Time: 8:00AM – 4:00PM
Location: Red Butte Ranch downstream three miles and then Grey Reef dam downstream 9 miles.
Fish Landed: 29
Steve and I were up bright and early on Tuesday morning. Ruth was up at 3:30AM as she worked an early shift, but she prepared breakfast for us before she left. After a light breakfast Steve and I dressed warm for a day on the river and migrated to the heated garage where we climbed into our waders. Greg meanwhile put our rods together and rigged our leaders with strike indicators, split shot and flies. I used my toesies from skiing on my feet even though I was expecting to remain in the boat all day. In addition I broke out the handwarmers I’d purchased at Wal-Mart and placed them inside my ski mittens.
Greg informed us that our strategy would be to float from the Red Butte Ranch downstream for three miles or so and in this way we would be ahead of the flush. Once we took out, we would transport the drift boat back to the dam and float downstream from there for nine miles to another take out. By the time we started our float at the dam, Greg expected us to be behind the flush with water levels essentially down to non-flush levels. Steve drove his Subaru to the morning takeout with Greg so Greg could park his truck and trailer there, and then the two returned to Red Butte Ranch.
Once they returned at 8AM, I helped Greg guide the drift boat across the shallow riffles to a spot just above a deeper drop off and then Steve waded out to join us. I remembered that I forgot my neoprene gloves, so I waded back to the bank and returned to the garage to retrieve them, and then waded back to the boat again. We began with Steve in the rear of the boat, and I took the position in the bow. Greg rigged my 6 weight Scott with an orange egg fly and a purple leech. Steve started with a similar egg fly and trailed a red annelid fly. It didn’t take long before my indicator dipped and I set the hook and I was attached to a heavy fish. Unfortunately as I got the fish close to the boat I realized that it was foul hooked in the dorsal fin. Greg and Steve congratulated me, but I wasn’t as excited as them. The fish was a nice fat specimen in excess of fifteen inches, but I announced that I don’t count foul hooked fish. Greg and Steve took the position that they did and it was harder to fight and land a foul hooked fish than a fish hooked in the mouth. I still wasn’t convinced and maintain the opinion that it is only fair to count fish hooked in or very close to the mouth.
We continued on and I landed a second foul hooked fish, but Steve was having better luck in the rear of the boat as he landed quite a few fine hard fighting rainbow trout with several in the 15 – 17 inch range. Eventually we found a spot where I hooked and landed a couple twelve inch rainbows and then added a third as we got closer to the take out ramp. My mouth hooked fish were interested in the top egg fly during this morning drift. The air temperature registed 25 degrees when we began our float at 8PM. I placed my handwarmers in my mittens and kept them beside my seat at all times. Every time Greg rowed the boat from one choice location to the next I inserted my hands in the mittens and grabbed the handwarmers and made a fist. They proved to be lifesavers.
By 9:30AM we arrived at our take out location so we aided Greg in securing the boat in the trailer and then we drove west on 220 to the boat launch below the dam and we were back on the water fishing by 10AM. Steve and I switched positions so I began the late morning drift in the rear of the boat. There were quite a few other guides and drift boats along with wade fishermen in this area and Greg knew two of the other guides as they operated out of the same guide service. The first couple of miles below the dam were very attractive with more runs and riffles giving the water more character and making it easier to spot likely productive water. It didn’t take long before Steve and I were hooking and landing fish. One memorable location was within a half mile of the boat launch where a deep run split the river in half and several wade fishermen were on the left side as we faced down river, and three boats were maneuvering along the right side. Each boat would drift the right side of the run and when they reached the bottom, the guide would row back to the top and repeat the same drift. We probably hooked and landed eight to ten nice rainbows from this area.
Eventually we grew weary of this scene and moved on down the river. Greg worked the oars and pulled ahead of the other boats, and we continued to find sweet spots in the river where we made multiple drifts and landed many fish. Quite a few of the productive areas looked nondescript to Steve and I, but Greg’s 20 years of guiding on the North Platte River paid dividends as he knew where all the troughs and drop offs were. During this period of the day my line offered a yellow plastic egg fly and a rabbit strip leech with a purple body. Roughly 1/3 of the fish were hitting the leech and the other 2/3 went for the egg.
At around 1PM Greg pulled the boat up on the muddy shore and declared it was time for lunch. Our lunches were enclosed in plastic and we munched them down in the boat. After lunch Steve and I once again switched places, and I resumed my position in the bow of the boat, and shortly after we began my indicator dipped and set the hook and I was connected to a larger fish than previously experienced earlier in the day. The fish began to charge below the boat and then surged back toward me and repeated this several times as I maintained a taut line. On one of these cycles Greg spotted the fish and announced it was a large brown trout. I really wanted to land this fish as we had landed only rainbow trout on the trip up until this point. The brown made a hard run up the river above the boat by twenty yards or so and then as I maintained pressure, the line released and fell to the water in a limp state. I reeled up my line thinking that a fly broke off only to find that both flies were in tact and somehow the large brown had managed to work its way free from the fly.
Needless to say I was quite disappointed with this turn of events, but I continued to focus on my line and within the next half hour I hooked but failed to land three more rainbows. These also felt like decent fish, probably in the 15-18 inch range. Finally I broke the losing streak and landed a 14 inch rainbow and my fortunes improved from there. Between 1 and 4 we floated the remainder of the nine miles to the take out. The fishing remained quite good and we found numerous troughs and runs that we drifted through repeatedly and caught fish on nearly every drift. Amazingly the average length of the fish we caught was probably around 14 inches and we scoffed at 12 inch fish. At some point Greg swapped out my leech for an annelid worm, but the egg was really my top producer.
By 4PM we arrived at the scheduled take out and Greg’s truck and trailer had been shuttled to the parking lot. Once again Steve and I helped Greg crank the drift boat up and out of the river on to the trailer bed. We jumped in the car and returned to Red Butte Ranch where we took hot showers and then drove back to Casper for dinner at Jay’s.
As I reflect back on the day I realize it was one of the finest days of fishing I’ve ever experienced. I landed 29 fish in total with perhaps 5 additional foul hooked fish and another 15 hookups that I was unable to land. Over the course of the day I hooked nearly 50 fish and Steve estimated that he hooked in the vicinity of 60. It was rare that I made a drift with my flies and didn’t have some sort of action. Steve and I estimated that we experienced at least 15 doubles where we were both playing fish at the same time. In addition to the nice quantity of fish, the average size was also a nice surprise. Most of the fish were in the 14 to 15 inch range, but I also landed several in the 17 – 18 inch range. These fish were all rainbows and hard fighters and they featured wide girths making them quite heavy for their length. The weather was very tolerable in the late morning and afternoon as the temperature climbed to the high 40’s and when combined with the periods of sunshine was quite pleasant. Once we moved ahead of the other boats we pretty much had the entire river to ourselves.
Greg was an expert guide and coach. He was adept at reading the water and worked hard to provide multiple passes in areas where we were having a lot of success. The North Platte River will remain a destination that I hope to return to in the near future.