Saturday, July 24, 2010

The Gallatin Divide

Self Portrait - The Gallatin Divide
The Gallatin Range is one of my favorite mountain ranges in the world. It's towering peaks, untamed rivers, radiant stands of timber and sagebrush meadows instill in me a sense of wonder every time I visit. It's home to some of the most beautiful mountain scenery of which it is possible for man to conceive.

The Gallatin River is hardly the most remote river in Montana. With the exception of it's headwaters where it's born from secluded snowfields in Yellowstone National Park, a major highway runs right beside it for it's entire length. It's not a river where you go to catch a lot of large trout either. It's brawling & dramatic pocketwater sections in the canyon can be a bear to safely wade for hours on end, and it's waters run bone-chillingly cold even during the height of of a mid summer Rocky Mountain heat wave. It's usually the last river to warm up and turn on and the first to cool down and turn off during the course of a days, or seasons, fishing. What it lacks in remoteness and large trout it makes up for in spectacular western scenery and a huge population of perpetually hungry modest sized wild rainbows sprinkled with a few hefty browns, cutthroats & cutbow hybrids. Nonetheless, it's one of my all time favorite western rivers, partly because of sentimental reasons, and I always try to make room for at least one day on it's gin clear waters on every trip. Except of course when Greg G is dragging me off into remote hinterlands of the Bridger-Teton in pursuit of Snake River fine spots.

This year I was hoping to meet and fish the annual salmonfly emergence as it propagated it's way up through the canyon around Cinnamon Basin. Two years earlier I had encountered excellent fishing to the adults at the tail end of their emergence just above the same basin during the last week of July, surely this year would be even better since I would be on the river a full two weeks earlier. Sometimes, despite even the best laid plans, things can and do go wrong. I didn't see one single adult salmonfly on my entire drive up the Gallatin Canyon to Taylor Creek. Not one. It was now painfully obvious that Mother Nature had her own timetable and the emergence had already run it's course for another year. Once again I would have to adapt my original plans to suit the nuances of her timetable and not my own.

Which really shouldn't be a problem at this time of the year since we were looking right at the onset of prime hatch time on the river. So I headed for one of my favorite sections on one of my favorite rivers, the Taylor Fork to Snowflake Spring section in the subalpine basin just outside of Yellowstone National Park. For once, I made the right choice for a change.

I was the only one there when I pulled into the small dirt parking lot around 10 am and began to assemble my gear and survey the conditions. Some of the best fishing on the entire river is in this 7 mile stretch. The Gallatin here is your typical freestone/meadow stream with some fast riffles and runs, a few longer slower pools and some nice cutbanks that provide ideal habitat. Fifteen inch fish are not all that uncommon and I've caught browns & cutthroats up to 18".

Dang, I forgot to grab some SPF30 sunscreen at Albertsons market this morning -always a fairly serious concern during a sunny day in Montana, especially at this elevation . I would pay for this seemingly small oversight before the day was done.

As was previously mentioned, it takes a few hours for the Gallatin to warm up and turn on for good fishing, even during the summer months, so there's usually no hurry for the angler to rush to hit the water early. Once noontime rolled around though the hatches started in earnest; first the caddis had fish popping all over the river, then it was the pale morning duns joining the mix and pulling a few nice fish out from the undercut banks and if that wasn't enough already a decent hatch of western green drakes began to emerge in mid-afternoon that brought some of the days better fish up from the bottom of some of the deepest pools. Those green drakes never really came off in big numbers but the fish certainly knew they were there. All this activity under a bright & relentless afternoon sun.

The spruce trees in the background of the above photo mark the confluence with the Taylor Fork which, along with Bacon Rind & Fan Creek, is one of the better Gallatin River tributaries. Downstream of the mouth of Taylor Fork the Gallatin becomes a much bigger & boisterous river.

The variety of water in this area is just one reason why this location is one of my favorite on the river. Upstream of the confluence you can fish a smaller and more intimate river that often runs much clearer that the water below, or if your in a big water frame of mind you can work your way downstream into some serious mutha-lovin pocketwater and the very beginning of the Gallatin Canyon just above Cinnamon Basin, or you can fish the Taylor Fork itself. You decide. I'm just glad to have the options.

The fishing was fast enough over the next few hours that my gnat-like attention span soon began to drift in and out. Maybe it was that big sandwich I ate for lunch but by late afternoon the easy fishing had become soporific. These days a few fish seems to be enough for me anymore and a I tend to get bored easily when there isn't any challenge involved or any problem to solve. So I decided to forgo the evening rise & spinner fall and went geeking around up in the northwest corner of YNP instead. It's just the way I roll these daze.

Into the heart of the southern end of the Gallatin Range.

Fawn Pass Trail
The portal to Fan Creek. Click on over here for a virtual tour of what lies ahead on the Fawn Pass/Fan Creek Trail.

On the Black Butte Ranch. Just downstream from Snowflake Spring.

This is easy water to wade and fish with little brush to interfere with your casting except for a few willows. You can wade pretty much anywhere except the deepest pools. Access is superb.

From the Big Horn Pass Trailhead.

Upper Gallatin River Valley
Away from US 191 with Big Horn Peak in the background. Dang Blister Rust!

A Bluff Charge
Got sunburn anyone? Evidently, the Rivers men have very sensitive skin, my face is just as red as my shirt. Do yourself and your skin a favor and don't forget your sunscreen. They don't call it Big Sky Country for nothing ya know.

Coming up next: Everybody's got something to hide except for me and my monkey...