Vol 5 No. 52 - September 14, 2005

Fishing Wyoming�s scenic Snake River

Lucas Donaldson and Rusty Chinnis fish the Snake River for spotted cutthroat trout, one of the West’s only native, indigenous trout species.

By Rusty Chinnis
sun staff writer

The tendency to take my eyes off the tiny dry fly that floated along the edges of the Snake River was intense as we rounded a bend and the Grand Tetons sprang into view. It seemed uncanny that just when I was distracted, a cutthroat trout would rise from the cold clear water and make a pass at the grasshopper imitation. I would immediately raise my five-weight fly rod high in an attempt to set the hook, and in most cases by the time I reacted, the trout had tasted and rejected the offering.

Luckily, as the day progressed, I would develop the instantaneous response necessary to plant the barbless hook in wild trout’s jaw. This was the first week of a trip to the mountains near Jackson, Wyoming, and my first float trip on one of this nation’s premiere trout streams.

We began the day at Moose Junction near the entrance to the Grand Teton National Park, where we met our guide, Lucas Donaldson, at Snake River Outfitters. We had planned the trip two days earlier with Will Dornan, the proprietor of the shop. Dornan’s is a familiar name to visitors to the Park. His family and their employees have been serving residents and visitors to northwestern Wyoming for fifty-six years. Donaldson, our guide, had grown up in nearby Kelly and had been fishing the streams and rivers in this Park for twenty years. After loading the drift boat with lunches, and picking the flies for the trip, we headed towards the northern boundary of the Park and launched the drift boat at Pacific Creek Landing. There are several stretches of the river that can be floated in the Park and the one we would float today, Pacific Creek to Deadman’s Bar, was one of the most scenic. We had the option to float several other stretches of the river, but let our guide make the final decision based on conditions and local knowledge. That choice would prove to be auspicious.

The Snake River is one of the wildest and most scenic in North America. While there are more prolific bodies of water, the Snake holds some impressive numbers of native cutthroat trout. I particularly like fishing for cutthroat because they take a dry fly so readily. They are challenging for a saltwater angler because they can hit a fly, determine that it’s a fake, and release it extremely fast. The day started off slow as is often the case with western trout. However, by ten o’clock I was getting, and missing, strike after strike. Soon I got into the rhythm and began connecting with the rising trout. The day warmed into the high 70’s and Donaldson rowed the boat expertly back and forth across the swiftly flowing river, pointing out grassy banks and sunken logs where he knew fish were lying. I was impressed with his extensive knowledge of the river as we began to take beautiful trout to 16" with regularity.

We lunched on a gravel bar in mid-river with panoramic views of the Tetons, enjoying the warmth of the mid-day sun as a majestic bald eagle flew overhead. After lunch, Donaldson suggested that I use a fly that Will Dornan had tied and asked us to test. Dornan, a master fly tyer, had crafted the foam attractor pattern in anticipation of the Jackson "One Fly" Tournament that was to be at the end of that week. The choice was a good one, as I hooked and landed a 17" cutthroat on the first cast. The fly proved effective for the next hour as I landed trout after trout until I broke it off on one particularly large fish.

The afternoon’s fishing was even better than the morning’s, with frequent stops at spring fed side channels, where I was able to sight cast to rising fish. Donaldson characterized the day as being "as good as it gets," and I was in total agreement. Thanks to my wife Christine’s handling of the photography, I was able to concentrate on one of the best float trips I’ve ever had.

If you ever make the trip to the Jackson area, and I strongly suggest you do, make sure you schedule a float trip at the base of the Tetons with the professionals at Will Dornan’s Snake River Anglers. It’s the best way to experience this magnificent mountain range, while angling for the beautiful and willing Fine-spotted Snake River Cutthroat Trout. Check out Dornan’s at www.snakeriverangler.com or call toll free 888-998-7688.

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