Mention fly fishing the American west to most people and their first response will likely be the famous floating rivers of Montana and Wyoming like the Yellowstone, the Snake, the Madison or the Henry’s Fork. They also think that Jackson Hole, Wyoming is what the west is all about. There is another west. It is far less famous but the trout fishing is as good or better. And it is the real west where some days you have to wait on a cattle drive to get to the river. One of those special un-discovered venues is Wyoming’s upper North Platte River Valley.
Nestled between the Snowy Range and the Sierra Madre’s, about 4 hours northwest of Denver and right on the boarder with Colorado, the North Platte River Valley offers the total spectrum of fly fishing opportunities. While the area is best know for the North Platte River float fish season from mid-May through mid-June, the real jewels are the smaller tributary streams. Every day you can fish a different type of water, all in public ownership.
The mountains surrounding the valley receive in excess of 6 feet of snow each year. The peak of the runoff is generally over by mid to late June with the best water levels starting during the first full week of July and continuing into early August. Remnants of the winter’s snowpac remain in the higher elevations well into late July, keeping the high elevation streams fishing well after the North Platte season is over.
The fishable waters in the valley run the gamete of types and challenges. At one end of the spectrum are the high gradient plunge pool/pocket water streams like French Creek and the North Fork of the Encampment. At the other end are the mountain meadow streams, Hog Park Creek, and the East Fork of the Encampment. In between these book-ends are Big Creek and the main Encampment River, waters that vary from pocket water to riffles to pools over a few hundred yards distance.
While fish can be caught on nymphs and streamers, the dry fly fishing is too good to not make it the technique of choice. This is not serious “match the hatch” fishing. The primary insects during the summer season are caddis flies with slate gray drakes often working well. Most days the way to start is with a size 14 parachute Adams trailed behind a size 14 olive or dark tan Elk Hair caddis. Just wait and see which fly the fish prefer that day. During the early part of July the Green Drakes hatch. These are big mayflies that start hatching about 10 am and are on the water for about an hour. During that time the place to be is the “magpie flats” section of the Encampment with either a size 10 Green Drake or Blue Wing Olive.
French Creek, Big Creek and the Encampment consistently produce the best fish. The fish aren’t supper sized but they are in great condition. Typical fish from these streams will average 13 to 15 inches with the expectation of several 18 inch fish a day. The fish from the meadow streams average a bit smaller – 10 to 12 inches – but each year these streams produce several 18 inch plus fish.
One of the unique aspects of this area is the possibility of doing a “one fly, one day, grand slam”. With a bit of luck and perseverance an angler can catch a Brook trout, Brown Trout, Rainbow Trout, and a Colorado River Cutthroat Trout all in the same day and with just one fly. The hard part for most people is 1) not losing their fly or 2) catching a rainbow. Each year it is done by 4 or 5 anglers and the pride of being able to claim the prize is worth climbing a tree or two to retrieve that size 14 olive Elk Hair Caddis!
Several airlines offer non-stop or one stop flights between London’s Heathrow Airport and Manchester Airport to Denver, Colorado. From Denver you can either rent a car and drive to Encampment or fly on to Laramie, Wyoming and rent a car there for the drive to Encampment. There are several B & B serving the area as well as motels 20 miles away in Saratoga Wyoming. Room in the B & B’s generally books early. Forest Service and Bureau of Land Management camp grounds are also available.
The best fishing is all in public ownership and under the control of the Medicine Bow National Forest, the Bureau of Land Management, or the State of Wyoming. While the area can be fished without a guide, a guide is strongly recommended. Many of the best fishing locations require driving down 4 wheel drive roads and then a mile or more of walking. You can easily waste half of your trip just trying to get to where you want to fish. Daily fishing permits are available for about $10.00 per day.