A bonus for waiting and watching. Photo by Chris Hunt.
I spent the weekend in Yellowstone National Park, catching the tail end of the fishing season and enjoying some glorious fall weather that, by late October, is usually only a memory for die-hard anglers who visit the park this time of year.
And most of the fly fishers who ply the Madison for big Hebgen Lake browns that run upstream this time of year know what they’re doing—this isn’t their first rodeo, whether they take their swings through the Barnes Pools or if they’ve staked out their favorite “secret” spots along the river. And one thing I noticed about these frequent visitors is something I’ve been known to do on waters I know.
I head to where I know the fish will be, and then I wait. I either wait for the hatch, like I’ll do on my favorite stretch of the South Fork every fall when the baetis start hatching like clockwork around 2 p.m., or I’ll wait for fish to show up, like I do on a stretch the Salmon River near Stanley in the spring, when I know that steelhead will be moving through. As we drove west down the Madison after a day of exploring the lower Gibbon, I noticed a handful of anglers on the far side of the river. In the fading afternoon sun, they were just waiting. Nobody was casting.
Now, the Madison just below where it starts as the Firehole and the Gibbon come together is a buggy river, even this time of year (in fact, it may be at its best right about now). But big, lake-dwelling browns are in the river to spawn (and so are some big rainbows that run behind the browns in hopes of stealling a mouthful of eggs). It’s possible that these anglers were waiting for a second dose of BWOs to hatch … or it’s possible that they were waiting over good holding water for big fish to stage before tackling another set of rapids.
Either way, they were waiting and watching, not fishing. And, in one spot, waiting anglers to watch a pair of young bull elk spar along the banks of the river as they prepared for rutting seasons a year or two into the future. A bonus sight for choosing to fish in an amazing place.
Sometimes, the best fishing is done with your eyes, as these experienced anglers can attest.
— Chris Hunt