In the Middle of Nowhere- a Minute from Everything


 

Anglers seek great fishing, that’s no secret. We also want our trip to include an adventure component and a little exclusivity. Grey Reef is still a far lesser known angling destination despite, objectively, being a in the top tier of superior fisheries based on a bunch of features. It is tough to match Grey Reef’s healthy numbers of trout, large average size with gargantuan trophy specimens, relatively low to absurdly low angling pressure (season dependent), access, abnormally good water conditions all year long, proximity to a bunch of stellar fisheries and being able to provide a great experience to a broad range of anglers from novice to advanced and all ages. Of course, that’s what we’ve always prided ourselves on providing while not diminishing what fly fishing really is. We Grey Reef Road locals are loaded to be, not only an invaluable resource for visiting anglers that are not booking guides with us, but also providing a guided/hosted program that aligns with skilled, traditional and conscious fly angling.

Like you, we are destination anglers. We’ve tailored our operations to fill gaps that we see in many of the fisheries we visit. As anglers, we need a great place to stay, food, drink, fuel, great guides and advice and flies…a cool vibe is an added bonus.  Pretty simple, but hard to pull off since most great outdoor experiences are isolated from amenities or manufactured and lose the soul you get with rustic establishments built and operated by locals. Think the modern ski resort. Alcova, WY and Grey Reef are different. While we don’t have the engineered facilities that are planned, proposed and built in bulk we have the best kind of amenities. These amenities were here before Grey Reef became known in the fly fishing world. They’ve been here for a very long time to serve the ranching community of this special, unmolested region of Wyoming. They are loaded with character/s and the things we need. The North Platte Lodge and The Reef Fly Shop properties were just lucky enough to be the first fly fishing operations to set up shop on the lower North Platte River over 25 years ago. That’s why we have these insane locations. Grey Reef Road was once the main highway from Casper to Rawlins, Wyoming but has now been reduced to a mile and a half long, dead-end relic of the old days that accesses the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River and our two locations. North Platte Lodge was a feed ground before it was built and The Reef Fly Shop was the location of and old road house bar. It was a scary proposition to make investments and carve out a first of its kind outfitting business on an entirely unknown fishery. What is often overlooked are the local businesses that make The Reef Fly Shop and North Platte Lodge visit unique and position us in the ideal location to provide an experience only we can. We are in the middle of nowhere but a minute from everything.

The Sunset Grill: Locals call it the The Sunset and has been an Alcova fixture for many decades. Just a 3 minute walk or a sub one minute drive from your cottage at The Reef Fly Shop, Sunset burgers are legendary. Nobody who comes to fish Grey Reef should miss an experience at the Sunset. Seriously, you’ll bump into a variety of folks from local ranchers to anglers from all regions of the country to the lake folks stopping in for a burger before the 30 minute drive back home to Casper. It is a little salty and family friendly but is also a great spot to grab a cold beer, pin a doodled dollar to the wall and meet your new best friends. If the drive though doesn’t blow your mind, when they hand you a cocktail out the window will.

Sloane’s General Store: Sloane’s has been in business for a 100 years. Their location is a touch over a minute drive from The Reef Fly Shop and is a must do stop for a scoop or two of ice cream. They sell fuel, basic groceries, firewood, propane, souvenirs, beer, boating and fishing supplies etc. Sloane’s will build you a pizza that you can pick up 15 minutes after your order. They have prepared food like breakfast burritos, cinnamon rolls and pizza that you can grab anytime. These are prepared fresh and onsite. They also have the original vacation rentals in Alcova and the fall-back if we are booked.

Windy Waters RV: This is a newer operation and is located across the road from Sloane’s General Store. They provide RV campsites and allow long term stays. While The Reef Fly Shop RV sites are closer to fishing (walk out in front of the shop) and Grey Reef boat ramp/fishing access, nicer views and a great vibe at the the fly shop property. Windy Waters is a solid nightly option and provides month long or longer living.

Alcova Post Office: it does post office things but you can also pick up bird hunting licenses if you forgot to get yours online. Another one-minute destination from your cottage.

Alcova School: K-8 rural school situated below Alcova Dam 4 or 5 minutes from the shop. Not sure if there is another public school anywhere who has world class angling a few skips from the playground!

North Platte Lodge:  That’s us. Owned and operated by fly fishing guides with deep and lengthy connections to the fly fishing industry. The original inclusive fly fishing lodge serving Grey Reef and Miracle Mile with great food, the best and most experienced guide crew in the business and the undisputed prime location for those targeting the Grey Reef, Fremont Canyon and Miracle Mile sections of the North Platte River. The Grey Reef boat ramp is visible from the awesome deck and your guide will have you at the boat ramp in a minute. We often trailer our boats with oars in the oar locks and straps off ready to launch as soon as you pull up. With rods already rigged you are making casts while others get their straps off of their boats. The lodge is a little over a minute drive from The Reef Fly Shop, Cottages and RV and is a nice one mile walk along the very low and slow traffic Grey Reef Road. The lodge has some of the best trout water in the world a couple minute walk from the front door. We also have upland, waterfowl and big game hunts as well as hunting/fishing packages.

The Reef Fly Shop, Cottages & RV: That’s us. Custom flies, expert (and friendly) advice, our overqualified guide crew, RV sites, drift boat rentals, vacation rentals, BuffTrout swag, cigars, beer. Apres beers on the covered patio, every evening.

That’s it, aside from a few residences and primitive camping options. Alcova has pretty wild geology (paleontology, archeology etc) so the topography hides sight of other locations in many cases…especially the North Platte Lodge, we are way off of the highway and around the bluff from the shop, the Sunset, Sloane’s etc but the only to have outfitter to have front row seats to Grey Reef the fishery. The airport is a 40 minute drive. If you need groceries, restaurants, a mechanic, hospital or any other services you’d expect in a city, Casper is only a 30 minute drive. We are the nearest outfitter to Miracle Mile at a 30 minute approach and Fremont Canyon, Alcova Reservoir, Pathfinder Reservoir at 15 minutes and the after bay section is at your ready right in front of the shop.

Grey Reef doesn’t play second fiddle to any fly fishing destination.

 

2023 Season Re-Crap


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!

Boat Lunches


Katherine “KK” Tatum, co-owner and NPL house-mother since 2007

 

This is a funny-peculiar subject. Here is our perspective and why we have always provided boat lunches over cooking a shore lunch and why we don’t believe in developed lunch locations. Boat lunches are brown bag affairs with a sandwich, pasta salad or potato salad, fruit, chips, and a snack. They are portable and prepared in a controlled environment by folks who have to comply with food service regulations…more on that in a moment.

Developed lunch locations, while park-like, don’t align with an outdoor experience. They corral your guide to having to arrange the fishing around the lunch location. The best fly fishing opportunities rarely happen this way. Our focus is the fishing and there are times we are moving slow and times we are moving fast based on a myriad of factors. River traffic, wade fishing, rising fish, the current hatch, water conditions, weather etc can all impact the pace you and guide will be traveling down the river. Developed locations stymie any spontaneity, that we feel, should be mandatory for a day of fishing. Guides who have fixed lunch locations have a program where they have to spend X amount of time in each run between here and the lunch spot. It contributes to over-fishing runs and degraded fishing. It is also demoralizing as a guide…we want to be able interact the best way we can with our guests and the fishery and this “program” kills creativity and the things we all find rewarding about fly fishing. That’s also why we shuttle guide rigs and trailers early…if the day dictates getting off of that section of river early and going to fish somewhere else, that’s what we do. That’s the beauty of our location and having our own shuttle service. There are so many fishing opportunities so close that we can make those change orders without sacrificing a bunch of your time.

