Yeah, wow…2023 was undoubtedly the toughest year for fishing conditions we’ve had in our 25 season existence. That’s right, Trophy Trout Outfitters that operates as North Platte Lodge, The Reef Fly Shop and Pathfinder Outfitters ( our big game hunting operation) should have been tooting our horn for our 25th season throughout 2023. But we didn’t. More on that in a bit.
Back to the ’23 Grey Reef and Miracle Mile story. The winter of ’22/’23 was pretty good for moisture it just came in weird spurts. In central Wyoming we get a good bit of our water late in the spring. Those late dumps of heavy wet snow in the Snowy and Sierra Madre Mountain Ranges are great. They are 100 miles upstream and above our 5 reservoir system that creates a really good buffer/supplier of trout water 365 days a year. I’m not aware of a better situation than we have, seriously, no runoff and no hoot owl. The wild card is always those heavy snows landing in the Laramie Range and bypassing those 5 reservoirs and mostly the entire 80+ miles of the Grey Reef System. Sounds great, right? Great storage upstream that settles out what most anglers consider runoff…that is, high water combined with a silt load pushing down the ditch on its own free will. And, actual runoff entering the system below our huge fishery. It’s not so simple. There are other reservoirs and a state downstream. These complicate Grey Reef water operations.
We are graced by a great program called the “flushing flows”. It is normally in late March and surges of water for ten days in a row really purge a bunch of silt from critical spawning areas in Grey Reef…it also just makes the river nicer. These aren’t scary purges and lots of folks target the flush as THE time to fish Grey Reef. Whatever. This “excess” water is captured and held in Glendo Reservoir way down stream and is waiting for the call to be sent down for irrigation in a couple months. That’s all fine and dandy until the Laramie Range gets walloped and the runoff from that storm fills Glendo at a rate the Bureau of Reclamation didn’t anticipate. The first move is to reduce flows at Grey Reef, the next nearest and controllable source of water, that takes the burden off of Glendo. Keep in mind that Nebraska doesn’t want that water shipped since they’ve also had good spring moisture or are flooding already. Keep the water as high up in the system as possible! The result of all of this over info is that Grey Reef predictably gets its flows reduced and that exposes the spawning beds to fly angler predation and other sources that basically destroy that year-class of new trout. Is losing a few year class the end of the world? No, this is very common at Grey Reef and a reduction of the trout population would be a great scenario for the quality of fish and fishing but the game and fish play the numbers game over the quality game..and that is a problem for us but maybe good for less adept anglers. Grey Reef needs increasing/higher flows throughout the spawn for recruitment. 2023 had flows reduced throughout the spawn…ok, nothing new, we can work through that. Fishing is still awesome.
Then came the storms. And they came with great consistency. It was the “false summit” scenario from May through October. Every time the river would get back in shape after a gully washer we’d feel like we were going to get to run our normal free-range program of covering tons of water at will then the next storm would hit and the lower portions of the river or roads accessing the target would blow out. Sure we’d get a week of fishing the lower reaches then two weeks of being confined to the true Grey Reef Stretch or the Mile. 20 boats piling into the after bay…it was a disgusting display. Then the hatches would get rolling just to get plowed by another round of less than ideal river conditions. The anticipation of our dry fly season starting in mid July ( not including the Golden Stones in late June – early July…that was still very good) and getting to fish a bunch more water downstream keeps guide moral high and is what many of our guest have come to love about the summer and fall program. Central Wyoming couldn’t catch a break. It was ten seasons worth of water issues dog piled on Grey Reef in ’23.
Poor us, ha! The reality is that despite the rains we had a really good season when put in perspective. Our old adage is true “a tough day here is better than a good day on most fisheries”. We always have high quality fisheries available nearby and our guides and guest made the most of them when they wanted to see something other than Upper Grey Reef or the Mile. Some awesome fish caught in places that most don’t know or wouldn’t attempt. Our many private boat ramps kept us out of the mix as much as possible and the resourcefulness of the guide crew unmatched. Our guests seemed to still have a great time, the fact that you’ve rebooked for 2024 suggests that. Thank you…THANK YOU!
Mixed emotions, self reflection, relationships dwindling and new forming all contributed to a roller coaster of a year. Celebration dialed in just a bit lower than self pity so we figured we’d wait out the season and celebrate completing 25 years. This aligns with our urgently patient approach we take every single day. Here we are slapping ourselves on the back for making it through 25 years and not selling our souls or gaslighting our guests to do it. Let’s Party!