Fishing the Bighorns - Wyoming
Here is an account of a fishing trip Dave V and I took in July 2007.
Bighorn Trip 2007
In July 2007 my friend and co-worker Dave and I took a few days off work and hit the road for Sheridan Wyoming. Dave drove as I broke open my tying kit and began adding a few last minute creations to my fly box arsenal. We stopped at the Visitor Center in Buffalo on the way and purchased our licenses. Before long we were in Sheridan and wound our way up into the beautiful mountains to our fly fishing destination, the South Tounge river.
We arrived at our chosen spot around noon and climbed into our waders. The sky was clear and the sun warm and pleasant. There was almost no wind. The stream was clear and beautiful, gurgling happily through the meandering willows under a backdrop of Ponderosa lined granite mountains.
I walked down the bank and immersed my felt bottom wading shoes and stood in the clear bright afternoon surveying the water. While looking for bugs and feeding lanes I contemplated what a cut-throat trout looked like. I had never actually caught a cut-throat trout before and was thrilled at the prospect of landing one on this day. I waded up along the banks until I came to a turn in the stream that looked like a good habitat for my quarry. I looped my bright green line and passed it through my rod guides. Then reached for my box of glass-bead nymphs. It was not there. Just an open zipper and an empty vest pocket. The box that I had prepared for this trip had fallen out of my pocket and floated downstream to who-knows-where. Fortunately, I carry many fly boxes. I pulled out my box and selected a searching pattern; a # 18 Royal Coachman. I quickly tied on and began casting. No fish rose, but I could see a PMD hatch beginning. As I became more in tune with the stream I began to see the trout rise, and then pop steadily on the hatch. The fish were not keying on my fly. I needed a pattern that was comparable to the hatch. And what more comparable fly to a PMD than an olive Comparadun? I had learned to tie Comparaduns from my neighbor who was a professional fly guide and worked at the local fly shop. He tied them so perfectly with wings that looked like a tiny fan brush. I had not yet perfected my Comparaduns, but I could tie them close enough to interest the fish. I cast into a few pools and began to have trout nose my fly.
After a few minutes I rounded a bend and found a perfect setting. On the left there was a deep pool with a fallen tree laying down into it.
The stream entered from the right where there was a small waterfall I saw several trout stacked behind the waterfall. I cast into the feeding lane and hooked up. It was moments later that I landed my first cutthroat. It was about 12 inches long. I landed several fish after this including a beautiful brown colored cutthroat.
Then I spotted, just down stream from the waterfall, a large trout head popping up to eat a PMD. It was an amazing 21” cut with a tail almost the size of my hand. Casting would be tricky. There was a branch over the waterfall and the mend would have to be perfect to present a drop over the small waterfall without submerging the fly. I cast up into the pool and let the fly drift under the branch. It took 30 minutes and three rises by this fish before successfully hooking up. When it rose and took my Comparadun I lifed my rod and felt the weight of the fish on my line.
She took off thrashing and running. Line began zinging from my reel and I used my palm to slow it. I had to be very careful as I had tied on a 7X tippet and one wrong move would lose this fish. I played the fish for several minutes. At several times during this fight she tried to go around the tree trunk which lay in the water. I knew if she made it there she would wrap the line around and break off. I added as much tension as I believed possible without breaking off and steered the cut away from the branch. Eventually she played out and I pulled her up to the bank. I hurried out my camera and took several photos. I held and admired the cutthroad under the water for several minutes before she wiggled away like nothing happened.
After a while I departed that incredible pool and went looking for Dave. I found him back about three river bends not looking too happy. Apparently he spent the better part of the hatch looking for me upstream and had encountered another fisherman he had mistaken for me and reported that he was soundly scolded by the angler for encroaching on his pool. Dave was also having a hard time hooking up to fish and had not landed a single trout all afternoon. I gave him a few Comparaduns, but we were at the very tail end of the hatch and he only had a few rises. It was time to take a break.
Dave and I drove up to Burgess Junction, a gas-station, restaurant, and gift shop where I ordered a beer and Dave ordered an Iced tea, followed by a very satisfying dinner. There were several hours left in the day so we decided to try our luck at Lake Sibley from our float tubes. The lake was the perfect size for our float tubes. We kicked our way out to the opposite shore and fished for about an hour without a bite. I figured the fish would become more active at sunset.
Just as the sun went down we heard a loud crash on the water. A beaver who disagreed with our presence on the lake made his objections known with a litany of loud slaps of his tail on the water.
Soon the sun went down and we began to catch fish. They were very small but beautiful Bonneville trout. Dave was becoming less disappointed with his afternoon with each fish he reeled in.
The Sun was going down on our first day in the Big Horns, and the day ended with a spectacular sunset.
Dave woke me up at the crack of 4:00 the next morning and we hurried our belongings together and headed back to the river. We started out fishing by some campground but it was sadly and expectedly fished out. We headed upstream from the area we were fishing the day before. Dave took off upstream and I hung around the willows within 1 mile of our parking spot. There were several shallow channels only a foot or two wide weaving around the willows. I watched many decent sized cuts dart up and down these channels as I walked past. Soon I came to a deep pool. There were no fish rising that morning so I set my line up for nymph fishing. I tied 6x tippet onto my leader and selected a bead-head pheasant tail from my box. A foot up from the fly I twisted on a small dab of shape-a-weight and began to roll cast into the pool. I hooked up instantly to a decent sized cut. A few casts later I caught a pretty native rainbow. I even caught a brookie. All out of the same pool!
I stayed at this pool for about an hour catching fish after fish. Most were small, but I caught a few nice sized cutthroat too. The fly pattern did not matter as long as it had a bead-head.
After a while I began to feel a little tired and walked upstream to find a place to sit and relax. There was an amazing bend in the river where the water seemed to just disappear into the willows. I sat and reflected on this beautiful place and walked around taking pictures of wildflowers and the scenery.
I hiked back to the truck and spotted Dave walking back in the distance. He reported having an amazing morning too. He said he caught several cutthroat between 19 and 21 inches and emphasized that the fish were getting larger the further upstream he went.
We decided to get some food so we got back in the truck and drove back to Burgess Junction. Dave was very excited about how his luck had turned around this morning. We had another good meal but were starting to get tired. Dave drove down to Burgess Pass in search of Moose. There is a beautiful creek that runs through Burgess pass. The creek is dotted with boulders and one can hop from one to another while fishing the deep pools.
We didn’t have very much luck fishing Burgess Pass, but we weren’t trying very hard either. It was time to head back home. We jumped in the truck and enjoyed the scenery as we drove down the mountain. Now that fishing adventure is just a memory, but what a great memory to enjoy.
Best Fishes everyone! Thanks for reading.