A Tiger Tale

Guest Blogger: Jim Murphy, Neenah WI, long-time J Stockard customer and avid fly tyer

The seven of us had spent the night in Spearfish S.D. halfway to our final destination in the Big Horns near Burgess Junction WY. There are several small streams that we hoped to fish including the Tongue in that area. On the way, we made a brief stop to fish Clear Creek near Buffalo Wy. Clear Creek is a beautiful but raucous stream which dashes in and out between rocks and boulders as it crashes down the mountain. This otherwise trout filled dream stream is well protected by banks which are choked by willows, alders, raspberry bushes, a multitude of vines and other assorted vegetative land mines deftly twisted and entwined to frustrate any fisherman’s attempt to reach its seductive waters. 

Gary and I left the others and decided to head upstream to a section of the creek which entered a canyon. We had walked more than a mile along an old wagon road that traced the river before actually attempting to make our way to the water which was well hidden somewhere in the aforementioned jungle. We grappled our way through the underbrush, sweating and steaming, before finally reaching a bank where we could view the water.  Gary noticed a slick a hundred yards downstream and I saw some promising pocket water some 50 yards above.

It wasn’t long after sliding down the bank and into the water before I  missed a few,  caught a few and lost a few Cuts and Brookies ranging between 10 and 15 inches. Of course, like most of us, I lost the big ones and managed to bring to hand the little guys. 

As Gary leapfrogged by he asks if I had done any good because he was struggling a bit and at that point had not landed a fish. Then off he went to the next pool breaking through the abominable tangle of green stuff with a minimal utterance of “blue words” and a maximal amount of effort. 

After I had finished fishing the desirable pockets and before I got to a section of rushing water and impenetrable boulders and sweepers I left the water and entered the streamside vegetative obstacle course which would soon provide one of the major storylines of the day. 

I eventually spotted Gary and decided to check in, to see how he was doing and let him know I was about to pass by. The water here had cut deeply over the years leaving a steep bank with trees growing this way and that and a very uneven upper ridge covered with all sorts of green stuff and tangled deadfall which was an obvious clue that brought me to a halt. I yelled down to Gary that I was going to go on up to the next likely water. But, he couldn’t hear my loud yell,  then louder yell and finally a modified scream, because of the roaring stream.

 I decided to try to make my way down the bank to let Gary know that I’d be going on upstream. Yep!, you probably guessed what was about to happen. Well, maybe you were right about the tripping on a vine and the falling part but were you also right about the fact that as I tumbled down the to the first lip of the bank I had landed on my very favorite 4wt Legend Ultra rod and broke it cleanly just above the butt section? Or were you also right about the fact that although only superficially bumped and bruised, I had rolled through a massive patch of stick-tights and was literally covered from head to foot with those sticky little devil pods?  Finally were you right about the fact that I came to a sliding stop with my feet above my head and my rod under my back as Gary oblivious to the drama that had just occurred only a few feet away calmly fished on?

Well, there is no crying in fly fishing so after finally getting Gary’s attention and sharing with him the obvious. We decided to make our way out of the jungle and head upstream to a small dam and spillway which we had been told would be found just before Clear Creek entered a canyon. Once out of the entanglement and as I began the long process of pulling off stick tights Gary suggested that we first go back to the car and get another rod. However, it was late in the afternoon and we were at least two miles upstream which would equate to a 6+ mile turnaround to retrace our steps and get up to the spillway. After a brief evaluation of our situation, he very generously suggested that we use his rod to take turns. We were to switch off after every fish landed.

After a 20+ minute walk we reached the dam and sure enough, the water below the dam not only looked productive but every once in a while erupted in a bubble and the spreading ring produced by a rising fish. It didn’t take long for Gary to land a nice 14’ Cut and turn his rod over to me.

 Gary must have gotten bored because before long I noticed another fly line in the air. As I looked over I was quite astounded to see Gary holding the butt end of my rod in one hand and casting the upper three sections with the other. It was actually quite amazing to watch how he managed to pull line from the reel with his casting hand and still keep a nice controlled loop followed by a 30-40 ft delivery. It was even more surprising to watch him hook and land a fish.

 I soon got my opportunity to try this unique broken rod casting technique because I hooked up and landed a feisty 13 incher. After several attempts to master the “Gary Cast”  I was eventually able to get the line to the base of the dam and it wasn’t long before we had a doubleheader. Twenty minutes later I had caught one fish to each of Gary’s two or three. It was then that we decided to make our way to the pond above the dam where after all the “grass might be greener”.  Or in this case the fish more plentiful.

The pond itself was not much more than a widening of the stream and for the most part silky smooth except for the occasional telltale ring of feeding fish. I cast a small caddis dry into a quiet seam where I had observed a trout rise on several occasions. On the first drift, a fish took, and it didn’t take long to bring that small spunky little pugilist to hand. But what a surprise. What a fish it was. I have fished for a good number of years and have heard of these rainbow/brown hybrids but only knew of one other friend who had caught a Tiger Trout.

 One for life’s memory book was made even more special because of the broken rod and unorthodox technique used to catch my first Tiger. However, the best part was putting him back in the water and watching that scrappy little cub swim away to be caught by another amazed fisherman on yet another day. 

If there is a downside to this adventure it lies in the fact that the rod cannot be repaired or replaced because it has been out of production for a number of years and St. Croix no longer has spare parts. 

 Don’t know if there is a moral to this story but in the futureit will take more than a broken fly rod to keep me from chasing trout. For, perhaps my next one will be the elusive  Golden Trout.

THAT’S IT, FOLKS, THE END OF THE TIGER TALE….

2 thoughts on “A Tiger Tale

  1. Michael Vorhis

    What a terrific tale Jim! Reading it, I could literally feel the whip of raspberry thorns across my face and hear the snap of that rod…and could *almost* imagine how you managed to cast with a rod unattached to the grip and reel seat section.

    That Tiger was natural, not lab-made, right? A rare encounter, if so. What a great tale.

    I’ve been to the Bighorns and Buffalo, and might even have hiked up that creek; I certainly remember creeks that looked nearly unfishable, all those many years ago.

    Thanks for a real good tale.

    – Mike

    Reply
  2. Gary Herlache

    Great job recounting an unusual afternoon’s fishing! All in Ali, a very memorial outing with a great fishing buddy! Good memories!
    Gary

    Reply

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *