Saturday, August 8, 2015


Every summer since 2007 I have been lucky enough to make an annual pilgrimage to the Bighorn Mountains of western Wyoming.   2015 was a year to remember.

Chapter 1- The Journey

My dad picked me up at my place and we left the Twin Cities at 4:00pm on Thursday July 29th.  Driving through the night only stopping to sleep for a few hours we made it to Sheridan Wyoming around 11:00am Friday Morning.

Dad rarely asks me to drive and didn't on this trip so I spent most of my time surfing the internet and sleeping.  I like to google things and read recent news articles about them.  While reading news articles about the Bighorn Mountains I came across a mention of Shell Creek in an article by Dave Shorret.

Hearing phrases like, "off the radar" to describe a stream is like dangling a bag of fishing crack in my face.  My interest was piqued.  I had to find out more.

On all of our previous trips to the Bighorns our efforts had focused only on the North and South Forks of the Tongue River, Bull Creek and both Big and Little Willow Creeks.  I didn't even know that Shell Creek existed.  More googling would soon turn up more evidence.  I found a thread on Fly Fishing North America titled, "What's the Best Productive Stream You've Ever Fished".

After picking up provisions at Wal-Mart we made our way over to Fly Shop of the Bighorns in historic downtown Sheridan.  While we were there I purchased some floatant and a couple spools of tippet.  There was a kid working the counter and I held up an imaginary knife and said, "Tell me everything you know about Shell Creek!".  He appeared to be somewhat surprised by my tone and once he regained his composure he calmly stated that he really didn't know much about it.  I figured maybe I'd do better if I acted normal for once so I asked the other middle aged guy who was manning the shop about Shell Creek.  He said something about there being lots of small fish.  "It's going to take a lot more than that to throw me off the trail", I thought to myself as I left the store.

Chapter 2- Date Night

When we made it to Arrowhead Lodge our room wasn't ready so we decided to go for an afternoon fish.

I felt like a real minimalist when I only brought four fly rods with me on the trip.  My beloved bamboo fly rod Bambi made the cut.  Ever since we've been together she's been complaining that I don't give her enough attention.  I figure it's just a woman thing.

Here's Dad getting his rod ready.
 Once I started fishing I remembered why I don't fish with Bambi very much.  She's the only Bamboo rod I've ever cast so I don't know if she's better or worse than any other but she casts way different than my graphite rods and it takes a little time to adjust to her action. The silk line I pair her with is an experience in itself.  I caught a nice Brookie on my dropper right away that was to wily to photograph and soon after I landed this little Cutthroat on a Chernobyl Ant pattern.
Here I am fishing like a boss.

 It was good to be back in the Bighorns.

Chapter 3-  Shell Creek Expedition

Back in 1836, Houston said to Travis, "Get some volunteers and go fortify the Alamo".  We all know how that worked out.  One hundred and seventy nine years later on the morning of August 1st, 2015 Jeff Rivard asked his son Eddie where he would like to go fishing that day.  Eddie replied that he would like to go and check out Shell Creek Canyon.

The two of them drove around 20 miles until they found a spot where the road came close to Shell Creek.

Right away I caught a Rainbow on a small Nymph.  This brought me feelings of joy.
 This place was beautiful.
 The water was clear.
 Soon I would try streamers.  I slayed this Brown on a white Sex Dungeon.
 This side of the Mountain must get less rain than the Tongue River side.  This place reminded me more of the desert southwest.  I even saw a cactus.
 Here's dad about to net a trout.
 C'mon baby get in the net.
 He likes to take photos of his fish even though I am right there with my camera.
 Here's me taking a photo of him while he photographs his trout.
This one might make it into my book someday.  I wet waded every outing except one on this trip.  If it's over 40 degrees wet wading is the way to go.
Soon I tried the Pat's Rubberlegs pattern.  It worked.  As usual.
 This pocket was over six feet deep.
Oftentimes dad will take photos of his flies while fishing.  He's not just a great dad he is also an excellent fly tier.

A rough and rugged land.
We had lunch at Dirty Annies in Shell and before our evening fish we met up with some representatives of the Hells Angels motorcycle gang.  A deal was negotiated where they would receive all lands west of the Big Horns and the Rivard's would retain all lands east of the Big Horns.  We let them keep Mexico after they threw in Canada.  
 Upon starting they evening fish I heard a sound that I was unfamiliar with.  It was sort of a weird crackling buzzing sound.  At first I thought it was a grasshopper but when I turned around it was a rattlesnake.  This was my first rattlesnake encounter in the wild.

