How many streams can you visit and have a chance to catch five different salmonids? Robinson Creek is likely one of very few in the Greater Yellowstone Area. It hosts brook, brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout as well as rocky mountain whitefish. Robinson Creek flows just inside the west boundary of Yellowstone National Park before turning southwesterly into a deep canyon to exit the Park and flow eventually into Warm River in the “Three Rivers” area about a mile above the Warm River-Henry’s Fork confluence. It is that picturesque stream on the right when you descend from the south on the Mesa Falls Scenic Loop into that area. Soon you cross it just above its confluence with Warm River. In this area it is mostly on private land, but there are two good access places on public land much further upstream. These are off the Cave Falls Road, also known as the Green Timber Road. From Ashton take the Mesa Falls Scenic Loop (State Highway 47) east about five miles, and turn east on the Cave Falls road to county road 4500 North. Turn left (north) there and go past Teton View Estates. The pavement ends and you drop into Robinson Creek’s canyon. Cross the creek and ascend the other side of the canyon where you will see some pull-outs. Robinson Creek is on your right down a fairly steep, but negotiable grassy bank. The picture above shows this location. The gradient here is moderate, but a series of log plunges established by IDF&G supplement holding water. Boulders, deeper runs, and downed timber also provide cover to this freestone stream. Trout here run from juveniles to surprisingly large sizes. Further east on the Cave Falls Road, just after the Rock Creek crossing, take a left to access another location on Robinson Creek. Go about two miles north past the LDS Church girl’s camp to a turn-around. Robinson Creek, easily approached, flows through the narrow meadow below. You can also access Robinson Creek in Yellowstone Park off the Fish Creek Road east of Warm River and after a four mile walk up the West Boundary Trail from Bechler Ranger Station. Between these locations the creek can be accessed near Horseshoe Lake if one does not mind a bit of rock scrambling down the canyon. But the two locations described off the Cave Falls Road provide the most interesting fishing. So do locations into the canyon off Teton View Estates if you can get permission to access across the private lands there. Reasons are that the creek is larger at the locations described off the Cave Falls Road. Another is that as one goes upstream, cutthroat and brook trout dominate increasingly over brown and rainbow trout and whitefish. Robinson Creek is a runoff stream with origins on the west side of the Madison Plateau in Yellowstone Park. Thus, the early season on it varies depending on snow melt. But usually by the first of June it is worth fishing, and wading become less perilous. The first event of interest is the giant and golden stonefly hatches which ascend the stream. This is followed by hatches of green drakes and PMDs. Caddis activity along the stream can be relied on during afternoons throughout the season. By mid July terrestrial insects become increasingly important food forms for trout, and favorite terrestrial patterns work very well. Wet wading is also more attractive by this time, and mosquitoes are mostly gone. A four-weight system using a shorter (7′-7’6″ ) rod is ideal for fishing this stream. A floating line is all that is needed to fish the stream in these locations given and to present bead head nymphs of small to medium sizes as well as floating patterns. A 4X tippet provides enough strength to hold fish here. Bring a good supply of potable water, sun screen, and protection from the sun. Light weight rain gear is also recommended. Late afternoons and early evenings are a particularly interesting time to fish this stream. Surface activity is at its peak and decreasing air temperatures seem to cool the canyon to comfortable levels.
In his writings Ernie Schwiebert devotes quality efforts to “The Song of the Small Stream.” He did so for good reason. In so many ways small streams offer an escape from the demands that larger waters place on us for fishing success. Small streams are certainly more easily approached. They lack the physical perils of large rivers. Their smaller scope results in an ease in determining where fish may reside at a certain time. And resident fish mostly seem less selective here than in the larger waters. Who among us does not savor the experiences large rivers offer? But this makes them more visited, and therein lies another asset to smaller waters; a better chance for solitude.
The Greater Yellowstone area abounds in high quality small streams. So where does one start to discuss these? We begin with Bear Creek, a tributary to Palisades Reservoir on the Snake River and straddling the Idaho-Wyoming border. Because of an essentially Yellowstone cutthroat trout only population, it is a rarity among streams. Thus catch and release fishing applies. It flows into the aptly named Bear Creek Arm on the southwest side of the reservoir. From eastern Idaho’s Snake River Plain, one travels east on US Highway 26 to just below Palisades Dam, crosses the South Fork reach of the Snake River here, then follows the USFS signs eight miles to the Bear Creek estuary. With spectacular scenery it’s a beautiful eight miles, certainly worthy of a high resolution camera. At the estuary a former campground serves as an ample parking area with the Bear Creek trail head at the upstream end. From here the trail parallels the creek for several miles. The creek remains mostly in view along the trail. It’s a freestone stream of moderate gradient but with slower portions and abundant deeper holes and runs. During springtime this creek is a significant spawning stream for Yellowstone cutthroat trout. In good water years many of these fish remain in the creek’s quality water, perhaps into September. These fish range to good sizes with a few specimens exceeding twenty inches. But mostly this stream rears fish which eventually head for the reservoir below. Look for the larger fish to reside in the abundant deeper holes and runs. Be particularly aware of deeper water sheltered by overhanging willow and grasses. Such will shelter foraging individuals. So do the newer beaver ponds located mainly above the Current Creek Guard Station, a holdover from days when forest rangers patrolled the area on fire watch, to monitor wildlife situations, and livestock impacts. The station is nearly two miles upstream from the trail head, and is a good photography subject. See it situated in shadows on the other side of the creek in the above photo. On the opposite side of the creek is potable spring water piped to serve guard station occupants.
