Monthly Archives: September 2015

Hebgen Lake

Ron got off the phone with his buddy George and said, “What do you think about fishing Hebgen Lake and the Madison River over Labor Day?” I said, “Sure! … now … where’s Hebgen Lake?”

Ahhh, West Yellowstone – I have fallen in love. We camped for only four days, but I could have stayed a lifetime.

Day One:

Bald Eagle, Hebgen Lake

Bald Eagle on Hebgen Lake.

We left Butte around 7 a.m. and were on Hebgen Lake by 11:00. We immediately spotted a bald eagle standing tall and proud along the lake’s edge amongst the pine forests and purple mountain majesty. The sun twinkled on the early afternoon ripples in the water. And life was good.

A flotilla of coots swam tranquilly in the middle of the lake but took flight as we motored past. Canada geese honked overhead.

Coots, Hebgen Lake

A cover of coots on Hebgen Lake.

George Withey, Hebgen Lake

Our friend George Withey fishing solo on Hebgen Lake.

We found our friend George in his aluminum boat and gave him a half dozen black leech flies he’d requested. He had been fishing since early morning but had boated no fish. With the wind picking up, he decided to call it a day.

Utah Chub, Hebgen Lake

Utah Chub were introduced to Hebgen Lake in the ’30s.

Ron and I motored around the Madison Arm of the lake and to several coves in the main body of water. As an afternoon squall blew in and white-caps appeared on parts of the lake, we toughed it out until at least two fish were landed – a huge white fish and a four-inch Utah chub. Ron two, Tracy zero.

We headed to shore, disturbing another flock of fish-eaters – this time grebes and pelicans.

Grebes, Pelicans, Hebgen Lake

Grebes and pelicans take flight over Hebgen Lake.

Day Two:

Boat Dock, Hebgen Lake, Rainbow Bay, Grayling Arm

Boat dock on Hebgen Lake.

We planned to be on the water at sunrise, but we launched around 8:30 a.m. We were camping on the east side of the lake at Rainbow Point Campground, so we put in at Rainbow Bay in the Grayling Arm of the lake. The dock loomed invitingly in the still, quiet water under a cloud-laden sky. Perfect fishing conditions! As the sun peeked through what appeared to be eyes in the clouds, we cruised the unchartered waters looking for possible fish habitat. Much of the bottom was covered with thick weed-beds, and we had been advised that the fish often feed along these edges. It was a slow, cold day. I caught my first Hebgen fish – a Utah chub. At least it was a bit larger than the one Ron caught the day before! Ron finally landed the first Hebgen trout – a healthy 16-inch brown. Once again, around 11:30 the wind began to pick up. We stopped in for  a cup of coffee at the marina and headed back to camp.

Hebgen Lake

Cruising Hebgen Lake under early-morning cloud cover.

Since the afternoon was young, we drove in to the town of West Yellowstone. Feeling somewhat lackadaisical, we opted to go sit in the IMAX theatre, eat popcorn and candy, and watch “Yellowstone” on the giant screen. Our next order of the day was to find somewhere to watch the Montana Grizzly game that night against Cal-Poly. We sat in creature comfort that evening in the Buffalo Bar watching one heck of a game – unfortunately, the Grizzlies lost by one point.

Quake Lake

Remnants of the massive earthquake and landslide that created Quake Lake.
On August 17, 1959, this area was hit by the most devastating modern geologic disaster in the Rocky Mountains. An earthquake of a magnitude 7.5 on the Richter scale violently shook the earth, triggering a massive landslide, large surface cracks expanded and contracted, and fault lines – miles long – tore into the mountainsides permanently altering the landscape, tragically resulting in 28 deaths.
The 80-million ton landslide formed a dam on the Madison River, creating Quake Lake. Quake Lake is 190 feet deep and 6 miles long.

Day Three:

Because ol’ Hebgen was not giving generously of her trout, Ron and I decided to wade fish the Madison River on Sunday. We drove below the Hebgen dam, past Quake Lake and the 1959 landslide, and we fished from the bank above Lyon’s bridge. Ron caught a couple of pretty rainbows, but I was struggling.

Ever in search of better fishing, we took the truck back up river and waded a portion between Hebgen and Quake Lakes near Campfire Lodge Resort. We were having no luck with our two-nymph rigs when a few Utah guys showed up spin-casting with worms and whooping it up big time. Ron asked if I wanted to change out to a big pink worm, and I said heck yeah, they’re my favorite! Bingo, that was the ticket. Almost immediately Ron hooked into a big Cutthroat, but the bugger flipped his tail hard and got off. Ron re-cast to the same spot, and boom! landed a bright rainbow. Then another and another. I was getting disheartened. Finally, just before calling it quits, I hooked into a big ‘bow. I reeled it in to shallow water, Ron got a hand on it, but then he spit out my rubber worm and headed to the middle of the river! Back to camp we went, to eat microwaved casserole in the camper and listen to a Louis L’Amour audio book until we both fell asleep around 8 p.m.

Madison River, Rainbow Trout

Ron with a bright rainbow on the Madison River.

We had wanted to fish Hebgen on this, our last evening, but we were just too tired. A good reason to return, I think!

Final Day:

Hebgen Lake

Peace-filled day on Hebgen Lake.

We slept in and did not get on the lake until about 9:30 a.m. Most beautiful day yet – cool temps, no wind, blue skies – glorious. The weatherman had said it was going to be cold and wet, but that did not happen.

