Guide diaries: No swimmin’ in the fishin’ hole
Date posted: July 24, 2014
Over the past few years, I’ve had a number of folks, both locally and nationally, ask about whether I’d ever return to the professional fishing guide business again. After long consideration, I finally decided this spring to get back on the water and start earning a bit more income for my family.
When I obtained my first guide license in 1978, the application took about five minutes to complete. The issued license came back from the Board of Outfitters within a couple days, I got my outfitter to sign it, and off I went. Things are, of course, quite different in today’s world. (The newspaper doesn’t ask me for a political commentary, so I won’t give you my opinion on the “changed world” we live in). Suffice it to say that today’s guide application in Montana is three pages long, and asks for documentation about every professional/occupational license I ever held in any state, along with every traffic ticket and/or fish/game violation I may have ever been charged with in my life. I mentioned my three minor speeding tickets over the last 40 years, my one fish/game violation for forgetting to renew a motorboat registration from 24 years ago, and, finally, my only other encounter with the law in 1979. My “Unauthorized Land Use” violation in Yellowstone, from 35 years ago, resulted in reopening a very old “can of worms” for me.
Living in West Yellowstone in 1979 was one of the most fun-filled and memorable years of my life. I was only 22 years old and spending the summer guiding on some of the country’s best trout streams at the height of their productivity and popularity. Every night was spent dancing and partying in the Frontier Club Lounge with college girls from Idaho Falls and Bozeman. It was those night-time activities, however, which eventually led to an uncomfortable encounter with the law enforcement Rangers of Yellowstone National Park.
I’d met a young lady from Idaho who I was spending a lot of time with (To protect the innocent, I’ll just refer to her as Lady Friend). We used to go out with friends on a hot afternoon and swim the Madison River from Baker’s Hole down to the Bozeman highway. This was outside the Park, and all perfectly legal. But then some of my older guide friends, who were considered to be real “ladies’ men about town” suggested I should take Lady Friend “Hot-Potting” in the Park some night. I said “What? Hot-Potting?” “Yeah,” they’d respond “That’s where you go skinny dipping at night in the warm-water stretches of the Fire Hole River, where hot springs pour into the river and warm the water up real nice!”
I was by far the youngest fishing guide in the area, and I began to view this hot-potting as a “rite of passage” which I just had to pass before I’d be fully accepted by the “established” guides in town. I did a lot of research and checking with “old-timers” in order to learn everything I could about the “sport.” The most experienced hot-potter in town told me he’d quit going the year before because the Rangers had completely outlawed the practice for everywhere except the Madison Junction area just below where the Fire Hole and Madison rivers joined together. Swimming was legal there during daylight hours, but no “skinny dipping” allowed! He told me his all-time favorite spot was on the Fire Hole, just under the footbridge where the public can cross the river on their way to the Fountain Paint Pots viewing area on the opposite side of the river from the parking lot. He said the Rangers would check on the parking lot every two hours all night long. If there was a car parked there at night, they knew they could write up a hot potter for trespassing.
It only took me five minutes to devise a plan! I went to a local clothing store and bought five dark olive colored wool army blankets. I invited Lady Friend out the next night for some exciting skinny dipping in the Fire Hole around midnight. We drove to the Fountain Parking lot, and then slipped my car onto an old dirt maintenance road which had long since been closed. The closed road entered a thick stand of trees just off the main parking lot: a perfect spot to hide my car and cover it with the blankets! My plan went off without a hitch! How nice it was to sit in the river, under the foot-bridge, and relax in the wonderfully comfortable 90 degree water warmed by runoff from the nearby geyser basins. I couldn’t wait to tell all my friends the next day about my accomplishments!
This went on for a few weeks until we finally got caught. I came back to earth with a hard landing as we got back to the car one night and a half dozen spotlights came on to highlight us next to the car with me wearing nothing but a couple of rolled up towels under my arm (Lady Friend wouldn’t ever take her bikini off until I converted to Mormonism and agreed to marry her first). The Rangers (all five of them) told me I seemed to be a nice kid, so they agreed to combine the illegal swimming ticket with the illegal off-road parking violation, and issue just one citation for Unauthorized Land Use and a $100 fine.
Do you know that it took me six weeks of working with the Federal Court in Mammoth, and the National Park Service, to document in writing to the Board of Outfitters that my $100 debt to society had been fully paid 35 years ago?
Lesson learned? The Fire Hole isn’t as good for trout fishing as it was 40 years ago. There’s too much warm water spilling into it from the geyser basins. You never know where those warm locations are, since it changes every few years with each minor earth tremor and the resulting shift in the shelf-rock openings under the streambed. Now the river is only good for “hot-potting,” but that’s against the law, and you’ll pay a price for it! Trust me, I know. Besides, who knows when Nature might decide to change things from a nice “hot-pot” to a nasty “boiling-pot”?
GORDON ROSE works as a commercial fly tier and operates Sheridan WYO Healing Waters, part of a national nonprofit organization which teaches disabled military veterans fly fishing, fly tying and fly rod-building as part of their therapy.