Saturday, March 22, 2008
Tuesday, March 18, 2008
The flush is designed to remove fine sediment from the gravel beds that are needed for successful trout spawning. For a look at a spawning bed photo or a little insight into spawning, read the previous article "Spawners, The Ugly Truth" by Trent Tatum.
This year the flush is scheduled to run for 5 consecutive days at Grey Reef. The max flow for each day is 4000cfs(cubic feet per second). They will start at the winter flow of 500cfs, bump it up to 2000cfs for a couple of hours, then to 4000cfs for a couple of hours, back to 2000cfs and eventually back to 500cfs. This process starts at midnight and is finished by 10:00am. To put that quantity of water into perspective we haven't seen regular flows over 2500cfs for many years, and the max controlled release at Grey Reef is 5400cfs. If you have ever been on the North Platte River at 5400cfs it is quite big and quite a rush....but still fishes excellent!
If we are really lucky, like we were last year, we get a fall flush. This normally happens in October. We hadn't had a fall flush for a number of years so we were shocked to find out that we were getting one. Mark at the Platte River Fly Shop informed me just a few days prior. There are debates about which flush is better or if one does more damage than good. Some think that the fall flush may damage brown redds or the Spring flush literally flushes brown fry downriver. I have no reason to argue with those points, because we see many dead fish after the fall flush and spring flush. I believe the benefits out weight the detriments and am happy to see a flush bi-annually.
Today is the second day of the 2008 spring flush. And, while water conditions may appear bad, my brother Rick (North Platte Lodge and The Reef Fly Shop guide) landed a 23" brown on a streamer yesterday during low tide.
The spawn will really kick in after the flush and the fishing should improve over an already good spring season. Have fun!
Thursday, March 13, 2008
Tuesday, March 11, 2008
It happens often, a 25" trout hooked and landed on a size 18 midge pattern. It is great gift of blindly nymphing the North Platte River. But, can you actually go out and target these monsters?....yep!
I don't feel like the winter and spring seasons (December - June) are the best times to actively target these fish, but there are lots of them caught during the winter and spring. I prefer to chase the trophies when the water has warmed up a bit and there are good populations of bait fish/craw fish available. We really start to actively fish to these trophies around the end of June. High water and weed growth are great ingredients in a successful outing. Both high water and weed beds create structure that the North Platte River lacks, especially on the upper reaches. If you are familiar with the North Platte River you know that the river tends to be deep in the middle and taper to nothing on the sides. We don't have much for cut banks, or edge structure. But, higher water levels obviously fill up the river and more cut bank structure is created. Weed beds (yes, the dreaded weed beds) also create ambush points for critter chasing trout.
June through October is, in my opinion, the best time for trophy trips. A few requirements are: A good oarsman, a big rod, a well stocked streamer box, an unwillingness to give up, stamina and luck.
1. A good oarsman will put you over way more productive water than an inexperienced rower. He will be able to "hold a line" so you can concentrate on making the same distance cast over and over to cover as much water as you possibly can.
2. I typically fish a stout 9' or 9.5' 6wt. Many fish bigger rods...up to 10' 7 wt or even 8wt. A stiff 9' 7wt is a good compromise. Large arbor reels with a good drag are a good thing to have as well. A lot of our streamer/carp gear is actually designed for saltwater use. I most often fish a sink tip fly line with a 4 - 5 foot chunk of 0x as a leader and attach that to 2 heavy barbless streamers. Others fish floating lines and 9- 10 foot tapered leaders with their streamer rigs. Longer leaders with a floating line will help you get "down" a little better. No, I don't mean disco I mean get your flies deeper in the water. There are lots of ways to set up your rigs and all will produce the desired results.
3. A well stocked streamer box is obviously important. You will find that the trout will prefer one color to another on any given day. Size, weight and profile of the streamer will also play a role. Old standards like woolly buggers, Platte River Specials, Orange Blossom Specials, bunny leaches in brown, white, olive, black, are good pattern that will attract the monsters. I like zonker type streamers tied with bunny or pine squirrel and dumbbell lead eyes. But, everybody has their go-to patterns and colors. There is no rule when it comes to fly selection or rig. Stop into a local fly shop to get recommendations.