We have an awesome crew of fly fishing guides. They are wildly capable in that realm but our interview process doesn’t include their culinary prowess…that isn’t their job. I started my guide career working for an outfitter that just provided supplies for sandwiches, boxes of cookies and big bags of chips. The guests made their own sandwich and everybody’s gross hands were reaching into the cookie box or chip bag. It saved the time and expense of preparing food and was relatively hassle free and didn’t eat up a bunch of time in the fishing day. The leftover supplies were used for the next group the next day and so on. This is fine for your family or friends but lets be honest, there are a good percentage of the guides who are pretty dirt baggy…do you really want them to be managing days and weeks worth of cold cuts that you are about to consume?

Shore lunches are a hot option cooked on the spot. This happens one of two ways. The guide carries a grill and raw meat in the boat or they stop at a developed location where a grill is present. We already covered the developed lunch spots so we’ll focus on the grill packing guide. The first and most obvious factor is that preparing a hot meal requires more time from your guide and less time the guests actually get to fish. The grill takes up more room in the boat, it can be stinky and attract flies. Remember the dirt bag guides? Yeah, it isn’t uncommon for them to have a problem with cleanliness and do you want them packing around raw chicken that you are about to consume? Guides are working their butts off and doing it for many days in a row, many days of the year. They get worn down and there are details they they’ll let slide as they get deeper into the season. I’ve known many fly fishing guides in my life and have a pretty good view of the general personality traits. As a rule,  I do want them guiding me over a pod of rising trout, I don’t want them preparing a meal in a river side environment. Guides need a lunch break, too. We aren’t saving the expense of a prepared meal by putting it on the backs of our guide staff. Shore lunch is a cost saving option for outfitters. This might seem counterintuitive but it is true. Lunch is re-gen time for you and your guide so they will be in peak performance mode for the after lunch session. Guides don’t get a chance to recoup while preparing your food, cleaning and packing it up.

Many outfitters order lunches from a restaurant and have them delivered to their location to distribute to their guides. Good food and a valid option.

We have a commercial kitchen that many restaurants would be envious of and have permits that require us to comply with food service regulations. Our awesome staff prepares the food and put it in refrigeration. We provide ice to the guides so the lunch is immediately put on ice once it comes out of the fridge. Boat lunches are prepared daily. This costs a bunch more since we have facilities and kitchen staff employed for this purpose. We aren’t trying to wow you with the lunch. Our mission is to provide a hearty and fresh meal while you and your guide focus on having a bad ass day chasing trout and reveling in the outdoors. If you want to be wowed by food our North Platte Lodge chefs will take care of that at dinner service.

 

 

 

Grey Reef – Flows are Irrelevant


The start of the Grey Reef flushing flow is coming up this Monday, March 20 so we feel like it’s a good time to talk North Platte River flows and how they impact fly fishing production or “quality”. Flows are going to start with a smaller burp of water this year to help nudge some lingering ice out of the way before a bigger push a day or two in. The first day will likely not be quite as turbid as you might be used to and far less than we remember from decades past when Grey Reef was way more silty. Is the flush an event every angler needs to be here for? No. Creative anglers do well and process anglers not so much….especially in the beginning. This isn’t a jab, just the truth. The process anglers will do great after the flush is over.  It does, however, present a huge opportunity for folks to grow in their angling. When you have an epiphany that shatters your preconceived notion, it’ll change your approach forever. This is the progression of an angler (guide). The progression of an angler is the best possible thing for a fishery, the fish and those who are your students/guests. It is really a built-in path to being more conservation or preservation minded and it is entirely done by gaining a skill set.

Flows through the season ultimately don’t matter much. During the spring season when warm water temps do not threaten the well being of the trout, 500cfs winter flows to 8000cfs flood stage, is all good. Keep in mind we don’t have traditional runoff. We like big water and this comes down to being creative and confident with all flows and hatches rather than process driven. We love  changes in flow because it moves fish to cool new places and keeps it interesting. It doesn’t change the quality of fishing…at all.

