Interview with Yellowstone Guide Sean Jansen
“My name is Sean Jansen, and I’m a part-time tour guide in Yellowstone National Park, where I work from May to October, taking tourists into the Yellowstone. My work varies, taking tourists to beloved locations like Old Faithful and guiding people to search for different types of wildlife in the Park. Of course, I still go into the Park, and when a client wishes to cast a fly rod, we see if we can find a few depending on the flows and the specific location we are in.
Starting on the 12th of June 2022, I was up on the northern end of the Yellowstone National Park, where the infamous Lamar River, Gardiner, and Yellowstone River flow. I was up there driving where nearly all roads and bridges had been wiped out from the increase in water volume on the 13th of June. On the 12th, I was in the Park, where I try and remember a distinct part of every day I guide, and on this Sunday, I had my windshield wiper blades on for 10.5 hours. These were the early stages in my mind of what would happen to the local Montana freestone rivers.
On Monday, I took another trip and discovered that the northern section of Yellowstone was closed. I went into the southern end of the Park, where it was still open, and later got evacuated Monday afternoon. Areas like the Madison River in the south end near the Park, where the Firehole River joins the Madison, is a gorgeous valley that the Madison River slowly snakes through. This valley has an abundance of wildlife and particularly a lot of Bison. On this day, the Madison River looked like a lake. I kept telling my guests, “it’s not a lake; that’s the Madison River.” It shows that the rain played a prominent role in the local rivers. I have never seen water flow like this or seen the Madison in these conditions. I’m 33 years old, my first visit to Yellowstone was eight years old in 1996, and I have never missed a summer season in Yellowstone despite traveling all over. But I have never seen anything like this ever before.
A local news station in Bozeman interviewed me on Tuesday, and they asked if I had ever seen anything like this before within Yellowstone. My answer was, “No, but the other major devastating disaster in this valley was the Yellowstone fires of 1988 that burned 37% of the Park to the ground.
Other than guiding tourists into beautiful scenery and explaining the beauty around the National Park, I go into the Park, whether it is with my fly rod or my trail running shoes. The Park is a staple for me, and I have been guiding for over three years. But as of now, the Park is currently closed, and they don’t plan on reopening at the earliest til the 19th of June. Even then, this timeframe might be questionable, and park officials are hesitant to get the Park re-opened; however, with the infrastructure lost, it hard to tell how long this will take.
You can take two different routes to get into Yellowstone from Bozeman. Typically, people follow the Gallatin River towards Big Sky and others that want to fish the Madison River head towards Cameron and Quake Lake. Luckily, on Monday, I followed the Madison River. I did that because the drive through the Gallatin Canyon was one-way traffic, where the Gallatin River overflowed onto the highway, which had never happened before. I was happy I came home this way and didn’t get caught in the water through the canyon.
The difference one year has to make is peculiar. About a year ago this time, we struggled for water, where I was fishing giant foam grasshoppers, and this year we haven’t even seen the Salmonfly hatch yet. I believe the terrestrial fishing won’t be the same as last year after the late spring snowfall and the amount of rain we have gotten.
As of now, my job guiding is up in the air. I am certainly not the only guide that is in this position. Twenty thousand people evacuated from the Park, and I wasn’t alone. I’m not the only guide in this position; many of us will be out of work because of the flooding. However, I believe there will be a solution moving forward, but the key to this will take time. People are already canceling their trips up here to Yellowstone because of the flooding, and many guides in the area will have a tough summer trying to find clients.
I didn’t realize the damage on Monday until I witnessed the rivers myself. It’s both a humbling and incredible view to see the power of mother nature, but it is tragic to detect fly shops, guides services, people that have lost their homes, and people like myself. It’s truly going to hurt me since the places I love to fly fish and trail run aren’t going to be accessible since the roads are gone.
It’s not just Yellowstone that got affected. In all fairness, I think Yellowstone got out relatively easy around southwest Montana. Red Lodge, for example, is one of the smaller towns that witnessed devastating flooding. I can remember when I was fishing Rock Creek a year ago, and now the town of Red Lodge is covered in sediment and feet of cobble since Rock Creek’s flows rose exponentially.”
Sean Jansen is a freelance writer for Flylords Magazine, and spends his time in Bozeman, Montana where he guides tours through Yellowstone National Park.