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As I dropped a cube of sugar into my morning coffee, my sleep-addled brain perceived the splash, making a sound not unlike that of a fish rising to take a fly. I would need caffeine—not to mention the incentive of reeling in a trout—to make the big decision; where should I fly fish today?

Finding a spot would not be the problem. My childhood home sits half a mile from the border of a national forest in the foothills of Northern Wyoming’s Big Horn mountains, a range replete with alpine lakes, small streams, and wide blue-ribbon rivers. In less than five minutes, I could be placing my fly in front of any number of unsuspecting fish. 

But it would be a warm, clear day, a good incentive to travel further up the mountain to the North Fork of the Tongue River, which offers some of the state’s best fishing. Persuaded the 90-minute-long journey up the mountain would be worth the rewards, I packed a lunch, threw my gear in the SUV, and took off. 

From the highway, I could clearly see where the sprawling Great Plains collided with the jutting face of the Big Horn Mountains. Within the mountain’s shadow, their sudden presence seemed a mystery. Beginning the ascent up the mountain, I was able to view its history—I could see the results of ancient glacier deposits and volcanic eruptions—which are clearly displayed in the rock formations whose seemingly infinite variations of shape, texture, and color make the towering evergreens seem young by comparison.

Just as the steep grade began to level out, I scanned the side of the pavement for the dirt road leading to one of the North Fork’s more secluded stretches. Poorly maintained, the path is rough, treacherous, full of deep holes and jutting boulders intent on ripping a vehicle off its undercarriage. Even in my rugged SUV, no stranger to off-roading, I had to crawl the last few miles. After what seemed an eternity, I finally arrived at the trailhead, alone except for a single US Forest Service truck whose occupant was nowhere to be seen. It was time to go fishing. 

As I reached the water’s edge, I bent down to examine what might be hatching. Experts frequently do this to match their flies with the kinds of insects the fish are already looking for. As for myself, not being an expert but an enthusiastic amateur, I look even though I seldom know what I am seeing. I nod knowingly, just like many times before, even though nobody was watching, and proceeded to tie on my best guess: an elk hair caddis with a blue-wing olive nymph dropper. 

The basic trick to fly fishing is being smarter than the fish. This is harder than it sounds. While we may benefit from certain advantages such as opposable thumbs and a prefrontal cortex, the knowledge of experience—in this case on behalf of the fish—should not be discounted. If a fish’s prior attempt at taking a fly resulted in being speared through the mouth, pulled from the water into a dimension they were poorly equipped to comprehend, squeezed, photographed without consent, and unceremoniously tossed back, you can bet they will be wary to do so again. Thus, some strategy is needed on behalf of whoever wields the fly rod. 

Selecting a long, slow stretch of water, I made my first cast, aiming for the opposite bank where fish might be hiding in some of the deeper pools, positioning myself so that my shadow would not betray my presence. As the fly floated down the smooth surface, I mended the line to avoid unnatural drag, keeping my eye on the caddis for any sign of movement. The river draws its source from glacier runoff, resulting in frigid but crystal-clear water, yet I could perceive no fish.

Four casts and one small snag later, I hadn’t felt so much as a tug, so I moved on to the next bend. It was time to trade out the caddis for another fly. I selected a woolly bugger from my fly box—partly because it was the next best choice and partly because I find the name funny—and moved to the next spot. 

Here, the long slow stretches gave way to shorter, quick-moving pockets. Spots many anglers skip. Accustomed to fishing small mountain streams, I learned long ago fish may dwell in pools no bigger than the size of a bathtub. I made a short cast with my Wild Water ⅚ weight rod, letting the fly settle to the water, and instantly saw the flash.

The Big Horns are full of brown, brook, rainbow trout, and in the higher elevation lakes, even golden trout. I could tell immediately, even before looking, I had hooked a brookie. While they are rarely the largest trout in the stream, brook trout are my favorite to catch: fierce fighters whose teeth have sliced through my line countless times. 

This was not one of those times, and I had him on the bank in short order. Just as quickly, and after a brief apology, I returned him to the river (most of the North Fork is catch-and-release). Upstream, I found more takers, including a beautiful rainbow nearing 20 inches long. 

Several trout later, and intoxicated by my lucky streak, I failed to notice that I was no longer alone. My eyes followed my flies as they drifted downstream, where I noticed a large bull moose standing not 30 feet away. People fear bears and mountain lions, but they are highly intelligent and possess a sense of self-preservation. Moose, by contrast, are both mean and stupid, a combination that makes them uniquely dangerous.

Fortunately for the moose (and probably for me), I recognized that I was on his turf, and backed away slowly. Occupied by a nearby patch of grass, he made no objection. The spell cast by the river had been broken, and a wave of fatigue suddenly washed over me. It had been a good day, and it was time to go home. 

For more information regarding Wild Water Fly Fishing and their products, please contact Dena Vick,

About Wild Water Fly Fishing

Wild Water Fly Fishing represents a dedication to bringing friends and family together by providing everything you’ll need to gear up for a trip to the lake. If you’re a parent or grandparent wanting to nurture a kid’s interest in fly fishing, Wild Water provides the best tools to make your fly fishing trip an unforgettable experience. Wild Water Fly Fishing is the only company to focus exclusively on affordable, easy-to-use fly fishing starter packages for all species of fish.

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