On the Ground in Yellowstone Country

It’s that time of year! Every September we migrate to the Yellowstone region to fly fish and get a change of scenery. Don’t misunderstand us. The Smokies are an incredible place to live with an incredible diversity of fly fishing to keep us busy, but we always look forward to the change of scenery.

We arrived well after midnight but got a quick start on the day in Bozeman and headed for one of our favorite fly fishing/mountain towns, Livingston, Montana. We made a stop in the gallery of one of our favorite artists, Parks Reece. We discovered his work on a trip to Livingston in 2001 and have been fans ever since. His work has been called “Van Gogh meets the Far Side.” His work has a strong basis in the outdoors and fly fishing and typically has a humorous twist.

Parks Reece

Ian admires Parks’ latest T-shirt featuring one of his more popular works, “How the West was fished”

He was in the gallery and we had a good time chatting with him and learned he grew up in Western North Carolina and was familiar with the Southern Appalachians and visits every year. Another reason to like the guy!

From Livingston we followed the the Yellowstone River out of town south toward the national park and relived memories of past floats on the river. As always Charity and I have a competition to see who can spot wildlife first. I was doing pretty good as we drove through Paradise Valley picking out antelope and mule deer, but Charity spotted this bald eagle perched above the river in Yankee Jim Canyon.

Yellowstone Eagle

After a short stop in Gardiner to pick up a fishing permit for Yellowstone National Park we proceeded into the park, strung up our fly rods and hit the water for about an hour. We would have fished longer, but we had some ground to cover and we know we’ll have some intense fishing days ahead of us. Still, we managed to make the most of the time.

Charity Gardner River Brown

Charity with a solid brown trout. Believe it or not she handed the camera to our 4 year old who seems to have a knack for photography.

Moving on through the park we noticed a pretty good crowd of folks with spotting scopes and pulled in to the ample space to see what was going on. Sure enough it was one of those moments everyone hopes for in Yellowstone but rarely sees.

A grizzly bear feeding on an elk carcass on the opposite side of Swan Lake

A grizzly bear feeding on an elk carcass on the opposite side of Swan Lake

We were some of the few people with a tripod and a camera with a decent zoom and quickly became popular as a number of people viewed the bear from our camera’s video screen.

Onward through the park and we eventually came to what we often think of as our “home away from home”, the Madison and Gibbon Rivers. In past years we have camped and fished here for several weeks at a time and feel like we know them as well as some waters at home in East Tennessee. Furthermore, camping along the banks of a river gives you a feeling of intimacy that you don’t get when you step out of a car in the morning and drive away in the afternoon.

We’ve seen the sun rise over the Madison many mornings, fished as the sun set, and slept close enough to it so we could hear it gurgling in the darkness as the shrieks of bugling elk echoed off of surrounding mountains. In fact, we’ve cooked dinner over a fire as the snow piled up around us here and even that wasn’t enough to run us off. We just smirked at each other as other campers and fishers thinned out.

We were thrilled to arrive on the Madison with our children and find a familiar scene to share with them. A massive bull elk was gathering a harem of cows near one of our favorite runs of water. We didn’t bother fishing but took in the memorable scene as the sky turned pink and orange.

Bugling Elk on the Madison River

And this was our first day…

Can’t wait to really start fishing and join our group at TroutHunter on the Henry’s Fork.



  1. Great shots, glad you found a local artist to collect, i have one at the NC coast who’s art I buy. We have a LRTU meeting tonight I’ll bet quite a few have seen your report. Good luck and stay safe!

  2. Wow, Ian and Charity!
    What a grand start to your trip. Carolyn and I are very envious. I too love the Madison and Gibbon Rivers as well as the many others in the Park. I just wanted to tell you to think of us if you are in West Yellowstone and try one of the Wild Huckleberry cones of ice cream for us. We made several trips from Trout Hunters to that town just for the ice cream. Good luck on Henrys Fork and hook a giant for us.

    Hugh Hartsell

    • Hugh,

      I’m sure we’ll make the same drive for ice cream as our kids are well attuned to any chance for ice cream on the way to or from the river.

      Ian & Charity

  3. Greg Williams says:

    Loved this report!