Casper ,Wyoming is a trout-fisher’s dream, and a recent securement of public land makes in-town fishing that much easier.
By Jen Ripple
I pull in my fly for the umpteenth time and clear it of vegetation. It’s the third week of September and conditions are not exactly perfect. I have come to Casper, Wyoming to fish the Miracle Mile, and instead find myself floating a section of the North Platte River called Grey Reef, which is located about 25 miles southwest of the city. As I wonder if my fly will ever make it past flotsam to those fat, acrobatic rainbows lurking beneath, a rhythm begins. Cast. Mend. Clear the fly. Cast. Mend. Clear the fly. The repetition puts me into a trance.
The North Platte is considered one of the best trout fisheries in the country, and for good reason. In this area, the strange bedfellows of oil and water combine forces to protect the thriving ecosystem below my boat. Many regional oil companies have headquarters here. ManyCasper residents work in the oil industry and are avid fly fishers, too. These people give back to the river via conservation projects, the most noted being Casper’s Two Fly Contest, which is modeled after Jackson, Wyoming’s famous One Fly event. Money raised from the event—more than $2 million over the past 15 years—goes to river restoration projects. In a town where fly shops work with federal government to improve water quality, water has no political party.
I set my mind back to the job at hand and make small talk with my two partners in crime; my fellow angler Kim Cross, and our guide, Ty Hallock out of the Ugly Bug Fly Shop. Ty is a renowned fly-fishing artist whose work is seen on many a Yeti cooler and in fly shops across the nation. His talent with a brush only pales to his prowess on the sticks. It’s his expertise that brings us to Grey Reef. Fishing this area can be difficult on your own because of landowner rights. In the Cowboy state, landowners own the streambed, meaning you can float across private land on navigable waters, but you must stay in your boat at all times. You aren’t allowed to wade or bank-fish on private property, and you can’t anchor your boat without obtaining permission. Because of these restrictions, hiring a guide is important. Not only will your guide know where the fish reside, they understand the laws, and many times will have obtained permission to anchor along the way, which is important if you want to stop for lunch or take care of business.
While many anglers rightfully choose to nymph these waters, which is no doubt the most effective fishing style here, I love to see trout come to the surface and hammer a big bug. When Ty suggests the hopper-dropper method, I am all about it. A double fly system such as this affords me two opportunities to attract the trout. While I prefer fast-action rods, I’ve brought a moderate action 6-weight. This allows me to play bigger fish on light tippet, in the hopes of not breaking them off.
It only takes a few algae-free drifts before my rod is bent. I’ve hooked a rainbow and he’s stronger than I expected. I know these fish can tip the scales at 10 pounds, and while not 10 pounds, this one is putting up a decent fight. We are in a section where we can’t anchor, so Ty maneuvers the boat brilliantly, keeping this fish out of the grass. After a few minutes, the ‘bow is in the net. High fives all around as he slides back into his watery home. The skunk is out of the boat.
Apart from our group, we don’t see another boat all day. The fishing is excellent and by day’s end, Kim and I have scored a boatload of beefy rainbows, each one released back to the river to be enjoyed another day. With Day One in the books, the Miracle Mile, which I’d really wanted to fish, is now far from my mind.
After a night out on the town and a comfortable stay at a local lodge, the morning starts with a trip to Fremont Canyon. This is a spectacular walk and wade destination that is open to the public. Here, high canyon walls adorn the sky as emerald green, fast-moving water plummets over giant rocks behind which big fish lie. It’s the picture-perfect setting for those who love fishing fast moving pocket water for big strong fish. Unfortunately, this is not our destination and merely a stopover point on the way to our next float.
Downtown Casper is a hot-bed of activity with the North Platte running directly through it. This is the section we’ll float Day Two. Floating through town, as opposed to wading public areas, allows us to cover more water than we could by wading. But, if you’re restricted to wading, this is a great place to do so—in September, just before my arrival, the acquisition of 646 acres of public land opened up 1.5 miles of river to fishing access.
This section of the North Platte tends to produce more fish of smaller size than Grey Reef. Once again, nymphs are the special on today’s menu, with Kim catching fish after fish. I love to streamer fish, and even though I know that my fish-to-hand ratio will be much, much lower than it would be if I fished nymphs, I have to try.
Ty ties on streamer after streamer, which produces a big, fat zero. At the end of the day, my stubborn self relents and it’s back to the hopper-dropper. I cast under a low branch, tight up along the bank. I know as soon as the fly lands that this is the golden ticket. I see the flash and feel the tug. I set the hook and it feels like a whopper. It is—two fish on two different flies. While I only land one, it is still the most excitement I’ve ever had trout fishing. The North Platte comes through again.
Fishing: The upper river at Grey Reef is open all year, however sections of the river may freeze in January and February. The Ugly Bug Fly Shop has ramps on private land and can usually get around the ice to fish, even during a freeze. April through May is considered prime time. For those who enjoy a challenge, September through November can be good depending on water quality and bug hatches, but the amount of vegetation floating in the water can be difficult to deal with.
Getting to Casper: While there aren’t many direct flights to Casper, it’s a quick flight from the Denver Airport to Casper. (NOTE: Make sure to check on all Covid 19 information and updates before heading to Wyoming.)
What to see: Apart from world-class fishing, Casper is a cosmopolitan city bustling with activity. Visit the Nicolaysen Art Museum or spend a day at the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center.
Where to stay: The Crazy Rainbow Fly Fishing Lodge is a perfect place to relax after a day on the water. This lodge has all the comforts of home and accommodates individuals or large groups. Meals can be made on your own or provided by a lodge chef. For those who can’t get enough of the water, the lodge sits uphill of a beautiful stretch of river, which you can fish before or after your float.
Eat: Racca’s Pizzeria Napoletana is a must. I suggest the Del Re specialty pizza with fresh mozzarella, truffle cream spread, mushrooms, prosciutto di Parma and fresh basil. Pair it with a glass of wine from an extensive wine list.
Drink: Pick your poison in Casper. If you like beer, the Frontier Brewing Company is the place to be. It’s warm and inviting, with great live music and craft beers. Try the Dark Rye if you like a dark, mouthy beer and a Front Copper IPA if you’re into balanced bitterness and love hops. If cocktails are more your thing, stop at Backwards Distilling Company for a creatively made drink from one of their many high-end spirits. This vintage, circus-themed distillery offers Strongman Gin, Sword Swallower Rum, and Ringleader Vodka among others. No need to thank me.
Shop: No trip to Casper is complete without picking up a pair of cowboy boots from Lou Taubert Ranch Outfitters. This specialty store has served the west since 1919 and has over 10,000 pairs of brand name cowboy boots in stock. You can bet your cowboy boots I came home with a pair.
Jen Ripple is editor-in-chief of the female-focussed fly-fishing publication, Dun