Where to fish? Well that all depends on the weather forecast and after a long cold Winter we all need this...
Highs in the 70s and blue skies.
Of the many options we mulled over (The Green , The Snake or Henry's Fork, The San Juan) only the North Platte outside of Casper, Wyoming promised toasty temps. The Grey Reef section was going to be 10-20 degrees warmer than all the neighboring rivers.
I arrived Thursday night in the dark to blustering gusts of up to 25mph. Kelly and Lance had already set up camp. We huddled in the Westfalia RV and made woeful predictions of good fishing in anticipation of our first day on the river. Pete's Draw campground puts you right on the water and right across from one of the best runs on the river.
This is what the river looked like when I awoke the next morning. So we took our time getting on the water. Breakfast burritos anyone?
Setting up the raft took us a while. We had a few bugs to iron out.
By the time we were ready to put in we counted 10 drift boats on the water.
It turned out to be a long hard day floating between Alcova and Lusby.
The Flush was on and flows go from 500 cfs during fishing hours to 4000 cfs in the wee hours (1am to 7am). This cleans the gravel for more productive redds and dislodges tons of food for fish.
The hungry fish are bigger than average compared to comparable rivers. Almost every fish we saw or caught was in the 18 inch range and thick with broad shoulders. They fight hard and use the heavy current to their advantage. They really give you a run for the money using a 5 wt. Maybe a 7 wt is a better choice.
There are a lot of fish in every good hole. Double hookups are pretty common.
Everyone we met on the river was nice and helpful. They pointed out where to fish, how to rig up, which flies were working and most importantly which sides of the river were private.
You can catch fish wading below the dam and from the campground.
By Day 2 we had the river dialed in and everyone was into fish before we launched the raft.
One advantage of the raft was that we could improvise our own takeout at the camp site. With a shorter float we could spend more time on each hole and not have to worry about making up time on the river to get to the take out before dark.
The best fisherman on the water were all women. They were consistently hooked up to fish and made it look easy.
They eat worms. Rock worms, but not caddis, just red wire worms or red tubing wrapped on a hook. San Juan worms in red also were the ticket. ( I have no love for this fly. And yes, I totally get that they catch fish. I still hate fishing them).
Nymphing is the only really reliable way to get into these fish. A long day of watching an indicator makes me go crosseyed. Unless I'm catching fish every cast or so, I start to lose interest.
In between the pods of fish stacked up in good holes are a lot of dead water with sparse fish. So knowing where to fish or just following other guys and waiting your turn in line are your best bets for getting into fish.
Wind gusts up to 25 mph tangled rigs and made casting a chore.
Anything bad that could happen, did happen.
Kelly left the keys to our shuttle car 7 miles upstream at the put in. He had to hitch a ride back while Lance and I paced back and forth at the take out. Yes. This happened!
Private stretches of river alternate along the length of the North Platte. You can't anchor or get out of the boat without risking a hefty trespassing fine. Although there are blue and red signs marking private and public lands, it gets confusing as you go down the river. I personally don't believe rivers should be privatized since they mostly originate in public lands and are a public resource. Floating here reminds me of the flaws in our public policy and land management.
Day 1 - I was the only person in our group to net a fish or so much as get a bite. Lance and Kelly were discouraged. Only discouraged is an understatement. Plus everyone that pulled up along side us would be into fish within just a few casts. Rubbing salt in our wounds.
It isn't a picturesque river. The water is turbid. It's pretty crowded and since the good holes are specific, it gets to be combat fishing from boats. Another boat will roll up on you just a few 100 feet below and work the same run. I get that this is how the Grey Reef is fished, but it's not my cup of tea.
If you are willing to go with a guide then you can get into some great fish and not have to manage the crowds. (The crowds will still be there but they won't be your problem) The guide will handle that so you can relax, fish or enjoy a drink.