Low flows in the summer fish great but do present the chance of overly warm water on many western drainages. Lucky for Grey Reef , it has been a long time since we’ve had sub 1800cfs flows during the warm weeks.

Some flow changes we aren’t super fond of. Not because of the fishing but because of the effort or the way it impacts time. 2500cfs fishes great but has a strange way of negating eddies. Slack water is pretty handy, especially when rowing the boat. Late in the season when flows drop back to winter levels…the river moves sooooo slow. Sometimes it makes it feel like time is standing still. But, fishing is great and it is better for AM trico spinner dry fly sessions and afternoon psuedo surface snacking. This is a guide problem and not an angler problem… you all are catching fish and the places they are coming from seem a little more evident.

Don’t sweat the flows…they don’t really matter. We don’t have runoff and we don’t have hoot owl restrictions for warm water. We can’t imagine it’ll  happen this year with our awesome snowpack. Bottom line is Grey Reef is an incredibly productive and consistent year round fishery. It’s like a loving, even-keeled and understanding spouse that isn’t afraid to party.

 

Fremont Canyon Before Disneyland


Cruising through social media this morning and the above picture immediately caught my eye. Our friend, Bill Bohman Art on Facebook and  @billbohmanart on instagram, crafts some really cool art that is often fly fishing centered. I have a set of Bill’s traditional fly pattern prints displayed in my family room. In reality, our family is not into the fly fishing art theme but, man…he hits the mark. His depiction of this scene instantly had me traveling back to a time before Fremont Canyon, aka Cardwell, had been manufactured and developed into what I often describe as a Disneyland fishery.

In the early 2000’s the Cardwell Access Area project was completed. This project had 4 major players that collaborated to develop the meadow below Pathfinder Dam and above the next entrance to Fremont Canyon. The Cardwell Family agreed to allow public access, the Bureau of Reclamation agreed to a 75 CFS minimum flow from Pathfinder, the Wyoming Game and Fish agreed to stock and manage the fishery, as well as, install pit toilets and parking areas while the Wyoming Fly Casters helped with the plan and raised cash and awareness. Voila! A small stream experience emerged from nothing…or did it? Don’t get me wrong, I’m not hating on this fishery, this development has really been an overall benefit to anglers, the local visitation economy and the scenery. What most folks aren’t aware of is that there was already a thriving fishery, hiding in plain sight, with amazing access. It was a little sad when the track hoes showed up to manufacture a small stream bed in the meadow to optimize the 75 CFS minimum flow but we could also reasonably predict the consequences and realized it wasn’t a heartbreaking event then or now.

There were no fences, trails or trespassing signs. The traditional river bed is what you expect from a good-sized river whose flows were diverted through a tunnel carved in the canyon wall. Pathfinder is a granite block dam that seeps water. There was always some water coming from Pathfinder upstream and fish could access Fremont Canyon via Alcova Reservoir below…a fishery existed. Access also existed. Fremont Canyon has always been one of Wyoming’s shock-and-awe geologic features but it was only recognized by a few sightseeing locals and the local climbing community. There is a good road through the canyon and there was a sandy two track approach from Pathfinder Rd to the perfect campsite right at the mouth of the canyon. It was best when the North Platte River was released to flow down the canyon. It was hard to sleep, despite the ideal sandy spot to toss your sleeping bag,  with the river roaring as it entered the mouth of the canyon. The beers flowed nicely while consumers were sitting on the diagonal rock layer depicted in Bill’s art above. Similar to a rock concert, being so close to the powerful, smooth tongue of the river as it dropped in encouraged tight lips or necessitated a pretty boisterous conversation.

The campsite was a sandy depression, flanked by the cliff and fronted by junipers that separated the fire pit from the river. One late night at the campfire my buddy pointed beyond me and firmly said “what are you doing?”. Knowing he wasn’t talking to me but rather something behind me, I immediately became concerned for my well being. A couple frogs had popped out and joined us at the fire. I survived that scare.

