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North Platte River

The North Platte River near Casper, Wyoming, can offer spring fishing. 

Alan Rogers, Billings Gazzette

Many of the area's schools and colleges have spring break this week. For parents, students, and those wishing they had a spring break, here are a few suggestions on how you might spend that time.

Of course, fishing would be on the top of my list. I remember a spring break way back when. My University of Wyoming buddies and I went fishing on the North Platte River above Casper.

The North Platte was ice free below Gray Reef Dam, and it was also open for most of the way through Casper. One of my friends, Garvice Roby, had fished the area for much of his life and knew a couple of hot spots. He also knew a different technique of spin fishing that I had not been exposed to.

At Roby's direction I bought three hammered gold spoons with fluorescent orange stripes and a half dozen or so Platte River Specials. The trick was to remove the treble hook, add about a foot or so of monofilament line and tie on the Platte River Special.

At the first stop we made, Roby got out of the vehicle, grabbed his rod, and ran to a spot where a large spring dumped into the river. By the time we got there Roby had already cast and was into a fish. He landed a healthy 17-inch rainbow and the competition was on.

Jack Welch made a cast upstream and reeled in his rig so that it came past the spring water. Wham! He was into a jumping rainbow.

My other buddy, Galen Boyer, hooked a rainbow before Welch landed his.

When I had a chance to fish the spot I came up empty-handed, but I did manage to land a rainbow at our next stop below Gray Reef Dam.

I recall that spring break day as one of the most enjoyable days of fishing I ever had because of all the fish that were caught and the camaraderie that we shared.

Rivers that have tailwaters or large springs are really very good for fishing in the late winter/early spring. The North Platte is certainly one such stream, but so is the Bighorn River around Thermopolis and Fort Smith. The Tongue River below the dam in Montana is another great tailwater fishery.

Another general place to fish are canyon streams. There are a host of such streams in the Bighorn Mountains. I have found that most streams are ice free due to the sun's angle and the reflection of the rays off the rocks. Tongue River Canyon has open chunks of water, but so do the smaller streams around there. They can be excellent nymph fishing this time of the year.

Some of the plains streams may have opened up. I recall a spot I fished a few years ago, just above a small diversion dam on Little Goose Creek. By mid-morning the sun had warmed the water enough that a midge hatch occurred. There were numerous rises in the slack water, but I could see backs and tails, so I surmised that the trout were feeding on emerging midges, not the adults, so I tied on a setup that my friend, Paul Dubas, recommended: a high viz Midge Cluster with a Zebra Midge dropper.

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In the space of an hour I landed a dozen brown trout from 7 to 14 inches long and would have probably connected on more had not my old Lab, Stormy, spooked the fish when she waded in for a drink.

With the continued cold weather, ice fishing should remain an option for a week or more. So you might consider checking out nearby lakes and reservoirs. I have heard that Lake DeSmet has been fishing well for trout and decent-sized perch. Of course, Tongue River Reservoir is a good bet for crappie, walleye, and an occasional northern pike.

If you are not into fishing at this time of the year, perhaps a snowshoeing trip would fill the bill. All of the mountains around here have abundant snow and you can tramp around on the many snowed-in Forest Service roads.

If you prefer to cross country ski, there are plenty of trails in the Bighorn Mountains: Sibley Lake and Willow Creek come to my mind as excellent trails to try out.

Bird watching is another spring break activity you might try. As the ponds open up lots of migrating ducks and geese will be stopping for a rest. They will even be sitting on frozen ponds. Many early arrivals will be present, too. The list includes sandhill cranes, red-winged blackbirds, mountain bluebirds and robins.

I'm sure that there are a dozen or more activities that you could pursue this spring break, so whatever you choose to do, get outside and enjoy the spring weather. Drink in the bright sunshine, bask in its warmth and be thankful for another day on this earth.

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