The baetis begin to come, one by one, looking like little gray-sailed boats. They flip and flutter on the surface as the wriggle from their nymphal shucks and try to break the surface tension that holds them making them easy prey for the eager trout below. The hatch is on. As it builds, fly-catchers and warblers gather in the bankside brush, as the bugs start popping the birds begin flitting and flapping to pick them out of the air.
The scene stands in contrast from the early morning, when the midges provide a sporadic snack for the brown, rainbow, and native yellowstone cutthroat that inhabit Nelson’s Spring Creek —a legendary spring creek in Paradise Valley— a place so iconic and beautiful it’s the paradise you might create in your dreams.
But this place is not a dream. For forty-five years my uncle has made the pilgrimage to the spring creeks of Paradise Valley, and along the way discovered where the good fish hold, when the hatches will go, and how to tempt a fish to rise on this most classic and idyllic western trout water. This standing reservation has remained an unbroken rite of spring through four decades.
That family connection means I’ve crossed Carter’s Bridge many weekends in May, each time that first panoramic view of the Yellowstone’s cottonwood lined river channel hits me, the memories of past trips come rushing back. They blur, but all seem to color my subconscious with wading out into a perfectly still creek with my uncle to fish the golden early evening light as the day wraps — and watching him masterfully work rising fish while perfectly back dropped by the, idyllic, snowcapped Absaroka (pronounced Ab-zor-kuhs, I learned early on) mountains.
One of my early trips I recall working fish with my uncle in one of our favorite runs up from the old duck blind. I observed a couple of these learned trout suspend, then move in to inspect a bug only to abruptly move to reject it at the very last minute. Naturals mind you, but in the friendly confines of these spring creeks fish are treated to the very best bug buffets, which allows them to be so damn picky.
This ritual and these experiences have become such an ingrained part of my life and especially my spring, it brings with it the anticipation of what the rest of the summer holds and it celebrates the first major hatch of the year, which is why we were here, again, on time.
Then it happens, suddenly but deliberately. A nose breaks the surface and then, after what feels like an eternity, the tail. That full-bodied rise is a thing of beauty. That’s a good fish, I think silently, that’s the one.
As the hatch continues to build steadily everything that’s going on in my head ceases to matter, I go into a zen-like state and focus every ounce of energy on the fish. I steady myself, dig my feet into the silt and mud and try to get into the fish’s rhythm. I have every intention of feeding him that, painstakingly tied, cdc winged imitator. SET.
I tell myself calmly, lift the rod, and there is a brief moment of head shaking and tension…. then slack. My heart sinks, and then from the uninvited peanut gallery I hear the all too common phrase that sums up this performance precisely and truthfully, as only someone related could speak. “You Suck.” I look around at my surroundings, the mountains, the creek, and realize catching fish is only a part of why we do this, these experiences are what keep us coming back year after year.
My heart lifts when I see another pod of fish feeding, their shadows undulating side to side as they held just under the surface of the crystal-clear water inspecting bugs for their next meal, and occasionally rising up to slurp one up. The cast is perfect, with a slight mend that allows the fly to drift naturally over the pod of fish.
Then the lead fish moves in to inspect and in act of conviction lifts up and, in that slow cutty style, he takes my baetis and runs down stream. I get him on the reel and following some thrashing and splashing, I corral him into the net. I am mesmerized by the golden olive tone, the rosy tone of the gill plate, and the sharp orange stripe under the jaw.
It was a perfect fish, not the largest fish, but a memorable native on this spring creek— its ancestors navigating their way from the main river up into this spot of sanctuary to seek respite from a particularly bad high-water year. This moment, in this place, once again reminds me of that choice I made as a 9-year-old to follow in the fly rod footsteps of my uncle. It’s a nod to him for passing down an obsession that draws me back to his place on the same weekend, every May.
WORDS BY: KYLE TOYAMA
Rivers are more than just bodies of water, they are ribbons that connect people and reduce the distance between rural and urban. As such, they take the greater community to preserve and protect them. Check out Daniel Anderson’s connection with the Yellowstone River, and what folks in the Paradise Valley (and beyond) are doing to defend their precious resource.
Brown Trout to Brook Trout, Dry Fly to Euro Nymphing, recommendations from our ambassadors on the perfect trout season setups.
Technical Dry Fly
Pursuing difficult trout on spring creeks and other technical waters is a challenging ambition. Having the right tools for the situation is paramount. Besides a clear head, being super watchful and an on-stream predator, part of the essentials is a Sage MOD 486-4. Where MODern material designs meet MODerate flex patterns, a perfect spring creek/technical water rod is born. Supple tippet protection, yet horsepower when needed, the MOD becomes the angler’s tool for success. Coupled with the quintessential reel of simplicity, the CLICK, and a laser line with the RIO Intouch Trout LT, you now have the ability to tackle all that the technical presentations expect.
Casting big, wind resistant flies from a boat on the larger western rivers requires quick accurate casting from various distances. You will be doing a lot of casting, all day, and the 690-4 METHOD has the power to make the cast in any condition and put the big bug in the tightest spots. Catching fish while casting to the bank requires a simple formula – have a drag free drift with the maximum amount of time on the water. Unnecessary casting and pulling the fly from the feeding lanes makes for a long day with few fish. Paired with the METHOD, the RIO InTouch Single Hand Spey gives you the ability to lift the line off the water, recast with minimal false casts, and effortlessly make a mend. It’s that easy!
While summer fishing is defined by dry flies and the hatch, oftentimes the bugs are simply not up on the water. When this is the case and I want make the most of my day out, I grab the ESN. This unique style of European Nymphing allows for unmatched strike detection and precision presentations when fishing subsurface. My perfect setup pairs the 3106-4 ESN with a SPECTRUM LT 5/6 and the RIO Euro Nymph Line along with a hand tied leader and a pair of barbless flies. These finely tuned rods fish best with an ultra-thin diameter fly line to reduce sag in the line when tight line nymphing at distance. When the fish eats, you feel the take down the blank and right into the cork as you don't have slack line like in an indicator rig. Instead, you are tight to your flies, just like a swung fly take or streamer eat. From picking apart pockets in small streams to the big mixing currents of the Colorado River, using an ESN, I can be effective on the water regardless of what is happening on the surface.
At Sage, we cannot talk about craftsmanship without talking about our people. We’re not a big factory full of anonymous faces, but rather a workshop of craftspeople who design and build the world’s best fly rods using our hearts through our hands. Nowhere is that more apparent than in our guide wrapping, where each double footed guide wrap and decorative silkscreen wrap is individually tied by hand. On average, that’s 41 hand-wrapped tie offs and over an hour of work per individual rod. While there are easier ways to attach guides, nothing can replace the detail of a hand-tied wrap. It’s how we built our first rod in 1980 and why we continue the tradition today.