For the last 5 years I have planned the annual “Get Locked!” fly fishing trip for a dozen of my buddies. This year’s location was the N. Platte River near Casper, WY. And my God did we have fun! I believe everyone in the group agreed that of the 5 trips this was the best. And it was the best because of where we stayed, the fishing, the outfitter and guides, The local fly shop, and the food. We floated the Grey Reef section of the N. Platte.
The great thing about this trip is that the majority of the guys are beginner fly fisherman…. This trip is the only time they fly fish each year. It’s a bunch of CEOs and such; a bunch of old married guys. So how do a bunch of beginner fly fisherman catch 546 fish over 3 days?: Answer: Guides; really good guides… well, that and how effective for beginners, “the bobber” is…
So I might as well start the story here at the guides: Ryan Anderson and his wife Liz run WYOMING FLY FISHING GUIDE SERVICE – Gray Reef Outfitters on the North Platte River (307-277-6282). And I highly recommend them if you are going to fish the N. Platte River in the Grey Reef section in the Casper area. Ryan, (who is a big ‘ol bear of a guy about ½ my age, crying funny, and an awesome guide) enlisted 5 more of his guide crew (Mickey, Slade, Bean, Grant, & Keith) in a 6 boat armada to float us drunken old guys to catch and release 546 fish over 3 full days of fishing. Sober and trying I think we would have caught 1000. I will definitely fish with Ryan again. I haven’t told my lovely bride of 27 years just yet, but I plan to make my way back to Casper in the fall with my son Mark to float with Ryan.
We stayed at Red Butte Lodge. Really, it wasn’t really a choice. It was the only place I could find in the Casper area that had 12 beds (short of a hotel). But, we totally lucked out. The Red Butte Lodge is awesome, quite reasonable in cost, and it has the high TripAdvisor ratings to validate it. Ruth Romp owns and runs the place. She is a kiwi (New Zealander) and is just a great gal. Her lodge and cottage sit right on the river. Although I barely fished in front of the Red Butte Ranch because the river was blown out there (downstream from Grey Reef), most of the year I bet you could just wade in right there and fish quite successfully the entire time.
The Fly Shop
I have written of the local fly shop in Casper (and it’s internet business) many times before in this blog. It’s the Platte River Fly Shop located just outside of town on your way to the Grey Reef area of the N. Platte at 7400 State Hwy 220, Casper, WY 82604. My buddy Mark Boname owns the shop and is a genuinely great guy. I tell all my friends to buy their fly fishing stuff from Mark at: www.WyomingFlyFishing.com. Mark and his staff, Gerri to name one of them, run an honest business and provide tons of guidance and help. Plus, they have all the “good stuff” (Simms, Sage, Galvan, TFO, Patagonia, Winston, etc.)
I had real trouble finding a caterer to do the breakfasts and dinners in Casper. Then I stumbled on Caputa Catering. Rob Caputa and I went round and round in planning in email and on the phone. Great guy and I’m totally pleased. Unique every day hot breakfasts with always fresh fruit. The dinners ruined the diet, but exceptions must be made when the food is that good. Rob, even purchased and delivered all the beer and alcohol. He had his GM, Lashawn Wier helping him. She was great.
Even if you don’t have the need to cater in Casper, you need to go to their restaurant, Prime Time.
On this trip each year I fly in 2,3 days early to set things up and to do some “real” fly fishing. I prefer to wade. I know it’s so much more effective in the drift boat, but there is a certain freedom and skill and hike involved when wading that I really enjoy.
I had some time on Sunday when I got to Casper, before sundown so I stopped at the North Platte River Fly Shop and my buddy Mark set me up with flies and steered me to the section of river between the dams because it was not blown out. I did pretty well. Great stretch of river. I was really encouraged because I’d be fishing with Mark the next day.
