Peninsula Fly Fishers

Gros Ventre River

by Bob Schwehr

August 2003

Linda and I came to the Tetons on the return trip from Wisconsin. We spent the night before in Thermopolis, a town built in the early 1900's around artesian wells. There is a state park in town with three hot pools, waterslides, etc. For four dollars we spent the last hour of the day soaking away the memories of the flats and deserts of South Dakota and eastern Wyoming.

The Tetons were a blessing to our sore eyesundefinedthe peaks sharply outlined the evening sky and were capped with fresh snow from the rainstorms the previous few days.

I wanted to fly fish for trout again! The local sport shop told me the Snake was all off-color and high because of runoff from the Buffalo. So we kayaked on Two Oceans Lake. There were muskrats, beavers, and a solitary moose munching grass. The lake was ten miles in on a gravel road that said "recommend four-wheel drive", but was smooth and easyundefinedkeeps the masses away, I guess.

We had it to ourselves, and the water was as smooth as a mirror. The only fish I saw were fry in the weeds where we launched ( hand launch only). Nothing even followed my flys and lures. We saw a mud wallow at the lakes edge with what looked like Elk tracks. There was bear sign in the flower covered meadow where we settled for lunch. There was an eagle cruising the shallows at 4-6 feet off the water. It was a very relaxing, peaceful, day.

That evening I followed the advice of a person at the Teton Lodge and headed south to the Gros Ventre River (not the wilderness area). It is around fifteen miles south of the north end where we were camping.

The entrance is a forest service road through the park, east of the highway. The park said they had buffalo, but I had not seen one yet. As we turned a corner there must have been one hundred buffalo on both sides and on the road. They can really look mean. Several had birds on their back pecking bugs off the mane. I was very careful to stay clear of the calves. Still the older ones gave me an evil eye. We waited. Eventually a gap opened up and we eased through the herd and on up the canyon. A lone pronghorn antelope crossed the road in front of us a quarter-mile up the canyon.

The road winds past the Teton Geology School and into a steep canyon. The canyon had a massive land slide some time back. The south wall has a large escarpment that is visible as far as ten miles away. The slide formed a wide pool in the river. We passed a couple of turnouts marked as fishing access. They were occupied. We continued. The river got even more scenic as we approached the slide. All sizes of bolders riddled the stream; they were sharp edged and fresh, not even stained in color. Some were the size of a small car. The walk down looked substantial, though one party was parked there.

We took the ranch road turnoff toward the river. Steep, gravel, it was a perfect choice. It intersected the river just at the tailout of the pool formed by the slide.

I learned how hard it is to get out your gear when the car is full of a month's baggage for repairing cabins, doing funerals, camping, etc. I got lazy... no waders. The stream looked only thirty yards across. The temperature was in the high eightiesundefinedto hot to dawdle.

I wandered across the wooden bridge, noticed a rise at the tailout of the pool. Crawling through the brambles and aspen turned out to be easier than it looked. There were some caddis in the air, so I rigged a small green brassie behind a La Fontaine Emerger. The first cast got ten feet and I was into a fish!!!

Lost it !@#$$! Try again. The same thing again. I would get them to within six feet of me and they would shake off.

I switched to a pair of La Fontaine emergers (green, size sixteen and fourteen), and landed one. Over the next two hours I waded wet and played thirty-two fish, landing ten. They were all cutthroats from ten to sixteen inches. It was really a challenge to control them as they went over the lip into the river. They mostly struck right near the lip of the pool.

I began to get chilled, and it was getting dark. I had fished from seven in the evening to nine. As I worked down to the car, there were two "Orvis Men" pounding nymphs deep in the fast water. I watched the one near me. No takes. My wife commented that they had so much stuff on they would sink if they fell in. I worked to the other side of the river from him. There was no way he could cast to my side across that current.

I slid my caddis emergers into the slow water on my side. Bang. With two casts I had two more fish. I guess he was hoping for a monster on the bottom.

I went home with a smile on my face. If anyone goes to the Tetons in mid-July, I highly recommend you try the Gross Ventre River. I was told it is even better further up the canyon. Maybe next year I will try that.

Our visit to the Grand Tetons and the Gros Ventre River made a wonderful respite driving back to California from Wisconsin.

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