One of my all-time favorite outdoor stories has to be “The Royal MacBob” by Robert F. Jones. The story begins with a description of a challenge from James Buchan’s 1925 novel, John Macnab, called the “Royal Macnab” which is to catch an Atlantic Salmon, shoot a red stag, and bag a brace of grouse, all in the same day.
In Jones’s story, he makes up his own sporting challenge or shooting a whitetail deer with his bow, catching a brook trout on his 1 weight fly rod, and shooting a brace of ruffed grouse, all in one day, which he achieves. Jones named it the “Royal MacBob.”
A few months ago, the Saturday afternoon was very hot for September, but I decided to take Misty, my American Brittany, for a few hours to the grouse woods anyway. We headed up to Grouseketeer Ridge, a high alpine covert, hoping to find a grouse or two in the shady areas along an abandoned logging road.
We hiked the road’s full length with nothing to show but a few grouse Misty bumped out of range. Because of the heat, we decided to head back down the way we came because it was more shady on this side of the mountain. Along the way, Misty got birdy, ran up an embankment aligning the road, and pointed into an chokecherry thicket. As I approached, a blue grouse flushed and gave me a close, crossing left to right shot, which I flubbed. While the bird zipped, downhill, I got to the second trigger a little slowly and the grouse made it to the safety of the cover below me. Despite my poor shooting, I had marked it down fairly well. After Misty and I relocated and flushed the bird, I again missed with both barrels. My shooting woes with my new Ithaca NID 20 gage continued.
Upon reaching the logging road, we again headed back down the trail toward the car. Within the next twenty yards, a blue grouse flushed on the uphill side of the road and I swung the NID, slapped the front trigger, and the bird tumbled into the brush below it. Finally, the monkey was off my back! Misty would not retrieve my bird because of the heat so I had to scramble up the hill to pick up the grouse.
As I walked down the trail, a thought came to my mind: If I can take a ruffed grouse and catch a cutthroat with my tenkara rod today, this could be my own version of the Royal Macnab. That would sure be fun! With my shooting as of late, I figured pulling this off would be a long shot, no pun intended.
I continued to kick the idea around in my head as I drove down the canyon to one of my most productive coverts, which I call “the Outhouse,” not only because the narrow quakie-lined canyon has an actual outhouse about a half mile up the two track road that follows its length, but also because of my crappy shooting there in the past. For whatever reason, even though the canyon’s creek bottom is hammered by grazing cattle, it attracts both blue and ruffed grouse in impressive numbers. Despite the rough shape of the valley, the surrounding hillsides support thick trees and cover where the grouse flee for safety.
Misty and I hunted up the two track and Misty soon bumped a beautiful brown-phased ruffed grouse from a natural spring that had been trampled into oblivion by grazing cattle. Had I been quicker and closer I would have had a nice shot, but I passed as the bird rocketed into the thick timbered hillside. I decided not to pursue the grouse because I didn’t believe I would get a good shot in the thicket.
Misty and I continued up the two-track toward the old outhouse and Misty circled around some thick chokecherry trees lining the creek bottom and flushed a ruffed grouse right at me. After the grouse blasted past me, I shot at it through the timber, but it juked to the left and my shot went astray. The bird then lit in a nearby tree at about eye level.
I quickly reloaded and hiked off the road and to the tree where the ruff nervously gawked at me. I searched briefly for a stick or rock to throw to dislodge the bird, but, at that very moment, the grouse flushed back across the road and creek. I swung on the quartering bird and it dropped in an opening near the outhouse. Misty rushed downhill and retrieved the grouse to me. What started as a hot day with low expectations suddenly became a sizzling, red-letter day.
Though there was much more productive cover ahead, I decided to call it good. Suddenly, catching a cutthroat with my tenkara rod never seemed so important. I really wanted to accomplish my own Royal Macnab—so to speak—but what to call it? Since I had met my goal of taking a ruffed grouse in the Outhouse, the feat kind of named itself: The Royal Flush. A big smile crossed my face as I thought of its puerile underpinnings.
When we made it back to the car, the sun was still hot and high overhead. The surrounding mountainous canyon has a tiny creek running its length that you can step across at most locations. I call it “Trickle Creek,” though that is not its real name. Despite its diminutive size, it holds numerous Yellowstone Cutthroat. In the fall, however, the creek is very low and clear and the fish are extremely spooky. With the bright lighting conditions, I realized that the task at hand would be tough.
I drove about three miles down the dirt road to where the canyon narrows between jagged cliffs. At this place, the creek is forced by the road up against the cliffside and holds some usually productive pocket water in the shade. I thought for sure I would catch a fish or two in the rocky runs and plunge pools, but did not move a single fish with my tenkara rod rigged with a Red-butted Renegade.
At this point it was 4:45 p.m. and I didn’t have a lot of time because my wife, Kristin, had given me an ultimatum to be on the road by 5:30 p.m. I thought to myself: Should I head home or give it one more try? Answering my own question, I responded, “Don’t give up just yet. You’ve got plenty of time.”
I then collapsed the tenkara rod, jumped in my car and headed back up road to some other holes that have been productive over the years. After trying one spot unsuccessfully, I drove up another quarter mile and parked. By this time it was 5:10 p.m. I quickly crossed a barbed-wire fence, extended the rod again, and bushwacked to a shaded area on the creek.
After crossing the creek, I fished a usually productive bend—still no bites. As I worked upstream, I cast to a fishy looking riffle and a cutty rose to the Renegade and sucked it in. I struck and drove the hook home. The little cutty was no match for the 12 foot tenkara rod and I quickly brought the little, golden beauty to hand. I was thrilled to accomplish the Royal Flush. With a few minutes left, I continued fishing, caught two more cutthroat in the creek’s skinny, clear water, and was on the road by 5:20 p.m. Mission accomplished!
Undoubtedly, feats like this are fun which is reason enough to try them. However, there are other compelling reasons to set such goals. While some may do them for the bragging rights, to me it is more about knowing your coverts and streams well enough to utilize them successfully—even when conditions are less than ideal. Another reason is the sweet memories they create. Accomplishments like this will keep you smiling for years to come.