A Tale: A Woman’s Trout Fishing In Yellowstone Park — 1897

Early explorers discovered many stretches of water in Yellowstone Park were devoid of fish. At first people thought the problem was caused by hot water and chemicals from geysers and hot springs, but soon they discovered that the problem was obstructions like waterfalls.

Efforts to stock the barren waters with exotic fish caused ecological problems that officials are still trying to fix, but they also resulted in an anglers’ paradise. Soon people from all over the world were coming Yellowstone Park to fish and reporting phenominal catches. Here’s one woman’s story about fishing a once barren stretch of the Firehole River.


In 1888 the United States Fish Commission stocked the Fire Hole with many varieties of trout. They are still uneducated, eager for the fly; a number six or eight gray professor or brown Montreal proved the most killing. The father of all the Pacific trout, the blackspotted or “cut-throat” (Salmo mykiss), with the scarlet splotch on his lower jaw, was most in evidence. With long, symmetrical body and graduated black spots on his burnished sides, he is a brave, dashing fighter, often leaping salmon-like many times from the water before he can be brought to creel. We found him feeding in the open riffs, or rising on the clear surface of some sunlit pool. “The pleasantest angling is to see the fish cut with her golden oars the silver stream.”

Our dainty Eastern trout, with brilliant red spots and short, thick-set body, had hardly become accustomed to the change from grass-edged streams and sheltered pools, to the fierce struggle for existence in this fire-bound river. The glint of his white-edged fins betrayed him swaying in the eddies at the foot of some big rock or hidden in the shade of an overhanging bank, thereby offering a direct contrast to his more aggressive Western cousin.

The California rainbow trout proved true to his reputation, as absolutely eccentric and uncertain, sometimes greedily taking a fly, and again refusing to be tempted by the most brilliant array of a carefully stocked book. During several days’ fishing we landed some small ones, none weighing over two pounds, although they are said to have outstripped the other varieties in rapidity of growth, and tales were told of four-pounders landed by more favored anglers.

A heavy splash, a ray of silvery light, and with lengthened line the fly was carefully dropped on the surface of a swirling pool, edged with water-plants and tangled grasses, where the current had gullied out deep holes around the big boulders; a rise, a strike—now for a fight.

Long dashes down stream taxed my unsteady footing; the sharp click and whirr of the reel resounded in desperate efforts to hold him somewhat in check; another headlong dash, then a vicious bulldog shake of the head as he sawed back and forth across the rocks. Every wile inherited from generations of wily ancestors was tried until, in a moment of exhaustion, the net was slipped under him. Wading ashore with my prize, I had barely time to notice his size—a good four-pounder, and unusual markings, large yellow spots encircled by black, with great brilliancy of iridescent color—when back he flopped into the water and was gone. However, I took afterward several of the same variety, known in the Park as the Von Baer trout, and which I have since found to be the Salmo fario, the veritable trout of Izaak Walton.

So, on down the stream, careful placing of the fly and changing of the feathers brought different varieties to the surface. One other fish proved a complete surprise. He was of silvery gray color, covered with small black crescents. Some of the Park fishermen called him a Norwegian trout; others, the Loch Leven. Any country might be proud to claim him, with his harmonious proportions, game fighting qualities and endurance.

As the river had worn a pathway around the formation much too deep for wading, I climbed around the edge, past its heated springs and over its mosaic paving, and was seldom disappointed in coaxing a rise where the hot sulphur-tainted streams dripped into the water of the Fire Hole.

When my creel became uncomfortably heavy, and square spotted tails began to overlap its edge, I waded ashore to look at my catch. Fortunately my boots were heavy, for the bank was honeycombed with miniature geysers and mud-pots, bubbling and sputtering in wicked imitation of their bigger sisters. My last captive being still on my line, I swung it from the river into a geyser cone. Unprepared for the temperature, my return cast brought out only a hook with skull and backbone attached; the flesh had instantlv boiled off.

Surfeited with success, I unjointed my much tried and highly prized Mitchell rod, a veritable Japanese jinjutsu, ” to conquer by yielding,” among fly-rods. It can never more be duplicated, now that the master who engrafted his love of stream, of woods, of trout, into the rod he fashioned, has passed from sight around the bend of life’s stream, beyond which we cannot follow him.


— Excerpt from Mary T. Townsend, ‘A Woman’s Trout Fishing In Yellowstone Park.’Outing: An Illustrated Magazine of Sport, Travel and Recreation 30:165-177  (1897)

— Image detail from the same source.

— For more stories about fishing in Yellowstone Park, click on “fishing” under the “Categories” button on the right.

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