Howard Back remarked in his splendid The
A little over sixteen miles of the stream runs through the Park, from the high mountains just west of Cooke City down into the Lamar Valley. It is tributary to the Lamar, which itself is tributary to the Yellowstone. About 70 percent of the stream runs through open meadows; the remainder is cascades and riffles running through rocky timber stretches and steep canyons.
Anglers regard the river as being in four sections. The first mile above its juncture with the Lamar is a cascade-riffle stretch through a steep canyon. It is not much fished. The reason is that from the bench at the head of this canyon to the second canyon, a half-mile above Slough Creek Campground, are three miles of really excellent water much more easily reached. It is pools, runs and riffles, one after the other, through an open, meadow-laced basin, and the largest fish in the creek are to be found here. But they are very difficult to catch in the larger sizes (twenty inches and up). Don't ever believe that these cutthroat are as simple to fool as their more numerous kin of the Yellowstone. These big bruisers in the open meadow pools are as tough to deceive as a five-pound brown. Unlike many Yellowstone Park streams, this one is not paralleled by roadways. It is approachable by automobile only at the head of the first canyon, at the trailhead and at the campground.
The trailhead marks the start of the trail that leads to the meadows above the second canyon. First Meadow is about a forty-five-minute walk. Second Meadow is a three-hour walk if you are in good condition.
The lower section contains the larger fish, although they are not so numerous. The insect structure is much more varied in the section downstream from the campground than that in the meadows above. This, and the possibility of a portion of the fish being rainbow-cutthroat hybrids, are reasons biologists give for this stretch being more difficult to fish with success.
Conversely, the fish in the meadows above second canyon are far mor^ readily caught. The catch rate in First Meadow is about five fish per hour and the fish will average fifteen inches. This area is second only to the Yellowstone above Hayden Valley in terms of angler success.
The stretch from the canyon beyond the Lamar to the campground is about three miles of really excellent water. Lying in the lap of the basin, it is an area of surpassing beauty. To the south, across the valley of the Lamar, which Osborne Russell in Journal of a Trapper (1834-1843) calls Paradise Valley, one sees the rolling slopes and immense dome of Mount Washburn. To the north looms the great bulk of the Beartooth Range including Granite Peak, the highest mountain in Montana. Eastward lie the sculptured peaks of the Absarokas, and to the west the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone is a winding slash in the landscape. There is beauty of every kind to soothe and calm and put one at peace.
When one comes to the stream at the old ford that divides VIP Pool, there is so much of this kind of water in sight that one may be fooled into believing that the entire stretch up to the pool above the campground is like this. It is not. Just around the corner above the upper reaches of VIP Pool, one comes to the first of many riffles. These are quite the nicest riffles for the fly-fisher that one will find anywhere. Most are out in the open with nothing to interfere with the back cast. The stream is just wide enough to be handled with an easy cast, the current is mostly obliging, seldom contrary. It is one of fly-fishing's greatest joys to drift a high-riding dry fly down such a bouncing riffle and watch it disappear in the shattering rise of a slashing trout. The trout here strike any floating fly vigorously, and in July, August and September they will hit hopper patterns with a smash that sends spray flying into the meadow grass.
If they are not coming to the dry fly, they will often hit a big, black stone fly nymph pattern with equal vigor. But if you fish the smaller mayfly and caddis nymphal patterns, or the soft hackled wets that simulate the caddis pupa, you must be ever so alert, for the wily rascals take these with an almost imperceptible sucking sip which often will go entirely unnoticed unless you're on the qui vive.
So, one fishes his merry way up this lovely stream. It is much more than a day's fishing to cover this stretch unless you are the flail-and-run type of angler. If you are, you'll not only miss the beauty but the greatest pleasures of this stretch, which should be taken in easy sips, not swallowed at a gulp.
To reach First Meadow, one starts at the trailhead about halfway between the highway and the campground. Use this trail, because trying to go up the canyon from the campground to First Meadow is for mountain climbers in good condition. It is marked, and the sign gives the distance to various spots in miles. But we fishers prefer to think of them in times, and by this measure it's about an easy forty-five-minute walk to First Meadow. The initial few minutes are up a very steep slope, so start off easy. Also, you won't need to wade in First Meadow, so wear your hiking boots.
First Meadow is actually a subalpine basin, ringed with forested slopes and high mountains. The stream is winding, as are most basin meadow streams. Near to where the trail comes in, off to the left and back downstream a bit, is an enormous pool with gigantic boulders. There are some very fine fish here, but they are fish that require some catching. By all means have a go at them if it pleases you, but if you wish to reach the five-fish-per-hour average here, you'll do better in the regular run of stream.
They are beautiful fish, these Slough Creek cutthroats, butter yellow with golden olive backs and black-spotted sides, purple cheek plates and the typical orange slashes under the jaw. They are a prime sporting fish as well, so treat them with respect, and release them alive so that you or another may come to catch them again.
Most times they will come willingly to a well-presented dry fly, and in July, August and up to mid-September a hopper pattern will produce action of the showiest kind. The bottom here, for the most part, is sand silt or very fine gravel. The stream-bred naturals are mostly small. The exceptions are dragon and damsel flies, and a nymph representing them is the best bet when fish are not coming to the dry fly. If neither dry fly, hopper or dragon-damsel nymph produces, the soft-hackle wets are a good bet.
Beyond First Meadow, up the climbing trail, now next to the stream, now not, it is a little more than two hours to Second Meadow. Here the stream is smaller but more difficult to fish. This area is perhaps the greatest favorite in the Park for the young, hike-in-and-stay-overnight anglers, and they compose nearly all who fish here. Like many young people today, they have a deep respect for the environment and for the creatures in it.
When fishing anywhere along lovely Slough Creek, lift your eyes from the water on occasion and look around. You are in the most beautiful part of the largest angler's paradise in the world. Take time to enjoy it. Though under the kind of protection it enjoys, it will be here forever, you will not. Look up, and you will have scenes and memories to last a lifetime.
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