4. Don't give up! Especially if you are taking a guided "trophy trip". The guides will do everything in their power to make it happen, and it often does when you least expect it. You can rest tomorrow! If you are serious about adding a trophy trout to your resume you need to cover as much water as possible. This goes hand in hand with the stamina requirement.
5. Luck. Catching a trophy certainly isn't guaranteed. You might have all the pieces of the puzzle but just can't get the final piece to fit. But, you never know how big the last fish that bumped your flies was. Keep trying.
It seems that the North Platte River trout are more willing to chase streamers when they have good ambush points, the water is at least in the mid 50s and there is plenty of bait to chase. Popular belief is that the weed beds that crop up in early July and increased water flows turn the fish off. This is incorrect.
The banks are not the only place to find trout on a streamer. Any structure (mid stream rocks, runs and weed beds) should be targeted. Good luck!
Wednesday, March 5, 2008
I stopped in to "Cliff's" joint to secure a handful of fly boxes to display in The Reef Fly Shop. Matt asked me about the Wyoming Game and Fish closing, to fishing, a section of the upper Grey Reef. The section in question is from the upper cable to the lower cable during the month of April. He finished his question with "it's good they're doing that". I replied "it is horrendous" a term that I ripped off from Trent, my business partner. Matt looked at me in shock and asked "why is that, Erik?" Matt, like most folks, wasn't aware of the nitty gritties of the closure.
The details were never heard and the rumors are that it will keep the "fishers off of the redds" and "save the rainbows". First of all the rainbows are doing well in the North Platte River and the Wyoming Game and Fish is well aware of that. And, this closure has nothing to do with preserving the resource. Or, most importantly, to protect spawning fish...IT ISN'T DESIGNED TO PROTECT SPAWNING FISH.
So, I will describe what the closure means to me, other outfitters, the fly fishing public and spawn gazers.
First of all, if you are familiar the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River you will know what the Junkyard Hole and the Cable Holes are and the location of the two "cables" that cross the river. Bear with me if you already know these details. The first cable is a cable crossing with a cart attached that is owned by the Wyoming Game and Fish. It is positioned just a couple hundred meters downstream of the boat ramp at Grey Reef and just above the entrance to the "Junk"(Junkyard Hole). The second cable is used by the Bureau of Reclamation and is located just downstream of the Cable Hole. There is a little less than a half mile between the two cables.
The terms of the closure were signed BEFORE the BLM even put pen to paper on the Van Rensselaer land acquisition (AKA former North Platte Lodge river frontage). The Wyoming Game and Fish commissioners closed this particular section of the North Platte River because of recommendations from the head of the Casper Game and Fish office. I'm sure they 'pushed' the closure before the public ever had a chance to fish this section of Grey Reef during April. They might figure "they will never know what they are missing" if we do it now. Al Conder is the same one who was responsible for ending bait fishing from Grey Reef to Lusby. A controversial move then, but I feel it is a huge success. He was played a part in instituting flushing flows on the North Platte River. A progressive and highly successful method of taking what was generally thought of as an irrigation ditch and help it turn into a world class trout fishery. More Wyoming tailwaters would blossom if this technique were used.
