Big Bows and Deep Snow

Wyoming and I have a deep love affair that stems from the Cowboy State’s vast tracts of empty land, mesmerizing beauty, and the fact that the population of the entire state is equal to the population of the county in which I reside here in Utah.

Oh, and Wyoming’s fisheries are far superior to what we have in Utah. That’s not meant to take away from what Utah offers – the fishing here can be fabulous if you’re willing to go off the beaten path and explore – but to underscore just how much of an angling paradise Wyoming is.

Over the weekend, the call of Wyoming was too strong to ignore, so my buddy Bill and I headed out in hopes of catching that small window of exalted fishing that exists just before runoff strikes and rivers become largely unfishable for two weeks to a month.

The plan was to head out with Jason and Erik, guides from Feathered Hook in Afton, Wyoming, and hit some private water. We’d need snowmobiles to get there but that didn’t deter any of us from wanting to go experience a private section of one of Wyoming’s better-kept secrets.

There was just one problem. The river was froze solid. Like, we could have driven the snowmobiles across it solid.

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So we settled for plan B, which was to fish the public (and not frozen) section of the river some 10 or so miles to the south.

The first hour on the public water was rough. Low, clear water meant I could see the fish that resolutely refused every fly I presented, and Bill was having similar problems. Our guides landed a couple, but the fishing was undoubtedly slow. A slightly worrisome feeling crept into the group as we all began to think that the day might turn out to be a bust.

After a short conversation, Bill and I agreed to fish a lower section of the river while the guides fished higher, searching for willing trout. As Bill and I stumbled through knee-deep snow and thickets of willows, I thought to myself, We should have gone and fished the Snake. 

That thought immediately fled my mind when I stopped on the banks of the river and saw two dozen huge trout laying in some riffles, actively feeding on nymphs.

I turned and hollered to Bill, and in short order, I took the first cast towards the trout.

The rest, as they say, is history.

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Bill hooked up immediately afterwards, hauling in a true beast.

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After a ridiculously slow morning, a disappointing snowmobile ride, and the first fluttering thoughts that we might very well get skunked, the fishing turned on. The rainbows began eating dries, and in what’s probably a once-in-a-lifetime-experience, the relentless Wyoming wind wasn’t so strong as to discourage Bill and I from throwing size 16 dries.

The fishing was so good at one point, I even had a smack-addled rainbow slurp a size 14 Parachute Adams. Remember what I said last week about flies that size being magic? There’s a bit of truth to it after all!

This fish took a fly tied by my grandfather – a pattern which just happens to be a Durrant Family Secret, and has brought to my net more fish than any other fly I’ve used.

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After that fish, I wasn’t sure if the catching could get any better. As the legendary A.K. Best once said, “The fishing was good; it was the catching that was bad.” That Saturday in Wyoming, both were exceptional.

However, due to dumb luck and help from my guide Jason, the catching did get better.

Jason and I were taking a water break, sitting on the grassy bank and watching a few big male rainbows chasing each other around the beginnings of some redds. Jason explained to me that male trout do that in order to establish dominance, much in the same way elk rut in the fall.

That’s when we saw the fish. 

It was the fish you see only sparingly. As John Gierach wrote, the fish Jason and I saw was the kind of trout where, once hooked,

“What you feel is more weight than fight, and the wings of panic begin to flutter around your throat. This is the once-or-twice a year ‘oh-shit’ fish.”

I didn’t dare move from my sitting position on the bank for fear of spooking the brute away, so I lobbed a cast while sitting down. The trout charge my fly, and my Abel TR-2 screamed as the trout tore off downstream. I glanced at Jason. “I think I’ll have to get up for this one,” I grinned.

The fish took me down to a big deep pool, shaking its head with the kind of line-breaking power only a real monster possesses. After ten minutes of fight, and the fish taking me out to backing, Bill was in position to net the fish.

“It won’t fit in the net!” He yelled as he lunged into the water, trying to force the trout into captivity.

By some miracle, Bill fit the fish’s head in the net and ran back to shore with it, setting it in the calm shallow water as we all gathered around to take in the sight of the monster.

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The fish was a full two feet long, and had roughly a 16-inch girth. It’s the biggest trout I’ve wrangled in Wyoming to date, and the second-largest rainbow I’ve pulled from a river. I caught a 27-inch 7lb monster from Colorado’s Frying Pan River last February that still reigns supreme in my river rainbow collection.

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I apologize for the funky look of the photos – the white balance was off on my camera all day long, and there’s only so much I can do in Lightroom to make the pictures look passable. But the only thing that matters in the end is that I have proof of “The Big One” and not simply another fisherman’s tale to tell.

What began as a less-than-promising day turned into my best day of fishing this year, and my best day ever of angling while in Wyoming. Between the big fish, the deep snow, the great company, and the beautifully empty Wyoming landscape, I have no qualms calling this day nothing short of absolutely perfect.


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Posted in:Pack Your Bags

Spencer Durrant

Spencer is a fly fishing writer from Utah and author of the soon-to-be-published YA novel, “Learning to Fly.” He’s a regular columnist for the Standard-Examiner, where he authors the monthly Trout Bum column, in addition to writing the Cutthroat Chronicles for Fishwest. His writing has appeared in Hatch Magazine, On The Fly Magazine, The Orvis Fly Fishing Blog, and KSL.com. If he’s not on the river, he’s at home tying flies or writing. Connect with him on Twitter or Instagram @Spencer_Durrant.

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