My fishing story

Haggerty the hiker enjoys fishing trip on Shoshone

Newton Lakes are only minutes from the Buffalo Bill Museum in downtown Cody, Wyo. (pop. 9,541). They’re full of wild fighting Rainbows and Yellowstone Cutthroats, yet few anglers ever wet a line here compared with Colorado waters so close to an urban dwelling. Of course, everyone here is rushing toward Yellowstone National Park, 50 miles to the west.

More than 2.3 million people visited Yellowstone last summer, and although visitation in the park is up this summer, one lone bull bison had enough sense to slip outside the park and munch on green grasses along the Shoshone River.

Retired Division of Wildlife biologist Gene Byrne, Grand Junction, hooks a hearty Mountain Whitefish along the North Fork of the Shoshone River, outside Yellowstone National Park.

Retired fish biologist Bill Elmblad displays a healthy Mountain Whitefish caught on the North Fork of the Shoshone River, not far from the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park. The Shoshone was originally named Stinking Water River by mountain man John Colter in 1807 because of its numerous “fumaroles,” volcanic vents from which steam and volcanic gases escape.

While Daily Sentinel outdoors writer Dave Buchanan was busy penning a hiking column about Crag Crest Trail last week, I went fishing.

It’s a switch in rolls, although those who have read these pages over the years have certainly discovered many of my hiking destinations either take me along a fishable river, or to some lovely trout lake in the mountains.

Especially this time of year.

Same with Buchanan. Many of his fishing stories include a memorable hike.

One picturesque hike along a fabulous fishery exists on the North Fork of the Shoshone River near the east entrance of Yellowstone National Park outside Cody, Wyo.

Yeah, it’s a long way: 10 hours, 561 miles from Grand Junction to Cody.

Yeah, there are waters closer to home where I could fish and hike. And I do.

However, a close friend and retired game warden from Rifle, Don Crane, lured a group of grizzled Division of Wildlife retirees to Cody for an old mountain-man-type rendezvous.

The stories were TALL, the beer was cold, the temperatures were warm, and the hiking through Shoshone National Forest was excellent. What’s more, the fishing was hot as Don led us to hole after hole full of wild, fighting, rainbow trout and a plethora of mountain whitefish.

The Shoshone River is a 100-mile-long strand of water originating in the Absaroka Range in northern Wyoming. The North Fork eventually merges with the South Fork and spills into the Bighorn River, which in turn flows into the Missouri.

In 1807, explorer John Colter named this the Stinking Water River because of numerous hot sulfur springs through a volcanically active region of “fumaroles” in the scenic little canyon between Cody and the gates of Yellowstone.

The current name, the Shoshone, was established by the Wyoming Legislature in 1901 “by popular demand.”

Think we’ve had some fun renaming Colorado National Monument? I’ll bet those were lively legislative sessions:

Legislator: “I like the Stinking Water River. Besides, it still stinks.”

Another legislator: “Well, we can fix that. We’ll just dam it up and flood it.”

First legislator: “Oh yeah, right. That makes a lot of sense. Then it’ll smell like Stinking Water Lake.”

Many of those fumaroles, volcanic vents from which steam and volcanic gases escape, were inundated by the Buffalo Bill Dam and Reservoir (formerly, of course, the Shoshone Dam). Built in 1910, the dam is about 12 miles from Cody and the Buffalo Bill Museum. At the time it was built, it was the largest dam in the United States at 325 feet. It covered those fumaroles pretty deep. Only problem was, the dam leaked. It took another five years to fix the leaks, and it’s had problems with silt loads ever since.

Nonetheless, miles above this dam designed to store water for agriculture, the North Fork of the Shoshone River still runs clear. Spring runoff has subsided, but this river still was ripping when the group from Crane’s rendezvous attacked.

We spread out along a stretch of river where Don said a grizzly bear had munched on an arrogant intellectual last year, this after the arrogant intellectual had been warned there was a geek-eating grizzly in the area.

The coast was clear when we arrived, although we did spy a lone bull bison who quietly sneaked out of the park.

Angling for large rainbows (17 to 21 inches long, and fat), we were successful with an array of flies, mostly tied by some great fly tiers from Grand Junction’s Healing Waters Program. The program works with veterans through fishing to help with the healing process. Go to to learn more about this great program.

Don’t ask how we conned these fine folks into tying flies for us. Suffice it to say, they worked. Everywhere.

Not only did we find success on rainbows and a few Yellowstone cutthroats, we stumbled across a pod of mountain whitefish that, pound for pound, fought harder than the rainbows.

Catch-and-release fishing was the play of the day as there are numerous good restaurants in Cody.

After dinner, we traveled to two small lakes on the northeast side of Cody: Newton Lakes. They were about the size of Juniata and Hollenbeck Reservoirs outside Whitewater. Thanks to Don, we caught more huge rainbows there.

We fished all of this public water by ourselves.

Former fish biologist Bill Elmblad said, “If we were in Colorado, this place would be packed.”

Alas, it wasn’t. We were about 576 miles northeast of Grand Junction, in a state that boasts a population of about 576,000. 

There were, however, about half a million people in Yellowstone National Park last week, but unlike that lone bull bison, none of them ventured outside the park.

Until dinner.

Then, they all went to restaurants in Cody or to the Buffalo Bill Museum, which was/is pretty cool.

A number of grizzled DOW retirees hiked through the museum the other day, but this is a fishing story, not a hiking story. We’ll have to revisit the museum anyway. You can’t get through it in just one day.


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