Wilderness Fly Fishing -
an unforgettable high country adventure

By Paul Prentiss

 

xRusty Borgers operates Flatirons Troutfitters out of Buffalo, Wyoming.  He offers summer fishing pack trips in the stunning Cloud Peak Wilderness of the Big Horn Mountains.  For years Rusty has graciously donated trips to Boulder Flycasters/Trout Unlimited for our annual auction.  It seemed only fitting that we should reciprocate with a club outing.  In early 2006 during the Fly Fishing Show in Denver, we agreed to such a trip during the week of August 14th.   In a matter of days nine of us were signed up to go.

We’d heard about the fantastic setting, good fishing, and traditional yet comfortable camp that Flatiron Troutfitters maintained just outside the wilderness boundary on Flatiron Lake.  It’s about a 15-mile horseback ride from the trailhead to the camp. Consequently you won’t see very many people– we saw two backpackers on the other side of a lake during 5 days in the area.

All of us were braced for a ride over difficult terrain.  Most anticipated a sore gluteus maximus and weak knees.  It took a bit over 4 hours including a couple of brief stops.  In the end, the anticipation of pain was far worse than the reality.  We were all fine and ready to fish the minute we got to camp.

At close to 10,000 feet the season is short – June to September (Labor Day weekend).  Maintaining such a camp is a huge amount of work demanding constant transport of supplies, feed for the horses, and equipment.  I didn’t ask Rusty, but I’d guess he logs 175 to 200 miles a month on horseback.  I did ask about what it took to strike camp at the end of the season.   It takes 30 loads or three round-trips with a full pack string.  

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 Cloud Peak is absolutely beautiful and the fish are wild and willing.

Our campsite was located on a high spot 50 yards from Flatiron Lake and 50-feet from a cascading stream that fed the next lake 500-yards down the valley.  You could stand next to the cook tent and watch fish rising in large pool about 50 feet wide.  If this sounds idyllic, it was!

xWe had our choice of lake or stream fishing for brook trout, cutthroats, rainbows, and cutbows (cross of the last two species).  Brook trout were the predominant species in the area and they averaged 10 to 14 inches.  None of these fish see many flies so catching them was a fairly simple process.  If you really wanted to concentrate on catching fish,  100+ a day would be an easy feat.  Fishing is the primary motive but it is just a just a part of the overall experience. 

Aside from the remote location the fishing is good because Rusty strictly maintains a catch and release philosophy. If you want a trout dinner (none of us did) it’s going to be small brookies.

In this area there are lakes where large brook trout and cutthroats can be found.  In fact, we fished a lake where I could clearly see 5-pound brook trout lying on the bottom of an inlet 20 feet below us.  We couldn’t get any of the larger fish to take.  Over three hours I probably tried 20 different patterns fished in a variety of ways.  There is no question about it.  I’m going back for one of those trout!

Roughly 60% of my fishing was with dry flies (sizes 14 to 10) and the other 40% was with streamers (sizes 10 to 8).  I could have fished with dries the entire time but I was after some of the larger fish in deep water.  I brought two rods with me, a 4-weight and a 3-weight.  I didn’t bother with waders, but I did have some feather-light hip boots and knee-high wading socks.

xRather than create a list of the obvious gear one needs, here is what I wish I had taken --

1.  Good quality wading boots suitable for walking over rough terrain – the light-weight boots I selected turned out to be a problem
2.  A third rod which would be a 6-weight with a 20-foot sink tip and an intermediate full sinking line.  There were deep channels in several lakes which held large fish that I could not reach.
3.  A larger selection of streamers
4.  A pair of Gore-Tex waders for wearing in a float tube

 

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It was a great experience.  We caught plenty of fish, had a great many laughs, ate well, and fell asleep to the sound of running water.  It doesn’t get much better!

Rusty Borgers and Flatiron Troutfitters can be reached on the web via www.flatirontroutfitters.com

By the way Boulder Flycasters is going to do a back-to-back trip (6 or 12 days) in July/August of 2007.  If you’re interested send me an email – click here

 

One of our members, Bob Bush (at the left), covered himself with glory during this trip