On Monday, my first full day in town my buddy Mark Boname graciously offered to take me on a full day of wade fishing. He took me to some of his spots on the N. Platte including the Fremont area of the river above the dams and downstream in the Grey Reef area and in the transition area between the dams. We did pretty well in a rising river. Mark dragged me all over that river and I didn’t find out until days later from him that he was totally sick…like puking sick. He didn’t even mention it while we were fishing. And we fished a full day. That is the type of guy he is.
That night my buddy Tom O’Connell, CEO of Applied Information Sciences flew in and we hit the Silver Fox Restaurant in Casper hard. This is the highest rated restaurant in Casper for a reason. And its Casper; so the restaurant is very reasonably priced. We sat in the bar and ate and Brian the bartender took care of us. Brian later became of good me of me, tom and the entire gang.
I Lost Another Fish of a Lifetime
The next day, Tuesday, Tom and I made the big trek to Thermopolis to fish the Wind River section of the Bighorn. We hit the local fly shop in Thermopolis and got some great guidance, flies and the special permits to fish this stretch of river on the Indian reservation. What we did not know is how big the river was. Until we got there. I have never seen that river so high. Crossing was not even a consideration. We couldn’t even wade. Most of our fishing was done from the rocks on the steep banks. I caught a really nice fish and Tommy hooked up a few times, which is impressive because it was really tough casting in those conditions and finding soft water for a good drift was really difficult.
But, what I will remember forever is hooking into another fish of a lifetime…and losing it. I found 10 yards of soft water between two huge boulders in the river that I knew was holding fish. Just like I was taught, I made a cast right on the seam, mended, got a good drift and my indicator went down with vengeance. I set hard because it’s Wyoming; they use 3x at a minimum in Wyoming. The fish reared and jumped right in front of me. I gasped and then almost fainted because it was huge. Honestly huge like a steelhead. I bowed the rod just like you are supposed to do it. The fish landed and sprinted downriver. My reel was singing and I had the drag setting pretty tight. But, now the horror set in. The fish went into the main channel around the giant bolder. I couldn’t chase her downstream because the line would have wrapped the boulder. I tried in desperation to flip that line around the boulder, but it was like 10 feet tall and the fish kept running…for what seemed like an eternity. I considered jumping in the river and swimming after the fish a number of times. But the river was so high and raging. It just was not safe. And the fish kept running. My backing was now scraping the rock. I watched the backing deplete to about 20 feet from getting spooled.
I always hear and read about how great going into the backing is. I’ve caught a lot of big trout in my time and I never seem to go into the backing. I think if you fight them correctly you don’t need (or want) to go into the backing. But now I’m not only into the backing, but I’m about to be spooled and lose the fish, the line and the backing. I quickly considering pulling a “brad pitt from a river runs through it” by jumping in the river and swimming after it. but, I’m wearing waders and the wind river is in an angry dangerous mood that day. So I do what I have been dreading for minutes now: I tighten down. I’m at a loss what to do now because I don’t want to hurt, most likely kill the fish, by reeling it backwards up a raging river. I didn’t have to worry about it for long. It only took a few turns of the reel before the fish got pissed, turned her head and snapped off the 3x. sigh.
Question: Do you know how long it takes to reel in all the backing and the entire fly line?
Answer: An eternity after losing the fish of a lifetime.
I now have 3 fish that will haunt me for the rest of my life:
- The Giant Blue Trevally off the cliffs in Mahaulepu, Kauai
- The huge roosterfish in Guancaste, Costa Rica
- The monster rainbow in the Wind River, Thermopolis, WY
Fishing Guided in drift boats with Grey Reef Outfitters on the North Platte River
The insanity started on Wednesday when everyone flew in to Casper. We fished guided for 3 days; some of us 4. Most of us drinking adult beverages in the drift boats the entire time. And it was ridiculous good fishing. Which is funny because the guides thought it was kind of slow. I guess in Casper, 542 fish by 12 amateur anglers in 3 days is slow. BTW, 95% of the fish caught and released were over 14”. Silly. Not matter what your skill level, if you want to catch a bunch of wild, hard fighting rainbows on a fly rod you need to call these guys. Worth every penny
I cannot wait to get back to the N. Platte River.