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This page is about a second Wyoming fishing trip with my friend Robert Johnson who teaches ethics and metaethics in the philosophy department at the University of Missouri, Columbia. Robert has a book forthcoming from OUP which will sell many more copies than the ususal philosophy book because its topic will cause many bookstores to misfile it in the self-improvement section. A page about our first trip to fish Wyoming is here.
Since our first trip to fish Wyoming in 2008, when we fished primarily in Yellowstone with one very nice day on the Encampment, Robert and I have fished a few other locations outside of Wyoming, notably in Missouri where we fished the North Fork for Rainbows and Browns, and Arizona in January for rainbows. Each of these were enjoyable trips. So it seemed like a good idea to do a somewhat longer trip back to Wyoming in the Summer of 2011.
Our plan for was to fish various Wyoming streams using my cabin near Battle Pass outside of Encampment as a home base. Given its location just about on the Continental Divide this would allow us to fish for Colorado River Cutthroat trout in the Little Snake River drainage to the west, Browns, Rainbows and Cutthroats in the North Platte, Browns and Rainbows in the Encampment, Brook trout in various smaller streams and ponds in the area, and perhaps even some Greenback Cutthroats if we cared to venture South into Colorado. Early July should be late enough in the season for each of these ideas to pan out.
The Best Laid Plans . . .
Unfortunately the weather didn't seem to want the plan to work. I wasn't yet really worried about the record snows in the Rockies that were going to blow out the North Platte and Encampment Rivers as they melted off - last year was also a record around these parts and these rivers were fishing well by early July. But the snows took longer to melt off than last year (a good thing really as a sudden melt-off would really have been hell on the folks downstream). So when the waters rose later in June they surpassed the previous year's records on the Platte and Encampment Rivers. And before I could even get out west to inspect the cabin before the trip with Robert, there was word that Highway 70 on the other side of Battle Pass had suffered an avalanche due to saturated soils, leaving it looking like this:
So much for fishing the Little Snake River.
We Went Anyway
First we tried hiking up the North Fork of the Encampment River to some Beaver Ponds. The river itself was way to wild and high to fish - more like fishing a waterfall than a river. We cast around a small bit, but kept going. Above the trailhead (itself a longish hike down a 4WD trail) there are several beaver ponds in which I'd seen catchable fish the previous season. We tried but none made themselves evident this year. We kept hiking all the way to the falls but all I caught was this picture of Robert:
He seems to have caught this one of me:
So the next day we decided to try to fish on the other side of the divide, hopeful to find some tributaries of the Little Snake with lower water levels (because of faster melting on the West side) and Colorado River Cutthroat). We did get to see a lot of the area and eventually we did catch some very small fish that might well have been juvenile Colorado River Cutts. But nothing worth writing home (or the web) about or photographing for that matter.
So the next day we went up to the headwaters of the Encampment. But even there the Encamplent looked too high to wade safely, and it isn't much of a bank fishing river in the canyon in the Encampment River Wilderness. So we continued on to the East Fork. This looked better, but was also pretty high and difficult to fish. So we went back to Hog Park and fished the creek, again with little success. But we worked our way upstream on one of the forks to some beaver pond terraces. And there we started taking some beautiful Brook trout in the 5 to 9 inch range. It turned into a pleasant if mosquito filled evening, fishing dry flies to rising fish on still waters.
North Platte in Saratoga, at Treasure Island and at 6 Mile
We then spent a day trying various parts of the North Platte, including in town at Saratoga where Robert entertained some tourists by catching a large trout while they took pictures. I wasn't there to take any and he didn't get there numbers, so there aren't any photos. From there we tried to fish from Treasure Island, which is connected to the West Bank of the North Platte by a pedestrian bridge. Unfortunately, the whole thing seemed to be underwater, or at least it was hard to tell the island from the channel. We spent some time wading around trying to tell them apart, but we gave up eventually. But not without at least one photo op, of Robert on the bridge.