The Fremont story that has been the most impactful to my development as a guide, angler and my outdoor recreation ideology happened one afternoon after taking our guests/anglers to Miracle Mile for a few hours of wade fishing. North Platte Lodge was in operation prior to the Fremont Disneyland development but I would divert through the canyon after fishing the Mile to blow my guests’ minds with the views, and if they were game, drop in for some fishing. This particular afternoon I was leading another group along with my guests. The other guide was pretty inexperienced and not at all familiar with Fremont Canyon fishing. We parked along the road and I pointed he and his anglers to the prime hopper water in the meadow. The potholes in the slough were always good for a couple hopper eaters each. Easy pickings and some really impressive fish! I took my anglers around the bend and into the canyon. After a couple hours we emerged and the other guide was nowhere in sight…nor was his vehicle. We reunited back at the lodge and I asked where he went. He explained that as they were rigging their hopper rods a Game and Fish warden drove up and asked what they were doing. He stated the obvious and the warden replied with “there are no fish in here, we haven’t even stocked it”. That zapped all of his confidence and embarrassed him in front of his guests. They left without ever making a cast. I don’t recall how we did that afternoon in the canyon but I will never forget the lessons of that day. I often reflect on that experience and how misguided it was on several levels. Decades later we still struggle with these issues from all players in this story. Erik

 

Evolution of a Tailwater – Grey Reef


Scrapbook memory from 1996. “The Meat Hole”  pre North Platte Lodge. Looking downstream to the “Outhouse Hole” aka Pete’s Draw.

Things change. Sometimes we accept them and other times we feel it degrades our experience enough that we discontinue pursuing it. Sometimes these changes are clearly laid out and other times they are a slow progression and, oftentimes, a bit mysterious. The Grey Reef section of the North Platte River has maintained a mythic, prolific and in demand status while it has slowly transformed from the fishery we knew before guides hit the scene. The “old” Grey Reef was amazing but so is the “new”. We aren’t suggesting that the change stemmed from the presence of guides or as a result of being an angling destination, but it is a fun place to start and nostalgic to reminisce.

What is now known as Grey Reef has been through a series of changes over the past 100+ years. The construction of Pathfinder Dam in 1909 started the transformation, then came Alcova, Seminoe and Kortes Dams, in quick succession, between 1938 and 1951. Arguably, the most important feature is the tiny Grey Reef Dam, completed in 1961, a mile below Alcova Dam and/or the initiation of the flushing flows in the mid 1990s.  Crack open a beer and let’s remember when… 

Things really got going at Grey Reef once the little Grey Reef Dam, sitting right between The Reef Fly Shop and North Platte Lodge, was constructed. This tiny impoundment has enough storage to regulate flows downstream of Grey Reef and isolate them from the continual change in power generating demand of Alcova and all the hydro units upstream. Naturally, this cultivated a very robust trout fishery. In those years the river was known for its modest population of huge brown trout (much like Miracle Mile a quick skip upstream between Kortes and Pathfinder). In the mid 1990s the Wyoming Game and Fish and Bureau of Reclamation agreed to start a new program of flushing flows to mimic high water events that is designed to displace accumulated silt. Silt was a big problem. Not only was it contributing to an almost complete lack of successful spawning recruitment, but it was scary to wade as you’d sink into deep black goo and getting stuck in that quagmire was a real concern.

The first 7 or 8 years of the flush was a 5-day event both spring and fall. The fall component was cancelled after repeated issues with dislodged vegetation clogging the intakes at the Casper water treatment plant and the cooling units at Dave Johnston Power Plant. The fall flush was insane streamer fishing! Man, those were the days. The Spring flush was lengthened to a week and within the past decade was extended to 10 days.

We have very vivid memories of water that was never really clear. A few feet of visibility was our benchmark for “clear” water. Later in the season we’d be fishing in pea soup. No joke, the water was green and thick with suspended organic stuff or fines. However, the fishing was awesome. We had some good dry fly opportunities and streamer fishing was solid at times but nymphing was ever present. A lot of the same flies have been in our box for over 25 years, but a couple of must-have daily patterns don’t get the same use that they used to. Red Blood Midges and Scuds just don’t seem to be as productive as they were in the days of green water. The fall baetis hatch doesn’t seem to have the same interest slightly below the surface like it once had. Now that interest seems to be on the surface.

