North Platte River - Trout Fishing Profile
Excerpted from Trout Fishing Sourcebook by Mark D. Williams
Location: Southern Wyoming.
Section: Three different stretches of river totalling over 100 miles.
Maps: USGS Overland Crossing, Overland, Saratoga, Finley Reservoir, Cow Creek, Ryan Park, Barcus Peak, Overlook Hill, Horatio Rock, and Elkhorn Point.
Type of stream: Freestone; two tailwaters; flows south to north.
Best seasons to fish: The river is fishable year-round. In the winter, the two tailwaters have their best fishing. In the early spring, when runoff is high, the tailwaters have a steady flow unaffected by the swollen waters. After the river has lowered and cleared, the 75-mile section around Saratoga has excellent angling. The fall spawning run of the brown trout is crowded but top-notch fishing. The river is so large and diverse that whatever time of year you chose, the North Platte can respond in kind.
Stocking/wild status: Over half the river is wild-trout water and no stocking is done; the fishery is managed as such.
Average sizes: There are an immense number of trout in the river, some studies suggest the river supports over 4,000 catchable trout per mile. Many of these range between 12-16 inches. The odds of landing a trout 16-22 inches is good on the Platte, and trophy trout over 5 pounds are common.
Regulations: From the Colorado border to Saratoga, all trout between 10-16 inches must be immediately returned to the water. Anglers can only creel six fish per day, and only 1 may be over 16 inches. Only artificial lures and flies may be used.
Species to be found: Brown and rainbow trout exist in almost equal numbers; smaller populations of cutthroat and cutbows.
When nymphing you'll be casting large stonefly nymphs and streamers all day long, so a stout rod is necessary to counter the sore arm that usually accompanies a 200-cast day. A 8 to 9-foot, 7 to 8 weight flyrod is an excellent choice. For dry fly fishing in the summer and fall, a lighter-weight rod works well, but not much below a 4-weight, since the wind kicks up most of the year and while it doesn't affect feeding patterns, it does affect the flycaster. When fishing midge pupa and other smaller flies, it is sometimes necessary to use a lighter tippet, 5X to 7X, but most of the time a stronger tippet will do. Spinfishermen use five-to-six-foot light action spinning rods and six-pound monofilament line.
Top fly patterns: The North Platte experiences a wealth of hatches throughout the year, making at different times, for classic dry fly fishing, small nymph fishing, and large streamer casting. During caddis hatches in the summer, wet flies and no-hackle flies are deadly. In addition to caddis hatches, the river has trico, midge, mayfly, and stonefly hatches, although the stonefly hatch occurs during runoff and is best fished subsurface with large black or brown nymphs. Attractor nymphs work all year long. Mayfly hatches include blue-winged olive, pale morning dun, green drake, and blue quill. Midday trico spinner falls are important for feeding trout. Effective patterns for the Platte include matching-the-hatch patterns, as well as the Platte River Carey, Bead-Head Caddis larva, gold-ribbed Hare's Ear, Little Yellow Stoneflies, Elk Hair Caddis in black, olive, and tan, Adams, Royal Wulff, Humpy, Girdle bug, Montana, and Halfback. Black and olive-colored Woolly Buggers are the best producer day-in, day-out on the stream. Muddler Minnow, Marabou Muddler, and Zonker are also excellent patterns.
If the trout aren't feeding on top, fishermen must get the bottom. The river is a bug factory, and most of its bugs, like the omnipresent scuds, are found near the riverbed. So are the trout. Running large stonefly nymphs through a run in the spring or generic mayfly and caddis nymphal forms through a pool in the summer can result in some explosive action. Fish the pocket water around the boulders with weighted nymphs or sink-tip lines. The riffles of the Platte are full of trout. The banks hold trout when the sun is full, and a well-placed fly to the bank under the cover of willows usually draws a strike. Throw large streamers like Woolly Buggers and other attractor nymphs against the banks and stripped back and follow the techniques the guides recommend. In the slower runs, pods of fish can be seen, rising to midge and blue winged olive hatches. A drag-free cast through the school is effective.
