In my last post, we were just pushing off onto a river somewhere in central Wyoming that is rarely, if ever, floated. As we slid out into the swift current, we had no idea what to expect. Could we make our way through the logjams and sweepers we had heard about from the ranchers? Would we find any fish? And most importantly, did we have enough for lunch?… It was time to find out…
The river started out fast and shallow. We wove though small cutbacks and over stacked gravel bars. The gradient was obvious. Looking downstream you could see the river fall away as it slid into a tailout or rounded the next bend. We knew we had to stay on our toes… sometimes quite literally! Chad and I would stand up on tip toe to see what that next rapid held then discuss the best line. "River right… River left… center sleeper… it's just a big wave." Chad and I repeatedly and often gave our opinion on the read of the water to each other. This would not be a good place to flip a raft and comparing notes greatly increases your odds!
Once underway after a scout, Scott and I cast to any holding water: the shelves, seams, eddies and foam pockets went by in a flash. While Chad was busy on the oars, Scott and I were busy shotgunning likely spots as they flew by. We tried to cast well ahead of the raft, but often the speed of the current caused us to overrun our flies before we could establish a proper drift. Consistent rapids were linked by swift gravel bars which continued mile after mile. Sometimes the Class II-III water came from the pinches at gravel bars, while at other times standing waves and recirculating holes developed adjacent to small cliffs or where the river ran over polished bedrock shelves.
By lunchtime, we had tallied only a few small fish. We had raised nothing very large or noteworthy at all. We knew that often cutthroat rivers don't start producing until the afternoon so we remained optimistic.
The morning run had been beautiful and engaging… and a bit nervous. In particular we had one incident while negotiating a riverwide sweeper. Scott and I had walked around the obstacle to make the boat lighter and easier for Chad to row. He was going to try to row under it. All went well until he hooked a seat on a strong branch which pulled one side of the raft down. In the swift current, Chad had to quickly high-side the raft to prevent it from flipping. His quick thinking saved the day and he emerged in the eddie below a bit shaken, but unscathed. We stopped for lunch soon thereafter and that's when our day took a dramatic turn for the good…
While preparing lunch, we saw a quick rise. After a series of 5 or 6 drifts over a shelf, a big cutty hit Scott's foam hopper. This fish took a good while to land in the swift current, but eventually he was netted and measured at 18 inches. It was a good start!
From that moment on every foam eddie held a big fish. The likely looking spots like grassy deep banks and gravel bar eddies were almost aways unproductive, but foam eddies, foam lines and foam seams often held big fish. We caught numerous 17-19 inch fish with our best fish reaching nearly 20 inches. This fish had an amazing girth for its size. A true fatty!
We suspected the fish density was not high, but those fish that managed to survive in this river were obviously big! It was a great day: we saw some new water, we caught some big trout and most importantly, we survived. What more could you ask for?!