We had a huge water year in 2011 and it kind of seems like a monumental moment when there was Grey Reef before 2011 and Grey Reef after 2011. Prior to that date it was the same as we always knew it, not really clear, nymphing, lots of our trophy class fish (25” or better) were rainbows. 2011 was also a prolific hopper year and that’s when focusing on grasshopper fishing really became part of the conversation. It is strange to think about now but there were 3 drift boats sunk that season, due to flows upward of 8000 cfs, and we couldn’t even start the process of searching for them until the following spring. That’s when the water would always be the lowest and clearest.

Since 2011 Grey Reef has progressively become clearer and that has been paralleled with a marked increase dry fly fishing and a delayed response to streamers. The Grey Reef dry fly season is mid-July through October…and it’s awesome! The streamer season that used to ripen around mid-September is now mid-October through mid-November…and it’s awesome! Of course, all the same hatches are still in play and the trout respond to nymph rigs, always.

Reservoir levels, turnover and gully washer weather events don’t seem to have changed much over the years. Did the huge flows and Pathfinder spilling in 2011 super charge the gradual impacts of the first 15 years of the flushing flows? Did subsequent big water years amplify that progression to dry fly and clear water? Has the extended spring flush had a larger than expected impact? The water quality seems to have improved but why do we see more trophy class brown trout now when 20 years ago it was rainbows in the majority?

Are the Browns Running Yet?


Crisp nights, warm days and changing leaves. This fall has been sublime! Central Wyoming is always graced with really nice fall conditions but this one is unique. What is justifiably un-unique this time of year is that our shop phone rings with the age-old question, “are the browns running, yet?”. This conversation really only has two places it can go assuming we are “in season”.

The question is nuanced and complicated, ha! No it isn’t. It is about one or two specific brown trout activities and most often a confused blur of both. Late in the season browns spawn. They move to their zone to build a nest, go a courtin’ with a little fighting, and hope the result is a bunch of little browns. Also, late in the season browns become a little more rowdy and clobber young of the year fish, crawdads or whatever else they can get in their mouths…kind of like bears.

Of course, we don’t condone fishing to spawners. These are fish that are visibly on the Redds and actively spawning. But we do condone and encourage folks to go out and target browns ambushing prey in areas with cool structure that are disconnected from actively spawning fish. Soooo, our answer sometimes becomes nuanced (no it doesn’t and we aren’t serious about the use of the word nuanced) because we need to isolate these two activities. If we simply answered yes, we may be sending the message to go ahead and fish to the spawners – a practice we feel is illegitimate and harmful.  It would be really cool if that practice disappeared forever. If we say no…it would probably be a lie and that may discourage folks from catching the fish of their lifetime using a practice that is, by all authority, a perfectly ethical (and fun as hell) approach.

Our answer will generally be something like “the browns are definitely getting fired up” or “’tis the season”. This is to encourage the next question, which we always pray is “are they on the banks and chasing streamers?”. Whew! Kindred spirits and we can suggest a few streamer patterns and a good float to go pound the banks. If the next question is “are they taking beads or on the beds” then we try our best to address it in a way that highlights the current hatch and the associated dry fly and nymphing opportunities, streamer potential and what our guides’ experiences have been the past couple days. However, we will piggyback that little diversion to “please don’t fish to actively spawning fish” for obvious reasons and “we don’t peg beads” and “to0 good of fishing to revert to eggs this time of year”.

You all know our stance on barbs, beads and spawning trout. Success is easily found without employing any of them.

The answer is “yes”.

 

PS don’t forget your dry fly rod

 

Will the Fly Fishing Media Please Stand Up?


