I just returned from several days in Yellowstone National Park. Carol and I try to get there each spring and fall to watch the wildlife. The dominant sightings this trip were bison (of course) and wolves. The pack currently in the Lamar River valley has as many as 31 members, and for two days we watched the bulk of them feeding on bison they had killed on the far side of the valley, relaxing in the forest shade during hot afternoons, and generally being wolves. It's always fun to watch the little behaviors like tug-a-wars with bones or pups pouncing on mice.
While fishing wasn't the primary purpose of the trip, I did manage to get two afternoons on Soda Butte Creek. The park is busier than I've ever seen it in the fall, and the visitors included LOTS of fly fishers. Each afternoon almost every pullout along the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek held an empty car or two while their occupants could be seen off in the distance along the rivers trying their luck. It's not easy to find a spot to call your own for an afternoon. Once you are finally on the water, unless there is a strong hatch, it can be hard to get the Yellowstone Cutthroat that inhabit these streams to come to the surface. The heavy fishing pressure makes them pretty smart. If you can entice one to take your fly, you get only one chance to hook it. If you fail you best move on to the next drift or hole.
My first day I parked in the Trout Lake parking area and fished the higher-gradient water near there. Caddis, mayflies, terrestrials, nothing I showed the trout could get them to come up. On one drift my Royal Wolf sunk, and a fish came out to take a look at it--my first sign that there were even fish living in there. That one look did, however, suggest that a nymph on a short dropper might be productive. Being no dry fly purist, I put a Copper John under a beetle pattern, and, after a couple more casts, caught a small cutthroat. That same setup, used in a deeper run nearby, brought a nice sized trout out of the depths. He took the nymph, but I only got one head shake before it flipped the hook and I had to watch it slowly disappear into the darkness.
On my next outing I managed to find a secluded stretch of water in the upper Soda Butte Creek area to spend a few hours. Again, the fish were bashful. Dry fly or nymph, it didn't interest them. My only strike of the day was on a Parachute Adams plopped into a little eddy. The fly had no more than touched the water than a beautiful trout smacked it and the fight was on. This was in a long deep run between short cliff-like banks, and that fish was back and forth from one end to the other. It really wanted to get under some of the rock overhangs, and 5X tippet didn't make me very confident that I could prevent that. But the fishing gods were with me, and my line held. The result was a glorious 16" Yellowstone Cutthroat.
To close this out, let me show you a photo to make the fly fisher drool. This was taken from the hiking bridge at the Lamar River trailhead. You have to wonder what it would take to bring one of these fish to your fly. I watched one fisher try his best for quite a while without success.