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.
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.
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.
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.
The fly fishing trout outfitting industry is interesting. In many cases, the competing outfitters are sharing a public river and targeting the same animals – over and over. This isn’t akin to hunting where the venue is much larger and not linear in flow, the season is shorter and your target is generally removed from the population or physically unaffected. Rivers are essentially narrow one-way water conveyors so you are oftentimes in traffic much like a traditional road. And yes, you deal with both consciences and asshole drivers. On top of that we are all trying to fool a finite quantity of trout that we handle and return until the next handling. We can all see how the fish was treated previously. There are different schools of thought, really it is a combination of experience, mentalities and self-imposed limits that forms a threshold for decency on how to accomplish whatever it is you and your guests view as success.
We are a proud relic in the industry and this is why we do not ideologically mesh well with our contemporaries. This is also why we have some strong disagreement with the action/inaction of the Wyoming Game and Fish Dept and the Bureau of Land Management. We all have to contend with the results of each other’s actions. Obtuse mistreatment of the trout, the river and surrounding lands are reflected the following day, week, month, year and decade. These consequences are always predictable and should always be avoided. It is disconcerting when those we view as professional, educated or holding the best interest of the industry are actually leaning on that misaligned conception to celebrate the very things that cause disintegration of the condition of the experience and the existence and condition of the river and the trout.
Are we perfect and without fault? Of course not! We have the most stringent self imposed limits of anybody in the industry but think a revamp of the regulations would be a great way to make us even more accountable. Grey Reef to Government Bridge could really benefit from a max of 2 hooks per rig, barbless and no snagging/pegging. Let’s start there!
Read below for some quick results to your frequently asked Wyoming Fly Fishing questions:
At some point we all need a spell. If there is one thing we are very confident in is that our guests, while they are visiting us in Alcova, WY, will enjoy a valuable departure from the quagmire of current events. We are powerless to make it any other way. You can’t help but to get caught up in this big empty landscape with fun people and awesome fishing. This will be our 24th season and we’ve had a fair bit of panic but it always turns out in our favor, the North Platte River is always good to us and guests return.
Over the past couple years we’ve tiptoed around and kept our nose to the grindstone. It has all worked out beautifully. So well, that we added an incentive to visiting multiple times a year. Our return trip discount was a game changer for guests and The Reef Fly Shop and North Platte Lodge staff beginning in 2020 and we are continuing that program. Our corporate rate has also been popular with most of our full-lodge groups. Our off season rates are also still in effect this week. Killer deals on guided fishing and fishing/cottage packages. We are all bombarded with news of rising prices and limited supply, so how about a price break and a bumper crop of fish and fresh air? Lodging and guide availability is also great if you have some flexibility in your dates. This off-season we’ve also made significant investments in both properties. We know you’ll notice and enjoy the updates. What never changes is our guide staff’s dedication, experience, and conscientious approach to fly fishing. The kitchen and house staff are a godsend.
Grey Reef FAQs:
The Spring Flushing Flows: The Bureau of Reclamation has tentatively scheduled a gate check and typically the flush follows. Historically, it begins on the third Monday in March but let’s not hold our breath and just enjoy the awesome spring fishing as it continues to ramp up. The highest volume fishing of the season is going on right now and will continue throughout the spring. It put Grey Reef on the map.
Runoff: This is a common concern for folks who aren’t familiar with spring Grey Reef fishing. We don’t have runoff, fishing is awesome…its that simple.
Warm Summer River Temps: Hoot owl closures have become increasingly common on Western trout rivers. Low water and warm summer temperatures heat up the waterways to a point that the rivers are closed to fishing completely or throughout the bulk of the day while poor conditions persist. We’ve not had critical temps for 20 years. The five reservoirs upstream create a large supply of cool clean water throughout the year and isolate Grey Reef from runoff.