We aren’t perfect but we operate way different than the new fly fishing outfitter and guide norms. The industry has been crickets when it comes to addressing misguided pros and cultivating a solid foundation for the future of the fisheries.

Are there any great guides anymore?

 

WY Wyoming?


WYOMING ISN’T REAL

 

Wyoming (WY) is an interesting place. It is a large piece of land with very few inhabitants. There is a revolving door of folks moving in and folks moving out. A transient oil and gas workforce who’s #1 focus is love of place, oops, money…until it dries up. But a large majority are a very steadfast base that wouldn’t ever consider leaving. WY boasts a meager 580,000 residents sprinkled into 97,914 square miles. That’s just shy of 6 people per section (square mile) or 640 acres. We are proud to battle with the antelope for the crown of the most populous critter in this arid and high-altitude square. Sorry goats, we’ve got you by a margin but we still have tons of respect for you. Plus, WY is the center of the antelope (speed goat or properly known as the Pronghorn) universe. Most of the world’s Pronghorn reside within 300 miles of our busting, 30 resident metropolis, of Alcova, WY. Our low population is synonymous with lots of elbow room and why we despise tagalongs on the highway. Pass respectfully and keep moving or back WAY off…like 200 feet. This same concept applies to the line at the grocery store, hunting, fishing and camping. Maintain lots of room, no unnecessary congestion – simple, this is Wyoming. 

Wyoming isn’t a super habitable place in the grand scheme but is the ultimate in short bursts. Summer is really amazing, warm but not hot by most of the union’s standards, dry and lots of big blue-sky days. Spring and fall, we have several of them every year, rarely act like they’re supposed to. Both will give up some traditional weather but both tend to cherry pick stints of summer and winter. This is part of the reason we have a revolving door of boom-and-bust economy “residents”. That, and the wind. The wind is no joke. No, it isn’t always windy because, as the joke goes, Nebraska doesn’t always suck and Utah doesn’t always blow. The funny thing about those of us who complain the hardest are those who don’t have serious outdoor winter recreation. That is, people who wouldn’t ordinarily spend time outside anyway. (HINT* embrace winter outdoor recreation including fly fishing for longevity in WY) The wind is really a winter and early spring phenomenon and why we have pretty solid air quality.  If you don’t recreate outside in the winter, we are sorry, not sorry about the wind messing up your hairdo on your way into work or blowing your grocery list off of the dash board. We park into the wind and open one car door at a time.  There are a lot of benefits to the wind as well. Every one of the aging Front Range “fly” fishing Bros wearing a visor who storms in and makes a big, super-astute declaration about Wyoming’s wind, goes back to the Front Range. Huge bonus! Just teasing, Brah. Wyoming is not for the weak and if the weather were a little less rowdy, we’d have several times the population. Most of the steadfast folks are here because people make them uncomfortable, and they occupy too much space, breath down your neck and make too much noise when they are on the water or in the field. It is a matter of priorities. We embrace the conditions that keep the population low, first and foremost. Be real careful about professing how important you and your money are to Wyoming’s wellbeing when you’ve been reprimanded for stepping out of line with the way things are done here. Your ill-behaviored presence, self-aggrandized by money, will never supersede the Wyoming way of life. 

Low populations serve hunting, fishing and a myriad of other recreation really well. The part that seals the deal is all the awesome hunting, fishing and other rustic outdoor opportunities. Low populations aren’t all rosy, though. We acknowledge the economic struggles that come with fewer customers, we acknowledge a smaller tax base that limits wasteful and unnecessary overdevelopment of every recreational opportunity and we acknowledge that we have fewer soulless franchise restaurants. We also acknowledge a glaring lack of awareness from most of the folks who are charged with “managing” our outdoor industry and amenities. There isn’t a great pool of knowledge to pull from and that pool is reduced to kiddie sized once most of the capable folks are faced with electing to take government jobs.  