This is what it sounded like.
Dad got a photo of one shortly before we exited the canyon.  It was just a little guy but still deadly.
There was a place where you could view the Shell Canyon Falls.  They were spectacular!
 Someday I would like to venture further into the canyon.
 When I do I will remember to bring my snake repellant.
On the way back to Arrowhead Lodge we checked out a section of the South Fork of the Tongue near Dead Swede Campground.  I caught a small Brook Trout.

Chapter 4- El Canyon

The Canyon section of the North Tongue River is one of my favorites.  We don't venture down there every year but I am glad we did this year.

We navigate a maze of forest roads that get us close to the river.
 Upon reaching the end of the road we suit up.  Getting ready for battle.
 I found a Mormon Cricket.
 This was one of the highlights of the trip.
 Twin Buttes on one side.
 Bards Hill on the other side.
A long walk down Bards Hill awaits.
 The trail winds through the forest.
 We made it to the river.  At this point I splashed water on myself to cool off.  I took a little break before I started to fish.
I love this place.
 I caught this Rainbow on a Chernobyl Ant pattern that I tied the night before.
 I think the Chernobyl Ants work better if you wrap the shank with something shiny and grizzly hackle.  Trim the hackle before adding the foam.  I tied Chernobyl's in a wide variety of colors while on this trip.  You never know what the hot color is going to be.  It seemed like Purple and Blue performed best.  Yellow and Black performed the worst.
I call this Storybook Rock.
Rainbows love the Olive Rubberlegged Bugger.
 So do Browns.
 The river really picks up steam in this section.
 Pretty much any spot thats deep enough will hold fish.
Here I am getting my fly out of the branches.  Nobody's perfect.  Not even me sometimes.

I was in the mood to catch bigger fish so I tied on this articulated streamer that Ger Moua gave me.  It is one of my most treasured flies.

This 15 inch Rainbow couldn't resist it when I swung it into a deep pool.  I worked hard for this fish.

 I was so happy.
The Blue Chernobyl was killer.
Old redeye couldn't resist white and black. 
 Beautiful Place.  Someday I would like to pitch a tent down here.
 Red and Black.  Hooked on crack.
 That night I tied up some reinforcements.  Does anybody know a good way to make foam flies float longer?  Mine seem to start sinking after ten minutes of fishing and being covered with fish slime.

Chapter 5- Assault on the North Fork of the Tongue

It is important to be prepared whenever you go into battle.  Every fly fisherman worth his salt would never think of leaving his nymphs behind for a day of fishing.  Here is a photo of dads nymph box.  I'm pretty sure he tied 95% if not all of these himself.  I bought him the Tacky Fly Box for Fathers Day.  I liked it so much I have since purchased three for myself.
 I started the day off nymphing and when I was fighting the first fish I caught another fishing was harassing it the whole time.  Whenever this happens I figure the trout probably have streamer fever that day.  A few casts later my nymph rig fouled up.  What a good time to switch to a streamer.

I tied on a big size 2 Maribou Muddler and cast in into a relatively calm pool.  From behind a rock a large Cutty came chasing after it but I stripped it out the water before he could get it in his mouth.  I saw him swimming around looking for it so I plopped it back into the water, he lunged for it and the race was on.

On my 2x Fluorocarbon the fight was short.  I declared victory.  He measured in at 17.5 inches.  My largest fish of the trip.
 Ever since I invented the fish selfy aka the Selfish three years ago I have spent many hours perfecting it.  An inexperienced selfy taker should never attempt a selfy with a fish of this magnitude.
Bye Bye Birdie.
 I caught up to dad where he was casting into a nice pool.
 Fish on!
 I'm pretty sure the Red Copper John is dads favorite nymph.
 He was so happy.
 For the last few years I've been practicing my cattle call.
Finally I got a chance to try it and it actually worked.  I'll be darned.
The size 16 Gold Ribbed Hairs ear was my go to nymph for the trip.
 Another choice cut.
 Cutties have a beauty all their own.
 We killed it.
 Don't stop till you get enough.
 Purple and Blue.  Welcome to my crew.
 I love this place.

Chapter 6: The Meadows

There is a section of the North Tongue that we have officially nicknamed The Meadows although it probably should be called The Willows.  It is here you will have your best chance at a moose sighting as well as great fishing.