Meals: If you want high quality, wholesome, plated meals while you visit us in Alcova, WY you want to book the North Platte Lodge. Meals are only available to lodge guests and are not available as a stand alone option for those in the RV sites, cottages or staying offsite. Book the lodge, get the unmatched fly fishing package – THE location and most experienced guide staff…slam dunk. Book the cottages, get a great vacation rental with a full kitchen and grill. There is a cool apres fish scene at the shop, grab a beer in The Reef Fly Shop and kick back under the covered patio with likeminded anglers. There are a couple prepared food options in Alcova and the staff recommended Silver Fox Steakhouse is 25 minutes away on the western edge of Casper, WY. Groceries are also available near the Silver Fox.
The Maxillary Process is the part of a trout’s upper jaw that extends down to and overlaps the mandible or lower jaw in the corner of their mouth. It is a thin piece of cartilage that connects to the fish’s face by soft tissue and gives trout their tough appearance. The condition of the maxillary process is great way to assess the general health of the trout population and where the anglers and guides land in their angling attitude. It’s a litmus test of the general angling mentality. Kind of like how you might make a judgment about a neighborhood if cigarette butts are piled up in the gutter and junk cars are parked in the front yard. You could similarly align missing and mangled maxillary processes up with guides and anglers who practice abusive, entry level “fly” fishing techniques. The Maxillary Process is also an angling mindset and our longstanding ideology and action toward preservation of Grey Reef, Fremont Canyon and Miracle Mile. Our ethos has always been foreign, if not unheard of, in the fly fishing outfitting industry. Plainly, we function to catch fish but we go way above and beyond to preserve the health of the fishery and the trout.
Let’s be real, sticking a hook into a fish’s mouth, removing it and releasing the fish isn’t the least invasive way to massage our sportsman’s machismo. The fly fishing culture, on the surface, has always been a front of exemplifying a sporting tradition. That tradition is about conservation, preservation including an acute regard for the fish and the waterways. There are a lot of abusers who hide behind that image. They don’t give 2 shits about the Maxillary Process and wouldn’t recognize its absence in the social media influencers grip and grin photos.
What can you do about it?
#1, look at each and every fish and fish picture. Are they damaged? is the Maxillary Process missing? Contemplate that and give a shit. Did you damage the fish you just landed? Contemplate that and give a shit.
#2 stop using pegged bead trout snagging techniques. There is nothing as destructive and lame that has come about in the fly fishing world. It used to be limited to the rookie Alaska guides but has trickled out and become many angler’s and guide’s only avenue for “success”. Hooking fish on the outside of their mouth mangles them. To most of us, the point of fly fishing has always been to trick them into eating your fly, match the hatch…you know, FLY fishing. Tricking them to eat a plastic bead that you pull out of their mouth to snag them with the hook a few inches away is gross and is devoid of skill and requires almost no knowledge or experience.
#3 Pinch your barbs, its better for the fish and better for you to develop angling prowess and some humility. Anglers and guides who routinely and unconsciously pinch their barbs don’t lose more fish than non pinchers. They develop skills and muscle memory that the other don’t. Pinching your barbs creates better anglers and does far less damage to the fish.
#4 Step down one size of tippet and rod weight if you are fishing too much rod. Ease up on your hook set. Be quick but don’t employ so much horsepower…it isn’t necessary. Over gearing is as bad or even worse than under gearing. This advice is contrary to popular fly fishing lore. Become and adept angler and land fish quickly with lighter equipment that applies less pressure to the fish. There are some dumb fly fishing mantras that need to be tossed up on the bank. Always fish your leader one and a half times the depth of the water is just as dumb of a concept as over gearing to land fish quickly.
#5 Hook a few fish and move on. We now see guide services float the same couple mile stretch of river twice in one day. This practice is brutal and amateurish. Progressing as an angler means you need to try other things and other spots. Hook a few and move on.
#6 Ask why you never see pegged bead rigs stuck in the gill plate like you often see a picture of a little dry fly pinned in the trout’s beak. Is it less than kosher? Even the hacks that do it on the daily don’t want to record their (mis)deeds?
