.
Cassie was still working the hole where the heads had been active. I came out on the bank above her, and watched as she displayed advanced, targeted casting and line management. Suddenly, a form rose in the water column and inhaled her fly.
She set the hook expertly and began playing the thick 12-inch trout, which put a substantial bow in her pink 3-wt Scott rod. Her parents moved in to help her, if needed.
What the heck. I shook line out of the rod and tossed a non-descript dry fly into the head of the hole. It drifted innocently along the bank. I mended line once, then again, and as I did so the second time a large shape ascended from the depths and turned on the fly.
Things happened quickly. The trout took off downstream and bulled its way into the knee-deep riffle below the tailout. Cassie had landed her fish and her mom was taking photos as my trout sped by them. I half-ran behind them, my rod bowed and bouncing as if dowsing, and up onto the bank where the creek had undercut it.
The Steelhead Whisperer made himself useful by capturing the chaos on video.
I decided letting the trout run further, into a deep hole that appeared choked with tree limbs, was ill-advised. I leaned into the butt end and jumped into the water to get to the cobble bar on the other side. Meanwhile Cassie had released her fish, grabbed the net, and sprinted after me. She plunged into the stream behind me—and promptly took a full bath.
The trout chose that moment to make a run between her legs. She pirouetted like a ballerina to unstraddle the line as I fought to keep tension on it. I horsed the rod a little harder and the fish came close. I let him drift down to Cassie, where the net awaited. Twice more he took line from the reel, but shortly she had him in hand, a fine 16-inch cut-bow and a monster of a trout for almost any stream of that size.
But I had seen the photos. There were much bigger trout to be found there.
We all turned to the creek with renewed energy. But just like that, The Stream That Shall Not Be Named turned off again, and all our efforts with rod and line went for naught the rest of the day.
It goes without saying that any water with this kind of trout and anonymity cannot be disclosed in a public forum. So know that this perfect trout stream, amid throat-tightening scenery and with likely no other soul around, is somewhere in the greater Yellowstone ecosystem, and that with diligent research and intuition you might find for yourself.