Wednesday, September 30, 2015

FISH XXIV: Overview and the First Couple Days

The annual FISH trip (Forum for Indiana Subjects in Healthcare) just concluded this last Sunday. This year was our twenty-fourth year and somehow it just keeps getting better and better. Not only did we enjoy some terrific fishing, but we also had a great time together. FISH XXIV had a few new attendees and they were warmly welcomed into the fold. Before I get into all the details... we enjoyed perfect weather (sometimes a bit too perfect!), a great group and awesome fishing on some of Wyoming's best streams.

As we did last year with FISH XXIII, we explored many rivers and streams on the eastern and western slopes of Wyoming's Bighorn Mountains. For most anglers, these waters are off their radar as we enjoyed some of the most remote and least pressured fisheries in the “Lower 48”. In this land of high sagebrush, working cowboys and irrigated alfalfa fields FISH was ensconced far away from the more well known angling "hot spots".

In order to access these areas and minimize the travel time needed to reach these waters, we headquartered FISH XXIV at the Red Reflet Guest Ranch near Tensleep, Wyoming. The Red Reflet is both a working cattle ranch and a luxurious resort. Located on over 27,000 acres, the Red Reflet's terrain varies from red rimrock to rolling foot hills to aspen groves, limestone canyons, and mountain meadows. In addition to the outstanding scenery, we enjoyed luxurious accommodations and simply outstanding cuisine. All anglers were housed in one of four expansive chalets each with an incredible view of the Big Horn, Jim Bridger, Owl Creek and Absoroka Mountains. Mealtime was truly memorable as much on the table was grown or raised on the ranch, then expertly prepared by the resident chef. Our food was delicious and beautifully presented.

But back to the fishing!
Over the 7 days of FISH XXIV, 
each attendee had opportunities to fish 4 distinct areas.

The first option was to explore the remote forks of the Powder River on ranches that sit at the mouth of red rock canyons. These ranches are near Butch Cassidy and the Sundance Kid's famous Hole-In-The-Wall. These beautiful canyons are home to small streams that have carved their way out of the mountains and into the prairies. Each day, the groups on these streams caught many 14-17 inch fish, some 18-20 inch fish, and a few over 20 inches. Rarely was our fishing anything less than outstanding!

The second area we fished was on Piney Creek near the site of the Fetterman Battlefield and Fort Phil Kearny. 
This year we secured fishing opportunities on two adjacent Piney Creek ranches. Here, Piney Creek epitomizes western brown trout water. Its runs and undercut banks make for classic fall hopper fishing. We had to be stealthy and methodical, but the reward was browns and rainbows from 16-24 inches.

The third area we fished was on the west side of the Bighorns on tributaries of Tensleep and Nowood Creeks. We fished a half dozen streams that flow through working cattle ranches. These streams will remain nameless. Suffice it to say, the fishing was outstanding with browns and rainbows up to 20 inches caught with the typical fish being 15-18 inches! 

In addition to the streams and creeks mentioned above, each angler got at least one day on Wyoming's Bighorn River. We float fished below the "Wedding of the Waters" where the Wind River becomes the Bighorn River near Thermopolis, Wyoming. To my mind, this is the best "big fish" tailwater fishery in the lower 48. The average fish on the Bighorn is 18 inches and each day numerous 20+ inch fish were caught. Due to our unseasonably warm weather, the river fished well in the mornings, but afternoons were tough... that was until our last day when a light cloud cover and cooler temperatures turned the river on. On that day, both the morning "itty-bitty" hatch and the afternoon "hopper" hatch were outstanding.

More on all the fishing in subsequent posts, but for now...

I want to thank... 
...all our guides: Justin, Cole, Jeff, Brett, John, Peter, Neil Alyssa, Gary and Clark!! You all did such a fantastic job. We hope to see you again soon... possibly next September! 
...the Red Reflet staff... what a wonderful job you did. The food was superb, the lodging fantastic, the ambiance wonderful and the organization perfect. A special thank you to Laurence and Bob Kaplan, Amy Zizzo, Chef Matthew Cariveau, Pastry Chef Sophia Beaton and Chef's Assistant Shauntel Thackery. 
...all the FISH XXIII trip members. Thanks for an absolutely wonderful trip. I had a great time seeing all of you again! What would the fall be without FISH! See you all next year for FISH XXV... 25 years-whew! It will be a celebration!

Wednesday, September 2, 2015

Dubois: Day 2

On the morning of our second and last day, we jumped in the 4-wheeler in the parking lot of the Twin Pines Motel in downtown Dubois. We headed south past the cemetery and into the high desert. We buzzed across big sagebrush flats and long benches of bleached prairie grass. We only slowed down to cross dry washes or gingerly traverse steep cut hills.