Ron had previously seen a family of canoers doing well on the west side of the main body, so we headed that way. There they were again in a big red canoe slaying the trout. Dad would hook into a fish and hand the fly rod to one of his two kids to reel in. Mom was in a little yellow kayak landing her own fish. We motored over, a respectable distance from them, and let the drift fishing begin.

Hebgen Lake, Rainbow Trout

Ron with a Hebgen Lake rainbow trout.

In a moment of pure peace and quiet, I asked Ron to take my picture. I handed him the camera, and he placed his reel under his booted foot. As he took the camera, I saw his strike indicator go down and yelled, “Oh! Fish!” He looked at me quizzically just before the trout leaped in the air. I remember looking down to make sure we weren’t going to lose the Winston fly rod, and happily the reel was still seated snugly under his foot. I grabbed the camera, Ron grabbed the fly rod, and a feisty rainbow was brought to the boat.

After drifting and motoring back to our “spot” a number of times, we finally decided to anchor. We’d cast and twitch, pull in and re-cast. By this time we had abandoned our initial leech with nymph dropper set up for straight two-nymph rigs. Ron landed another rainbow. We were planning to fish until around 11:30 when typically the winds blow in. But as the Good Lord would have it, come noon Hebgen was still calm and basking in sunshine. We had neglected to put on sunblock, but the Vitamin D felt heavenly – and, after all, we reasoned, we were about to go into another one of Butte’s long, cold winters.

As time ticked on and we thought about the three-hour drive home and work the next day, we began the “one more cast” routine. And thank goodness we did! Fifteen minutes before we called ‘er quits, I finally landed a Hebgen trout – possibly the largest fish of the trip – a handsome 18-inch brown.

Hebgen Lake, Brown Trout

Hebgen Lake brown trout.

Four days was not nearly long enough to enjoy this country. Next year we hope to spend a week or two in the area. I’d like to fish some of the smaller streams within Yellowstone Park, as well as the Firehole River. And of course Hebgen Lake and the Madison River. But Quake Lake? That one’s a bit macabre for us.

Yellowstone Half Marathon

In mid-June I ran Vacation Races’ Yellowstone Half Marathon with a couple of girlfriends. I use the term “ran” very loosely. It was more of a run, jog, hike, walk through the piney woods of the town of West Yellowstone.

Yellowstone Half Marathon, staging area

Clear blue skies at the start of the race lasted throughout the day. L-R: Erica Norland, Tracy Watt, Cynthia Helland.

Regardless, our race day was glorious from start to finish with mild temps and blue-bird skies. We arrived at the starting area around 7 a.m. My friend Cynthia, her sister Erica and I got a few photos with Smokey the Bear – by the way, this was the first race ever that I carried bear spray. The organizers mentioned in their literature that bringing some might not be a bad idea. This was also the first time at a race where complimentary bug spray was offered in the staging area. Luckily, neither of these ended up being needed!

Yellowstone Half Marathon

The race started out on a dusty dirt road at an elevation of about 6,670 feet.

When the gun went off for the start, twenty-something Cynthia, thirty-something Erica and, uh, fifty-something me, went stride for stride – for at least 50 feet. I then allowed them to sprint ahead and graciously took up the rear of our little threesome.

The 13.1 mile course started out on a dusty dirt road and eventually wound through the pine trees on a single track trail. There were a couple of kick-ass hills and sometimes the going was super rocky and technical. I witnessed one gal fall, and I stubbed my toes and almost went down a couple of times. For a few miles we ran along a dirt road that had clearly been blasted out of the Rocky Mountains. I had to walk a portion of this, not only so I would not trip and fall on the rocks, but because I was admiring the sparkling of the sun off of a pretty little creek below.

Yellowstone Half Marathon

The sun sparkled off a meandering creek flowing through the back woods of West Yellowstone.

A few miles from the finish, the road leveled out and the dust kicked up again. I began to see a spackling of spectators with signs and bells and shouts of encouragement. I was able to finish strong with arms raised through the finish line.

Yellowstone Half Marathon, finisher medals

The Yellowstone Half Marathon finisher medals were big and beautiful. L-R: Erica Norland, Tracy Watt, Cynthia Helland.

Yellowstone Park, Uncle Tom's Trail to Lower Falls

Uncle Tom’s Trail includes 328 stairs down to Yellowstone’s Lower Falls.

Erica and Cynthia had been hydrating and re-carbing for 20 and 30 minutes respectively. I got my medal – the largest and most beautiful one in my collection – we took a few more photos, and back to the hotel we went to shower and change out of our dirty, salty clothes.

Now, at this point, I figured I would be toast. The twenty-something wanted to go do some hiking in Yellowstone. I must have been on a runner’s high, because I got in the car with those two gals and off to the Park we drove. Cynthia, ever the planner, took us to traipse around the Hot Pots, the Cliffs of the Yellowstone River, Tower Falls, and the Lower Falls at Uncle Tom’s Trail – some 328 stairs down, and 328 stairs out! Along our drive, we saw elk, deer, bison, bear and a multitude of thrill-seeking, foolhardy tourists – folks, these are wild animals!

Yellowstone Park, elk and tourists

Tourists taking selfies with a bull elk in Yellowstone.

This wild animal was spent. We headed back to the town of West Yellowstone, and I cannot even remember what we had for dinner. It was a beautiful day with beautiful people in beautiful Yellowstone.

Next year I might try Vacation Races’ Grand Teton Half Marathon.