Rising on the northeast slope of Joseph
Peak in the northwest corner of Yellowstone Park, the Gardner is first
seen by most anglers in Gardner's Hole.
Hole, as a place-name in the West, is
a term of varied significance. It is applied to high landlocked basins
(Freezeout Hole), to mountain-girt valleys (Jackson's Hole), to desert
sinks (Humboldt's Hole) or even to a spot on a river where the water
depth increases sharply. Most generally, in the northern Rockies, it
refers to a subalpine basin, and that is what Gardner's Hole is. It
is surpassing beautiful.
The river starts as a tiny, icy trickle
almost 10,000 feet up. By the time it reaches the northwest corner of
Gardner's Hole it has been joined by several other icy small streams
but it is not yet fish worthy.
In Gardner's Hole, which it traverses
the full length in a northwest-southeast direction, it is joined by
Fawn, Panther, Indian and Obsidian creeks, as lovely a quartet of trout
stream names as one will find, and the streams are just as lovely.
All are small, winding, willow lined,
clear and cold, and all host numbers of brook and rainbow trout. These
four streams, and the river here, are the only ones in the Park that
may be fished with worms-but only by children twelve years and under.
This is a family fishing area, with an excellent campground located
near where Panther, Indian and Obsidian creeks join the main river.
The Park administration, in choosing
this as a family fishing area, acted with a wisdom not always applied
to other aspects under their control. The area abounds with deer, elk,
moose, waterfowl, beaver, squirrels, chipmunks and other small creatures,
and birds. Opportunities for wildlife photos are everywhere. The area
is scenic and the main road just a few hundred yards away.
The fish are mostly panfish size. A rainbow
or brookie of a foot or more is a bragging fish. The small, winding
streams with their undercut banks and clearly defined deeper spots,
are ideal for worm fishing by the beginning angler. The mainstream at
the confluence with the other creeks is also largely a panfish proposition.
But it is a delight to fish with small wet flies, a high-riding dry
fly and, in season (August and September), with a hopper pattern.
From where it passes under the Norris-Mammoth
road bridge, there is downstream a mile or so of very pleasant water.
But as one proceeds, the walls of the canyon move steadily inward upon
the stream, the bed becomes rocky and boulder filled aqd one is at last
forced to proceed almost entirely in the stream if he wishes to continue.
In a while, with Bunsen Peak towering over the stream to the north and
the abrupt face of Sheepeater Cliffs on the south, the stream becomes
a torrent racing for its leap over Osprey Falls, and the even steeper
canyon below. It is dangerous to continue.
It returns to a more fishable approach
under the soaring bridge on the Mammoth-Tower Junction road. Here one
may fish his happy way both up and down stream. It is swift, boulder-filled
pocket water, and the fish, somewhat larger than above, arte also more
plentiful. Lava Creek adds its mineral-rich input just downstream of
the road bridge and almost doubles the flow.
The next approach to the river is a dirt
road from the newer housing section for Park Headquarters at Mammoth.
By using both approaches one can cover the entire area between without
walking or wading more than a half-mile. From the housing area road
it is another half-mile before the stream comes into sight along the
Mammoth-Gardiner road (roads in Yellowstone Park are not numbered but
are identified by the names of the areas at either end of a section
The five miles or so of stream in the
Mammoth-Gardiner area are very pleasant miles to fish. There is just
enough difficulty getting into and out of the stream, and in fishing
it, to deter the casual, and the regulations and constant patrol by
rangers give pause to the meat fisherman.
It is a prolific piece of water for
the proficient fly-fisher. The fish are larger than farther up,
and there are, now and then, run-up fish from the Yellowstone, which
the Gardner joins within the boundary of the town. A knowledgeable fly-fisher can, on a good day, take and release fifty or more trout. But
he can also get skunked. You must know what you are about to do well
in the lower Gardner.
The "salmonfly," really the
giant stone fly Pteronarcys califomica, emerges (hatches,
in angler parlance) in June and July. Thus the nymphs of this insect
are always in the stream, since it lives there four years from the time
the egg is laid until it becomes a flying adult. A large black fly such
as a Woolly Worm or one of the nearly two dozen local nymphal imitations
will take fish most of the time. These are difficult to fish in this
broken, boulder-filled pocket water stream and only the experienced
nympher will do well.
- Fishing Yellowstone Waters -