Fly Fishing the famous North Platte River in Wyoming
I have had the privilege to fish and guide fly fishing on the North Platte River near Casper, Wyoming for the last 26 consecutive springs. I know of no other fishery that has such diversity, quality and consistency. Throughout all this time, I have just begun to unlock the many secrets of this incredible river.
Just 30 minutes southwest from Casper, the tiny town of Alcova is home to mostly fishermen and guides, many living in retro 1950’s homes and trailers. Coming back here year after year is like entering a time warp; it appears to not ever change. If you really think about it, Alcova has everything an angler needs: lodging, a post office, one gas station/convenience store and of course one fly shop. A colorful bar/restaurant has mastered the American burger and fries; you can stand on a chair and thumb tack a dollar bill with your name on it to the ceiling too.
Known for its dense populations of hybrid Snake River cutbows and trophy size brown’s, the North Platte grows big trout, very fast – offering some of the best fly fishing in Wyoming. A classic tail water, the dozen or so miles of river below Grey Reef Dam (commonly know as Grey’s Reef but often spelled Gray’s by the Bureau of Reclamation) are home to an average of 3500 trout per mile. Wyoming landowner laws are similar to those in Colorado; if the land adjacent to the river is private, so is the river bottom extending to an imaginary line halfway across the river. Most of this upper river of the Reef is privately owned on both sides of the river, and thus restricts walk and wade access. This has reduced overcrowding sometimes experienced by anglers both wading and floating the same lanes in other rivers.
The North Platte meanders through a sandy, gentle, semi arid landscape. Drought tolerant native grasses and sagebrush are dominant, occasionally a cottonwood tree will also accompany. Antelope, mule deer, bald eagles, osprey’s and sand hill cranes are common sightings; waterfowl are everywhere. Spring brings out the rattlesnakes too.
Best fished from the comfort of a drift boat, the river is wide, cold and deep. Trout stack up in the deeper holes or “buckets” in sometimes very fast water. I like to fish from the bank in, casting towards the middle runs of the river. With the assistance of any available eddy or current break, I can row back upstream and again present flies through these productive areas.
The Platte is a conveyor belt of fish food, nurtured by dam-controlled excellent clarity and consistent cold-water temperatures. Eggs, scuds, leeches, crane fly larva, sow bugs, crayfish and of course the segmented worm, phylum Annelida, are readily eaten nearly year around. These are larger-than-average aquatic protein meals and a major contributor to the strong, athletic build of these trout that often become airborne when hooked. I know of no other trout fishery with harder fighting fish.
I prefer to fish bugs and small midges in black or darker colors; sizes 18 to 24 are my most common spring pattern. Sometimes olive works best; tan, grey, chocolate, cream, orange, yellow, woodcock, and peacock are all stocked in large inventories in my boat fly boxes. Add red, wine, purple and pink and you get a feel for the complexity of the flies that I am feeding to sometimes particular trout. A favorite client has begun to custom-tie these in even more creative experimental colors, changing the thread color, wire color, bead color, and body material to create literally hundreds of thousands of different combinations.
In May, baetis hatches start to dominate, mostly in the afternoons. Midge mornings and afternoon Ephemeroptera are common for my nymph rigs. I like to suspend the mayfly patterns however and fish emergers higher in the water column and or target shallower runs. Limited dry fly action in the lazy, slow water along the banks where these insects have collected all day can also be successful.
Pale Morning Duns are our favorite hatch and usually begin to show up in early June. Patterns in 16, 18 and 20 match these colorful bugs, and it’s always fun to go back to 4x tippet for tying on in the larger sizes.
I unfortunately miss the summer prolific trico hatches as I am back in Colorado guiding the Eagle River by late June. If you are fly fishing in Wyoming, be ready for world class dry and subsurface angling as these bugs come off in incredible numbers steadily for weeks and weeks.
Known for the quantity and quality of healthy, very well fed trout, the North Platte River has been a favorite destination for beginner and expert anglers for decades. Arguably the best tail water in the West, fishermen can access generous amounts of river miles of angler uncrowded but trout-filled runs. Incredible food sources and consistent water clarity and temperatures support large numbers of huge trout on the Platte; so good I have made it my Home for literally months each and every spring. Come experience one of the best trout fly fishing rivers anywhere, and join me in unlocking the many secrets of this amazing fishery. – Pete Mott