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The massive Wind River Range cuts a huge diagonal swath across west central Wyoming. Part of the Continental Divide, the Wind River Range boasts the state’s highest mountains. Eastwardly, its waters drain into the enormous Bighorn Basin, known in its upper stretches as the Wind River (downstream of Thermopolis, the name changes to the Bighorn). Westerly, the mountains drain into the Upper Green River.
Altogether, the area I am talking about contains 3,000 alpine lakes, 800 of which are known to hold fish, and dozens of major streams and tributaries. It is one of the last great frontiers of US flyfishing. What follows are some not6s on plamsing a trip to the easterly side of the area, the Wind River proper. A look at the distinctly different westerly side will follow in a later issue. The area is just too huge to be digested in one gulp.
As usual, it helps to have a map in front of you. Call the State Division of Tourism (*) for a free Vacation Guide and the Official State Highway Map, which conveys well the mountains and drainages involved. Imagine the Wind River as a J, or fish hook. It initially drains southeast through alpine headwater country, then through high desert sage country to Riverton. There it bends sharply north to fill Boysen Reservoir and carve the Wind River Canyon. From there it flows north through the prairie and farm country of the Bighorn Basin, draining the mountains of the same name to the east.
If you are drawn to the remote upper headwaters, a good contact is Denny Simpson, president of Wyoming Wilderness Outfitters (*). Simpson is a hunting guide, flyfisher and master woodworker. The territory he knows well extends over a huge area of alpine backcountry, including the headwaters of the Yellowstone. He can horsepack you into pristine settings for brookies to four pounds or two to three pound cutts till your arms get tired.
The headquarters of this area is the town of Dubois (doo boys) some two hours from Jackson, the local city with a major airport. Deciding where to stay is easy, if you like five star food. Call Double Bar J Guest Ranch (*). Ask for their brochure and video describing the spectacular setting and top accommodations. The local flyfishing guru is Phil Phillips, who operates the Wind River Fly Shop (*) in Dubois and also guides the area.
The upper Wind is about 50 miles long in its mainstem, and nearly half of it is accessible to the public. Additionally, there are hundreds of miles of smaller sidestreams. In the valley, it features bows, cutts, and big browns to four to six pounds. Smaller streams hold brookies, the higher lakes mackinaw. Higher streams feature native Snake River cutts and imported wild goldens. Most of the waters in this area have no special regs, but they get so little pressure it doesn’t seem to matter.
Downstream, the river flows into the Wind River Indian Reservation, off and on, for another confusing 50 miles through the high desert to Riverton. Fishing on reservation lands requires a special permit, and in many instances, an Indian guide or outfitter. The area remains undeveloped because of continuing disputes between ranchers and Indians over water rights, and between different Indian groups (Shoshone, Crow, Arapaho).
Walk lightly as you approach this area. Call the tribal council office (*) for updated fishing regs and details. Wes Martell (*), Indian leader in trout restoration efforts, can be reached at the below number. Be prepared for difficulty in figuring out which are Indian lands and which are not; and, more to the point, which lands you can fish and which you cannot. Most local whites simply fish elsewhere, claiming less hassle.
The reservation, however, is a potential world class fishery deserving clean, sensitive development and more help from local and state outfitters and officials. Two areas of special interest are Bull Creek/Lake, and the Wind River Canyon below Boysen Reservoir, where you don’t need Indian guides. There are three canyon miles of catch and release water below Boysen where fish average 16 to 18 inches and reach eight to 10 pounds. In the upper 3/4 mile, you don’t need an Indian permit. Boysen itself features large pike.
Moving onto the lower Wind River Range, your headquarters is the town of Lander, which puts you in striking distance of Shoshone National Forest and Popo Agie (pope wa ji) Wilderness Area. A good contact here is Jim Allen (*) of Diamond Four Ranch. Ask him for details on the streams and lakes he fishes from the Dickinson Park Trailhead. The fishing available here is for the full array of wild alpine trout, plus grayling, in spectacular backcountry.
In May and June, the Allens host what they call Oregon Trail Wagon Trips, which involve flyfishing along the Sweetwater River. They also offer some pack trips (spot drops for self guiders and backpackers at $70/horse/day) from June through September.
Below Thermopolis (above it on your map), the Wind River flows another 100 miles or so north into Montana through the Bighorn Basin at around 4,000 feet elevation (we began at almost 14,000). My information about this area (it’s dominated by private ranches and farms) is zero at this writing. The area has some truly huge fish, I hear, but permissions are said to be difficult and there are no known shops or guides. Can any Angling Report subscribers help with information on this area?
I’ll close with one additional name and phone number that may be helpful in planning your trip state fisheries supervisor, Dave Dufek (*). He can send you regs and answer questions. Plan on a non resident licenses costing you $5/day (or 5 days for $20). Permits to fish the reservation are $10/day (or 7 days for $35). Enjoy! Hugh Gardner.