Friday, 4 March 2011

On the Wind River

"Catching fish is undeniably a pleasure, and I'd rather do it than not, but there is a pleasure too in fishing, the savor of pure possibility always on the brink of realizing itself - or not - and the attraction of fishing has much to do with the keenness of  expectation and desire urged against the uncertain and the unpredictable."   
                                     Ted Leeson, The Habit of Rivers, Lyons and Buford, 1994

Two large rainbows.

Driving to Cody for the weekend we got to the Wind River at Boysen State Park about an hour before the sun dropped behind the canyon walls. This was not really a fishing trip but I'd carried my gear. After getting suited up for winter fishing and rigging my rod and tying on some small midge patterns I only had about a half hour left before the sun fell behind the canyon rim. Once the sun was gone I was blind as far as sight fishing was concerned.

These two fish would move out of the main current into a back eddy. In the photo above they are facing downriver, heads into a small upstream eddy. This kind of lie often presents one of the trickiest situations for getting a good drag-free drift. I was optimistic that I'd hook-up, but my optimism was unwarranted.

Wind River just below Boysen Reservoir
The east slope of the Wind River mountains is the source of the eponymous river.  After flowing east it turns north at the Boysen reservoir. Downstream from Boysen the Wind River flows onto the Wind River reservation dropping into a deep canyon which is about 12 miles long.  The river becomes the Big Horn at the Wedding of the Waters, just past the end of the canyon. It  flows north through Thermopolis WY and into Montana merging with the Yellowstone and eventually the Missouri.  The canyon part of the river is known for seriously large brown trout.  As I understand it, one guide has the rights from the tribe to float the canyon and charges a premium.  I'm told it's worth it. You need a permit from the tribe to fish on reservation waters. The canyon is famous for its rattlesnakes.

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On Sunday we stopped again at Boysen on our way back south.  The weather was not nearly as pleasant; it was snowing and heavily overcast so sight fishing was out of the question.  Overcast weather is by no means bad fisherman's weather; most anglers would claim the opposite, but a snowy March day in Wyoming can be biting cold.  I fished for a bit more than an hour while P read in the truck and though I never got cold I never caught a fish either. I briefly spoke to a young local hotshot (who wasn't catching anything either) and he told me to tie on a pink sow bug, or a Ray Charles midge.  I didn't know the Ray Charles pattern  but looked it up when I got home; it's another sow bug pattern. I did tie on a pink sow bug, I always carry a few in my nymph box.
Sow bug soft hackle: tied and photographed by the author.
A sow bug is an aquatic crustacean, an Isopod. The pink sow-bug soft hackle pattern is popular on the Big Horn tailwater below Yellowtail dam. That's 100 miles or so north (downriver) of where I was fishing. I find it interesting because I've never seen that pink sow bug pattern used anywhere except on the Big Horn and it really does work magic there.   I have to wonder if there is an entomological basis for using the pattern on the Wind River or if its use there is a cultural artifact, having migrated upstream. 

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I've admired the beautiful section of river below Boysen Reservoir before but had never fished it.  Although I didn't hook up I learned quite a bit about the river there. There is a large body of common fishing knowledge but river knowledge is local knowledge. It takes time to learn about the habits of a river and each river has its own particular habits.

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