Sure, it seems like a bad joke down at the men's club. You're going on a fishing trip for your honeymoon? Does your bride know? Haw, haw, haw.
But those who would joke don't know my new wife. The first time she seriously tried fishing on a weekend spent in Harry Murray's fly-fishing school on the Shenandoah River, the old-timers enrolled to pick up some bass tips snickered at this woman whacking the water with her ungainly casts. By midmorning, they were edging upstream toward her spot, trying to figure out why she was catching all the fish. And that's pretty much how it's gone since.
So, with a year of fishing in the Washington area behind us, most of it spent hunting brook trout in the Blue Ridge Mountains and smallmouth bass on the upper Potomac, we decided to turn our honeymoon last month into a two-week western hunt for bigger game: Montana, Wyoming and Idaho for rainbow and cutthroat trout.
That's not to say we'd spend all our time waist-deep in rushing waters. We divided the trip into four sections, each at a famous (and in most cases funky) lodge. The way it worked out we had about one day of rest for each day of fishing. On the fishing days, we floated and waded and rowed, fishing under blue skies in long riffles and huge pockets on some of the troutiest-looking water in the world. On days off, we hiked, did sightseeing or recuperated by swimming in hot springs. We even worked in a two-day guided horseback pack trip into a high mountain lake where, surprise, surprise, we caught fish.
The first part of the trip was at Chico Hot Springs, Mont., about 1 1/2 hours southeast of Bozeman and 35 miles north of the Gardiner entrance to Yellowstone National Park. Chico is an old resort spa, a wonderful collection of white-clapboard buildings in the Paradise Valley of the Yellowstone River with a hot springs swimming pool to boot.
Richard Parks, out of Gardiner, guided us for two days on the Yellowstone River. The first day we drift-boated a five-mile section north of Gardiner, hooking into cutthroat (the only native trout), rainbows, cut-rainbow hybrids and some whitefish, a hard-fighting coarse fish that shares the waters with trout. Dayna, as is her habit, caught the first and biggest fish, a 16-inch cutthroat. We landed 30-40 fish, all on size 12 and 14 royal trudes, a dry attractor fly that worked well on most of the rivers we fished.
The next day Parks hiked us a mile or two up the Yellowstone in the park. For an hour or so the fish weren't hitting, but the sun warmed the water and the fish started taking the trudes. It was another fine day, with many fish in the 12- to 16-inch range; in one hole, we caught four cutthroat on four casts.
After a couple of days' rest, we booked into the Old Faithful Inn, a magnificent lodge with a four-story-high lobby with a lattice work of lodgepole pine. Nearby there are many good fishing streams and rivers in the south park, including the Firehole, Gibbon, Madison and Upper Yellowstone. We caught lots of little trout, but no big ones, on the Firehole. The word was that the river's geyser-warmed water was not yet cold enough to energize the big fish.
Next we moved to the Huntley Lodge, at Big Sky resort, about two hours north of Yellowstone Park down the Gallatin Valley. There's plenty to do there, including hiking and riding and tennis and golf -- and more fishing. A cold front blew in and we tried the Gallatin River with nymphs, but had little success. After two days there, however, we drove to the Madison Valley to a junction called Cameron, where guide Tim Beardsley took us on a two-hour horse and mule pack trip into the Lee Metcalf Wilderness Area in the Madison Mountain Range. We camped in a stand of trees next to a mountain lake that looked as clear and sterile as a swimming pool.
We tossed the faithful trudes out on the lake, about 30 feet from a steep bank. When a hard, cold wind came up, we tried woolly-buggers and Shenk's white streamers (Harry Murray's favorite Shenandoah bass fly). We got just as many strikes, and the trout were even bigger.
We spent our final days at Elk Lake Camp, a homey collection of six cabins and a log cabin lodge 23 miles up gravel roads in the Centennial Valley, near the Red Rock Lakes Wildlife Refuge, home of the trumpeter swan. Hosts Bill and Georgia Miller make the drive worth it, with delicious meals every night and a well-stocked, cowboy-frequented bar. The camp is just west of Yellowstone, on the Idaho-Montana border, and the fabled Henry's Fork and Madison Rivers are less than an hour's drive away. There can be good fishing on Elk Lake, a narrow, three-mile long reservoir, and on Hidden Lake, a mountain-rimmed jewel four miles away.
On a frosty day, while other boaters landed big trout with spinning gear on Elk Lake, we tried woolly-buggers in Hidden Lake. Our deep lures didn't bring strikes, but one two-pounder nearly leapt in the boat chasing something on the surface. The next day Bob Lamm of Henry's Fork Anglers took us into the Box Canyon section of the Henry's Fork, near Elk Lake. Dry flies wouldn't produce strikes, but size 14 Prince nymphs brought hits and we landed at least a dozen trout each, including a 16-inch rainbow that fought like a grizzly bear.
There was a four-inch snowfall our last night on Elk Lake. Until then we had mostly sunny days, warm afternoons, and nights cool enough to keep the fish biting.