The scene in the picture above is mid summer when Bear Creek is at its most interesting fishing. Judicious wet wading is appropriate, but no more than hip waders are necessary. A few PMDs will come to the surface in afternoons during this time. Later in the day abundant caddis appear. But the most enjoyable way to encounter resident cutthroat is through presenting terrestrial insect patterns. Keep the sun to your back as much as possible when on the stream. Drift your patterns beneath overhangs above water of sheltering depth. Test the top ends of deeper holes and banks and inlets of the beaver ponds. Soft hackle flies make good presentation alternatives when aquatic insects emerge. So do a variety of nymph patterns (size 10-18), with and without a bead. A three or four weight set-up with a floating line is ideal for presenting flies here, and a long fine leader (4x-5x) is a must because of the ultra clear water. A good strategy is to begin fishing around mid day when water temperatures arrive at levels suitable for insect activity. Continue fishing to around six in the evening. The walk out will add to one’s appetite for an excellent dinner many of which are offered in restaurants and fishing lodges along Highway 26.
Upper Blackfoot River
The Blackfoot River Reservoir divides the Blackfoot River in two portions in more ways than physically. Below the reservoir it flows into a deep canyon not always accessible. Above the reservoir the river trends through stair-step meadows and slower reaches punctuated by what locals rightly label as “narrows.” Each section has its own particular beauty and character. Throughout, this beautiful river is a stronghold for Yellowstone cutthroat trout with a smattering of rainbows and brook trout.
For now, let’s target the upper river. The season here opens on July 1st each year to minimize interference to spawning cutthroat. For sure, the most attractive location to fish the river is on IDF&G’s 1800 acre Blackfoot River Wildlife Management Area, formerly the Stocking Ranch. The river begins at the confluence of Lanes and Diamond creeks at the top of the Wildlife Management Area. In the Management Area it winds, six miles in all, through reverse bends in a vast meadow similar in character to the upper meadows on Yellowstone Park’s Slough Creek. Pine forests and quaking aspen groves occupy surrounding mountains. It’s a setting of beauty hard to exceed, and anglers are always few in number. The most direct route to get to this part of the river is from State Highway 34 north out of Soda Springs, then east on the Blackfoot River Road on up through the “Upper Narrows.” On exiting the narrows one enters the Wildlife Management Area. Pull-outs are located at the top, middle, and bottom of the Wildlife Management Area. Just where the narrows open to the meadows is a well-maintained USFS campground. Take a look at the mid-September picture featured above. What fly-fisher would not savor such water and surrounding country! Each bend hosts a school of cutthroat trout. Waist high grass and scattered willows provide overhead cover for the meandering stream, and within are cutthroat ranging to trophy sizes. By mid summer, these host a terrestrial insect population population second to none. What a great river to test those storied terrestrial patterns! From the river itself a small brown drake emergence begins evenings soon after the July 1st opening. Emerging PMDs compliment the drakes. A very few golden stoneflies and afternoon caddisflies round out the major aquatic insect emergence, except for late season BWOs. So dry fly fishing is a most enjoyable way to fish this section of river which weeds up in a manner similar to the Henry’s Fork in Harriman State Park. But nymphs and small leech patterns produce along undercut banks, between weed beds, and deep holes here. A four or five weight rod is ideal for presenting all these and a long, fine leader is necessary for dry flies. So are rain gear, sun glasses, a shielding hat, and sun screen. Tank up on water before venturing out, and bring enough to stay hydrated as no potable water is available except in the campground below. This is high country, hovering just over 6000 feet in elevation. Afternoon thundershowers are common, and evening mosquitoes can be expected until early August. By Labor Day evenings cooling enough to frost are possible, but the terrestrial insect population remains strong. After mid- September a killing frost can happen any time. By then, however, most of the locals are hunting and the non-locals are back to work or school. That means you might be the only one fishing on the Management Area.