Recently retired and ready to spread their wings, Len and Faith Todd wanted to do more with their time than just wait for the grandkids to stack up. Avid travelers, they purchased a Toy Hauler with the expressed purpose of doing some snowmobiling in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula … but another motivation waited, unspoken. Tour Alaska. Trip of a lifetime. They waited. They researched. They prepared. In late June 2009, the trip of a lifetime began. During the trip, Faith and Len blogged about their adventure and kept a growing audience of friends and family rapt with attention and just a little bit jealous. In this chapter we take a little detour with Len Todd, mechanical MacGyver and avid fly-fisherman, to hear about a detour in Wyoming that became the FISHING trip of a lifetime.
I guess we should get this out of the way right off … casting a line in Wyoming may just spoil the rest of your fishing trips – forever. I caught more fish in three days than I have in a lifetime
The fishing I had been anticipating since leaving Michigan began after a classic Western evening of rodeo and Red Ass Rhubarb wine (see chapter 3). I woke up bright and early the next morning ready to fish. One of our Wyoming friends, Will, and I took our ORVs up into the mountains. On the way to Burnt Lake we dropped our lines in a feeder creek and netted some Brookies. Excited, we headed up to the lake only to get skunked. We split up to see in which direction they were biting. Will went to the right, and I made my way left along the lakeshore, moving toward the headwaters of the creek where we had hauled in the Brookies earlier. Because of the late snowmelt, the water was moving hard and fast, but it was still incredibly clear – more so than anything I had ever seen back home in Michigan.
Add thick brush to the raging water and you don’t exactly have the most conducive environment for fly fishing, so I gave it a go with my ol’ faithful Mepps fly spinner. No sooner had I slipped it downstream into a hole, than, BAM, a nice foot-long Brookie tied into it. In all the excitement I nearly stepped in a reminder that I was in bear country. We had passed one of those “BE BEAR AWARE” signs on the way; but, being so focused on fishing, I had nearly forgotten. After all, what’s a little bear scat when the Brookies are hitting? Besides, bear reminders are always better than actual bears.
Fishing in Michigan’s U.P. had taught me that, when in bear country, catch and release is often the way to go. You do NOT want to argue over a fish with Yogi – especially if he’s been drinking (see chapter 5). If you find yourself in that precarious position, let the bear win, and be sure you are wearing Bear Spray. It’s like bug spray, but for much larger, furrier, angrier creatures.
After just a few minutes of fishing I caught and released several Brookies. Satisfied with our morning jaunt, we headed back in to plan our next trip. A little scouting at the headwaters of the Green River revealed not only a prime fishing spot, but an available campsite right on the river. Whiskey Grove is fantastic, but you already heard all about that from Faith (see chapter 4).
When we arrived at Whiskey Grove the Green River was angry. Will’s dad, Bennie, and I walked downstream until we found a large tree lying in the river, curbing the current just enough.
Of course, current is only one thing you have to worry about. Depth is another matter entirely. Stepping out into the river and feeling no bottom is a real wakeup call. Once I shook off the water, we decided to fish from the shore.
Determined to make all the trudging through sagebrush along the shore – not to mention the accidental swim – worth it, I cast just behind the log and immediately got a hit. Bennie saw my line and cast in the same spot. Another immediate strike. But nothing stayed on. Just as I was beginning to think that my little slip into the drink was a sign of how the day would go, I got another strike. A brown trout that had to be over three pounds! Excitement was tempered by initial worry … I had not expected a fish of that size, so my tackle was too light. Despite that, I was not about to let this guy escape the frying pan. Ultimately, my patience and determination paid off. Dry and warm around the campfire later that evening, that fish tasted amazing.
Here’s a quick tip from a guy who learned the hard way: if you are planning a trip longer than three days, get the full-season non-resident license. The day after I landed that huge trout, I had to drive back into Pinedale to get another day fishing permit. In fact, even if you aren’t planning on more than three days, but you have the time, get the full-season permit. Once you get a small taste of the fishing in Wyoming, you will want to get in as much as possible. Making multiple thirty-mile trips to and from town really cuts into the casting time.
