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!