Let me take a step back, the Bureau of Land Management(BLM) purchased the Van Rensselaer property for a very hefty sum. The Van Rensselaer property consisted of about 250 acres and a half mile...maybe...of river frontage. YOU (BLM is a federal agency so this doesn't only effect Wyoming sports) as taxpayers paid in the neighborhood of $2,000,000...from the Conservation Fund for this land that is intended for sporting purposes. Both the Cable Hole and the Junkyard Hole are accessed on river left via the new Van Rensselaer property acquisition. River right is still private, starting in the middle of the river. These are probably two of the four most fished runs at Grey Reef and both were completely on private property and unavailable to the public, except by floating. Now, thanks to this purchase by the BLM, you can wade fish and drop anchor on the left side of the "Junk" and the "Cable". But, the Wyoming Game and Fish closed it to fishing during the month of April (April and May are the busiest fishing months on the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River). You might think "that's good...it'll protect the spawners". WRONG, a closure during the month of April will save the spawners from harassment by the redd rapers, but the rainbows don't get everything done in one month. There will still be rainbows actively spawning on March 31st and May 1st. Moreover the eggs need about a month to hatch. This pushes the critical "stay out of the spawn beds" time to around June 1st. The redds will get trampled before and after the closure dates by uneducated or inconsiderate fishers.The closure has nothing to do with protecting spawning rainbows..it is for education. What? They closed expensive and popular runs so folks could come and watch spawning fish. Great! Watching spawners is fun and educational and they shouldn't ever be fished to. This whole thing still sounds okay in theory...doesn't it? Well , the Wyoming Game and Fish were unaware of the fact that the spawning beds are NOT accessible from the bank. You have to wade across one or two back channels to get to a spot where spawning fish can be viewed. Whoops. Bring a busload of 5th graders out to see spawning fish and now they are going to have to wade across two back channels in water temps in the low 40's and it is like wading across greased bowling balls.
Now I will get to the "How it impacts all of us" department.
Me first. As one of the owners of the North Platte Lodge (the Van Rensselaer river frontage sits directly between the lodge and the North Platte River) the closure is great. During the month of April there will be no reason for anybody(general public) to even be near the lodge. The only reason folks come out here is to fish or duck hunt...occasional bird watchers. My guests will have the whole place to themselves...wonderful. As a sportsman it bothers me. The Wyoming Game and Fish took away what the BLM(and my tax dollars) finally did for us. They secured prime land for fishing one of the best trout streams in America. I know what you are thinking..."he is just mad because he can't fish down there any more during April". Maybe, but I haven't spent much time around there for a number of years. I would rather get away from the other boats so I go to less "desirable" locales. In the grand scheme of things it won't affect me much at all...and it would probably be better if I kept my mouth shut. But, I know this whole thing isn't right and a small group of people have made a decision that negatively impacts all of you who enjoy fishing Grey Reef. The closure is just the tip of the ice burg. With the closure come enforcing the closure. Now we get to spend more of our tax dollars paying for enforcing this closure. And the BLM(along with the Wyoming Game and Fish) are planning another boat ramp on the upper portion of Grey Reef, to alleviate the pressure on the closed area. Another idea that will negatively impact the area. Another boat ramp will give "perpetual merry-go-rounders" the ability to over fish one or two runs all day long. The way it is now, some floaters will back row one run for hours. At some point they have to leave in order to get to the boat ramp at Lusby before 10PM(Lusby closes at 10PM). If they put another boat ramp in they will be allowing people to back row one run all day long because they only have to float for 1 mile to get to the "new" ramp. Building another boat ramp will disturb perfectly good riparian areas (less is more...leave things the way they are, this is an outdoor activity for Pete's sake) and then they will have to maintain another development. The BLM can't be diligent about following through on their maintenance obligations. They have many areas to tend to. It is glamorous to build it, keeping it up isn't an easy task. The boat ramp at Government Bridge has been overgrown with willows for 2 years and they have yet to trim them after several requests. I offered to trim them myself, but they said they would take care of it...
How will this affect other outfitters? I can only guess because I haven't asked them directly, but the other guides (especially the ones without any private access) will have to alter their days significantly during April. And their guests(who's tax dollars help buy the Van Rensselaer property), won't be able to fish the runs that they look forward to fishing every year. Most of our fishing guests travel from all corners of the country and beyond. They flood central Wyoming's economy with millions of dollars. But, maybe all of our guests will come away with a new appreciation of what the rainbows go through to procreate. As guides, we should make our guests acutely aware of the who, what ,where and why not of spawning trout.