From there we went down to the North Platte access point known as Six Mile. As you might imagine it is six miles from something, which I believe to be the place the river crosses into Wyoming from Colorado. But I think it must be six miles of river and not as the crow flies - not that I've tried it either way. I believe Robert caught something or other that afternoon and I caught a snag or two. Robert also watched an accomplished teenage flyfisherman who worked shuttling vehicles for Hack's outfitters in Saratoga catch several largish trout in unlikely places along the bank using seat of the pants techniques. It was pretty impressive. We'd met him earlier in the afternoon upstream where he also pulled out a fish in very little time. This in a round about way led to a float trip later in the week.
A Day on Big Creek
But not before a day on Big Creek, a tributary of the Platte a bit North of Six Mile. We bank fished and while the river was too deep to wade across, you could at least safely get your feet wet. Each of us did OK there.
The fish there were healthily fat as the second photo shows. That fish was about 21 inches long, but its girth makes it look much shorter than that. The story goes that all the runoff has made many of the fish fat because it washes worms and terrestrials into the creek where the fish can eat them. So contrary to what I might have thought (which was that the additional work of fighting the current would be hard on the fish) the high waters are good for the fish and over the longer term for the fishing.
A North Platte Float Trip
As I mentioned our earlier contact with the younger guy from Hacks put us in mind of a float down the North Platte. We drove to Saratoga and arranged to meet a guide with a raft at Encampment too early the next morning. After various adventures trying to reach the stream across muddy access roads, we put in at 6 mile, for what was to be a 26 mile float if I recall correctly. The river was beautiful and the sun was out, but soon we were dogged by various storm clouds and some rain. Because the river bed belongs to the owners of property on either side there were few places to legally stop or pull out at various points on the trip despite fears about lightning. And I was somewhat underdressed for the coldish rainy weather we ran into; despite having brought a raincoat I had foolishly let it get wet in the bottom of the raft. We fished weighted streamers, mostly coneheads and wooly buggers, tied two to a line. It made for ugly casts on my part - my technique isn't anything to speak of even with a single dry fly, let alone two heavy wet flies.
Still it was a beautiful float, from Six Mile to Bennett Peak. We stopped for lunch at a campground on the East Bank of the Platte that I believe was the place that Jenny and I camped when I hatched the "let's buy some land and get a cabin in the Snowies" plan that eventually morphed into a cabin in the Sierra Madre Mountains. And Robert caught some fish.(That's our guide Jeremy on the left.)
One of the nice things about the trip was that when we were all done fishing Robert would sit on the porch and play guitar. (Sadly I never took a photo, though he took one of his guitar up on the porch which I'm stealing.) He's been playing since he was pretty young and has recently worked on a bunch of bluegrass tunes (in a relatively extended sense of bluegrass). He also knows rock and pop going back quite a ways and our tastes overlap for the most part. (I think I've run into stuff I like that he doesn't but very little going the other way.) Every once and a while I could help him figure out how some song would go, but his repertoir was extensive and he can play really really well. So I'd burn wood from one of the burn piles that needed disposal in the burn barrel, and he'd play, and eventually we'd make dinner. A nice way to end a day of fishing.
Back to Big Creek
We spent the remaining days back at big creek where we did very well catching larger browns and rainbows throughout the next two days.
The first two shots are of Robert playing the rainbow trout in the third shot.
Most of the fish were Browns; each of these was around 19 inches long. They're very pretty fish and it was nice to put them back in the water and see them swim away.
Which raised an interesting question. We'd been told that 17 inch fish were large for Big Creek, but that one of the local dude ranches stocked the creek near its mouth with larger rainbows trout. But several of even the brown trout were larger than that. Had the fish we were catching found refuge from the wilder waters of the North Platte? Clearly there were still larger fish in the North Platte as testified to by the guides. The story goes that the surface velocity of a river is much faster than that near the bottom and in any case there are places down there for large fish to hide. But perhaps the fish we caught were smart and lazy and only temporary residents of Big Creek. We'll have to go back and check it out. Catching fish adds to the fishing enjoyment, but an afternoon on the creek is pleasant in any case.
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