For a year, Rick Bocko and myself have been planning to return to Slough Creek in search of gold; Yellowstone cutthroat trout. It has been four years since our last presence in the area when we tackled the Henry’s Fork and did a day hike to Slough Creek’s 1st meadow. This year, we would have family in tow who would not take kindly to us slipping out to hit the Gibbon, Lamar, Yellowstone, Firehole, Madison…you get the point. Slough Creek was our sole fishing destination and we had to make it count.
Rewind 1 year. Must…hop…on…treadmill. Must…get…in…shape…for…Slough.
Plan was to hike to 2nd meadow, stay two nights, and fish from there up to 3rd meadow. With backpacks loaded and bear spray strapped, Rick and I looked up the mountain and just knew the first hour would kick our asses.
Rewind 6 months. Still…must…get…in…shape. Must…hop…on…treadmill.
We began lumbering our sea level asses up the “mountain.” Within 30 minutes, an older couple from Livingston was hot on our boots. They weren’t packing in supplies and they were gaining hard. Those bear bells getting louder and equally more annoying as they approached.
Rewind 2 months. How hard can the hike possibly be?
Rick and I decided to stop (rest) and let them pass, but not before learning that the gentleman was hiking with a newly collapsed lung. From then on, we bucked up, moved onward and were compelled to not complain about the hike again.
Upon arrival to 2nd meadow, we set up camp in a totally exposed area (more on that later). While setting up camp, a geriatric group of fly fishermen (and women) showed up. It was clearly their first time with a fly rod. Somehow, Slough was losing some of its mystique. I recalled that Theodor Roosevelt intended for the park to be used by all no matter their economic backgrounds or skill level, correct?
As the newbies behind us were absorbing their casting lesson in an open field, Rick set out 30 feet from the campsite with his beetle; posted-up above a deep, fast run and on his first cast takes a 16” meaty cutthroat. I think to myself, “that fishy mother….”
From the campground up towards 3rd meadow for about a mile, we fished the rest of our first day and absolutely hammered the gold. The conditions were perfect. A five to ten mile per hour up stream breeze for a little chop making the fish less wary resulted in scores of 14 to 18” beautifully fat fish. Terrestrials ruled the day as Moorish hoppers, beetles, and cinnamon ants took fish after fish. The takes were very light which led to two missed takes per fish to hand. Lack of structure forced us to approach Slough very differently than most of our Oregon waters. Fish hung in plain view requiring a very stealthy approach and careful fly presentation. Drag equals NO FISH FOR YOU!! Perhaps the most productive type of water was on an outside bend and below a grassy embankment with an upstream stacked cast to minimize drag. These fish were clearly waiting for yellow hoppers to fall their way. As evening drew closer, we expected a caddis hatch which didn’t really materialize. Terrestrials fished well into the early evening.
I crawled out of my tent to discover a gorgeous morning. I have to create a little tributary to the Slough while thinking to myself, “must find rock to relieve myself on to because that’s how the park ranger told me to pee.” No kidding. I do my business, walked past my tent to our bags hanging 10 feet in the air, dropped the bags and grabbed my camera. While heading back towards the tent, I noticed a bull bison 15 feet from my tent. Rule number one while in the backcountry; scan your environment before approaching said environment. Scratching his head so silently on a fallen tree, I cautiously skirted him and rustled up Rick. If necessary, I knew I could outrun Rick. After several minutes, tatanka moved along as though he had no idea he was being admired.
Second day of fishing proved to be more challenging as the wind didn’t kick-up for several hours. Slough presented completely different without her cloak. Fish were quick to scatter and simply appeared to cease to exist where they were just hours earlier. Catch rate was half the prior day’s which was still impressive. We made the hike up the Slough to just beyond 3rd meadow where the water started to hold large boulders.
To 3rd meadow and beyond, there were trout around almost every bend, behind most rocks and against whatever outside bend. Come 3:00, we turned back towards our campsite and sporadically fished our way back. The fish came off the terrestrials in favor of a small mayfly hatch. If it was tan and size 20, then it served us well.
Continuing the trek back, I was suffering from a raging lack-of-caffeine headache and decided to throw in the towel once back at the campsite. Rick headed off and scored 6 more trout in his final hour of fishing.
Sitting on a large boulder watching two bull bison squabble over 50 square feet of land within this 3,500 square mile park, we hear thunder to the distant south. Not much to worry about as all the weather that had approached Slough skirted us nicely. We downed a couple power bars, lit a fire to say we did that, and then headed to bed around 8:30.
Remember earlier about pitching our tents in an exposed area? Well, the weather didn’t skirt us this time. On our last night, lightning struck continually in one to five second intervals with 40 second periods of rolling thunder. All this was very entertaining until we began to wonder, “Is that thunder or wind coming our way?” The wind was sweeping down the valley like a freight train. It hit our exposed campsite with a fury I’ve never experienced. The rain only added to the wind’s inertia. I lied down, outreached my arms and legs and pinned down the sides of the tent as best as I could and just waited for it all to be done.
The hike out the next day revealed only a slightly moist ground as a clue to the prior night’s madness. We counted around 15 fishermen hiking up the trail while offering advice to those that asked. I felt excited for them while at the same time a bit bummed that “my trout” were in for a full on assault.
Slough Creek will likely always be one of my life long favorite streams to fish. I’m partial to site fishing which this stream readily offers. The surroundings can’t be beat. And for the most part, it gets little pressure if you’re willing to hike. Do watch out, however, for that damn grunting bison that blocked the trail on our way out.
Thanks again to Sam and Rick for sharing their adventures with OFF readers.