Keyhole

Aaron Van Horn fishes for walleye off the marina at Keyhole State Park several summers ago.

CHEYENNE — A Casper-area grandmother called her early-teenage grandson in New York to wish him well at the start of a new school year.

He excitedly shared an experience at summer camp: He had been taught how to fly fish! Grandma immediately told him about the Casper area’s blue ribbon fishery on the North Platte River and said he ought to come out for an adventure. He accepted, of course.

The grandmother immediately sought information, with her first stop at the Ugly Bug Fly Shop on Casper’s Center Street. There she found brochures, all kinds of gear and maps to help visitors find their way. And, of course, she just had to buy a cap with the Ugly Bug logo that was soon sent east.

The Wyoming Game and Fish Department actively promotes fishing and hunting in Wyoming. Fishing license sales bring in some $25 million from both resident and non-resident anglers.

“The number of fishing licenses sold this last year is the highest since 1991,” said Renny McKay, public affairs chief for Game and Fish.

In Natrona County, 13,589 residents purchased fishing licenses last year. “We don’t know how many non-resident licenses were for use in specific counties, since a person could buy a license online in New York while boarding the plane for Wyoming.”

The agency sold 99,871 fishing licenses to residents last year and 123,127 to non-residents.

The department receives almost all of its operating budget from license sales. Licenses cost $24 for an annual resident permit and $6 for a daily permit. Non-resident annual licenses are $92, and daily licenses are $14. Each license-holder is also required to purchase and possess a $12.50 conservation stamp.

Blake Jackson runs the Ugly Bug shop, as well as the Crazy Rainbow guided fishing service. The Ugly Bug started in 1983 by providing an assortment of flies and lures to fishermen. It now sells all kinds of fishing gear and apparel by Orvis, Simms and Patagonia.

A recent early morning saw almost a dozen anglers gathering at the Crazy Rainbow lodge, ready to depart for a launch site. The customers were from California, Mexico, Colorado and New Mexico. During the year, visitors will come from throughout the U.S. and many foreign countries.

During the March-through-October prime season, guided fishing trips cost $475 per boat for a full day on the water and $375 for a half-day. A full-day instructional trip costs $475 per boat. A full-day trip to the Miracle Mile is $500 a boat. Off-season prices – November to March – are about $100 less expensive.

There are no additional charges for the use of tackle or fly-fishing equipment. Besides the guide, each boat can handle two anglers. Lunches are provided for full-day trips. The company has 17 guides and boats and a total of 22 employees.

All fisheries are catch and release, Jackson said. “We don’t kill fish, since that’s like killing your partners.”

He noted that releasing the fish allows them to grow longer and become more fun to catch.

“Wyoming Game and Fish does a phenomenal job managing the fishery” and in helping bring more people to Wyoming, he said.

Marketing is a key ingredient to helping increase angler visits. The Wyoming Office of Tourism is a partner with local agencies such as Visit Casper, the brand name for the Casper Area Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“One successful element of our marketing is hosting journalists representing specialty publications,” noted Visit Casper CEO Brook Kaufman. “We hosted a group of journalists from fishing publications The Drake, Northwest Angler and American Angler in mid-September. Their articles will be read by hundreds of thousands of anglers. They had two great days fishing the North Platte.”

The writers also visited The Nicolaysen Art Museum and the National Historic Trails Interpretive Center, along with a few adult beverage outlets in downtown Casper.

Kaufman said Visit Casper spends about $200,000 a year promoting outdoor recreation, leisure and fishing opportunities in Natrona County.

According to a study conducted by the Department of Agriculture and Applied Economics at the University of Wyoming, anglers spent an estimated $18.5 million in Natrona County in 2015. In March through June of this year, messages distributed by Visit Casper showed 9.7 million impressions in Colorado and Utah, two states where heavy emphasis is placed on attracting out-of-state anglers.

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