2020 Week 11:
Day 1: Wednesday 3/11
As my time in Winter Park began to wrap up I started to plan out how I wanted to drive back to Minnesota. Over the last two years I have enjoyed changing up the way I travel from MN to CO and I have come to the conclusion that driving through SD and WY is my preferred route in comparison to driving through IA and NE. On this trip back to MN I planned to spend a day fishing in Wyoming and a day fishing in the Black Hills of South Dakota. Wednesday morning at 5am (after packing up until 1am) I hit the road for Wyoming.
It was a full moon as I drove through northern Colorado and the views were downright beautiful. As I got closer to the Wyoming boarder the sky began to brighten as the sun ascended in the east and I caught my last Colorado sunrise.
I crossed into Wyoming not long after sun up. The clouds stayed low all morning and it was an awesome drive taking in the vistas and desolate landscapes.
Before I knew it I was pulling into a dirt parking lot and gearing/rigging up for a hike and a morning of fishing. This was a river that I had never fished before and I was surprised to see how slow, wide, and meandering this body of water was. I was rigged with a Goldie on my 7wt and a fix on my second rod. I started with the Goldie and fished the first couple of pools with it without moving anything. Not exactly sure why but the Goldie didn’t end up working at all in this river. The fix however was a hit here. After not moving anything I switched over to the fix and immediately started moving and landing fish. Fish were schooled up in slow, deep pools and where I found one fish I would almost always find more. Over the course of the morning I ran into a number of browns and rainbows and quite a few of them were in the mid to upper teens.
When I reached the end of the public section of water I hiked back to the car and hit the road to a different river. I pulled into another dirt parking area and started fishing my way downstream, throwing a dungeon on the 7wt as I went. I strip set hard when I felt a hit and hooked into another large rainbow, this one a little over 20″. It was a great start to a new river!
As I fished on I ran into a couple small browns before a weather front blew in and the fishing shut down. During that time I switched up flies and tactics as much as I could but nothing seemed to work and I failed to move a fish. After about an hour a little bit of sun popped out and the wind calmed down. I was at the top end of a long, wide, flat/deep hole at the base of a big rapids. At the time I was throwing a Goldie on the 7wt with a sink tip line with a split shot in-front of the fly to get it deep. I fished my way from the rapids downstream, casting quartering across and swinging the fly through the riffle and slack calm water on my side of the river. On one of the casts I felt my fly stop abruptly in the slack water and I strip set. I looked at where my fly was and saw flashes of yellow and orange from a trout the caliber of which I had never dreamed of seeing. He sat in one place and head thrashed violently for what seemed like forever. I pulled myself together and promptly tossed my other rod to the ground and ran towards him, striping in line and keeping tension on him as I closed the distance. I jumped into the river and waded in his direction as I had no chance of pulling this fish anywhere close to me. When I got near I pulled my net out and made an attempt at netting him from the side. He was much too wide/long for a crappy side swipe so my first netting attempt bounced off of him. He didn’t seem to enjoy getting bumped in the side and took a short run. Luckily I was able to control him and run over through the water to where his run ended up. At this point I was able to lead him into the net head first and my jaw dropped. This was the biggest brown trout that I had ever seen and I couldn’t believe that it was sitting in my net!
30″ brown trout are ghosts. I could fish every day on rivers known for producing fish this size and I may never hook into another one for the rest of my life. I was very fortunate and I am thankful to have had the experience of landing this fish. I will never forget it.
That night I slept in the fishing access parking lot with my hammock slung between my blazer and a cottonwood tree. The temps weren’t too bad but the howling wind was loud and it swung me back and forth all night long. I didn’t sleep all that great. Around 6am I got sick of fruitlessly trying to sleep so I packed up my hammocking setup, made some coffee, and hyped myself up for another day of fishing with some bluegrass.
Day 2: Thursday 3/12
I slid into my waders as the world began to wake up, small streaks of red light peaking through the clouds. As per usual I wanted to get as far away from the access as I could so I hiked in a ways before stopping at a juicy looking pool. I started fishing when it was still fairly dark out and fished for quite a while without any luck. When the sun finally crested above the distant mountains I was at another wide, deep and calm pool, similar to the pool I had caught the mega brown at the night before. At some point earlier in the morning I had tied on an 8″ Buford to mess around with and a couple casts into this new pool I hooked into a ~13-14″ brown with it. Not too bad I thought to myself! I moved a few yards upstream and hucked another long cast out across the river. I mended the line upstream and started stripping. Halfway back on the retrieve another fish absolutely crushed the Buford. This fish was definitely beefier than the first one. I got him to net and he topped the tape out at 21″. At this point I knew that I had figured something out.
I continued fishing upstream and ran into some unbelievable fish. Every brown I caught from this point on I landed on the 8″ Buford.
It was a beautiful sunny day. I felt like I was dreaming as I fished up this cottonwood lined river and continued to land lunker brown after lunker brown on a pike fly. These fish were hungry. I can’t tell you how many of these aggressive eats I got to witness.
At 2pm I was at the end of the public stretch of water and began to hike out. Counting the evening before, this was the most unreal 24 hours of fishing that I have ever experienced.
I got back to my car and took some time to shed some layers. I now had a heck of a long ways to travel ahead of me. I hit the road and drove until close to midnight where I car camped in the black hills and slept for 4 hours. Around 4am I woke up and completed the drive to MN. I got home at 2:30pm. I quickly showered, unpacked my car, and repacked for my buddies bachelor party. He picked me up at 3:30 and I was off on another wild adventure. Life is crazy!