Warm weather has begun the snowmelt of the lower elevation snowpack around the Big Horn Basin. Warmer weather also brought some heavy afternoon rain and thunder storms to the Basin, which added runoff volume to the melting snow. As expected, water quality at the end of this past weekend was much different in local free-flowing rivers and streams than what anglers witnessed last week.
The North and South forks of the Shoshone, the lower Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone and the Greybull have gone from clear and very fishable to turbid, even muddy, at the beginning of this week. While it will be another week or so before it can be said that spring runoff is in “full bloom” for 2021, it is safe to say that anglers will have to scout around to find rivers and streams above dams that can provide good fishing conditions.
The flow on the lower Shoshone River below Buffalo Bill Reservoir has increased to more than 1,400-cubic-feet per second now, but the water quality still has good clarity and visibility (2-3 feet) down river to Willwood Dam. However, the lower Shoshone below Sage Creek could be completely gray and unattractive to anglers by the time this column is published.
The Mother’s Day caddis hatch is slowing down now, but the trout are still keying on wet fly patterns that imitate this insect. Prior to publication of this week’s column, I have been fishing the lower Shoshone midday just above town and fooling trout with some of the new jig-style Czech tungsten bead, soft hackle wet flies in sizes 12-16 with amazing results since the week before Mother’s Day weekend. My favorite has been what I call the Blow Torch, (Czech Dark Princess) a dark-bodied fly wrapped with a black cul de canard soft hackle and a bright orange tag at the back end of the fly. Success has been good whether dead drifting or swinging the fly. This fly imitates drowned and emerging caddis very well and is recommended to use on the lower Shoshone right now or later this month on the Firehole, Gibbon and Madison rivers when the fishing season opens inside Yellowstone National Park.
The Bighorn River near Thermopolis has been fishing well through the town section with sowbugs, wire worms, bead head midge pupae and emergers, scuds and some type of soft hackle, Czech style jig flies fished deep and then swung through the slower eddies and deeper riffles and runs. Streamers have also been working well. It is difficult to recommend streamers because anglers who chuck and duck these larger minnow and/or leech imitations have preferences much like spin fishermen when it comes to the one streamer or lure that produces hook-ups cast after cast. More popular streamers have been Galloup’s Sex Dungeon, Galloup’s Peanut Envy, Galloup’s Mini Peanut, the Game Changer and Clouser Minnows with soft material like marabou or Arctic fox fur used to give the Clouser flies more action when cast and stripped from shore, or from a raft or drift boat.
South of Thermopolis to the Wedding of the Waters, the river has little public access and is best fished from watercraft beginning at the popular Wyoming Game and Fish boat launch area north to the 8th Street bridge in town. The river has fished well in this section using the same flies mentioned above. Dry fly action has been decent at certain times of the day on the Bighorn using midge clusters, Griffith’s gnats, sparkle duns and elk hair caddis in sizes 16-22.
The Wind River Canyon has doubled in flow since my last report on this section of river that flows through the Wind River Indian Reservation where a valid reservation fishing license is required to be legal. Due to the increase in flow and the fact that the rainbows and cutthroat have just about finished spawning, the Wind River Canyon now has some healthy browns and rainbows feeding on the spring insect hatches, sowbugs, scuds, leeches and minnow imitations mentioned above.
The only wet fly not mentioned yet has been Wade’s gold bead tan North Fork Special, which rocks when fished in sizes 12-16 in the canyon. Wading is going to be more difficult and the only way to fish the Wind River from the tunnels north to the Wedding of the Waters. Note: Floating and fishing is not allowed in the canyon unless you are with a guide permitted for the Wind River Reservation.
As warm weather begins to blow out some of the more favored rivers to fish in the spring, local lakes are the fallback plan for anglers wanting a place to wet a line until the snowmelt ends sometime in late June or early July. The lakes are also heating up, too. Lake temperatures are in the mid-to-high 50s now, which has increased trout activity, as their bodies react to the warmer water and their metabolism kicks in.
The fishing has been decent at East Newton (special regulations apply on this still water. Read the big sign before assuming you are legal) and West Newton lakes. Successful anglers have been drop-shotting Chironomid (midges) larvae and pupae deep and catching trout in the deeper water where Chironomids are most active in either lake. Other flies to use have been tan or gray gold-ribbed hare’s ears, tan North Fork Specials, tan or gray sparkle duns, parachute Adams, Griffith’s gnats and Rickard’s seal buggers or seal Callibaetis nymphs. Streamers also work well. Both lakes can be fished from shore or from a boat. Small spinners and spoons are a good choice if you are not a fly fisher.
Luce, Hogan, New Cody and Beck lakes have also been producing action for anglers. These lakes are stocked with a variety of fish species to keep anglers entertained. Cutthroat trout, brown trout and yellow perch can be found in New Cody, located above Beck Lake in the town of Cody. Brown trout, bass, catfish, crappie and yellow perch have been reportedly caught in Beck Lake, also located on the south side of Cody.
Luce is located off County Road 7RP, 25 miles north of Cody and is stocked with 100% rainbow trout with special regulations that call for no bait, flies or lures, and that catch-and-release is mandated and enforced.
Hogan is located off the same road as Luce and is the first lake one comes to at the Hogan and Luce recreation area. Hogan has been stocked with cutthroat trout and managed for what is called a “put and take” lake fishery. Harvest is allowed at Hogan and the limit is stated in the Wyoming Game and Fish Regulation magazine available wherever Wyoming fishing licenses are sold.