Friday, 17 August 2012

Drifting the North Platte

Blue heron watching / Patient at the waters edge / Speared rainbow wriggles

For someone who mostly wades rivers, floating is a different approach, it provides a different perspective.  Drifting downstream, the path of the river through the landscape unfolds before you. When wading, the river passes you by, flowing around your legs as you work to keep yourself well planted to the bottom.   On a float, each bend reveals something new: an osprey dropping into the river and coming up with a large trout in its talons; a lone buck antelope silhouetted against a deep blue sky; a blue heron patiently waiting for and unwary trout. You'll see many of the same sights while wading but floating streams them to you in continuous succession.

You can't argue with results - nice rainbow hen taken on a WD40 emerger.
And of course there is the difference in the quality of the fishing.  I've always felt that carefully and successfully working a run on foot is the best demonstration of an anglers skill.  Drifting in a boat, with your line overboard, waiting for a hookup, seems rather stochastic.  Hookups come as a surprise.  It seems to me that it has more to do with the skill of the oarsman - who works hard to keep the boat tracking through the best water - than it does with the skill of the angler.  I haven't done much drift boat fishing so maybe I am not tuned to the finer points.

A boat gets you to water you could not otherwise get to but, without some superhuman rowing on the part of your oarsman,  you may not be able to fish it as thoroughly as you might like. In Wyoming we have the absurd law that, even for navigable waterways, the bottom of the river is the property of the landowner.  This means that dropping an anchor is a form of trespassing.  Notoriously, there are posses that patrol the private stretches of water.

John with a nice rainbow early in the float.
In the photo above the rectangular red sign over John's right shoulder indicates private land upstream of the sign.   The opposite side is blue indicating that downstream of the sign the banks are publicly accessible.  Sometimes this is through the generosity of a land owner who has granted access to the public (thank-you) and other times it really is public land - state or federal. Red private - blue public.

They don't call them "greenbacks" for nothing - a nice rainbow being released.

Grousing about access aside - we had a great float. We hooked, played and landed plenty of good fish. Great thanks to Jeff's friend and neighbor John D. Baker.  Aside from being our generous host, John is an artist, a falconer, a master angler, a hunter and a generous oarsman.  I can recommend his website: where you'll find an array of wildlife art.  I especially like the drawing of the stooping peregrine on the front page of his website. 

We floated from the Gray Reef Access to Government bridge.
We floated from the boat ramp just below the Gray Reef dam to the takeout just below Government bridge, a distance of 10 miles. It was a lazy trip and we stopped and fished from the bank when possible. The float times listed here is six and a half hours for a raft; drift boats times can be faster. John's boat is an RO skiff, which has to be just about the perfect rig for the North Platte. It had plenty of room for the three of us with casting stations fore and aft and with its lower sides it is less affected by wind.  We took our time, shoving off from Gray Reef at about 8:30 AM and getting off the water at Government Bridge at about 5:30. Next time I think I'd take out at Lusby - although we caught fish, the section between Lusby and Government Bridge is slower water and not quite as interesting.  This was John's recommendation - wish we'd taken it.

John with a nice cutbow.
Throughout the day we hooked up on a number of patterns.  I started out with a two fly rig, a bead-head caddis pupa and a  mercury midge on the point. Eventually I switched the point fly to a WD40 and then switched to a dark leech pattern in favor of the caddis pupa. I hooked fish on all the patterns though the WD40 was the most productive pattern. Interviewing some others who came into the ramp after us Jeff found out they'd had a rough day with few fish - couldn't tell it by us.

1 comment:

  1. Good blog, John is a friend and to my knowledge is pretty good at everything and both he and his wife are very well read. I am not.

    Look forward to meeting you sometime.

    Beck in Arvada