It’s early summer. The plane drifts down through the cotton candy clouds descending gracefully towards the foothills of the Bighorn Mountains and Sheridan, Wyoming in the northeastern part of the state. High mountain snow capped peaks give way to wild pine forests before dropping into bright green foothills and the endless grass and sage prairie lands stretching to the east as far as the eye can see. I can spot a plethora of alpine lakes and countless crystal clear streams tumbling through canyons off the mountain out into the prairie, all surely filled with hungry trout awaiting a well presented dry fly.
After getting settled in my local accommodations and enjoying a frosty beverage at one of the local watering holes (of which there are numerous bars and breweries) I amble to the center of downtown to check in for my upcoming 3 days of guided fly-fishing with the fine team at Fly Shop of the Bighorns, which is the regions full service fly shop, guide service, and destination booking service. My guided fly-fishing trip includes flies, leaders, and tippet but I can’t resist stocking up on flies for future outings, along with a shiny new fly line. Chaz, the shop manager, expertly lines up my reel while I browse the shop adding a “Guy on a Buffalo” hat and ORVIS button down fishing shirt to my pile of goodies. Now feeling confident in myself and my gear for the next day’s adventure, I head for dinner amongst the quaint yet bustling downtown as the sun begins to sink below the mountain horizon casting pastel hues across wide open western skies.
A few days prior, my guide (and shop owner), Clark Smyth called to check in with me and confirm the last minute details along with double checking that I had obtained my Wyoming fishing license via their website which can be found HERE. After a better than expected night’s sleep, I awoke chomping at the bit to get on the water. I had requested we meet as early as possible so I could maximize my fishing time, but Clark explained with the cool mornings the fish like to hold “bankers hours” and the water needs some time to warm up. Not deterred, I pressed for an early meeting confident we would have the upper hand but he held firm with a 8am meeting time (which honestly left me a bit annoyed). The next morning Clark arrived early with a cooler of icy drinks and fisherman’s lunches consisting of sandwiches, chips, apples, and cookies. On the drive he explained we were headed to the Bighorn Mountain National Forest to fish one of the local mountain streams where he and his crew are permitted by the National Forest Service and insured to commercially operate guided catch and release fly-fishing trips. I was still feeling as though we should have met earlier, therefore we would already be on the water catching fish. I hustled to set up my rod once we arrived at the parking spot. Clark quickly and smoothly rigged the fly setup with a larger parachute style mayfly and bead head nymph dropper before pulling on his waders. Surprisingly, the air temperature was still a bit chilly so I followed suit. When we reached the stream I dipped my hand in the water to say hello and check the temperature. It was not much above icy cold. Clark stealthily moved upstream directing me into my first casting position while pointing out where he wanted to see my cast and drift along the opposite undercut bank where the water was slowly tailing out to the next riffle. It was almost 10 o’clock, we worked upstream plying the likely pockets and pools for the next 40 minutes only catching one nice rainbow trout on the dropper nymph. As we crossed to the other side of the stream to approach the next pool, Clark stated the water was starting to warm up and we should start to see some more active fish and possibly risers soon. Sure enough there was a dimple of a rise a third of the way into the pool. Clark cut off my dropper so I could make a more delicate presentation to the riser. I laid my cast out with the fly settling about two feet upstream of the fish. Almost immediately, a ten inch brook trout came hurtling out of the water engulfing my fly. Thankfully, after landing the small but gorgeous brook trout, the larger rainbow was still happily rising away eating his late breakfast of mayflies. So went the rest of the day as we moved upstream picking apart all the likely feeding water for wild trout. We never tied the nymph dropper back on again. I could again feel a coolness in the air as the sun dropped lower in the sky and the shadows got longer. It was only 4:30pm as the dry fly fishing started to slow but I didn’t mind, we had a fantastic day of fishing in a clear, free flowing mountain stream. We called it a day and found a game trail to traverse our way back to the parking lot and truck where a cold beer was awaiting my celebratory return.
Later that evening, I reminisced on the day of all the beautiful trout seen, caught, and missed, the young bull moose we had seen on the walk out, and the lessons learned from my experienced guide. If I could give one piece of advice if you choose to hire a guide, which I highly recommend, is to listen to your guide. Clark not only knew what the fish were eating, but also how to put us in the right location during the right time of day for an optimal fishing experience. The next morning we would be meeting at Clark’s recommendation.
Over the course of the next two days, I had the pleasure of also wade fishing a local private ranch which Clark leases fishing access rights to as well as float one (of three) larger rivers in the region. Both were exceptional experiences, providing diverse fishing options for me in three short days. Next time I come back to Sheridan I’ll be sure to book a few more days of guided trout fishing as well as a few days to relax and explore the vast outdoor oriented region. I would also like to mention that I was so impressed with Clark and his team at their brother company Angling Destinations. I decided to join him on a saltwater fly fishing tour of Mexico’s Yucatan peninsula which you can read about HERE.
I would recommend Clark, Fly Shop of the Bighorns, Rock Creek Anglers, and Angling Destinations to any of my fishing friends or anyone headed to the Sheridan, Wyoming region.
Written by James Ryan