Bennie, his wife Bethie, and Will met us back at the campsite. They had gotten permission to fish a private creek near Whiskey Grove. This “creek” was actually a little bigger than the river I live on back in Michigan. Down at the river, the mayflies were thick, but the fish were thicker. Brookies were hitting every hook we cast. If we lost one, another took its place.
I have never had more fun fly-fishing. Then, suddenly, the emergers vanished, the spinners all fell and … nothing. It was time to go home. We packed it in and headed back to camp where we cooked a huge fish Will had caught earlier in the day and some burgers ala Bennie.
The warm fire and friendly company only made the terrific grub even more delicious; but, eventually, reluctantly, it was time to hit the rack for some well-deserved shuteye.
I woke early the next morning and went upstream on the Green River. The water was high and still moving fast, so the canoe stayed on the truck. I stepped carefully downstream, keeping branches within reach. I did not want to start my morning taking a spill – so, of course, that’s how I began my day. Fisherman’s luck. You often pay for good fishing with bad comedy. Well, there was nobody out there to laugh but the bears, so I made it back to shore, dumped out my waders and went back in the water. Nothing. Nada. Zip. Time for the spinner.
I tossed the spinner out into the river and let it swing back into the calmer water along the shore. BAM … a large Brookie. Then another. Then another. I stopped counting after the first twenty-five. Yes. Twenty-five. Somewhere along the line I took another swim, but once you’ve stopped counting catches, who cares? Besides, I had a large brown on the line – and even managed to reel him in before I let him off to go dump out my waders. Then, relatively dry again, I kept fishing and kept catching until it was time head back to camp for lunch.
That’s how my little detour on the road to America’s Last Great Frontier turned into the fishing trip of a lifetime. In fact, once we got to Alaska, I ended up leaving my fly rods in the Toy Hauler. After all those Brookies and Browns in Wyoming, I saw no reason to fish Alaska just for the halibut.
Helpful Resources for Your Next Fishing Trip:
Fishing For Brookies, Browns and Bows:
The Old Guy’s Complete Guide to Catching Trout
Written by Gord Deval with commentaries by Paul Quarrington
A thorough, plainspoken guide to the lifestyle that is fly-fishing. As one reviewer put it, this not a “sponsor-laden infomercial” as so many fishing shows and sources can be. This book is for the lifer, the “to the bone” fisherman who can’t help himself from searching for the next great fishing hole. Entertaining and enlightening, whether you are already crazy about fishing or you are curious to know what all the fuss is about, this book is for you.
Flyfisher’s Guide to Wyoming
By Ken Retallic
Okay, this is the official “tell-all” book about fly-fishing in Wyoming. Comprehensive and detailed, it offers information about nearly every stream, river and lake worth casting a line in. On top of that you get seasonal reports and reviews that include flows, hatches and species. If you are heading out West for the fishing trip of a lifetime, you might forget your AmEx, but do not leave home without this book.
Fly Fishing for Beginners
By Chris Hansen
If you have never cast a fly in your life but are interested in getting a start in this incredible hobby, you will not be disappointed in this book. From what type of equipment to buy and the techniques that get results – this book is both a basic and exhaustive introduction to the exciting sport of fly-fishing. Learn what to wear, how to read the water and which flies work best for specific fish. You may be a beginner, but, with this book, you don’t have to fish like one.
Chapter 1: Dude—No Way!
Chapter 2: Celebrating Our Independence
Chapter 3: Exploring Black Hills and Plush Valleys
Chapter 4: Rodeos, Rivers, and Bears—Oh, my!
Chapter 5: Big Fish and Bigger Sky (Wyoming and Montana)
Chapter 6: On the Fly in Wyoming
Chapter 7: Glacier National Park & A Glimpse of the Great White North
Chapter 8: Yukon Get There From Here
Chapter 9: Alaska … Roads, Rain and Rabbits
Chapter 10: Seward’s Glory
Chapter 11: Not Just for the Halibut
Chapter 12: Mountain and Flame
Chapter 13: Fairbanks, Loonies & The Road To Destruction
Chapter 14: Icefields, Parks and Canada in the Rearview
Chapter 15: Reservoirs, Dinosaurs & the Devil’s Playground
Chapter 16: Superior Views & Yooper Trails
Chapter 17: The Adventure Continues