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Tuesday, March 11, 2008

How to Target North Platte River Monsters

The Grey Reef section of the North Platte River is an amazing trophy trout fishery. Not only do we enjoy very healthy populations of our average trout (very big fish by most river's standards), but we have the trophy class fish that are a blast to target.

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!

Erik Aune


Montana Teal said...

All good things must come to an end. The truth about this column will attract more fishermen which means less trophy trout. I've seen a fall increase in fishiermen the last 4 years, and this column will attract even more. Soon fall will look like the spring as far as major boat hatches.
Bottom line, big fish only tolerate so much pressure and you can only handle them so much before they die. Like so many other fisheries, Gray Reef is now on the down slope. I'm glad I experienced the hay day. There were/are some real monsters in there, but they will only tolerate so much.

The Reef Fly Shop said...

Montana Teal
I agree with your sentiments about attracting more fishers to the river being detrimental. There are still plenty of big fish at Grey Reef. The jist of the article is explaining that summer, as well as fall, is still avery good time to fish Grey Reef. During the summer there is virtually nobody fishing here. I am very interested to see your facts that would support the comment that the North Platte River is on the down slope.
Erik Aune

Montana Teal said...

My facts are not scientific, they are from experience. I've been fishing the Reef in the fall for the past 8 years. I've spent a minimum of 20 days each fall fishing for tropy trout with streamers and have been extreemly successful not only with the quality, but also the quantity. In the last 4 years the quantity has deminnished and in the last 2 years the quality has also fallen.
Now I realize this could be God's idea of a good laugh, but in the last 8 years I've come to know a couple of the local guides who have noticed the same situation in their business.
We are still seeing some fish and catching some in the 24 to 29 inch range. (Big fish, don't get me wrong)But the 30+ inch trout from 5 to 8 years ago have not been seen. The first four years of 2000 were unbelievable with 1 to 3 fish a day 28+ inches.
Do I believe they are still there? Yes. Have they completely changed habits because of the amount of traffic that has become more and more the last 4 years? Yes.
Bottom line, You can only disturbe, bump, spook a big fish only so much before he adapts a different life style. And, he's only going to make 1 or 2 mistakes every fall before he remembers how he got big.
This is what too much traffic can and will do to a fishery.
There are 4 major outfitters (including yourself) there in Casper and each of you are selling the same thing. How big the trout are in the fall and how rediculous the streamer fishing is. Each of you have seen increases in your fall business the past 4 years. And good for you, I'm not tring to diminish the right to make a living or the right to share the experience with others.
My only point is, because of the increase in traffic in the past and what is coming in the future, the truly trophy trout are not as common and will become more scarce in the years to come because of all the deserved attention.

Thomas said...

Montana Teal coming from my experience, of about 11 years on the Platte, the river is not on the downslope. Multiple big fish are caught every summer and fall using the techniques Erik was talking about. I am also curious on your measuring techniques? A 28inch fish every day? Sounds a little "fishy" to me. The point is I fished during the early years of the 2000's and it was great. I fish the river now and it is just as good. Also learn how to measure a fish or how not to lie. Anybody that has a brain and is familiar with the Platte knows your a bald face liar when you say you caught a 28 inch fish every day.