By: Randy Tucker
We call them pilgrims. Guys who come to the Rocky Mountains with pre-conceived notions on almost every aspect of western life. They freely explain how everything we Wyoming natives do is wrong, and how they did it better back home; then they try to change our backward ways.
This attitude has prompted one of the most popular bumper stickers in the Equality State. The message reads, “Welcome to Wyoming, we don’t give a damn how you did things back home.”
These folks are annoying, but with so many of them and so few of us, we’ve learned to take them with a grin, a grin and maybe a little nudge here and there to remind these clowns how helpless they really are out in the wilderness that thankfully remains in much of the west.
One weekend, a couple of friends and I set out for Union Pass between small mountain towns:
Dubois, Lander, and Pinedale. On a map these towns are very close; in reality, the 13,000-foot peaks of the Wind River Range divide them.
The area between, offers outstanding access to fishing, hunting, hiking, and even limited timber cutting on National Forest land. The gift President Theodore Roosevelt gave the American people when he created National Forests and expanded National Parks at the turn of the 20th century is the greatest gift any single president has bestowed on the US people. It’s why he and Dwight Eisenhower are my favorite presidents. Maybe not yours, but we all have an opinion, that’s another American right.
In this area, I’d taken mule deer and missed a magnificent bull elk with my trusty Remington 788, in .308 caliber over the years; but this time I was after trout.
We set off on a Friday afternoon in early July destined for Fish Creek, a wonderful stretch of water full of native cutthroat trout. Fish Creek crosses the road between Dubois and Pinedale about a dozen miles from the Continental Divide.
We towed my 16-foot, single axle, bumper hitch camper behind my GMC and arrived at an area off the road about two miles east of the Fish Creek Bridge as the sun began to set. We had about 45 minutes of twilight to fish after setting up camp. We caught a mixed bag of brook trout and a couple of small cutthroats. The best fishing awaited sunrise the following day. We drove the short distance to the bridge to open the day. Standing in the water, just a few yards north of the bridge, was a classic pilgrim.
He had taken the extra effort to remove all tags from his newly purchased gear, and that appeared to be the sum total of his Wyoming angling experience.
The pilgrim could have been a poster child for LL Bean, Banana Republic, and the highest priced fly-fishing rod and reel manufacturers. He whipped the water back and forth as we set up, snapping off several flies in the process. We only took 10 minutes to get geared up before we began hiking the shoreline of the stream.
“Good day for fishing,” I said, as I started to walk north.
The pilgrim turned a demeaning look my way and said, “You’re fishing with that?”
He was referring to my 7-foot Ugly stick rod and Pflueger reel with a black Panther Martin spinner and red dots hanging from the end of the line.
“Best lure you can throw in these waters,” I said with a smile.
“I’d never fish with lures,” the pilgrim proudly claimed. “It’s barbaric, not elegant, and doesn’t work.”
Sure buddy, I thought, squelching the urge to wander over and hold his head under water for a few seconds. I just smiled.
The fishing was fabulous. I caught over four dozen trout in the next hour just a couple of hundred yards from the bridge on a wide bend in the creek. Panther Martins in those colors mimic brook trout fry, the predominant species in this section of the river, but I caught some smaller 12-to-14-inch cutthroats, and a couple of stocked rainbows and browns.
The limits in this area change often, but that summer it was six brown, rainbow, or cutthroat in any combination, with a separate limit of 20 brook trout. The Wyoming Game and Fish Department routinely alters limits if they determine an invasive species like brook trout are inhibiting native cutthroat habitat.
I kept 18 brook trout, and released everything else. I knew that the lower extremes of Fish Creek that we planned to work that afternoon and Sunday morning were teeming with 16-to-18-inch cutthroat. That would require carrying bear spray, and my Taurus 1911 .45 ACP in addition to my fishing equipment. The area was fabulous fishing.
The cutthroats could wait, there isn’t a finer meal than a pan of eight-inch brook trout sizzling in a layer of bacon grease over an open fire.
As I walked back, the pilgrim was still there thrashing the water, and remained devoid of fish. He spotted my stringer and went nuts.
“You can’t catch that many fish, you’re way over limit,” he stammered.
“Twenty brookies is the limit,” I said. “There are only 18 on this stringer.”
“Those are cutthroat,” he said, but they weren’t.
“Learn your species,” I told him, “Look at the spots, there isn’t an orange slash under the jaw. That would be a cutthroat.”
“But you caught too many,” he almost cried.
“Listen buddy, it’s not my fault you have no idea what you’re doing. Take some friendly advice and don’t talk about what you don’t know,” was my final comment.
Loading into the truck for a six-mile drive to Lower Fish Creek I noticed the plates on his Land Rover 22 (of course, it was a Land Rover) read Teton County: home of Wyoming’s answer to Las Vegas in Jackson Hole and a known haven of pilgrims coming west to straighten out the ignorant natives in their rental SUVs.
The extra cans of gas, water, and three spare tires tied to the top and back of the Land Rover gave him away. This was the Gobi Desert, the Serengeti, and Australian Outback all rolled into one for this urban dweller. For us, it was a great place to fish 75 miles from home.
My friends arrived, and just for fun I gunned the engine as we passed his Land Rover, showering it in a cloud of gravel. It was my little way of saying welcome to Wyoming.
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@example.com.