Best access points: Over 20 public access points, but be aware that the river flows through large tracts of private land. Since the river has only two miles of road which run alongside the Platte, the river isn't often fished by the hordes of out-of-state anglers heading toward more fabled waters in Wyoming. To reach some parts of the North Platte, like the 37-mile stretch from the Colorado border to the mouth of the Encampment River, a productive tributary to the Platte, about the only way to reach the river is by hiking or packing in by horse. There are good trails in the national forest to the river. Also remember that in Wyoming, landowners own the streambed, so don't get out of your boat and wadefish unless you have permission from the owner.
Best sections: The Miracle Mile is a seven-and-one-half-mile section of tailwater below Kortes Dam that is generally considered to be the richest stretch of the North Platte. This area has plenty of pools, runs, riffles, and deep channels. The variety of aquatic food for the trout makes choosing a fly a daunting task. The trout are thick in the Mile, as it is known, and sightcasting to feeding trout is a common technique. Ditto for the Gray Reef tailrace, a 30-mile blue-ribbon stretch below Gray Reef Dam. Generally, nymph fishing is best in the two tailwaters, whether you're using midge pupa, streamers, or scuds. The entire river has so much cover, so much water, that it is often beneficial to hire a guide your first few times. The river has undercut banks, backwater eddies, tree-lined banks, and large middle-of-the-stream boulders. There are places, like the Northgate Canyon, where the river is one great big riffle. Pocket water around the boulders holds huge trout. Deep pools and runs do the same. The river has all kinds of holding water along its 109-mile run.
Quality of Angling
How a river this productive can be so unknown is mind-boggling. The scenery alone makes this one of the top float-fish trips in the nation, not to mention its year-round angling or the opportunity to land numbers of 15 to 22 inch trout with a solid chance at a linebreaker. How often is it that we find a trout fishery that has improved significantly over the last decade? Since the slot limits initiated in 1982, the number of catchable trout per mile has doubled and the quality of fishing has appreciably increased. This is one productive river, providing excellent nymph fishing, dry fly fishing, and spin fishing. The river has several personalities, in part shaped by the varied topography through which it flows. The Platte runs through a gorgeous forested canyon in the Medicine Bow National Forest, through the Saratoga Valley, wide expanses of ranchland, and high desert plains. It has two tailwaters each with their own interesting characteristics. The river has a variety of hatches all year, as well as scuds and forage fish, so the trout eat well and are built heavy.
Wadeability/floatability: A float-fisher's dream river, the North Platte can be floated in some section year-round. Many float fishermen choose to float and then put up and wade nice-looking spots. After runoff wading is easy below Saratoga, thanks to a firm gravel bottom. Chest waders are best until the fall when the river is low enough to wade with hip waders.
Fly Shops, Guides, and Outfitters of Interest
Great Rocky Mountain Outfitters, Inc., 216 East Walnut, Box 1636, Saratoga, WY, 82331, 307-326-8750
Riverside Tackle, Riverside, WY, 307-327-5751
Platte Valley Anglers, Saratoga, WY, 307-326-5750
South Side Tackle, 605 South Greeley Highway, Cheyenne, WY, 307-635-4348
Lou's Sport Shop, 217 Grand Avenue, Laramie, WY, 307-745-8484
Campgrounds can be found in any of the national forests near the North Platte. Private resorts and lodges are bountiful along its course, including the Encampment area. Rawlins, Saratoga, and Casper are the three largest communities near the river, and all have ample lodging and other facilities. Cheyenne and Laramie are close enough to use as bases also.
Flyfishing the North Platte, by Rod Walinchus, Pruett Press, 1994
The Flies of Southern Wyoming II, by Rod Walinchus, Great Divide Flyfishers, P.O. Box 63, Rawlins, WY, 82301
© Article copyright Menasha Ridge Press and Mark D. Williams. All rights reserved.
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication