Teton Brookies are a Fine Catch
Teton Jim’s Inside Scoop
This story actually starts a few days prior while I was catching cutthroat, not brookies. The setting was an awesome little stretch of the Gros Ventre (pronounced Grow Vont... at least that was my understanding from how the locals said it). I was camping just outside of the Teton National Park in the Bridger-Teton National Forest and had to make my way back into the park to find a stretch of river that was accessible to the public. The river near my camp was only accessible through a private ranch and I didn't want to try my luck with any shotgun wielding cowboys.
After a solid day of catching handsome cutties, I was making my way upstream and saw a couple gentlemen hanging out on shore watching as their kids jumped into a big swimming pool. He was asking how the fishing was and remarked that he saw me hook into a couple solid fish. His name was Jim. Jim and I talked for a good while and he was a wealth of local fishing knowledge. Turns out Jim used to live in Jackson and fished the area quite a bit before he got priced out of the area by the tourism and some big spenders that bought up property. He now lives over on the west side of the Tetons with his family and runs a woodworking business. It was inspiring talking to him because we shared a love for fly fishing and I have also dreamt of having my own wood shop someday. Jim told me about streams around/just outside the park. He also gave tips for spots to fish Yellowstone after I told him that was my next destination. Turns out he guided in Yellowstone for a good while before settling in Jackson. Guess I happened upon the perfect source of local knowledge!
The spot he was recommending I fish in the Teton area was called Flat Creek. He said you go out south of the park and then drive through the elk refuge to get there. He explained the beautiful scenery of the stream. Grassy, windswept plains with mellow and meandering cut banks that hold big trout. Jim said it’s the kind of place you go hunting for big fish and you are happy if you catch maybe one or two fish in a day. I was completely sold. That is what I envision when I think of fishing in the American West. I hopped in my rig and scouted out the area on my map. I found a campsite out past the elk refuge that I figured I should stay at to cut the driving time down in the morning since the river was a good distance from my current campsite. I headed out to Curtis Canyon campground and found the primitive road up to the campsite was much rougher than I anticipated. It was passable, but the journey crawled on at a molasses pace.
Gearing Up for the Perfect Day
Waking up the next morning felt like heading to Disneyland. I could perfectly envision the grassy cut bank where I would spy on a large feeding trout before delicately placing my dry fly upstream in his feeding lane. I tooled back down the mountainside, drove through the elk refuge a few miles, and finally made it to the spot where the road intersected Flat Creek!
Expectations, Meet Reality. Reality, Meet Expectations.
Things didn’t feel like Disneyland anymore. I was the main character in one of those apocalypse movies who returns to the city they grew up in just to find out that it’s a ghost town overrun with weeds and devoid of life. Flat Creek was a bone dry pile of stones. There wasn’t a drop of water to be found and it didn’t look like there had been water in it for weeks.
At this point I was bummed to say the least. I’d really built up this day in my mind and with one sight of the dry stream my dreams came crashing down to a harsh reality. Well, I was already out in the middle of nowhere so I figured I might as well make my way to the very end of the road and see if there happens to be any spot on the creek that still has water, and if not, solve the mystery of how a whole stream can go dry.
End of the Line
The end of the road put me in a more rocky and hilly plot of the elk refuge. It was very different from the lush, grassy plains that comprised most of my morning drive. I hopped out of my rig and walked down the arid, grassy hill. Lo and behold, there was water in the creek. It was a mountain creek no doubt. Lined with tall pines and spilling off a rocky hillside. But a creek nonetheless! My stubbornness paid off this time.
I geared up and made my way out past where the road ended. I was heading off into what looked to be prime time grizzly country. Mind you I was fishing solo this whole trip so putting myself further from the road and any chance of help felt a little eerie. Bear spray was strapped to my side, however the stretch of creek I was exploring had some pretty thick brush on most sides of the stream. That brush made it all too easy to turn a corner and be face to face with a grizzly before even having a chance to touch my bear spray. As I explored a few stretches, I found the section of creek to be largely un-fishable in most areas because it was packed in with thick brush. Even if I bushwhacked my way to the creek, I would be faced with the problem of casting on a small stream (about 8 feet wide) with willows in my back cast that would surely grab my fly like wool socks in velcro. Not every scouting reconnaissance is successful and I headed back to fish the creek near where I parked.
A Welcome Surprise
As I returned back to the section of stream near my rig, I saw the creek was fairly shallow and narrow, prime to produce some small fish on a dry fly. I casted my fly and was surprised to find a decent sized trout on my second cast. He splashed at my mahogany mayfly a couple times before deciding he was ready to take a bite. I set the hook and stripped him into my net. I somehow managed to find a 12 inch cutthroat! Not at all what I was expecting to find in that small stream. That cutty was an anomaly no doubt because I spent the rest of my day catching beautiful little western brookies.
Landing Those Fine Teton Brookies
I found one section of the creek that I particularly loved. It was an incredible little rock face that was hollowed out into a cavernous fish refuge. A tree was towering on top of the overhang, making the scene look like something out of a story book. The spot was not only splendidly scenic, it showed great promise of holding nice trout. I tried mastering my ability to land the fly just upstream of the “cave” entrance, execute a very quick mend, and then hope the fly avoided some of the swirling backwater currents. I got fairly good at working that one spot and located a fish who was interested in my mayfly. He toyed with my mahogany dry fly probably a dozen times and he looked to be a healthy stature. My guess is the swirling currents made my fly presentation pretty unappetizing, causing my presentations to look like the microwave meals of fish cuisine. On probably my 40th cast I got him to rise and a split second later I set the hook! And what a specimen he was! He was only about 7 or 8 inches which shocked me because the fish I saw feeding seemed so much larger. I must have hooked into the little brother or shrimpy cousin of the bigger fish I saw earlier. Either way, the small brookie was stunning! I caught probably 6 or 7 fish in a 40 foot stretch of the creek and enjoyed every little guy I pulled in.
Sometimes the expectations of your fishing day get shattered, but that doesn’t mean the day is ruined. I went from dreaming about 20 inch cutties to reeling in 7 inch brookies. Not exactly a trophy sized trout. That didn’t matter to me though. I don’t get to catch many brookies back home in Washington and I was thrilled to marvel at the incredible coloring those small fish have. Was it the day I expected? Nope. Was it an incredible day out in creation? Absolutely.
Oh, on a side note, when I was out scouting the upstream section of the river, I ran into another angler who was scouting the area to fish with his daughter because she loves catching small brookies. We chatted for a bit and he told me they pumped out all of the water from Flat Creek downstream of where we were and used it to water the elk refuge. That’s why the creek was bone dry. Case closed.
I’m just going to throw out the fact that I did not see an entire elk in that refuge the whole time I was driving through. Maybe they should consider giving the water back to the fish haha.