Reports from anglers have been consistent over the past week. The fishing around Big Horn Basin has been good to excellent. The good to excellent part was based on the water conditions.
Due to warm temperatures over the past week, rivers have become mired as part of the low-lying snowpack has melted. The melting has also resulted in increased flows. If you are wading in water that is not colored, it is recommended that you use a wading stick to find your way around to avoid falling and injuring yourself, breaking equipment or, in the worst case, , hit your head and drown.
Expect mild temperatures in the northwest part of Wyoming for the next few days. A high of 72 degrees in the basin will add to muddy water conditions on the Shoshone River, parts of the Bighorn River and the Clark Fork of Yellowstone. Even if the water quality is not clear and inviting, the fishing can be quite good when snowmelt is driven by increased flow.
The increased flow removes much of the frozen pack ice. Small trout, whitefish, suckers and minnows can be trapped under this ice. As the ice melts, these frozen delights fall and drift with the flow becoming available to surviving fish. This annual event provides an easy meal and a great protein supplement to help fatten surviving fish for the summer and fall seasons.
Insect larvae and nymphs also get trapped under the ice, making it easy to pick up and free snacks while trout or other fish search for fish trapped under the ice. Trout in lakes are particularly attracted to small fish and insects trapped under the ice. Anglers who have previous experience with ice on lakes know that trout cross icebergs and feed by grazing on the lower layer of ice. The ice is gone on most of our reservoirs, ponds and lakes below 6,000 feet.
However, the Sunshine Lakes still harbor ice that breaks along the shoreline or floats in the lakes. The wading fisherman can cast flies such as ice cream cone gnats, zebra gnats, and small leech patterns such as a woolly worm or balanced leeches near the ice along the shoreline or in areas of low water. Open waters where ice is still spread over the body of the lake itself and do quite well. I often cast my flies on the ice and then swerve away to fall into the water. It usually doesn’t take long before I have a connection with a fish.
Traps of blue-winged gnats and olives still make big cannons on the lower Shoshone River below Buffalo Bill Dam. Although the hatches are not as heavy as a week ago, insects are still on the surface in sufficient numbers for the trout to look for small dry flies or emergent patterns caught in the surface film, or just in below.
A good way to tell if trout are eating the adult versions rather than cripples or emerging insects is to look at the trout. If the nose sticks out of the water, that’s a good sign the trout is eating an adult version of a gnat or BWO. If you see swirls or dorsal fins and tails, it means the trout are catching flies just below the surface.
The North and South Forks of the Shoshone and the lower Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone also have blue-winged olives and gnats. Even if the waters are murky or muddy in the main channel, trout will move to the edges of these rivers and sip or swirl on these insects. While not as fun as watching trout catch, it’s still a great way to get some dry fly action in late March. Some of the larger North Fork tributaries can also provide dry fly opportunities in early spring. Be careful when wading and keep an eye out for grizzly bears who are also trying to find carcasses of elk, deer, moose and drowned fish that were under the ice not too long ago.
“Streamside” will not work on April 4 in Cody Enterprise. I will make a pilgrimage to Pyramid Lake located not far from Reno, Nevada. This lake is home to huge Lahontan cutthroat trout.
Late March and early April offer excellent shore fishing on this lake that once covered large portions of western Nevada, eastern California and southern Oregon 12,000 years ago . The Lahontan cutthroat has already reached very large sizes – up to 40 pounds or more.
Last October, I managed to put several 10-pound trout in my net. Next week I hope to hook and land one of the bigger but rarer 20-pounders in the net. Luckily, the Lahontan Cutthroat loves dry flies, just like their Yellowstone Lake and River cousins. Wish me good luck.