We are on the downhill side of March now.
Spring has begun and so has the spring weather which means we can see rain, snow, fog, wind and sunshine at any given moment for the next six weeks. This type of weather generally bodes well for anglers as the biological rhythms of fish get in sync with longer days, warming waters and the urge to spawn and migrate.
Last week was almost a vacation for this writer as I fished the Big Horn Basin from Cody to the tunnels in the Wind River Canyon with friends. Now that the vaccine has been given to many of my acquaintances, along with the lifting of some of the state mandates put in place by our governor and local health departments, it is easier to convince longtime fishing buddies to take a trip without having to fear quarantine or social distancing afterward.
I have to say the fishing could be rated good to excellent throughout the Big Horn Basin on the eastern edge of the Absaroka and Owl Creek Mountains. Monday was spent in the Wind River Canyon, where a valid Wind River Indian Reservation Fishing License is required. There, the trout were tough to find, but not that hard to catch once spotted and after the sun hit the waters in the canyon.
My partner and I hooked trout that were fat, sassy and full of fight from just inside the canyon’s northern perimeter all the way to where the tunnels begin. The trout were taking a size 14 Wade’s tan North Fork Special, along with brassies, zebra midges and perdigon style mayfly nymphs.
The largest trout put in the net Monday was (and I am not stretching the fish’s length) a legitimate 28-inch rainbow. In the vicinity of where this fish took my fly, my partner and I managed to hook, net and release quite a few more rainbows from 14- to 20-inches on the NFS nymph and small black or olive zebra midges before the action died down and we were forced to move to other locations on the reservation.
Most of the trout caught were laid up in the deeper sections of the Wind River where midges and tiny blue-winged olives were active, along with some good-sized sowbugs in the rocks that litter the banks along the river. Each move up river towards the tunnels gave us the opportunity to fish different types of water. Most of the time, we caught trout in the slower and deeper sections where the trout didn’t have to fight current and where they could lazily swim around and eat the early spring offerings of insects and crustaceans.
Interestingly, last Monday my buddy was catching browns as we moved south, while I continued to hook rainbows. We’re back on this stretch again this Monday to see how we fare with the inclement weather forecast this week. Hopefully, the fishing is as good, or better, than a week ago.
The North Fork of the Shoshone had trout moving above Buffalo Bill Reservoir early in the week and the action was very good for other friends of mine who were fishing with the hot orange bead, black-bodied version of my North Fork Special in a size 10 or 12. The “Spawn” version of the same fly also worked in smaller sizes as the sun began to drop over the Absarokas in the late afternoon. Trout were also caught on brown or black rubber-legged stonefly nymphs. Make sure you have some of the above to have a good time.
It was good to see tagged trout from last year’s trout migration as we fished. We landed three mature spawning size trout mid-week, but couldn’t get them to hold still in the net long enough to capture the tag number attached to their dorsal fins so we could report that to the Area 2 Fishery Biologists at the Game and Fish office in Cody. Next trip, we will try to do better at getting that information.
By Friday, the North Fork had gone off-color and the action had slowed way down for us compared to the great fishing found in the days before. Other anglers I talked to who were fishing the North Fork had the same report.
I am of the opinion that Buffalo Bill needs to lose more, if not all, of its ice before we see the annual migration of trout begin in earnest. As of Friday, there was still ice covering the majority of the lake with only a bit of open water showing along the shorelines.
The ice was mostly gone on the North Fork Abatement dike, which means Buffalo Bill could be ice-free this week, or at the least, have open water on the western arm of the reservoir.
Through town, the lower Shoshone continues to fish well with dries, nymphs, soft hackles and streamers. Action and angler use have picked up considerably with the balmy 50 degree temperatures we had last week. Browns, rainbows and cutthroat have been rising steadily late mornings through late afternoon in the slower, deeper runs found above and below what locals call the Belfry Bridge.
The storm Saturday and Sunday didn’t slow down the midge or blue-winged olive hatches nor the trout feeding on them. In truth, the inclement weather made the hatches better and the trout were not hiding from the bright sunshine seen earlier last week.
Weather is to be moderately stormy and a bit cooler this coming week. Get out and enjoy the spring fishing that is found so close to home. Don’t forget to pack the bear spray if headed up towards the national forest to see what the fishing is like up there. The bears are officially out now and it pays to be cautious while exploring waters that were mostly frozen until a week ago. Also bring along the sunscreen, rain jackets and wading staffs for additional comfort and safety. Most of all, enjoy your newfound freedom and Wyoming’s wonderful outdoors again.