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The trout fishing available in northcentral Wyoming’s majestic Bighorn Mountains is one of this state’s best-kept secrets, despite the fact that it is not so very far from the crowd-thronged Tetons and Yellowstone National Park. One of the most attractive things about this mountain range west of Sheridan and southward along I-90 is its rugged vastness. The Bighorns suddenly erupt from the rolling plains of eastern Wyoming to a height of over 13,000 feet above sea level. The National Forest here alone contains over a million acres of pine forests and lush green meadows, almost all of it public land, including 195,000-acre Cloud Peak Wilderness, which lies entirely at elevations above 8,500 feet.

The area of the Bighorns I want to tell you about is west of Sheridan, mostly along Highways 14 and 14A. There is more than enough to do here to focus an entire trip around. Alternately, one could simply pop over this way for a few days after a visit to Yellowstone or some other well-known venue. However you arrange your trip, one thing that is sure to impress you is the number of mountain streams you cross as you drive area roads. All but a few of these streams contain fish; many are literally jammed with fish. From mid-July on, after runoff has subsided, the trout eagerly attack any tiny bug that touches the water.

To be sure, with a few exceptions, these eager feeders are not trophy size. They range from as small as five inches up to about 12 inches. Still, the cold water in which they live keeps them healthy and active. Hooking six to 12 of these little fighters every hour will keep any angler from getting bored. Use a light rod and the fun increases.

The North Tongue River and one of its tributaries, Bull Creek, are two of the most productive streams here, as they are both regulated as catch-and-release fisheries (with the exception of brook trout). They are also two of the most popular streams, since they are both accessible from paved highway.

The North Tongue River runs along Highway 14A west of Burgess Junction. The typical angler’s catch here consists of seven to 12-inch rainbows, brookies, cutthroats and an occasional brown. Evening fishing on the North Tongue can be outstanding.

Bull Creek joins the North Tongue a few miles west of Burgess Junction and offers good fishing for cutthroat trout to 16 inches.

Another good spot is at the headwaters of the Little Bighorn River, just north of the headwaters of the North Tongue. You can find lots of small brook trout on the Little Bighorn, but it is only accessible via backcountry roads or hiking. Three other alpine streams to check out include the South Tongue, which crosses Highway 14A just east of Burgess Junction, and the East and West Forks of Goose Creek to the southeast. All three of these streams can be accessed from dirt roads, but you need to watch out for potholes and protruding rocks. Small dries work the best on these streams. My favorite is a size 14 to 16 Adams Parachute. PMD’s, Royal Wulffs, Grey Drakes and caddis and mosquito imitations should also be carried.

If you want to take a shot at larger trout in the area, try the main stem of the Tongue River near the town of Dayton, where the river exits a mountain canyon. This section of the Tongue rates near or at the top of fishing rivers in Wyoming. It holds rainbows, browns, brooks and cutts running up to 20 inches, but averaging in the 10 to 16-inch range. Just before the Tongue exits the canyon, it plunges around large boulders and over layered steps. The best fishing is found in pools behind boulders along the shoreline. Caddis fly patterns in light brown and sizes 14 to 18 work especially well. Other effective flies include Pale Morning Duns, Green Drakes and Adamses.

The best, and about the only way to access the canyon section of the Tongue is from a good road called RD 92 out of Dayton. From there, hike up and into the downstream end of the canyon, but be careful to watch out for rattlesnakes. Any other approach is not recommended, as there are no trails from above that lead down into the canyon, where walls sometimes extend up to 500 feet from the canyon floor.

Turning to stillwater fishing, Sibley Lake is the most popular fishing lake in the Bighorns, partly because of its accessibility – just off Highway 14 – and because it is frequently stocked with rainbow trout. Anglers do well with bait, lures and flies. Fishing is good throughout the season. There are several other alpine lakes you can drive to, while you can only reach others by walking in five or six miles. Small Adamses, Renegades and Woolly Worms are popular flies on these waters, but take a good variety with you. Small spoons and spinners may also be used successfully

Keep in mind that I have named only a few of over 50 streams and one of over 250 stillwaters that are easily accessible in the Bighorn Mountains. If you want to reach these waters on horseback or on foot with the help of a guide, I’m told that Charlie Gould at Just Gone Fishing in Buffalo (*) is the person to contact. I haven’t fished with him personally, but I have talked with him and he was very helpful in providing information. He charges $150 for a full-day hiking trip for two anglers. Another good contact is The Fly Shop Of The Big Horns in Sheridan (*). This Orvis shop was very helpful in selecting flies and giving directions the first time I ventured into the Bighorns. Be sure to ask about regulations on the waters you plan to fish. Cutthroats are protected in some waters, but keeping other fish on most streams and lakes of the Bighorns is permitted. A camp breakfast of delicious pan-sized trout is permissible in most cases.

Productive fishing and beautiful scenery are not the only summertime attractions of this national forest. Wildlife abounds. Herds of elk can often be seen grazing in the mountain meadows. Mule deer are a common sight. And there are moose, a lot of moose. In the half dozen or so trips I’ve taken into the Bighorns, I have never failed to see at least one moose. If you haven’t confronted one of these large creatures before, be advised to keep your distance, especially from cows with calves. Moose have been known to defend their territory if they feel cornered or threatened.

To fully enjoy Bighorn Mountain Country, you should pick up a map before entering. A free topographical map is available at all nearby towns. A more detailed forest service map of the Bighorn National Forest (*) is available for sale at Visitor Centers and sporting goods stores. There are Visitor Centers at Sheridan, Lovell and Burgess Junction; and Forest Service Offices in Sheridan, Greybull, Buffalo and Worland.

Most visiting anglers fly into Sheridan on United Express (*). There are two car rental agencies at the Sheridan Airport – Avis (*) and Enterprise (*). Both rent four-wheel-drives, such as Blazers and Pathfinders, for about $70 per day. As regards accommodations, you can find everything from unofficial camping spots to Forest Service campgrounds and motels. For example, Arrowhead Lodge (*) is located on Highway 14 about three miles east of Burgess Junction. They have a restaurant, bar and both motel rooms and cabins. Rates start at $30 per night for a cabin rental and $45 per night for a motel room. You can get more information on lodging and restaurants from the Sheridan Chamber of Commerce (*). – Bill Cenis.

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