Anything Fly Fishing

Trout Fishing by Horse Pack in the Wind River Range

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Hundreds, perhaps thousands, of alpine lakes lie within in Wyoming’s Wind River Range. Carved out by glaciation, many lakes are cold and deep and provide excellent habitat for a variety of trout species: cutthroat, rainbow, brown, golden, and brook trout, and grayling too. In many lakes the trout are plentiful, and easy to catch.

Ross Lake is not one of those lakes. Ross holds rainbows and cutthroats that average 20 inches in length and top out near 30 inches, and let’s say they present a more formidable challenge than the eight-inch brook trout that some of the other lakes hold. On my last trip there I fished it hard, got four bites and hooked only one fish, which I broke off. My two sons also went fishless. Fishing is fishing, no matter where you go. You couldn’t ask for a more stunning setting, though.

You could shoulder a backpack and hike in to many of the lakes in the Wind River Range. On one trip over 40 years ago, that’s exactly what I did. My significant other (we weren’t yet married) and I hiked more than 80 miles over 13 days, carrying backpacks that, at the start of trip at least, were staggering. We started at Pinedale, made a large loop through the mountains, fished a lot of different streams and lakes, and yes, we did catch a lot of fish.

Or you could do what we did on this most recent trip: hire an outfitter, hop onto a horse, ride into an area and set up a base camp, and then ride to all the prime fishing spots. This is, of course, much easier and a lot more comfortable. The day at Ross Lake notwithstanding, yes, we did catch a lot of fish.

Hiring an outfitter is similar to hiring a guide, the most notable differences being that the outfitter will feed and shelter you for several days (that number being up to you) in addition to supplying the means of transportation. You bring in your own pillow, sleeping bag, sundries and fishing gear, and the outfitter supplies everything else.

Brook trout filled Wasson Creek, with our camp in the distance.

The outfitter we used on our trip was Fritz Meyer of Wind River Mountain Outfitters, operating out of Dubois. Fritz’s camp was nine miles from the trailhead in a small meadow formed by Wasson Creek, which is, of course, full of brook trout. We spent five days with Fritz- a day in, a day out, and three days fishing in four different lakes and in Wasson Creek. We caught browns, brookies, rainbows, cutthroats, and grayling, mostly on various types of dry flies. Fritz is now retired, but other outfitters are available.

Ross Lake, where the big fish were, was the challenge. We started there by blindly casting large attractor streamers. When it became obvious that this strategy wasn’t working, I began walking the shoreline looking for fish, no easy task. In most places the banks are high and steep, and in many places they consist of sheer, impassible cliffs.

I did find visible fish cruising in water shallow enough to make sight fishing possible. The first ones I found inspected and refused my offering, a size 16 Adams on a 5X tippet. I tied on a section of 6X tippet and tried again. A big rainbow hit like a freight train, and I broke it off on the strike.

I found several other groups of hard-to-convince fish, and managed three more takes on a size 14 elk hair caddis, all three of which I failed to convert. I must say the transition from tarpon fishing (what I was doing before going to Wyoming) to trout fishing is large.

Cutthroat trout on a streamer.

The other lakes were much easier fishing, particularly Boone Lake, where the grayling were. Son Maxx caught a grayling, released it, immediately tossed the fly in front of it, and caught it again, a scenario that’s more typical of Wind River Range trout.

Son Alex did not enjoy tying trout flies and had bought a box of two-dollar cheapos at a mart store. He caught fish on all of them. These fish have a short growing season and most of the time they feed like they realize it.

Wyoming’s Wind River Range offers the fly angler a chance to catch wild, unsophisticated trout in a spectacular, pristine setting. Whether you choose to walk in or ride a horse, a visit to the Wind River mountains is a trip everyone who loves wild places should make.

Part of the pack train, on break.

What to Bring

In addition to your pillow, sleeping bag, clothes, toiletries, raingear, and other assorted personal items, you will need fishing tackle. While we brought and were very pleased with nine-foot, four piece four-weights made by Temple Fork Outfitters, your rod choice really depends on your casting skill more than on the size of the fish. This being trout fishing, not a lot of long casting is needed anyway.

As mentioned in the main body of this piece, the fish generally are not very selective about flies. I started tying a couple of months ahead of time and ended up with, for me here in Florida, what is probably a lifetime supply of trout flies. The flies I had my best luck with were the Royal Coachman #14, the Adams #16, the Elk Hair Caddis #14, and the Stimulator #12. That having been said my best fish was a 16″ cutthroat that took an olive #12 wooly bugger. If you already fish for trout you won’t need anything special. Whatever you currently have in your boxes will work just fine.

John Wayne, or rather, my son Alex, on a horse on a ridge.

Booking an Outfitter

Many outfitters lead horse packing trips into the Wind River Range and other locations in Wyoming. Horses are large animals and relatively few people have them, compared to say dogs or cats.

For non-horse people they can be intimidating. Good outfitters have horses that are patient, calm, and know where they’re going almost as well as does the outfitter. The outfitter will give you a quick lesson on how to ride, but most pack horses simply follow the horse in front of them. Although you might have a better time if you know how to ride, you really don’t have to know very much about riding in order to enjoy yourself.

Pack trips can be either base camp trips (you stay in the same base camp every night and make day trips from there), which is what we did, or through trips (you break camp every morning and set up a new one every evening). Base camp trips are more comfortable and less work. Discuss with the outfitter what you want to do before booking the trip.

On a horsepack trip the main activities besides riding include fishing, wildlife watching (we saw a black bear, mountain goats, and elk, among other things), photography, and simply enjoying the incredible scenery. Again, discuss with the outfitter what you’d like to do before booking the trip.

If you have any questions about the outfitter’s operation that haven’t been answered by them, ask for references, then call those references. We picked Fritz in large part due to the glowing reports we got from his references. Many outfitters have the same people return year after year. Those are the types of people you want to go out with.

One of many brookies we caught on our trip.

The Wyoming Outfitters Association has some of Wyoming’s best and most dedicated outdoor professionals and they are ready to help you plan your next Wyoming outdoor vacation. They can be reached at 307.265.2376, or on the web at www.wyoga.org.

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