Circa 2001. Left to right: Trent, Erik, Seth, Bret.
Everybody knows that partnerships don’t last. All are conceived with a similar goal but most do not come from a common foundation. We grew up in sporting families with aligning values and our #1 objective has always been to honor those values, first and foremost. Our families, friends and industry mentors sculpted where we came from, where we are now and will be responsible for where we end up. One mentor, Bret Van Rensselaer, the founder of North Platte Lodge came roaring onto the scene in 1998 and instantly put, the previously unknown, Grey Reef on the map. This was a big risk as Grey Reef was completely unsubstantiated as a destination fishery and there were no permitted outfitters to have ever operated in the region. Bret grew up fishing Grey Reef and had spent the 1990s as a fly fishing guide on the Bighorn River in Ft. Smith, Montana. A big picture guy, Bret hired the region’s best prospects as guides, and built the lodge on an incredible piece of land while securing immense swaths of private Grey Reef access. More than 2 decades later these key attributes live on. His initial crew layed much of the groundwork and set the bar to levels that our contemporaries have yet to match. Trent Tatum embraced the high standards and joined Erik Aune and the original crew in 2001. The seasons prior to our partnership and taking over the operations in 2007, we now know, were spent building a strong ethic, returning clientele and an unwavering friendship.
It is hard to fathom that so much of my existence has surrounded fly fishing, fly shops and outfitting. I was 5 years old when, in 1978, my father opened Wyoming Waters Fly Shop in Cody, WY. The progression continued with my older brother, Scott, opening his fly shop and guide service, Absorka Angler, in the mid 1980s. Scott brought me onboard in the mid 90s as a fly shop hand and that is where I cut my teeth guiding the Shoshone Rivers, Bighorn River in Thermopolis as well as Cody area lakes and streams. My first taste of Grey Reef and Miracle Mile was in 1987 soon after my parents moved us to Casper, WY. I was instantly intimidated by the size of the river and the size of the trout. That fear quickly morphed into an obsession. I met my future wife in 1996 and we toured the Rocky Mountain West looking for the best location to start a fly fishing operation. We returned to the untouched potential of our home waters of Grey Reef and Miracle Mile. That same year, while developing my business plan, I got my first guide gig on Grey Reef with the future original head guide of the North Platte Lodge and manager of the Ugly Bug Fly Shop, Kyle Wall. The Ugly Bug, at the time, was owned by Bret’s father, Art Van Rensseaer but was later sold to Crazy Rainbow Fly Fishing to focus on operating the The Reef Fly Shop at Grey Reef. In 1998, Bret gathered the original NPL crew – Kyle and another aspiring outfitter, Les Collins and myself. As luck would have it, I met Trent in 2001 and in 2007 we partnered, inherited much of the same crew we celebrate today and purchased the North Platte Lodge and The Reef Fly Shop. The years since then have been a whirlwind of building the operations, building families and solidifying the foundation that was laid more than 2 decades ago. While I have everything to be thankful for I am most proud of the way the NPL and TRFS crew present, respect and protect the fisheries of Central Wyoming.
I was fortunate to grow up in Beaumont, Texas with a family and friends who enjoyed the outdoors. My grandfather was a ravenous hunter and my dad, the consummate waterman. I started fly fishing at the age of five, chasing bluegill and bass. By the time I hit high school he was consumed by all things hunting and fishing. Frequent backpacking trips to the West ignited a passion for mountain country and in 1999 I decided to attend the University of Wyoming to pursue a degree in Wildlife and Fisheries Biology/Management. I immediately fell in love with all things Wyoming and after a few short weeks, knew this was home. Wanting to put my passion to work, in the summer of 2001 I started guiding for the North Platte Lodge, under the tutelage of the “original crew”. I graduated with my Bachelor’s in 2004, being told it was nothing short of a miracle, considering how much time I had spent fishing and hunting. After graduating, full-time guiding seemed like the thing to do. It was after a few years of guiding, I started dating Katherine and then convinced her to move to Wyoming. It was literally the day after arriving home from our honeymoon that Erik told us, “Bret’s gonna sell the lodge”. Looking back I’m not sure how we pulled it off. But I’m proud to say that we did it all on our own (financially) and in the early years did everything to make it all work!
The principles we adhere to are constantly evolving with the progression of the latest Grey Reef angling techniques. From the beginning, targeting trout on or their Redds, or spawning beds, was never an option. Early in our existence we realized that pinching all barbs was going to be the very best practice to preserve the integrity of this incredible fishery. With barb pinching came sizing down tippet to limit over-pressuring the fish which leads to disfiguring them. Nobody wants to catch a maimed fish. From there we developed protocols to make sure we were spreading out and not overstaying our welcome i.e. overfishing small sections of the river. The arrival of the Alaska pegged-bead rigs aka snagging rigs, has probably been the most disturbing and abusive development at Grey Reef and Miracle Mile. Under no circumstances were our high-functioning guide staff going to discredit their skillset to snagging trout. This entry-level ideology steps over the line of fair chase and decency. Providing an authentic fly fishing experience, taking care of the fish and the fisheries and honoring best guiding practices are traits that have kept us in harmony with the North Platte River for a very long time.
Clients or Guests? There was a time when we used the term “client” to describe our customers. We vetoed that term about the time we all resolved to pinch barbs over 2 decades ago. It is ego driven and disingenuous. “Client” is a term that indicates that, in the fly fishing world, the guide or outfitter using it must be regarded as a trained professional regardless of their skill, approach or level of experience. We realized that our approach must speak for itself and we are confident that nearly 150 years of combined Grey Reef and Miracle Mile fly fishing guide experience proves that. You are the ultimate judge and our endorsements start and stop with our guests. So please be our guest! We’d love to show you around Central Wyoming.