The Wind River Valley is one of the prime fishing destinations in the lower 48.
Nestled in Wyoming’s northwest corner close to Yellowstone National Park and the Grand Tetons, the Wind River Valley is an underrated gem in the midst of some big players. Surrounded by the towering peaks of the Wind River, Absaroka, and Owl Creek mountain ranges and home to hundreds of high elevation lakes and thousands of miles of streams and rivers, the scenic region is not surprisingly becoming a popular spot for outdoor adventurers of all types. For anglers in particular, the Wind River Valley holds a special allure.
The region is considered to be one of the prime fishing destinations in the lower 48. In addition to the 43,000-acres of lakes and reservoirs, and 2,000 miles of streams and rivers, including the 185-mile Wind River, there is an abundance of fish and a lack of people. Head out for days at a time and see nary a soul other than that on the end of your line. Solitude and scenery are hard to find these days especially so close to some of the most popular outdoor destinations in the country like Yellowstone and Jackson Hole, but the Wind River Valley retains both. Add to that good fishing and it’s a win, win, win.
And, good fishing there is. Back in 1948, the world record golden trout was caught in the valley’s Cook Lake. Trophy-sized golden trout are still highly sought after in these parts and can be found in many of the lakes in the region. Trout in general are the area’s main catch and in addition to golden, you can also find rainbow, cutthroat, brown, and brook trout.
Trout may be the big star for most fishing in the Wind River Valley, but lakes and streams offer a large selection of other fish easily catchable from a boat or from atop the lakes’ frozen surfaces in the winter. Torrey Creek has plentiful burbot, and near Boysen you can find catfish, sauger, and walleye. Head to Bighorn Lake for smallmouth bass, yellow perch, and sturgeon, and find bluegill at Ocean Lake. The most important thing to remember is that the upper end of the Wind River Valley may have more fish, but the lower portion has bigger catches.
The Wind River itself is one of the nation’s best fly fishing spots. It runs through the small, Old West town of Dubois where the Wyoming Game and Fish Department maintains popular public fishing areas or there are many spots right off the road to park and fish. The river also runs through the Wind River Indian Reservation where you can fish as well, but will need to get a special permit and hire a guide to access trailheads.
In addition to the Wind River, there are many others that are worth fishing, including the Green River, the Popo Agie, and New Fork rivers. Overall, the area is pretty solid wherever you choose to go, be it a quick day trip on the Wind River or a multi-day horsepacking or backpacking trip up into the higher elevations of the Wind River Range.
Another great advantage to fishing here is that you can do it year round. Thanks to high elevations and cold winters, many of the Wind River Valley lakes freeze over completely (with ice about 17 inches thick or more), and make for perfect ice fishing. Torrey Lake, Trail Lake, and Ring Lake are easily accessible, and there are plenty of other options as well if you are willing to snowmobile to them. Some other popular ice fishing destinations in the area include Half Moon, Boulder, and Fremont lakes.
Expect to find a wide range of trout coming up from below the ice. Brook, brown, lake, and rainbow trout are the most common, though ice fishers on Trail Lake can also catch decent size mountain whitefish. Other spots have plentiful burbot and ling.
If you want to get a little competitive, head to Fremont Lake for the annual ice fishing derby. At last year’s event, the Pinedale Boat Club handed out more than $6,000 in prizes to fisherman from all over the Rocky Mountains region.
Several of the lakes have specific seasons for ice fishing, so be sure to check that out before your trip.
If you don’t have all the required equipment or just don’t want to go alone, try working with an outfitter in the area. Head to Marlow’s Fly Shop/Central Booking right at the central intersection in town to find your guide. There are a handful across the region, including Dunoir Fishing Adventures, Teton Fishing Company, or Gone Fishing, all in Dubois. Wind River Canyon Whitewater & Fly Fishing is also a great choice if you want to head onto the reservation—it’s a completely Native American owned company offering guided fishing trips on tribe-owned water.
So grab your rod and reel, but remember, no matter where and when you decide to fish, you need to get a permit—a daily fishing license for nonresidents is $14.
Written by Jennifer Billock for RootsRated in partnership with Dubois Chamber of Commerce.