Photos and Story: The Wyoming Two Fly Tournament

The drive north from Denver to Casper offers panoramic views of the Laramie Range and sweeping vistas of southeastern Wyoming
All photos by Drew Nisbet

Last week I, had the opportunity to participate in the Two Fly Foundation‘s annual fundraising fly-fishing tournament in Wyoming. Originally formed to promote corporate philanthropy by companies operating in the Cowboy State, the nonprofit Two Fly Foundation has turned into much more. The takeaway from this year’s event is not in the details of the tournament, but in the conservation story that has evolved through the spirit of corporate giving with the forward thinking and careful conservation minded investment by the City of Casper.   

Wyoming Governor Mark Gordon (right) presents a Two Fly tournament participant with a 6-weight Helios3 and Mirage outfit, while the author (left) looks on.

Inspired by a call to action from Governor Dave Freudenthal, the Two Fly raises a lot of money, while celebrating a truly remarkable fishery in the Gray Reef section of the North Platte, down through the heart of Casper. Although organized as a tournament, the Two Fly event brings together a group of individuals committed to bettering the community they operate in through philanthropy, while enjoying world-class fishing and late-night storytelling over good food and drinks. Since its inception in 2005, the Two Fly Foundation has awarded over $2 million to 23 unique charities–including the Child Development Center, Greater Wyoming Big Brothers Big Sisters, and the Platte River Revival.

Two Fly tournament participants and Crazy Rainbow guides prep their boats at a launch on the North Platte just below the Gray Reef Reservoir in Alcova, Wyoming.

Of particular note is the Two Fly Foundation’s support of the Platte River Revival initiative by the city of Casper Wyoming. It’s a remarkable story of rehabilitation, as a 1948 US Public Health Service Report declared the river from Casper to the Nebraska state line “so grossly polluted with human and refinery wastes that it is doubtful if recovery can ever be obtained.”

The beauty of the North Platte River corridor was once overshadowed by the harmful effects of industrial waste, but it now shines as one of the premiere wild trout tailwaters in the country.

Today, the most historically impacted sections of the North Platte offer anglers some of the best wild rainbow and brown trout fishing in the country. Right through the city of Casper, a mix of rainbows and very large brown trout lurk. How did this ecological turn around happen? Most credit forward-thinking investment by the city of Casper in sustainable riparian rehabilitation as a means of economic growth, along with the charitable support of the Two Fly Foundation. To date, over $17 million dollars has been spent on a 13.5-mile section of river that drastically altered the health of the waterway and economy for the better.

A nice brown trout sitting on a slow-water edge fell to a unweighted Pine Squirrel Zonker stripped on a Bankshot sinking line.

I had the pleasure of fishing with Crazy Rainbow Fly Fishing for the Two Fly, and the experience was remarkable. Against a backdrop of the Rocky Mountains, open range, and a live-and-let-live attitude, we spent two full days coming tight to aerobatic rainbows, big predatory browns, and the occasional cutthroat. I was left shaking my head in disbelief at the shear biomass of large feisty wild trout inhabiting the waters of the North Platte.

This average-size wild rainbow ate a size16 Purple Haze parachute during a mid afternoon hatch.

Make It Pop

Every time I fish with a new guide, I leave a better angler, and this trip was no exception. We started our float on the first day fishing tandem streamers. After a few casts and retrieves, Crazy Rainbow guide Grant Reynolds instructed me to pause and pop the fly with the tip of my rod twice as I brought the flies up and out of the water to make my next cast. Think of this technique as a “figure eight for trout fishing” he said. Pausing and popping the fly at the end of your retrieve–at the top of the water column before your next pickup and cast–gives a chasing trout time to pin its pray against the surface of the water and strike.

A favorite tandem-streamer rig of North Platte guides: A dark brown size 6 Thin Mint followed up by a size 4 Goldie. On this trip the Goldie seemed to be a favorite of the rainbows.

It wasn’t until the final mile of the last days float that I saw this technique play out just as Grant described. Lost in the monotony and high work rate of drift-boat streamer fishing, I had developed a steady rhythm of cast, strip, pick up, pause, and pop as we covered a lower section of river. As I made my first pause and pop, a chunky rainbow came from the depths and smashed the fly. Coming tight to this fish caused it to rocket from the water and tail-walk across the pool–a visual and visceral experience I won’t soon forget. Thanks for the tip Grant!

The pause-pop, pause-pop technique paid off as this aggressive rainbow followed the fly to the boat, pinning it against the surface, and then rocking out of the water on the strip set.

If you would like to donate to the Platte River Revival or support the efforts of the Two Fly Foundation, you can find out more at the Platte River Revival page.

To experience the best fishing on the North Platte, visit 2014 Orvis Endorsed Outfitter of the year, Crazy Rainbow Fly Fishing and Ugly Bug Fly Shop.

Drew Nisbet, former fishing manager of Orvis Buffalo, is the new Orvis Fly Fishing and Wingshooting Community leader at Orvis HQ in Sunderland, Vermont.

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