For live and premium content, sign up for our email newsletter and we'll send reports directly to your inbox
To say that Wyoming’s Bridger Wilderness has golden trout is like saying Babe Ruth occasionally hit home runs. Dozens of lakes in the 385,000 acre wilderness contain the spectacular trout. A group of us fished just three of them in late July and the results were remarkable. In three days of devoted angling (our trip lasted five days but much of our time was spent riding horses in and out of the wilderness and hiking the high country) we caught close to 100 goldens, with several exceeding three pounds and one that went four pounds.
Considering the fact that we were using 5x and 6x tippets and the IGFA two pound test world record is currently right at two pounds, it is safe to say that for those interested in putting their name in the books, this is the place to go. But the true wonder here is solid angling in fantastic, wild surroundings.
Our trip began with an eight hour ride from the Willow Creek trailhead on the northwest side of the wilderness, some 25 miles from the small town of Pinedale (pop. 1,066). We pulled into our campsite near dark (we got a late start) located in the northern quarter of the wilderness some 10,500 feet above sea level. A severe thunderstorm blasted the peaks above us and drove rain down on the camp in sheets as we unloaded our gear. Evening storms were an everyday occurrence.
The next morning, photojournalist Tony Oswald caught eight goldens up to 12 inches before breakfast in a small lake just below us. Another small body of water just downstream yielded 30 or 40 goldens up to a pound on dries such as Goddard Caddis, Humpies, Adams and so on. They were beautifully colored trout emblazoned with the classic golds and reds associated with the species. We figured things couldn’t get much better, but we were wrong. Very wrong.
A one hour ride (and another 700 feet in elevation) after lunch brought us to a pair of lakes connected by a small river. A sidelight of this brief ride occurred when a large horsefly took a chunk out of my horse’s flanks, send ing the animal into a paroxysm of bucking that sent the two of us careening down a steep trail. The experience was memorable, to say the least! But back to the fishing….
While Angling Report subscriber Burt Leed (he’s the gentleman, you’ll remember, who clued us into the area) and outfitter Tim Singewald fished the lower lake, Tony Oswald and I hiked up the river to a large plunge pool where I could see goidens cruising in the water. Casting No. 6 Muddler minnows upstream and then swinging them in front of the largest trout with just a hint of action soon produced results.
My first golden was around three pounds, and he put up a thrashing fight, almost escaping to the pool below. The coloration of the fish put a Wyoming sunset to shame. The colors literally glowed in the clear, mountain light. It measured some 18 inches and broad bodied and full shouldered.
For the next couple of hours fish struck my Muddler, or a Zonker, in almost every run and pool. And the next day was even better. Once, I remember, I cast a large Muddler ahead of a fish just below a small waterfall. It immediately nailed the pattern and in seconds was two pools below me and into the backing a totally unexpected experience. Minutes later, I briefly held the fish up to the sky. It was easily over 20 inches and in the four pound range. It was crimson in color, shading to blaze pink that gave way to burnished gold and large dark spots. I released the trout and called it a day.
The fishing may sound easy, but line control in the river was everything. The casting was not critical, but the drift was. The pattern had to have just a "touch" of action. Numerous failures led me to develop a feel for the proper approach.
Singewald says he has caught goldens over seven pounds in the area. In all, there are some 1,000 lakes in the area. Many contain not just goidens but cutthroats, brookies, rainbows and grayling. Singewald has concentrated over the years on the golden waters, however, most of which are concentrated in the northern quadrant of the region above 10,000 feet.
You’ll notice I haven’t named any of these waters, and I’m not going to. This is an extremely fragile fishery and Singewald agreed to guide me to the area only if I promised not to "hot spot" the place. Increased pressure from meat fishermen would destroy the resource, he says. So, what I can tell you that will help you arrange a trip here?
The first step is to contact Singewald at Bridger Wilderness Outfitters (*). The cost for a five day trip starts at $800 and includes everything except fishing gear (float tubes are available), personal items (including a sleeping bag) and a fishing license. The food Singewald prepared was excellent. A typical meal included stuffed pork chops, baked potatoes, corn on the cob and blueberry cheesecake.
If you are in reasonably good shape you can make the trip, but be aware that eight hours in the saddle is uncomfortable. Warm clothing and rain gear are a must, as is insect repellent. I recommend a 9 0, seven weight rod and an 8 0, five weight. Bring floating, intermediate and full sinking lines, along with leaders and tippet material that will allow you to build leaders from 7 1/2 feet 3x, to 12 feet 6x. Pack some Muddler minnows, Woolly buggers, Spruce flies, Zonkers and leech patterns from No’s. 2 to 6, along with dries such as the Adams, Renegade, Mosquito, Black Gnat and Goddard Caddis sizes No. 12 to 18. A midge pattern is a good idea, as is a hopper pattern for variety. We seined a number of stonefly nymphs from the stream near camp, so a good nymph pattern to imitate these tied olive and light brown sizes 8 to 12 should work. Gold ribbed hare’s ears and similar patterns also produce.
The best way to get to the area is to fly into Jackson, a little over an hour to the north, and have Singewald meet you at the airport. The pick up will run $150, divided among those making the trip. Lodging at the DC Bar Ranch before or after your trip (it has running water, but no phone or electricity) costs $50 per night. Licenses and other gear can be purchased in Pinedale at the Great Outdoor Shop located on the main drag (Hwy 191). A 10 day license runs $25.
If Singewald is booked (and he probably will be after this report), try: Box R Ranch and Outfitters (*); or White Pine Lodge (*). "A Guide to Bridger Wilderness Lakes" is available from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, (*). The Pinedale Ranger District map of the Bridger Wilderness can be obtained from the District Ranger (*) for $3. – John Holt.