A Short Slough Story

I remember one afternoon in the high-altitude meadows of Yellowstone National Park. It was a summer more than a decade ago, and I had hiked back into Slough Creek under a blistering mid-day sun. The sharp climb and elevation combined with the neoprenes waders I was wearing almost conspired to do me in (don’t ask me why I was wearing neoprenes, I really don’t know either). At least if I had run into a hungry grizzly bear, I wouldn’t have had to lie down in order to play dead. Slough Creek’s famous cutthroat trout apparently felt the same way.

The slow pools of Slough revealed a surprising number of very visible fish, but very little seemed to be happening in relation to those fish. An occasional rise interrupted the water’s glassine surface, but the trout mostly seemed to be snoozing. A few midges were dipping here and there, so I went to a four-foot hank of 6X and tied on a tiny gray pupal imitation. That soon proved to be a joke. I knew that I was not getting any significant drag on the fly, but only a couple of fish sniffed at the imitation, with no takers.

Frustrated and still a bit dizzy from the hike, I took five and relaxed in the meager shade of a nearby pine. The cutthroat were still rising here-and-there, so I opened my old Wheatley and surveyed its contents. My eye held on a compartment containing two pure-black Thompson-style foam beetles. On a hunch, I traded in my midge for one of the terrestrial patterns, and on the first good down-and-across presentation the drought was over.


I may have been hungry, thirsty and generally feeling like bear-bait, but suddenly I did not care in the least. An even dozen fish to hand (and one to the camera) was the final tally of the afternoon, all of them sipping black beetles with the wonderfully agonizing tilt-and-backslide rise for which Yellowstone cutthroat are famous. And yes, I did shuck my neoprenes for the walk out!

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