How will this impact the spawn gazers? They will traveling from all reaches of the globe to come to the "new" spawning rainbow preserve. We will be able to set up t-shirt stands along the side of Grey Reef Road. Cook up Indian tacos and funnel cakes for the spawner "pilgrims". It is going to be a marketing marvel. All kidding aside, it would be great if a few groups of people came out to see spawners. The logistics are too prohibitive. If the Wyoming Game and Fish really wanted to set aside the BEST place to view spawners they would have closed the first quarter of a mile below Alcova Dam. There is good parking(enough for buses) near the Kortes Road Bridge that crosses the North Platte River directly below Alcova Dam. There is a park and a school nearby for a picnic. The best part is that they could actually see spawners from a great vantage point above the river...and not get wet, cold or injured. Simply walk out on the bridge, via the separate guard railed walkway, and lean over the side and watch dozens of spawning rainbows below. If you have ever experienced Fishing Bridge in Yellowstone National Park, this would be very similar.
How will this closure impact the general fishing public? Now we get to the meat and potatoes of this discussion! The BLM used your hard earned tax dollars to get you prime trout fishing access. Then the Wyoming Game and Fish...funded by your hard earned tax dollars...blocks you out of it. All the while you are still confined to fishing below Grey Reef Dam or at the Outhouse Hole with scores of others. Then your tax dollars are going to perform law enforcement, maintenance and devopment on the closed section. They will spend your money to buy and install closed signs etc. A new boat ramp and other unnecessary developements will be constructed (like a bridge to get spawn watchers to the island). I hope they reconsider this program. I hope they improve the existing developements, like the boat ramp at Grey Reef, build a parking lot for the vehicles and trailers parked at Grey Reef. Build a parking lot the new Van Rensselaer access and improve conditions at the Outhouse Hole (Pete's Draw).
To set the record straight, I DO NOT condone fishing to spawning fish, I spend more time watching spawners (spawn gazing) in springtime than fishing, I believe the Wyoming Game and Fish and the BLM do good things. I will gladly show spawn gazers around(free of charge of course) should they show up. My life...both spiritual and financial are largely based on the continued health and success of the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River. I believe that other techniques should have been attempted before closing 2 of the most popular runs on the river that YOU finally have access to. Both of these runs are perfectly legitimate to fish during the spawn. The funny thing is that there are NO spawning beds from the upper cable to the bottom of the "Junk". That comprises a third of the closed area. The spawning areas that they are concerned with is mostly on river left (the public side) just as the North Platte River turns left downstream of the "Junk". The "Cable" has a few redds at the tailout on river right(the private side). But, starting under the second cable is a spawning area that dwarfs the protected one...and it will be available to fishers, unfortunately.
Tuesday, March 4, 2008
It doesn't seem fair, but most of Wyoming's stream beds are privately owned property. As a sportsman, the concept of the great outdoors belonging to another person seems preposterous. As a landowner and a sportsman, this is the American dream. Who doesn't want to have their own personal, private sporting sanctuary? Once you finally get to the point in your life where you can afford that small piece of fishing or hunting nirvana, you will protect your rights to it.In Wyoming and Colorado the bottom of the river belongs to the landowner. This is unlike Montana and other western states where the land between the ordinary high water mark is state domain, and available for the general public to access. The Wyoming Supreme Court ruled that no waters, within the state of Wyoming, were historically used for commerce and thus were deemed NON-NAVIGABLE. This ruling gave all the land beneath the rivers to the private landowner while still keeping the river,only the water, as state domain. Access to Wyoming state lands is a privilege and not a right. In essence the public can use the water, but is prohibited from using anything associated with the stream bed. This includes wading in the water, dropping anchor, beaching your boat on a rock or a sandbar or grabbing vegetation along the river bank to halt downstream progress. The Grey Reef section of the North Platte River is no exception.
The property lines along the North Platte River are generally set up to follow the middle of the stream bed. So, if you are on a piece of property that is marked public only on the right side of the river, then you can only access the right side of the river bottom out to the middle of the river. If you walk or anchor on the left half you are trespassing. The fines for trespassing range from $220-$700 per offender. If there a 3 fishers in an illegally anchored boat, 3 citations will be written. This is enforced by the Wyoming Game and Fish as well as the Natrona County Sheriffs Department. One of the deputies owns land at Lusby and is intimately familiar with this issue because folks routinely trespass on his land.
