Button Lint Bags Brookies
GATE, Mont.-- |
Green water comes swirling, boiling and then easing out over a sand bar. This is snow melt, still running down from the mountains, slightly chalky but clear enough to see brookies rising in the eddies, jumping in the fast water. There are beaucoup brookies in the Clark's Fork of the Yellowstone River.
"You go down there, you can catch 'em on boogers and a safety pin," advised Ralph Glidden at the Cooke City General Store, a twinkle in his eye. "Sometimes you may have to resort to belly button lint though."
Glidden was talking about a spot on the Clark's Fork we now refer to as the "Booger Hole." There are brookies everywhere there. So abundant, so aggressive, so hungry, that any fool can catch them, most of the time.
Brook trout are members of the char family. They're so willing that they don't survive heavy fishing pressure, but there isn't much of that on the "Booger Hole". To get there one must hike through one of the "moosiest" forests in the area. It is at least spooky if not intimidating.
There isn't much pressure on brook trout anywhere in and around nearby Yellowstone National Park. The big time trout boys are a lot like the big time bass boys. They're out after big rainbows and cutthroat trout, not the diminutive brookie. They're out there on all those famous waters -- the Madison, the Firehole, the Big Horn, the Yellowstone itself. That leaves those beautiful little brookie holes for the blue collar crowd, and that's what the brook trout is, a blue collar fish not unlike the bluegill down South.
Brook trout, called "specs" for speckled trout by our neighbors across the Canadian border, are the bluegills of the North in many respects. They're aggressive. They're found from the East Coast to the West Coast. They're easy to catch most of the time; they'll bite anything, and they put up a good fight on light tackle. And, sometimes you see a real lunker.
In the North American freshwater sport fish beauty pageant, brookies and bluegills rank one-two. A brook trout's mating coloration features multi-colored spots or "specs" on the sides. Bright orange highlights the lower jaws and surrounds a snow white belly. A delicate blue-white edge outlines the pectoral and anal fins. Their bodies are streamlined and covered in mucous to help them in swift currents where they live.
So far as eating is concerned, most bluegill fans will prefer a nice bream fillet, but a 12-inch brookie, roasted over the fire or pan fried, is right up there.
In general you don't see brookies as big as bluegill, although there are some extreme examples on record. The world record brookie weighed 14 lbs., 8 ozs. and was caught in the Nipigon River, Ontario way back in 1916 (July). That's much larger than the world record bluegill, at 4 lbs., 10 ozs., but the Nipigon brookie was a "lake run" variety specific to Lake Superior. Brookies that size aren't seen many places these days, but 2 to 3 lb. specs are said to be common in Maine, and 7-pounders aren't unusual in Quebec.
You won't find any 14 lb. brook trout on the Clark's Fork or anywhere else in the Rocky Mountains either, but you can find small ones by the score, and you can actually keep enough to eat--the limit is 10 a day at the Booger Hole, but they must be UNDER nine inches long.
Fishing for brook trout in these Rocky Mountain streams is not unlike smallmouth bass fishing on a favorite Midwestern stream, except the water is so clear that you can see your quarry.
That's the way it is on the Booger Hole, and on a good day, it doesn't matter that the fish can see you too. Drop a tiny Mepps or Panther Martin or Rooster Tail into the current and let it swing out into an eddy as it passes. Float a tiny dry fly in the fast water and watch them rise to attack it. As Ralph Glidden says, boogers on safety pins will work. If you run out of belly button lint, check your shorts for a fresh berry.
"I like fishin' the corn fly hatch," joked a mountain-sized red-headed fellow called "Big Jim"at Hoosier's Bar in downtown Cooke City. "You know, you throw about a half a can of corn into the creek, chumming. Then you wait a little bit and bait up with a kernel."
Fishing the corn fly hatch is illegal here, but it isn't in some other places, and it does work. Ozark trout in Missouri and Arkansas are famous for their dietary interest in Jolly Green Giant Yellow Corn (canned, not frozen).
If you've never fished for trout, the brookie is a great starter fish--again not unlike the bluegill. Kids in these parts get their early experience fishing for brookies and little cutthroat, just like southern kids learn on bluegill.
All trout love nightcrawler pieces, but if you're heading West, be sure to check local regulations on live bait use. You can't use live bait in the Clark's Fork or anywhere inside Yellowstone National Park, for example.
The good news is, you won't need worms. A variety of small spinners will do the trick, and any floating fly will work when they're rising. Larger, brightly colored flies like the Royal Wulf are favorites. They float high and are easy to see.
If you're a camping angler, your best bet is to settle into one or more of the U.S. Forest Service campgrounds that surround the park. Along U.S. 212 in Wyoming, the Shoshone National Forest offers camping on the Clark's Fork. There are numerous "people's" camping spots along the river.
Camping inside Yellowstone is not recommended. Number one, the campgrounds are almost always full. Number two, the park campgrounds tend toward RV cities and tent slums--screaming children and adults, 4-wheelers, motorcycles, even fireworks are common. Grizzlies also like these campgrounds, because they know where the garbage is.
Close to the park in Montana, the Gallatin National Forest has campgrounds in the mountains (lots of mountain lakes to fish), and on the banks of Soda Butte Creek. The Soda Butte flows into Yellowstone park and feeds another famous trout stream--the Lamar River, one of the best fly fishing stream in the world by some accounts. Don't expect to find electrical hookups out here, but do expect to find some of the most beautiful spots you'll find anywhere in the country.
Unfortunately, the U.S. Forest Service has stopped operating these campgrounds. The campgrounds have been given to private industry to operate at a profit as has happened elsewhere (H-T, July 4, 1993) .
"That's probably why they're not as nice as they used to be," said one unhappy Soda Butte camper upon hearing that news. They are affordable. You can camp on a great fishing river, in campgrounds that seem never to be filled, for $11 a night. Just about everyone can afford that price.
Check out the U.S. Forest Service Home Page at http://www.fs.fed.us/. Ask why they don't have a list of campgrounds on-line via their feedback link. Here are the telephone numbers for the various national forests that surround Yellowstone:
Gallatin NF: Bozeman, Mont., 406-587-6701
3/10/97 & 11/24/97 ...Indy