This appeared to be the habitat of Bighorn sheep, antelope and wintering elk. It seemed impossible that there was a trout stream flowing through all this desert, but soon enough the trail stooped at a canyon. We set the brakes on our 4-wheelers and peered into the canyon. Large pine trees and cottonwoods were framed by red rock cliffs and undercut yellow limestone corners. Through it all ran an impossibly beautiful stream. We had arrived.

After rigging up, we strapped on bear spray and pistols. Grizzly bear are always a threat in this country and if they were to be found anywhere, it would be in the river bottoms. Properly equipped, we set off down a steep rocky bank. Once off the hill, we pushed though the bankside willows and stepped into the cold, crystal clear water. The stream looked perfect!

If our first day was great, our second day was somehow even better. The hatch came off on schedule at 10:00 am and every fish in the river wanted to get their fair share. Every pool, every bend, every small scoop or divot in the bottom held big cutts that were either actively rising or willing to rise to a well-presented fly. Most pools produced dozens of takes with often a half dozen over 18 inches. Tony and I were constantly hooked up. It just doesn't get any better!

By 2:30 pm, we were ready for some lunch, so we turned around and hiked back downriver. Downstream of our entry point, we found an old homestead on a bench above the river. The site consisted of a few small log homes with sod roofs and a couple old corrals. I questioned how they managed to survive in this harsh environment. It might not seem so bad in late August, but when it's 20 below in February, life would be very tough indeed. One mistake, an illness or an accident and it was game over...

But not for us, we climbed out of the canyon, motored back thru the sagebrush and grass to beers and steaks at the Cowboy Cafe. Life is good!

Tuesday, September 1, 2015

Dubois: Our First Day

When you live in Wyoming and the holidays are over and its January and 10 below zero and blowing snow and you're going a bit stir-crazy, you dream about those perfect fishing days in late summer. At the end of August into early September, the days are still hot, but the willows and aspen are just beginning to take on a yellow tinge. At the end of summer, the streams are low and clear, the fish are hungry and eager and the dry fly fishing can be superb.

When you plan a trip for these days, you hope you get it right. You hope no early fall storm dashes your dreams. More often than not, your luck holds. But the days before your departure day are filled with anticipation and a bit of anxiety fueled by those rare years when things didn't go as planned. 

Last Thursday, Tony Wendtland and I left Sheridan for Dubois, Wyoming. We trailered Tony's 4-wheeler hoping to get in two good days in on remote streams he has fished since high school. We were not to be disappointed.

We drove west through the Bighorns, up Wind River Canyon, turned right at the struggling town of Shoshoni eventually arriving in Dubois in time for dinner and a beer. 

The next morning, we were up early and headed to Cathy's Cafe for a cup of Joe with some of Tony's cohorts before heading out of town to fish the Wind River. Tony's old friend, Lynn Stewart, followed us up into the high country until we could go no further and it was time for us to transfer from pickups to 4-wheelers. 

After a 30 minute scramble over rocky saddles and down steep hills, we reached what may be the most beautiful trout stream this side of New Zealand. Wide gravel bars filled the valley. Yellow stone walls dotted with pines framed the rocky bars until they met dark spires of volcanic rock off in the distance. Through it all ran a perfect stream. Turquoise pools, long riffled runs, steep graveled banks and long pine-shaded corners gave one a strong desire to venture upstream around the next corner. 

Lynn headed downstream and Tony and I headed up. We planned on leapfrogging some runs and fishing together on others. Our fishing was slow at first. We coaxed a few fish to the surface on small hoppers, but it was predictably slow. Then we noticed a few big drakes slowly buzzing about. It was 10:00 am. From then on it was game on!

Tony and I picked off fish after fish while wading from opposite sides of this run.

Over the next few hours, we picked off rising fish. Large trout sipped, rolled, swirled, followed and otherwise chowed-down. If we hadn't known the predominant species in this stream, we could have easily guessed by their distinctive behavior. This surface feeding "dance of the cutthroats" is mesmerizing with each crazy rise form guaranteeing you'll make "just one more cast" no matter how late in the day it is. I have no idea how many 16-19 inch cutthroats we caught. Plenty would be the answer!

Soon it was time for another bouncy 4-wheeler drive out, followed by beers, dinner and a bad James Bond movie. Again, perfect!

Nice try, but this is actually public land.

Next post:
The next day was somehow better than today!