Fly Fishing the Wind River


by Jack Dennis


The Wind River begins its journey in the icy waters of Wind River Lake in northwest Wyoming. From there it swiftly flows in a southeasterly direction, picking up the flows of numerous small streams as it heads toward Boysen Reservoir some fifty miles through the Wind River Indian Reservation. In this area the Wind is covered with stands of cottonwood and aspens and breaks into many side channels similar to many western rivers. Below Boysen the Wind flows through a deep canyon with whitewater, large boulders, pockets and pools.

The Wind River near the tiny town of Dubois has a number of public access points, and receives some fishing pressure. However, once it enters the Wind River Indian Reservation the river becomes private and the fishing access and regulations very strict. For most anglers, this stretch of the Wind River has remained entirely unexplored, until recently. A few years ago the tribal council awarded the only float fishing permit to Darren Calhoun, who now runs fishing trips on both stretches of the river. The number of fishermen taken down the river is very limited. Darren only runs a maximum of two boats per section every three days. Therefore, your chances of seeing another fisherman are almost zero. This is what makes this river such a special trip.

The Wind has always been somewhat of a mystery because of the land that it flows through. It looks as if the land was accidentally misplaced; the river flows through terrain that looks much like the southwest desert of the United States with chimney rocks, buttes, and sandstone in a myriad of colors reminiscent of the Grand Canyon country. One only has to look up and see the magnificent Wind River range and know that you’re not in desert country of Arizona.

The River’s two distinct sections offer widely different opportunities for the fly fisherman. Above Boysen Reservoir the Wind River is a typical Western freestone stream with a large and diverse trout population. One minute you could be battling a cutthroat, the next minute you could have a leaping rainbow and the next minute a hard fighting brown. Most of the fish range from 8 to 15 inches. There is also a good population of fish from 16 to 22 inches and the occasional fish pushing 30 inches. The sheer number of fish in this section provide an angler with the opportunity to land a very large number of fish during a trip. Below the reservoir the river’s character changes drastically. This section remains clear virtually all year long because it is a tailwater fishery. Steep canyons, boulders, pocket-water, and deep pools comprise the majority of the features in the lower section. There are significant stretches of whitewater as well. The fish are not as numerous as in the upper section, but they are much bigger. While fishing the canyon stretch an angler may encounter the fish of a lifetime.

When I’ve fished the upper Wind during the summer I’ve had good action on big dry flies such as Chernobyl Ants, Amy’s Ants and a variety of hopper patterns. Years ago I was able to catch a beautiful 5 ½ pound rainbow on my 3 weight using a black and tan Chernobyl Ant. In the evening droves of Caddis appear. The river comes alive with good-sized fish which are great sport on a lightweight rod. My favorite patterns include Elk Hair Caddis, Sparkle Caddis, and the Spent Partridge Caddis. During the caddis hatch have a few Emergent Sparkle Pupa, and a few caddis larvae patterns to fish just as they begin to emerge. It is always best to be prepared with both wets and drys, because the water can often be a little silty. Black, olive and brown Wooly Buggers are good staples along with Kiwis and Double Bunnies.

In the Wind River Canyon there is no question that fish can be taken on a variety of flies. The canyon has deep beautiful pools and pockets and you can get great dry fly action on the flats. The big Chernobyl Hopper and ant patterns will often bring tremendous results. Also during the summer there is a good hatch of Tricos and Pale Morning Duns. This allows you great fishing to a match-the-hatch situation. However, in deep whitewater sections of the canyon, streamers will bring the best results and big fish. An average of 28 inch fish is not uncommon. You will have them strike at your fly, but landing them in the fast current is another trick This is part of the challenge of fishing the canyon.

Although streamer fishing seems to be intimidating to most people, fishing a streamer from the boat can actually be a lot easier than one might think. Darren and his guides are well versed at teaching the art of working a streamer from a boat. The thing that makes the streamer fishing so wonderful on this river that you can visually see the fish attack the streamer. Nothing will make your heart pound harder than having a six pound brown chase the streamer fifteen to twenty feet before hitting it. This is the beauty of the canyon and what keeps me coming back.

If you decide to come over for a fishing trip you should also try fishing the lower part of the river around Thermopolis on your own for a day. In this area there is public access and you can wade fish to rising fish. This makes a great combination with the Wind River float. Just stay at the Holiday Inn in Thermopolis and you are all set. The Holiday Inn sits in the middle of Hot Springs State Park so you have access to a hot sauna to soothe the body at the end of the day.

Come join Darren and give the spectacular Wind River a try. We can arrange the trip of a lifetime for you.