Sunday, September 1, 2013

Big Trout in Small Streams: Nothing Finer!

In a poorly disguised attempt to prolong my Labor Day weekend to four days, I decided to take a day off work last Friday. Once my office mates had bought my ruse, my attention turned to where to fish. I thought I might try the Bighorn as PMD's and black caddis were coming off and that would bring some big noses into the air. But, that air was predicted to be 95 degrees. I quickly considered other options as some relief from this kind of heat seemed like a good idea! If I went up into the mountains, I thought the 4000-5000' gain would mean mid-70 or at worst lower 80's. This sounded much better. I was torn where to go in the mountains, then I read a story in the Sheridan Press:

Wolf trapped, killed near Bull Creek

SHERIDAN — On Aug. 16, a control officer for the Sheridan County Predator Management District trapped and killed a gray wolf responsible for killing 21 sheep in the Bighorn Mountains. The wolf was the first documented kill in the Bighorn Mountains by the predator management district. 
The gray wolf was a 130-pound, 2-year-old female killed near the head of Bull Creek in the Bighorn Mountains. It is believed the wolf was a descendant from a Yellowstone wolf herd and traveled to the Bighorn Mountains alone. 

Bull Creek Area
So I thought, I haven't fished Bull Creek in many years. I remembered that the last time I fished this small stream, I caught some really big fish. My decision was made and off I went in search of the past:

This stream alternates between short open slicks, huge flooded areas generated by beaver dams and finally, tight channels that create gravel bars at bends that give way to deep undercut banks. As I remember, this is where the big boys live!
I started out the day fishing (and photographing) mid-side trout (14-16 inches) that were scouring the surface for any edible morsels. At one point, two cutts ignored my #20 parachute Adams to compete for the double surgeons knot I had tied at the junction of my leader and tippet. If you think trout can't see leaders, think again. This knot attached 5X to 6X... a minuscule bundle of fluorocarbon that was easily seen by both trout!


I eventually worked my way up to a huge beaver dam and fished some of the small channels that had flooded the meadows. Some of these channels were very small. If you went slowly you could find hefty 16" cutts feeding where these channels bled back into the main current. This fish below was examining every tidbit that floated by. I eventually put down my camera and caught him on a parachute Adams that I threw into crystal clear fan  where the small channel hit the main current.

Clear water from the bleed finds its way back into the main channel.

The fish with the small feeder bleed behind.

What had been a perfectly clear sky somehow suddenly gave way to dark clouds promising rain. With no hesitation, I headed for the tight stream not wanting to get "weathered out". I  did not want to be forced to leave without a chance at the big boys in the tight narrow area. On the way to the narrows, I caught this unique and beautifully colored rainbow. Not big, but what a gem!

After I caught this 'bow, I hoped to save some time so I cut across the beaver dammed area and fought my way through dense willows, soft muddy channels and hidden holes. In the middle of one of patches with the most thickly packed willows, the lightening began. Of course, the best way to get through thick willows is to lift your rod high over your head and push the willows aside. Not a great idea to raise a carbon-graphite rod high overhead in a lightening storm. But it was the only way through, so I tempted the fates and carried on.
By the time I reached my long sought narrows, the rain was pouring down. Before I made my first cast through the first of the narrow slots created by the overhung banks, I slipped on my raincoat.  Rain, lightening and now hail began peppering the water's surface. On my first cast, I probed a foamy eddy. Immediately, a 17" cutthroat (shown below) hammered my fly.  I pulled him from the undercut bank maxing my 6X tippet by quickly tugging him to my feet. Impulsively, I ignored the rain risking my camera for a photo of this fat trout.

Around the next bend, the rain slowed and hail stopped, but the stream got even tighter. The casting was difficult and I had to really power my casts to avoid having the wind push my fly into the willows. Plotting a strategy (or getting up the nerve to make the next cast), I paused to tie on a new parachute Adams. As I threw the old ratty Adams in my chest pack, I saw a big snout eat a bug off the surface at a riffle's tailout. I made a successful cast and a slow roll on my new, freshly Zinked fly produced yet another big cutty.

The weather rumbled off to the east and the sun tried hard to peek thru the storm's tattered remnants. I climbed over an old beaver dam that had been partially washed away and slogged thru the mud flats above. Eventually, I reached the main stream again and the maze of willows that both protected and created the deep cut banks on this narrow stream. I knew it was about time to quit, but I decided to catch one more fish. Good choice! Eighteen inches of silver and pink wrapped a fat rainbow trout making this moment a very good way to end a day!

Postscript:  So I caught one more beautiful rainbow in the last run before I left the stream for my car. I'd forgotten about this until I was looking at my photos! Hell of a day all thanks to a wolf who decided to leave Yellowstone to find mutton in the Bighorns.


  1. Ummmmmm yeah! Not a bad backyard to be playing in!

    1. I'm a lucky man.. so are you. Loved the dove hunt photos!

  2. That's a big wolf! Shame they had to kill it. Oh yeah... nice fish. And I know your boss so you're buying beer next time or I'm ratting you out.

    1. My boss is such a prick, but he's stupid and thinks I'm doing research when I go fishing!