Huge rainbows? Forget Alaska, head to Wyoming!

submitted by Shannon Kiser

Recently, the cover picture on a fly-fishing magazine caught my eye. A guide from a lodge in Alaska was holding a pig rainbow. This, somehow, got me to thinking of all the folks who travel to Alaska every year in pursuit of these big fish. Why would you travel so far, or pay so much, when a place in the lower 48 has fish of this caliber to offer? These anglers are obviously unaware of the North Platte tailwater at Grey Reef.

Situated on the high windswept plains outside Casper, Wyoming is the last untouched tailwater in the west. A glimpse of what the San Juan and the Bighorn were fifteen years ago. Home to trophy rainbows and browns without the traffic or pressure associated with tailwaters today. 100 boats per day? Not here. 30 boats per day? Not here.

First glance at this river reveals little difference between it and any other in the west. Similar flows. Similar hatches. Similar terrain. But something is out of the ordinary. Where are the crowds? When fish average 2 to 4 pounds and 19 to 20 inches long, you generally have to stand in line to get at a run. Not here. This river is untouched, January through December, and yours for the taking.

Generally this time of year I’m tying flies preparing for the coming season. But, seeing the big ‘bow’ on that cover, I headed for the Reef. The temperature in Casper was in the teens when I arrived. The middle of the streets had anywhere from 12 to 36 inches of snow piled from the plows. A “minor” winter storm had passed through the day before dropping around 20 inches of snow. It didn’t look good.

I piddled around town for a few hours to let the temperature come up and pulled into Trappers Route access sometime around 10 in the morning. I rigged up a typical two-fly dropper nymph set-up with a scud and a midge emerger. A standard offering for the Reef. Two casts later it paid off. A beautiful rainbow around 22 inches. My cold fingers long forgotten, I continued fishing.

north platte pig Every run, tailout and hole was stacked with fish. I changed tactics and flies numerous times with the same results. The day ended as it had begun with the tail of a pig rainbow disappearing into the current. The first fish of the day is always the best and that day was no different. I didn’t catch the magazine cover quality pig, but I had spent the day on the last great tailwater in the west .If you're tired of fighting crowds for small fish and want a chance at the rainbow of a lifetime, come fish the North Platte below Grey Reef. Flushing flow management and strict kill limits coupled with ‘artificials’ only have produced the best wild rainbow trout fishing in the west.

With Casper only 26 miles from the Reef, your day on the water is even better with numerous choices for accommodations and meals.

Content and photo ©2000, 2001 Shannon Kiser

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