Some might say this is the in-between time for fishing. And it’s true, kind of. But just because snow is still piled around portions of Wyoming, and ice covers most lakes, the best time to be fishing could, well, be right now.
Find the spots where ice is melting from the banks of lakes and reservoirs, and fish will be hungry and feisty. Find a place where the snow is gone from banks of an open river, and the fish will be more responsive to a possible meal floating by.
And in places where the snow is still deep and waters too cold or frozen, waiting for the post run-off bite will be worth it.
The Star-Tribune tracked down fisheries biologists and guides from around the state to give you the best early-season spots and predictions for summer as our way of nudging you toward your rod and reel and out the door.
The North Platte River below Gray Reef, through Fremont Canyon and at the Miracle Mile continues to be some of the best year-round fishing in the state. This spring is no exception.
But anglers ready to hit the water this afternoon might want to wait another day or two. Friday began the 10-day flushing flow, a coordinated program between the Wyoming Game and Fish Department and Bureau of Reclamation to clean gravel spawning beds for trout.
Flows will increase from 500 cubic feet per second to 4,000 cfs and back down again each day.
“Usually the first couple days of the flush the Reef down gets pretty muddy and nasty and floating logs and that kind of stuff, but after day two or three, it can actually ignite the fishing,” said Blake Jackson, co-owner of the Ugly Bug Fly Shop and Crazy Rainbow Fly Fishing in Casper. “Usually this time of year we have really clean water conditions and no moss, but the flush resets that. Because of the increase in water flow, we get large food items like crawdads and leeches and it moves them around and the fish really gorge themselves.”
If you want to fish the latter part of the flow, try using larger patterns such as crane fly larvae or crawdads. The simple-but-effective San Juan worm is also a good bet. Be aware that early in the season rainbow and cutthroat trout are reproducing, so don’t walk on their redds, said Jackson.
Anyone in the Lander, Riverton or Thermopolis region should try the Wind River below Boysen Dam with scuds and sow bugs. But also be careful of spawning fish.
Lastly, head to lakes and reservoirs when the ice is 30 to 50 feet from the banks and throw big streamers that imitate small fish like a black woolly bugger or a sparkle minnow by Montana Fly. You won’t regret it.
Fishing doesn’t sound promising in an area with historic snowfall, but the Snake River is fishing well, said Rob Gipson, Game and Fish’s regional fisheries supervisor. You just have to find an access point.
“Numbers are good right now from population estimates last year,” he said. “If you can make it to the water, I wouldn’t discount any of those places.”
Once run off ends, which could be as late as mid-July, expect spectacular fishing that leads to even more fish in the future.
The bad news for fishing around Sheridan and Buffalo right now is that ice on the lakes is getting precarious and streams are still too frozen. The good news is the snow pack was down this year, so runoff will likely finish sooner than many other places in the state, offering earlier fishing options at places like the Middle Fork of the Powder River.
“Sand Creek is always great,” said Paul Mavrakis, fisheries supervisor in the Sheridan region. “It’s spring fed, and while I’m not sure what kind of snow load they got there, high water will go away pretty quick.”
Try using smaller flies like beadhead nymphs and enjoy the scenery.
Clear Creek through Buffalo could be an option with warmer temperatures, but likely only in the mornings before the creek swells with daily run off.
Still waters in the Laramie region are on the cusp of opening, said Jeff Goldsby, manager and fishing guide at Four Seasons Anglers.
Anglers can also try the Laramie River through town which is open and fishing decent.
“The town section doesn’t have a lot of fish per mile, but for people who need to scratch the itch, they can get a few,” he said.
Try using streamers and woolly bugger patterns, and fish them slowly. You can also try using pheasant tail nymphs (size 16 or 18), crayfish patterns, small copper Johns or small, standard stonefly nymphs.
“Fishing will be good once the Plains Lakes open. The trout will be hungry,” he said. “Chironomids and leeches will be the order of the day.”
If you’re in southwest Wyoming, you need to fish the Green River below Fontenelle Reservoir. Streamer fishing is best right now.
Also be ready for when the ice finally retreats off of Flaming Gorge Reservoir, said Robb Keith, fisheries supervisor in Green River.
“The water will still be good, and the lake trout and rainbows and kokanee will be in reach of shore anglers,” he said. “For lake trout and kokanee, find shore that is adjacent to deep water. The rainbows will be more in the bays.”
Fishing from shore should be good from ice off until mid-June. Try throwing spoons and jigs and worms on the bottom.
Flaming Gorge also has an unusually high number of small lake trout, slowing growth rates of trophy fish. The reservoir has so many small lake trout, in fact, that the Flaming Gorge Chamber of Commerce, Game and Fish and Utah Division of Wildlife Resources created a lake trout derby coined the “Mac Attack Fishing Derby,” on April 27 and 28.
Game and Fish recently changed regulations to allow anglers to keep up to 12 lake trout each day with 24 in possession, but only one can be longer than 28 inches. For the tournament, the team with the most weight in up to 12 lake trout measuring under 25 inches per angler wins.
“That’s one effort to highlight the abundance to thin them,” Keith said.
For more information on the event, go to wgfd.wyo.gov.