Jul 19, 2011

Rocky Mountain Sailfish

Jones Family 2011
     Our family vacation this summer took us to Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Park. Having lived nearby during our undergrad studies, for my wife and I it was kind of like going home for a week. We did touristy things and saw the traditional sites - Old Faithful, buffalo, elk, etc.
The Tetons, still as impressive as ever - just don't ask me to translate "teton"
Bullwinkle and his buddy
      We were even lucky enough to see a few bears but what I was most looking forward to on this trip was a chance to get a little payback on some "rocky mountain sailfish" who frankly got the better of me last time....

     In March of 2007 we were blessed with our first daughter Brooke. Somehow shortly thereafter, I managed to convince the Mrs. to go on a back-country camping trip with me in Yellowstone at the end of May even though our little cub was still very little. So when the time came we got all loaded up and began the three mile hike to our destination - Greebe Lake. I carried most of our gear and Brittany had Brooke in one of those chest baby-carrier-sling-thingies... The hike to the lake wasn't bad at all, we chatted as we walked and Brooke slept.
     As soon as we saw the lake however, things started to get interesting, and my wife's nerves began to fray. To get to our reserved campsite we had to go clear around to the far side of the lake, which would have been fine except that standing knee deep in the water right next to our trail was a cow moose and her calf. We proceeded on gingerly while I unholstered my bear spray and tried to look tough to a creature 5 times my size. Mama moose eyed us carefully as we passed, then started following behind us for about 50 yards! I had visions of potential newspaper headlines: "Baby and Young Mother Trampled While Idiot Husband Fumbles with Bear Spray" or "Man Sprays Himself in Face With Bear Spray While Moose Laughs".....  But luckily she soon lost interest and we parted ways without incident.
     We set up camp, taking great care to ensure the comfort of our little caterpillar. In fact Brooke was by far the most comfortable one on this trip. As far as I could tell she had a great time the whole trip though she missed most of it because she was busy snoring.
     I managed to squeak in about a half hour of evening fishing after I was sure that mom and baby were both reasonably settled in and content. I did manage to catch what I came to catch - arctic grayling, which are surprisingly beautiful little critters. By far their most unique feature is their dorsal fin, especially that of the males. It's huge, like a scaled down sailfish fin. Grayling look blandly grey in pictures, and they are in fact mostly grey. However, what photos don't often convey are all of the pinks and purples and blues snaking through their fins and shimmering on their bodies.
     I tried in vain to take pictures of these pretty little fish but most just didn't turn out. My wife took this picture of me and a female grayling, but it doesn't do the species justice.
Me and a female arctic grayling - I'm the one with the hat.
     After fishing was over for the day we had a pretty nice evening by the campfire then decided to hit the sack. This is where the trip started to really go south. We had LOTS of warm baby blankets and things, but in our concern for for the tadpole, we had neglected to bring enough warm things for the two of us! We brought a couple of big-people blankets and that was about it. If you're wondering if it's still cold at night in Yellowstone in May, our chattering teeth were good evidence that it is! I had to get up three times during the night to make fire, which doesn't sound hard until I add minor details like the fact that I neglected to bring a flashlight or tinder. By match-light I managed to gather enough moss from nearby tree branches to use as tinder and got the fires going. While groping around in the dark, holding my silly little match, I tried hard not to think about the bear tracks we had seen earlier in the day, or mama moose coming back for revenge.
     After spending almost the entire night sitting by the campfire, my wife was in no mood to hang around and fish for long once dawn finally broke (and rightfully so). So I only beat the water for about 15 minutes with nothing to show for it, before deciding it was time to cut our losses and head home. The car was a sight for sore eyes when we finally got there. To this day my poor wife still adamantly refuses do do anything but drive-up car camping, and frankly I can't say that I blame her after that trip. Brooke on the other hand seemed to really enjoy herself so I'm sure she'll be game in a few years.

     Fast Forward back to 2011 again. Now that you know the back story, maybe you'll understand why I was out for revenge this time.
     I freed up a day of our vacation to fish. My buddy Earl picked me up in West Yellowstone, and we headed out in search of the illusive grayling once more. We made quick work of the hike and made our way around to the spot I had fished 4 years previous, this time without any moose conflicts. The scenery must have been just as good last time, but I think this time I had more time to notice.
Greebe Lake is surrounded by meadows like this - full of flowers
Indian Paintbrush
Bog orchids - a favorite of mine
     It didn't take long to get into the fish once we started. It was REALLY windy that day, but I found that if I timed my casts between the gusts I could still manage just fine. I caught a few fish on dry flies (damsel flies and an elk hair caddis), but I caught the majority while slowly stripping a size 10 gold-ribbed hair's ear. We caught both grayling and beautifully colored little rainbows. I tried my darndest to get a picture showing the colors of the grayling but it's harder than it looks:
Scrappy little grayling
This one shows a little more color. I don't see why they don't understand "Hold still and sick out your fins!" but they don't.
This is my best one, note the colors on the fins.
     We fished for four or five hours and probably landed around 30 fish between the two of us - considerably better than the 4 or 5 I got last time.
     I don't know what it is about that lake, but for some reason the universe must not want me going there. As I started hiking back around the lake to leave, I tried to jump over a tiny little creek crossing my path. As I jumped, my toe caught on some roots which sent me head first like a spear into the thick trunk of an unfortunately placed pine tree. My neck popped loudly and I immediately saw stars and was forced to sit down. I remember trying to yell something intelligent like "Dang, that hurt!", but what came out was a cross between a cat meowing and a goose honking. After recuperating for a minute I assessed the damage; my neck was not in fact broken and I still only had ten fingers (after a recount).  I also found that I had hit the tree hard enough to knock the button off of the top of my hat! There must be some bad juju at that lake. I guess we'll see next time - maybe I'll see if I can talk my wife into going....

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