Wisconsin, May 27, 2017
Jeff and I are in training to walk the Camino de Santiago across Spain in October. Today we hiked 6.5 miles on the NCT.
Jeff and I both woke up feeling well rested, which was a good thing since I used my iPad as the alarm clock but forgot that I hadn’t changed its clock to Mountain time zone. So, instead of 6:30, we got up bright and early at 5:30. I guess we’ll have enough time for breakfast at Rocky Mountain Mojoe. We both take inventory of how our legs feel. Better. We still took our precautionary ibuprofen.
Today’s fishing is about keeping secrets. We always meet Guy in the fly shop before we head out to the river and today when the other guides ask where we’re going, Guy is cryptic. The only hint he’ll give out is that we’re eating fried chicken for lunch. This doesn’t tell us anything, but out here the guides know that it means we’re eating lunch at the truck. No one in the Cody area is carrying fried chicken in a hiking pack – too many grizzly bears.
We headed out of Cody towards the South Fork of the Shoshone drainage and the town of Meeteetse.* Meeteetse is a cute little ranch town with a couple of bars, a few houses and a school. Meeteetse is known locally for its annual Labor Day rodeo and parade. Rodeo is big in this area. In the summer, Cody has a rodeo every night from June through August.
We keep going out of Meeteetse and head to the “secret” river. Let’s be clear, the river itself isn’t really a secret. It flows through a section of public land that is popular with locals for camping, horseback riding and ATV’ing. We park at a trailhead that in the winter has cross country skiing, there’s a cute warming hut and a campsite with a very rustic pit toilet.
The plan of the day is to fish until lunchtime on this section of the river and then head to another shorter public section that is less accessible and mostly surrounded by heavily posted private land. The river is clear and cold and beautiful. Yesterday the Shoshone was fishable but very highly ‘colored’, so it is a treat to see this clear water where we can sometimes spot the fish to cast to.
Today’s fishing is mostly dry flies – a hopper or a beetle – both work. The fish are cutthroats and big and beautiful. We don’t keep count, but we caught so many gorgeous fish! Jeff described it as his best day fishing ever.
*Coincidently, after we got back to Cody, I was reading the news on my iPad and I saw a NY Times op-ed article titled “The Frontier Chocolatier” and decided to take a look. Well, turns out this “cowboy turned candy maker” has his shop in Meeteetse! We’ll check it out next year.
Today Jeff and I fished on the Clark’s Fork, a tributary of the Yellowstone River, and a river Ernest Hemingway fished when he stayed at the L Bar T ranch near Cooke City, Montana in the early 1930’s. Like many of the rivers in this area, the “Clark” in the name is for William Clark of the Lewis and Clark expedition. Hemingway wrote to a friend about the area:
“Hunting in the mts. is more damned fun than anything you can imagine. I saw 12 mt. sheep a week ago. I can guaranty you shots at elk, deer, bear, and Big horn sheep — wonderful rainbow trout fishing — I caught 28 yest aft … all on fly. … I wish the hell you’d come. This is the most beautiful country you ever saw.”
Our guide, Guy, had this river on his list of places for us to fish last year, but a heavy thunderstorm blew out the river and we had to defer. That was a good thing for us, because the hike into the canyon is not for the faint of heart or the ‘out of shape’, both of which described us then.
This year, in anticipation of the big hike, we went on what Jeff called the “1-month Cody diet”. We made a concerted effort to drop a few pounds with healthier eating and to boost our aerobic health with regular biking. This time we came to Cody with more confidence and less poundage, hoping to hike into and, more importantly, out of the Clark’s Fork canyon?
There are two trails leading down into the canyon, Dead Man and Cardiac. Neither name really boosts your confidence level. The trailheads are at the top of the canyon wall and you hike down into the river at the canyon floor. We were planning to hike in on the ‘easier’ Dead Man trail, but had to change plans when another fisherman was already parked at that trailhead. Lucky for us, the Cardiac Trailhead was empty when we arrived. As the name suggests, this is a steep drop into the canyon and the climb out is a heart pounding, stairmaster workout at about 6000 feet of elevation.
We laced up our hiking boots, packed our fishing gear and headed 800 feet down a trail that looks like it is straight down, but is actually a continual series of tiny switch backs. The downhill trek is a knee burning hike where your energy is spent trying to apply the brakes on the steep trail. We’re grateful to arrive at the bottom of the canyon without injury, ready to fish.
Based on the tracks we saw, the canyon floor and river is a wildlife super highway. We saw tracks or scat from bears, wolves, deer, elk and moose, plus all kinds of bird tracks. Guy spotted a mountain goat high up on the canyon wall. How do they get there and how do they hang on?
The Clark’s Fork has Yellowstone Cuts, Rainbows and Brookies and we caught them all. The ‘fish of the day’ was a Yellowstone Cut that Guy spotted from the top of big rock. We could watch the fish feed from above and I took a pic with my iPhone. Then, the stars aligned and I not only got the fish to eat the fly, but actually landed it for a picture.
After a great day of fishing, we took a little break and got back into our hiking boots for our end of day stairmaster climb. Yikes. It really is an amazingly steep trail. Jeff counted steps (50 between each rest break) and I huffed and puffed along with my heart pounding. The trail is on the north facing side of the canyon and it really is beautiful – a rain forest-like micro climate with lots of emerald green moss. I know this because the trail is so steep you are at eye level with the vegetation. Fifty minutes later and we were back at the top, “thank you” 1-month Cody diet.
After fishing all day, we were pretty subdued on the way back to Cody and looking forward to a burger from the ProudCut Saloon. We passed a truck parked by the side of the road and could see that the occupants were looking at something with binoculars. Guy said it was probably elk and we didn’t think much of it. Then a few seconds later Guy decided we better turn around and take a look. As he noted, this isn’t the Park and locals don’t pull over for just anything. Well, about a hundred yards from the road was a sow Grizzly with three cubs!
What a treat, we are so grateful we got to see them. A perfect end to a great day.
Today we arrived in Cody, Wyoming via Salt Lake City for our annual fly fishing trip with Guy Highland from North Fork Anglers. I think this is our fifth year here, but given how times flies, it may be longer. I’ll have to fact check it.
Jeff and I are staying at the Chamberlin Inn which is a great boutique hotel in the heart of downtown Cody. We’re in room 18, where Ernest Hemingway stayed on October 16, 1932. I think he has been everywhere.
Cody hotel log signed by Ernest Hemingway
We ate lunch in Pamplona, Spain at a place he frequented, toured his house in Key West (and went to multiple bars he is reported to have drank in), and in September we’re staying in a hotel in Kobarid, Slovenia that was a hospital during WWI and where, it is said, Ernest Hemingway recuperated from injuries he suffered during the war. That part may be true, but I KNOW he did not write “A Farewell To Arms” while he was there even though the hotel website says he did. I just read a version with notes that indicated it was written well after WWI, I think in the 1920’s. Oh well.
At any rate, in our hotel room is a copy of a letter from a travel journalist who researched Mr. Hemingway’s time spent in the Cody area. It is reported that “Hemingway loved Wyoming and told friends that the best fishing in the world is at the Clarks Fork Branch of the Yellowstone.” We’re heading there tomorrow, so we’ll see if it’s true.