This gorgeous Miracle Mile rainbow isn’t smiling. The Maxillary Process was likely ripped off by a pegged bead “angler”. Photo: Josh Stevens NPL/TRFS Guide
Getting there is half the fun. There is a lot of truth in that idiom but recently, the accepted modes of “getting there” have created questions and some real struggles. Luckily, Central Wyoming is about as good as the “getting here” gets. Alcova, Wyoming is 30 miles south of Interstate 25 and 90 miles north of Interstate 80 with a major airport 30 miles from The Reef Fly Shop and North Platte Lodge.
If you plan to drive, interstate speeds limits are 80mph and no gridlock. They are the fast-track routes but Wyoming’s secondary highways have some great advantages in our opinion. The scenery is awesome with vast expanses of vacant land and oftentimes equally vacant roadways. Highway speed limits are 70mph and added travel time is a nice tradeoff for little traffic and bigger views. One thing to keep in mind when visiting Wyoming is that fuel stations can sometimes be 100mile between stops.
Many of our lodge guests fly but not always to Casper. The Casper-Natrona Airport is very close to our locations so landing there and shuttling to Alcova is a process that takes about an hour to collect bags, load up and drive to the shop or lodge. Car rentals are available, ride share is available and we also provide a limited transport service for lodge guests. The Casper – Natrona Airport is served by United Airlines via a Denver, Colorado connection and Delta Airlines via a Salt Lake City, Utah connection. There are no direct commercial flights to Casper outside of DIA and SLC. Oftentimes, the connection flight is as much or more than the cheap flight from a major city to Denver. Many of our guest from around the country opt to fly to Denver and rent a car or van at Denver International Airport and drive the 4 +/- hours to get to Grey Reef. Most are still able to make it to the lodge at our 3pm checkin time for an afternoon fishing session or a cocktail on the deck.
North Platte Lodge Shuttle Service is available for lodge groups who fly to Casper. We have a big van and arrange a single arrival or departure that best meets the needs of all arriving or departing guests within our shuttle operating hours. These can be seen at https://northplatteflyfishing.com/north-platte-lodge/ Scroll down to the “details” tab.
Stiff-arming a Miracle Mile Chunk (Photo by NPL Guide Josh Stevens)
Miracle Mile is a short tail water section of the the North Platte River that is arguably the most recognized piece of fly fishing water in the state of Wyoming. The “Mile” as it is commonly known, is actually 5 to 8+ miles long depending on the level of Pathfinder Reservoir. The term Miracle Mile was coined by Curt Gowdy who was a well-known sportscaster for NBC and ABC Sports during the 1960s and 1970s. The Reef Fly Shop is the nearest operation to Miracle Mile and we frequent this remote area in Carbon County. Wade fishing trips to Miracle Mile were some of the first guide assignments for North Platte Lodge in 1998, and current staff floated the Mile in their sweet yellow Aire Super Puma and cheap Sevylor K-79 inflatable kayak beginning in the early 1990s. We’ve been around a little while.
Don’t get us wrong, we love Miracle Mile and for the same reasons that it enjoys infamy. It is a good fishery with quality trout, it is remote, has lots of public access, it is easy to drive right to any run, has plenty of camping options, it fishes year round and oozes some lawless anonymity. Much of the public allure however, comes only from the name and lore.
GREY REEF If we had to choose it would be Grey Reef and none of the area fisheries would be a close second…not even Miracle Mile. Grey Reef for trophy class fish (25″), Grey Reef for dry fly, Grey Reef for high-volume fishing, Grey Reef for novice angler’s success, Grey Reef for angling diversity and response to hatches, Grey Reef for fish population and shear productive river mileage, Grey Reef for accessibility, Grey Reef for less fishing traffic and congestion.