 Somewhere in this mess of willows there is a river.
I had neglected to include deer hair in my fly  tying supplies that I brought with me on the trip.  After seeing how well my Maribou Muddler worked I really wished I could tie some more but I couldn't without deer hair.  I invented a new streamer and named it the Maribou Pinhead.  It's basically a Muddler with a head made out of thread.  I caught a few fish with it but it's action suffers without the spun deer hair head.

 I made friends with this small Mule Deer.
 I also spotted a Cow Moose with her calf.
 The Yellow Sex Dungeon streamer was easily my top performing fly of the trip  It's action is unmatched.  There was a ninety minute period where I experienced the most productive fishing of my life landing a fish on nearly every cast.
 I said yellow, she said hello, come sit next to me you fine fellow.
 Gotta love the colors!
 Dad had good luck with yellow as well.  He slayed them with the Bumble Bugger.
My cattle call is getting way too effective.  I can't get that song out of my head.

There was another car parked next to the truck when we were done for the day.  I always take a moment to admire another guys sticker collection.

Chapter 7-  Brothers don't shake hands

My brother Sam arrived from Minnesota Tuesday evening.  I was glad he could make it.  The only thing better than two Rivards is three Rivards.  Nobody would dare mess with us now.

Sam can fish.
 Sam can cast.
 Sam can pose.
 He was so happy.
 Dad continued to slay them with yellow.
Another nice trout.
 And another.
 The Peanut Envy streamer.  Another one of Kelly Galloup's creations.

 Sam can fish.
 Sam can catch.
 Dad would prove that black was the new yellow.
 Another quality fish.
I like to start the day with an Olive Rubberlegged Bugger.
 Many trout on the North Tongue have wounded mouths from being repeatedly hooked and released.
 I was pretty sure that football season didn't start for a couple weeks.  I was wrong.  I love my blue Ross Journey fly rod.  If you are looking for a cost effective seven and a half foot four weight you can't go wrong with the Journey.
 This is the first articulated streamer I have ever tied.  I was glad it worked.
 Pretty little thing ain't she.
 Whenever we are driving back to Arrowhead Lodge I always admire this lonely tree in the middle of a meadow.  Someday I would like to get my picture taken with this tree.
 Wyoming baby yeah.

Chapter 8- Final Fight

 You'd think after 6 straight days of fishing we would have had enough.  That was not the case.  Here we are getting ready for our final 5 hours of fishing.
 Sam posing.
 Dad posing.
Sam catching.
 Beaver dams are a common sight in the meadows.
I fished with what was left of my Maribou Muddler in the calm sections that were created by the beaver dams.  The trout could not resist it's seductive action.
 Brookies love the Maribou Muddler as well.
 If you have Facebook you have likely seen photos like this one.  Especially around spring break time.

I decided to make my own version.  Oh baby.

 I noticed more mice running around this year than I ever have before.  I decided to dead drift the Sunken Mouse through a few pools.  Sure enough it worked like magic.

A better look at the Peanut Envy.  Dad fished this until the articulated hook broke off.  What a streamer!
 Pheasant Tail Nymph.
 Copper John.
 Black was still working.  These were some hungry fish.
 Another nice one for Sam.
 And another for brother.
 The main reason why there are so many quality fish on the North Tongue.

 I'm gonna miss this place.  Until next year.

If you would like to read past accounts of my Big Horn Mountain Adventures here are a couple links.

Thank you for reading.

Eddie Rivard Fly Fishing is now on Facebook.


Fading Angler said...

I grew up two hours from Burgess Junction in Gillette. Sadly, I only knew this area for its FANTASTIC snowmobiling in the winter. My family mostly camped and fished further south on Highway 16, and we backpacked into some of the lake chains. I finally fished the North Tongue a few years ago, and I've got two days of camping at the North Tongue campground in August this year. This will be at the tail end of a long trip with the Mobile Hotel® that swings through Glacier National Park and Yellowstone National Park. (This is purely a futile effort to induce a small amount of envy, as I'm insanely jealous of the fact that you have exploited, er, ENJOYED, the north side of the Big Horn mountains much more than a poor slob that grew up next door to them...)

I'm regretting that I haven't taken the time to visit your blog before. I have some catching up to do! You are obviously an outstanding angler. Let me know if you ever need or want some company down on the Driftless. I've learned in other endeavors that a great way to improve yourself is to spend time with people who are better than you.

Eddie Rivard said...

Thanks Fading Angler, We should meet up sometime. If all goes according to plan I will be in the Bighorns at some point in August as well. Let's keep in touch.

Popular Posts