WY is an emotional place. If you don’t believe it, just be around the day after the big game tags are drawn. That’s a pretty warm and fuzzy experience. WY is a safe place. We all have had the winter highway gear requirements driven into our hair. Have water, a sleeping bag, and some other things I can’t remember but very few of us have them along…but it’s the thought that counts, I’ve heard. Also, nearly 70% of WY households own guns. That stat could be irrationally confused with 70% of homes have gun toting psychos and we’re ok with that. Be careful to limit the term households to houses, that stat also applies to all the vehicles on the road. 70% (unofficial stat pulled from nowhere) of Wyomingites also wear muck boots as their daily winter footwear. Looks and smells weird but function over form, y’all. Muck boots are not a substitute for waders, however. If your fishing guide shows up with muck boots you are a captive to the boat for the day, you ain’t getting out to wade fish. 

WY is a loving and caring place. If a stranger is broken down on the side of the road it will only be a matter of moments before someone stops to help. There is so much competition to be the one to save the day that it can become a real safety hazard. We lose our minds and will forget to check traffic before throwing a U-turn in the middle of the highway. On big snow days there will be dozens of roving, built 4 wheel drive trucks at the ready to jerk any unfortunate low ground clearance cars out of a drift…for free! They say central WY is the most charitable place in the nation, there are even flags flying in downtown Casper to make sure you know it.  

All jokes aside, we love Wyoming for the very things that more refined folks hate about it. That’s why there is an unwritten rule that neophytes aren’t allowed to discuss the wind or make knee jerk, highway observations about our big, vacant swaths of sagebrush steppe equating to “nothing”. Wyoming is so much more than Devil’s Tower, the Grand Teton, Old Faithful or Jackson Hole. It is just like fishing Grey Reef, the seemingly boring and featureless chunks in between the exciting water are often the most productive and interesting. Train your eye to see beyond a single dimension and welcome to Wyoming.  

 

 

Stay tuned for some upcoming articles

#1 Voices Carry- The Things We Hear Guides Tell Their guests

 #2 a multi part series The Evolution of a Tailwater – The Ongoing Transition of Grey Reef and Miracle Mile

#3 No Compromises – Why we voluntarily apply massive limits to the way we approach guiding anglers and why we are more successful and the fishery is better for it.  

 

 

 

 

The Pelican Logo is the Middle Finger to the Industry


 

When North Platte Lodge and The Reef Fly Shop were acquired by longtime NPL guides Trent Tatum and Erik Aune in 2007, they recognized a failing in the industry and created an ill-received logo to counter the Amateur-Pro Bro Fly Fishing Culture. Many fly anglers have an aversion to pelicans because of the perceived “competition”. Very few have a legitimate position based on pelicans adversely impacting fisheries, but we recognize that very limited reality. What we didn’t know at the time was the coming social media influencer filth and snagging trout with pegged bead rigs becoming the “guides choice” fly fishing approach. We were really targeting the entry-level magazine writing and film media, the lackluster “innovation” from the manufacturing side and the “pro guides” incurable need to crowd into the obvious water because nobody showed them how to fish the rest of the river. It is an industry often driven by copouts and doing it the easiest way without any thought of the ramifications and with disregard for fish and fisheries.

The latest development to satisfy the incompetent guide program is over fishing small sections of water. Never leave fish to find fish, right? That is a mantra developed and adopted by those who are entry level…fly fishing guides should not be entry level. However, they are clutching to the comfortable and easy water like the Old Bag to her marble rye (gratuitous Seinfeld reference). Spending all day back rowing the few runs that encompass a five mile float or lapping the same couple/few mile sections of river twice in one guide day. This is abusive. It is one thing to spend an hour or two wade fishing a run and hooking a few fish but another thing entirely when it is treated like production on an assembly line…day after day, the same water, twice a day, running over the fun water to get to the dark water. How boring for a guest and how mind numbing for a guide who knows there are and how to target fish in really cool spots doing things directly related to bugs and their behavior.

Some of you know, you’ve moved beyond and can never go back. Give ’em the bird. This Pelican is for you.