Miracle Mile can be a shit show, especially in the fall. Please let us be on Grey Reef during a blizzard, big wind event or gulley washer. The Mile is better than most fisheries but can’t compete with the consistency of Grey Reef. It has some huge fish but we target trophy trout at Grey Reef for a reason. Miracle Mile is lackluster for dry fly except the short Golden Stonefly hatch, Miracle Mile has more midstream structure and heavier water making it more difficult for less experienced anglers and the wading is a lesson in expecting a swim. Miracle Mile has almost no edge structure and is 800′ higher elevation than Alcova. Again, we love Miracle Mile and it will always be part of our program but it is evident from conversations we’ve had with folks over the past couple decades that their interpretation is mostly misguided due to lack of really understanding the contemporary reality of Miracle Mile.
Front Rangers can rejoice! Arapahoe Basin Ski Area has opened the white ribbon of death for 2021. For those that don’t know, the white ribbon of death is a term given to a ski run made mostly of man made snow and concentrated to a single run in an effort to get the resort open before any other operation. Oftentimes the surrounding terrain will be devoid of snow but being the first to provide turns for the avid skiers and snowboarders has considerable bragging rights. We can see the allure but as powder snobs, not enough to pull us out of the water. There is still a lot of fishing to get done this year and we are entering prime streamer time. Colorado, sorry we won’t be visiting until powder season is in full force but we still have some guide and cottage availability over the next couple months while we let the snowpack mature. Besides, it’ll probably take less time to drive to Grey Reef than it will to get to the summit of I70. All kidding aside, we are on the cusp of the meaty part of the BWO hatch and the streamer program is starting like clockwork. Cheap trips, lodging and cottage/fishing packages start on Nov 15 and end March 14 2022. visit the rates page for details and let’s make a toast to a robust and stable snowpack this year. Cheers!
October through mid November is a pretty magical time in Central Wyoming. The scene changes daily and the transitions between fishing disciplines and hunting opportunities seem endless and can be exhausting. Gear rooms, boats and vehicles suffer the most as the constant exchange inevitably creates disarray and confusion. Anglers are loaded with 3 rigged rods – the dry fly opportunities are all day and you need to be able to grab a rod as soon as rising trout start doing their thing, nymph rigs fill the gaps and help you to not feel inadequate for surface refusals and the streamer water should never be ignored. The dry fly game is plentiful yet humbling, nymphing light emerger rigs is really dang productive and you never know what kind of critter your streamer will land in front of. The days start with coffee, waders and a hoody and end with t-shirts, sandals and a beer.
Then there is hunting. Big game often warrants different caliber choices, waterfowl and upland bird and you’ll shop for tools to optimize that experience. And don’t forget about the dogs that make it all happen…pointing, flushing, snuggling and retrieving. Add other Central Wyoming outdoor recreation options like mountain biking, gravel biking, off road motorcycling, climbing, trail running and paddling. That isn’t the end of it but we know where to stop, ha! This region has not been developed to optimize most of these activities and that is a good thing. Getting outside begins with leaving your comfort-zone and culminates in continuing to advance your comfort by creating a habit of putting yourself out there. Going further, rejecting the normal definition of success and discovering things that very few people will. This isn’t the Visit Casper version of Central Wyoming…this is the raw and real version that excludes the entry level social media influencer portrayal.
Put yourself out there, or come hang out with us for a few days and we’ll do our best to show you the ropes…this is the perfect time to do it. Before the snow flies and skis and snowmobiles come out along with the water fowling waders, layout blinds and we enter the season where chipping ice out of our guides has every angler thinking to themselves how they can solve this age-old dilemma.
Miracle Mile fishing report is good with leech, worm, baetis, caddis, scud nymph rigs. It is busy with hunting camps so be aware. Fremont Canyon fishing report is very good dry fly with tricos, pseudos and caddis. Swing crawdads and soft hackles in the unoccupied tweener water. Grey Reef is rocking and rolling from top to bottom, the upper is quiet and the dry fly is excellent. Streamer activity is ramping up and short light emerger rigs are the way to go if you like the numbers game.
The Reef Fly Shop is open daily and we still have guides, cottages and RV sites available. Stop in for some good sales or check out the newly restocked space.