Reservoir fishing fun for the family while waiting for area rivers to clear
With the rivers running the color of hot chocolate, and possibly another month before they clear, I was getting antsy to catch some fish.
After getting skunked on my first two attempts in my new home state, I decided to call Sam Hochhalter, Cody Region Fisheries Supervisor for the Wyoming Game and Fish Department, and pick his big brain for some answers. First question: Where are the fish this time of year?
His answer: Reservoirs.
I tried Deaver Reservoir, northeast of Powell. It’s a beautiful resource with nice camping spots right on the water, plenty of shore fishing for those without access to a boat and it’s close to Powell. Plus, it has walleye as well as largemouth bass and channel cats. All those sounded tasty.
But I got skunked. Part of my problem at Deaver is, it’s hard for me to put down my camera long enough to hold my pole. The other issue that particular day: I had to be up the next morning at 5 a.m. I suspected walleye and catfish might be biting later than I could stay.
Hochhalter said Deaver is a fun lake for ice fishing and easier to fish with a boat. I did see people wading up to their chests to get to deeper water, but I didn’t want my truck to smell of lake water or be arrested for driving naked, so I stayed on shore.
East and West Newton Lakes, just east of Cody are two other great fishing options, according to Hochhalter.
East Newton is managed as a trophy fishery and is catch and release only. But I was dying for a taste of fresh fish. West Newton, located just northwest of Cody, is a great lake. You can walk around the family-friendly lake, which is stocked with Yellowstone cutthroat trout and panfish, including crappie and bluegill. All of those sounded yummy to me. But the lake is experiencing high water right now.
“The water is higher this year than I’ve seen it in 10 years,” Hochhalter said
The fish are there and fishing is good despite the high water, but I was attempting to fly fish on my own for the first time in my life. Turns out, it’s easier to get a fly hook out of your back, or arm, or hat, if you’re fishing with a friend. I caught a few weeds, lost a few flies and then gave up, drove myself to McDonald’s and bought myself a fish fillet.
I drove up to Beck Lake with my tail between my legs to eat my fish sandwich. It’s right across the street from the golden arches. I’ve seen many people have success there and know the Game and Fish Department keeps it well stocked with rainbows, cutthroat, catfish, bass, and panfish. As I sat there, I watched an osprey carry off a fish on its first attempt.
“Showoff,” I told him.
Turns out, third time’s the charm.
Hochhalter also mentioned the two Sunshine Reservoirs, Upper and Lower.
I know he probably told me Lower Sunshine was better if you have a boat, but all I heard was tiger trout (a hybrid of brown trout and brook trout) and splake (a hybrid of brooke trout and lake trout) were in the lower reservoir. I’ve never caught either so I was definitely heading there first. I had improved on my fly casting and fish were breaking the surface of the water, but no luck from the shore.
I moved to lures, trying an assortment of spoons, spinners, and brass Castmasters that former Tribune sports editor, Steve Moseley, had given me as a gift. We had stopped by to see him and Good Wife Norma on the way through Nebraska to Powell.
Again, no luck. I was getting sunburned — I’d remembered to bring bear spray, but not the sun screen. I wasn’t alone. Passing boaters were relating depressing reports.
A storm was brewing Tuesday evening, so I decided I’d better get to Upper Sunshine before the rain came. The wind was up, and having never been to the beautiful lake, I had no idea where to go. I pulled into one of the first points on the west side of the reservoir, tied on a little white dry fly and, on the first cast, landed my first ever Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Feisty little guy.
I might have done a little happy dance.
On one of the next attempts I broke off the hook on the fly on some vegetation behind me, so I grabbed my ultralight pole with a small brass Castmaster tied on. I landed more cutthroats. I lost that lure in a fight and tied on a spoon. More fish.
I should have listened to Sam a little better.
“Upper Sunshine fishes well throughout the year,” he said. “Lower Sunshine is best during the winter months and early spring.”
Before the storm drove me to the truck, I had landed about a dozen beautiful, feisty fish — only keeping a couple that looked too weak to make a go of it in the clear, snowmelt water. Taking time to look around on my way out, snow-capped peaks of the Absaroka Range provide a backdrop for this reservoir, built in 1939. Dark clouds kept me moving; I didn’t want to test the gravel road to the reservoir when wet.
One the way home, I passed by McDonald’s — twice if you count the one a few blocks from my home in Powell — and smirked, as I knew I didn’t need to stop in for a fillet sandwich to get my fill of fish.