When I first started fishing Grey Reef in the early 90's, it seemed there was an open door policy on the river. You could drive or float onto private property to fish. At that time there were very few fishers using the river and no major guide service operating. I know, from talking with landowners, that they were not concerned with folks respectfully enjoying their stream bank. Respect, that is the straw that broke the camels back. Fire rings, beer bottles, and a stinky turd (with toilet paper attached) dropped right where the owner was going to bring his family the following Sunday was enough to for them to close the door on the unwritten policy.
Fast forward a few years to around 1996 when Kyle Wall, then an independent outfitter, secured the first lease on the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River. He made an agreement with the Marton Ranch, who owns most of the land on the south side of Grey Reef from Grey Reef Dam to Government Bridge, to outfit on their land for a fee. Kyle hired on with the North Platte Lodge in 1998 and the lease was transferred. The provisions of the agreement were/are North Platte Lodge gets to use the land, but we must patrol and prosecute trespassers. It is very rewarding, to our guests and guides to be able to drop anchor or wade. But, it is also a frustrating task having to be the river police. Nobody wants to have conflict in their day, especially when they are enjoying the outdoors.
It is a funny thing when trespassers have the attitude that we are spoiling their day, when we feel the same way. It would be like blaming the cop for catching you speeding. It would be great if we never again had to talk to other sportsman about trespassing. But, there are things you can do to avoid a conflict. 1. Get a BLM floaters map to Grey Reef. It isn't perfect, but will give you a good idea of where the access points are. The Wyoming Game and Fish has colored signs posted along the river to designate private and public property. A square RED sign means anything beyond that point, on the side of the river where the sign is posted, is private property. BLUE means anything beyond that point, on the side of the river where the sign is posted, is available for public access. 2. Don't assume you are on public property, chances are your not. 3. Don't assume that you can beat the system by floating odd hours and illegally using private property when you THINK no one is around. 4. Don't assume that because other boats are stopped there you can too.
Unfortunately, there is very limited public access on Grey Reef, but it is getting better. The BLM just purchased all the river frontage that was owned by the North Platte Lodge. And, the North Platte Lodge has been working with our lessor's to provide public access on private property via the Wyoming Game and Fish Access Yes program. Between The Reef Fly Shop, Miles Land and Livestock and the Marton Ranch we have in the neighborhood of 5 miles of prime North Platte River access on their private property available for public use. In fact, The Reef Fly Shop is one of, if not the top collector of Access Yes donations in the state of Wyoming. We are aware that this program is not perfect, but it works very well around Grey Reef.
So, while Grey Reef is completely accesible by boat there are limited areas to stop. If you are not familiar with the North Platte River stop at a fly shop and ask if they can assist you in planning your float. The most common lunching spot is at the Fence Hole. It is about 3.5 miles downstream of the Grey Reef boat ramp and the last public access before Lusby. From the Fence Hole to Lusby is about 4.5 miles of no public access. The river is easy to row as there are no major rapids or rock gardens. But, the Wyoming wind can play hell with a green oarsman.
Come see what all the fuss is about. Grey Reef is an amazing fishery.
Sunday, March 2, 2008
The Rock Worm Mystery
Around the Grey Reef section of the North Platte River many folks refer to a red aquatic worm fly pattern as a Rock Worm. Little do they know that the Rock Worm was developed AND patented by Frans Potts around 1920. Mr. Potts was also responsible for inventing and patenting the Maggot...another caddis pattern. The insect he imitated with the Rock Worm is a free living caddis named Rhyacophila. Rhyacophila inhabit the North Platte River.
Gary LaFontaine interpreted Frans Potts pattern as the Green Rock Worm in the photograph to the right. This has been a deadly pattern for almost 90 years! Fly fishing history was written by the US Patent Office in 1920. Most folks in the fly fishing community know that a Rock Worm is, in fact, a caddis...and not an annelid.
The fly pattern that is regionally called the Rock Worm is simply red D-rib, larva lace, or flex floss wrapped around a long nymph hook size 12 to 14. This pattern clearly imitates an annelid or aquatic earthworm. We call this pattern the The Reef Worm for obvious reasons.