Fishing, not catching, is sometimes what it’s all about.

That’s what’s left of a pontoon boat on that rock. The Yellowstone can be unforgiving.

“Watch where the guides are going,” I thought, as I drove along on Interstate 90.

I was on my way to Red Lodge where I was going to help cover the annual convention of the Montana Tavern Association for their house organ, “Montana Tavern Times.” It’s a fun convention to cover and I’ve gotten to know a lot of neat people. Still, I was already looking forward to taking a couple hours on the return trip to stop and do some fishing, because I knew ahead of time that my batteries would need re-charging, and a couple hours of flyfishing would be the perfect way to do it.

So, when a couple SUVs towing drift boats passed me east of Livingston, I couldn’t help be curious about where they might be exiting off the freeway. As it turned out, they took the exit I had already been kind of planning to take. I figured that was a confirmation of my hunch.

The Yellowstone River in mid-September is a different river than it was for most of the summer of 2011. The big river was a muddy, roaring torrent most of the summer before the spring runoff period finally exhausted itself. Even in mid-August, when I made a trip to the upper Yellowstone to report on the Reel Recovery program (See August 24 edition), the river was still relatively high and just beginning to clear.

Now, the river is finally running clear and in the autumn sunshine it sparkles with blues and greens when you get distant glimpses of the water from the highway.

It’s a clear, sunny midday when I drive into the fishing access site I planned on earlier in the week. It’s still cool after a chilly night, but it’s warming quickly as I put on my waders and string up my flyrod.

As I walk downstream with the plan to work my way back up a series of riffles, multitudes of grasshoppers are buzzing around the shoreline willows and grasses, confirming my thought that I should try a hopper pattern. I’d even tied up some lavender hoppers, based on what I’d learned on the last trip.

I hoped to be on the river at the right place, the right time, and with the right fly this time. Tell that to the fish, however.

As I worked up the riffles, I cast my fake grasshopper toward the shallow edges and to the deeper water farther out. I caught a glimpse of one fish following the hopper’s drift down the current, but it decided that it wasn’t edible after all and disappeared.

After that refusal, I considered options. There were a few tricos in the air, though there didn’t seem to be enough to bring fish to the surface. There was an occasional mayfly or caddis, but again nothing that seemed to be attracting attention.

I tried another hopper pattern, one that had more hopper-like colors than lavender. I tried other dry flies. When those didn’t work I tried some nymphs.

As is often the case when fish aren’t cooperating, my mind wandered. I thought of my last evening of fishing over the Labor Day weekend when my last fish of the evening was a beautiful westslope cutthroat trout, a fish I figured made the weekend’s fishing a success. On this water I’d enjoy catching a Yellowstone cutthroat trout.

A rock in the middle of the river had an unusual decoration: the green cover of what had been a pontoon from a pontoon boat. It’s a vivid reminder that the Yellowstone River may look relatively placid in September, but we can’t forget that it can be an unforgiving foe at times, and I’m curious about the story of survival from the person who got shipwrecked.

 Finally, under what is now a hot, blazing sun, I realize it’s time to quit fishing and get back on the road.

I felt disappointed the fish weren’t biting, but then I realized I had accomplished exactly what I’d set out to do. I’d spent a couple hours flyfishing and felt refreshed.