By: Randy Tucker
There was once a pristine trout stream well disguised among the tall sagebrush of eastern Fremont County, Wyoming. It’s still marked on wilderness maps, but Sage Hen Creek doesn’t flow as it once did.
It is a victim of “planning” by the Bureau of Land Mismanagement (the BLM as many Wyomingites refer to the federal agency).
The once free-flowing stream was damned (I know it should read dammed) a decade ago and now it’s just a dead, moss-covered reminder of what once was.
But before the work of some eastern, office-dwelling genius, it was a remarkable little waterway.
The stream brimmed with brook trout. It wasn’t big enough for anything beyond a few 13-inch “monsters,” but it swarmed with six to 10-inch brookies, and they were hungry, especially hungry on a Good Friday when my friend Tom Zingarelli and I had the day off from our classrooms, and our track coaching duties.
We set out in Tom’s Datsun (yes, it’s an old story) bouncing along two-track roads across the high desert. It was early April, so snow drifts were common on the south side of berms and cutbanks. The snow was recently departed from the low-lying areas, which were mud pits.
Tom judiciously cut through the sagebrush each time we encountered a muddy section, and we reached Sage Hen without any problems.
We caught hundreds of trout that late morning and early afternoon. We each had an 18-pack of worms that we quickly used up. We were using fly rods, but not for casting; the longer length of our fly rods was perfect for sneaking up on the nervous brook trout.
After the worms ran out, we switched to the few flies we’d packed with us, the black gnats and mosquitos worked well. Since it was too early for a hatch, the other flies were far out of season and even starving, but luckily, just off the ice, brook trout wouldn’t strike on them, but went for the black gnats and mosquitos we found.
We kept 10 of the larger brook trout each, the legal limit. If you’ve never fried brook trout in a cast iron skillet filled with a little bacon grease, I suggest you try it. It’s the best fish you’ll ever eat.
You’d think the way back was the same as the way in, but it’s not. The trip never is when you’re traveling the nameless, two-track roads that crisscross the Great American West.
A mudhole approached, and Tom turned into the sagebrush. We weren’t so lucky this time, the sagebrush high-centered the Datsun, and we couldn’t get it to start. To make matters worse, a quick inspection revealed it had torn the fuel line loose.
I couldn’t access the fuel line because of the sagebrush, and even dripping gas into the carburetor couldn’t keep the motor running long enough to clear the brush so I could reattach the line. We were stuck.
The nearest phone turned out to be 13 miles away. There is a benefit to cell phones aside from spam calls, wasted time on social media, and all the other time stealing annoyances these devices bring, but that technology was in the future.
We set out on foot, initially tracing the route we drove in. But on a high bluff, we spotted one of the soon-to-be-defunct uranium mining offices and set out in that direction.
We were young, so a 13-mile hike didn’t mean much. I’ve only walked farther in a single day just a few years ago in Las Vegas. My wife is into fitness and decided we should walk the Vegas Strip rather than use the monorail, an Uber, or one of the many shuttles. By late afternoon we were a long way from the Excaliber where we were staying, and my cell phone app showed we’d walked 14.8 miles. I wasn’t up for the walk back so we caught the monorail home.
The magic of covering a long distance on foot is that you get to experience the world on a personal level.
We jumped sage grouse every hundred yards or so, spooked a few wild horses, and spotted a lot of wary coyotes. These were the natural things we spotted.
We came across hundreds of .50 caliber casings spread throughout our half-marathon hike.
These were remnants of World War II, from when the present-day Casper Municipal Airport, 80 miles to the east, was an Army Air Force Base.
Casper trained B-17 and B-24 gunners and bombardiers during the Second World War. Those .50 caliber brass casings, ejected from the guns of those big bombers, were all that was left of this slice of Cowboy State History.
The floor sacks the bombardiers in training dropped on the high desert disappeared long ago, but brass lasts much longer.
We reached a likely spot for a phone, and I jimmied the door open with my pocket knife, but the phone line was dead.
We kept walking and found a haul road. A few hundred yards up the road a company truck stopped and offered us a ride. We explained what had happened, and after a few laughs, they drove us to their office and a working phone.
I called my wife Sue and explained what had happened. She asked for directions, and I said, “Head south towards Rawlins and take the Gas Hills Road east 38 miles, then take a left.”
She didn’t believe me at first, but eventually she and Tom’s wife Loren picked us up an hour later.
We took a truck back the next day, pulled the Datsun out, and reconnected the fuel line.
Just another day on the high plains.
Randy Tucker is a retired history teacher and freelance writer from western Wyoming. He has a lifetime of experience in farming, ranching, hunting, and fishing in the shadow of the Wind River Mountains. Contact him at [email protected].