rainbow trout

A rainbow trout caught in the Tongue River Canyon on Sunday.

It’s getting colder and starting to feel more like fall compared to last week’s 80-degree heat.

And it’s a good thing for local fishing. The water turns over from hot on top to cold on the bottom and makes fish more aggressive. They need to feed before a deep freeze makes food hard to come by, which makes the fall months one of the best times to make a catch on a body of water.

Local fisherman Kurt Wolch, who’s lived and fished in Pine Haven on Keyhole Reservoir for nine years, said he’s skipped the last couple of weeks because the water was turning over, but this weekend he’s hitting the lake again.

“Once the lake hits like 60, 58 degrees ... then you’ll start getting them females. You’ll get that pre-spawn bite before ice on,” Wolch said. “You can expect the bite to turn on here within the next week or two.”

Wolch, a coal miner, has been using worms and said he will switch to minnows when the water hits 56 degrees.

Fishing at Keyhole Reservoir wasn’t great this year for many who don’t know the lake well, Wolch said. That was due to the rainy start of the year and murky water that came along with it.

“It takes awhile to learn the lake, but once you learn it, it’s great fishing, it’s phenomenal,” Wolch said.

The colder weather and the fact that students are back at school now means the lakes, reservoirs and streams will be less pressured by scores of traveling anglers.

Stream fishing

Seth Carrel, a fly-fishing guide with Rock Creek Anglers in Sheridan, said to stick with grasshopper flies when targeting trout.

“Hoppers. This has been a crazy hopper year,” Carrel said.

The fish he and clients have pulled out have been large, he said. The plentyful rain and food supply has led to some fish that are like “pumpkins,” Carrel said.

“These browns have had like a sore mouth from eating so many hoppers, so we have to put a drowned hopper where it’s a little bit softer for him,” Carrel said.

Another thing to try when targeting larger fish is a mouse pattern.

It snowed in the Bighorn Mountains last week, Carrel said, but the season is still long from over.

“More of the locals in Sheridan will start fishing more since the pressure’s off from tourists and stuff. We’ll see more of them in the fly shop,” Carrel said.

This weekend, however, the warm weather is supposed to strike again. There is a projected high of 85 degrees on Sunday and a sunny weekend all-around.

The Tongue River

Though it may not be exactly local at about 2½ hours northwest of Gillette, the Tongue River Canyon near Dayton is a fishing destination unlike anything I’ve ever seen before.

In three months living in Wyoming, I’ve made it a goal to get to as many spectacular fishing spots as I can. From the Miracle Mile near Casper to the creeks and reservoirs in the Bighorn National Forest near Sheridan and Buffalo, I’ve been able to try a new spot almost every weekend in an attempt to shake myself out of the bass and pike fishing I’m used to in Minnesota.

Trout fishing is more of an art than dropping bait into a lake and praying for the best, and trout fishing on the Tongue River is like painting with a million-dollar brush. Seemingly every stretch of water has picturesque holes where trout must be hiding if you don’t scare them up.

Giant boulders broken off the canyon walls lie in the water and the river cuts and dives around them, forming pockets that hide giant brown and rainbow trout.

In the first weekend of fishing on the Tongue, I caught the largest brown trout of my life and barely scratched the surface navigating the miles-long trail that follows the river upstream to its birthplace in the Big Horns.

I decided I hadn’t had enough and went up a second time last weekend. I fished more aggressively, switching from the ever-effective grasshopper fly to nymphs — and other patterns as well as a spinner — to catch the beautiful browns and ‘bows in the crystal, cold water.

I made my bones with the final fish of the trip when I saw a shadow in the water bigger than anything I’d ever caught on a stream. It hid under a waterfall and wouldn’t budge when I threw a grasshopper overhead 20-30 times.

I remembered a technique a friend told me: snap on a couple of weights and let out a few inches of line so the bait stays down, but above the surface. I rigged up a spinning rod with a clear leader, hook and weight, and threw on a large ball of colorful PowerBait to entice the monster fish.

I sat on a boulder above the small waterfall and dropped the weight directly down. I waited, ate a snack and read a newspaper.

After a few minutes of waiting, I still hadn’t felt anything, so I reeled up to check the line, but I found that something was on the end of it. I set the hook with a quick jolt and started fighting.

I scrambled down the 15-foot boulder I was perched on and skinned up my arm, but I felt nothing with all the adrenaline in my bloodstream. I brought the rainbow to shore. It was by far the largest I had ever caught and something I won’t forget.

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