A Guided Day on the BLC with the Shoshone Cowboy
There is just something special about the Wind River Range in Wyoming. Of course, by now lots of anglers know about the infamous "canyon" stretch of the Big Horn River and its tales of 30" Trout and $800 guided days. If an angler were to dig a little deeper, they would find that "The Wind" offers fisheries that are as good if not better than some of the region’s most popular rivers and streams. At times during peak season, some of those same popular rivers and streams accommodate 100 plus boats a day. I've never understood guided trips where anglers are willing to shell out $500 a day to be in a "bumper boat" fishery like the Big Horn River in Fort Smith, Montana or The Madison River near Ennis, Montana. That's paying to be around a lot of other people in a sport where the whole point is to not be around other people. Both the Big Horn and Madison Rivers are world class fisheries that are busier than Jack the Ripper at a Hooker convention. I don't know about you but paying $500 and going on a guided trip that you know is going to be over the top busy with other anglers on the water is like seeing that old circus trick of how many clowns they can fit into the little clown car. Not the Foul Hooked Whitey's idea of a getaway angling experience. Especially for the dough Guided trips cost these days.
In the Northern Rockies, if there is a good Trout fishery that's easy to get to then it's going to be wall to wall anglers. If there is a good Trout fishery that is difficult to get to there are going to be no other anglers to speak of. Taking a guided trip on the "BLC" or Bull Lake Creek is like the latter. The BLC in the middle of nowhere and much like the Wind River Canyon it requires a Shoshone Tribal Stamp to fish (in addition to your Wyoming Fishing license) as well as a Shoshone Tribal Guide if you want to float it. Now before all you big spenders out there get bent out of shape for having to shell out another 30 bucks to fish Shoshone Tribal sacred ground, just remember that unlike some Indian tribes in our region that have frankly not been savvy enough to leverage their own outdoor resources to benefit their tribe, the Shoshone tribe has made it so that if you are going to float their water you are going to do it with their tribal outfitter and tribal sanctioned guide. Bull Lake Creek is no different. It's hard to count the number of anglers that I've heard mutter, "I just don't like to buy that Indian license". To those of you that think this is tribal bullshit, just remember that it wasn't the Indian that created economics and profit in North America it was us white dudes. If you want to talk needless gouging, try and take a Guided Float on the Madison River in 2018. A lot of the Outfitters and Fly Shop's on the Madison not only charge customers over $500 bucks for the trip, but they also charge customers for the bugs they use that day. That's in addition to the fact that during the peak months of Summer, the Madison River is as packed as Dolly Parton's bra. Not the BLC. One raft a day is all the BLC has sanctioned to float it. What's that? The Shoshone Tribe has not whored out it's fishery for the sake of fast and easy tourism bucks, Tribal exposure, or the normal practice of Native's handing over their recreational resource to the great "pale outfitter" for a pittance of what it's worth? Nope, they sure haven't. It's still there's to manage and thus far that management has kept the dollars expensive and in house which is good for the tribe, the fishery and us the angler.
Bull Lake Creek is located about an hour plus west of Shoshone Wyoming which is South of Thermopolis by an hour or so. I learned of the BLC from a good customer out of Riverton who raved about how good of a Brown Trout fishery the BLC is. I was particularly interested when this same customer told me how good the Hopper Fishing is during the Summer on Bull Lake Creek. That's all I needed to hear as I do consider myself an avid "foam floater". If you don't live in Montana, you may not know what being an avid Hopper angler is. Fishing foam Hopper's in Montana during July, August and September is like bringing a Trout up to eat a Jell-O shot and then lift its shirt and show you it's tits. We're talking exciting stuff here. In other words, I wasn't driving 4 1/2 hours one way from Billings to fish a Czech nymph set up on the BLC. I drove all that way to fish Dry's to potentially oversized Brown Trout. Fishing Dry Fly's is kind of like being a snake charmer. You don't reach your hand into the basket and bring the snake out with your hand like a nymph angler. You bring that snake up from the bottom of the basket with the soothing sounds of the right Dry Fly pattern and presentation.
The primary guide on the BLC is big fella by the name of Blane Gilliland. Blane grew up in and around Riverton Wyoming, so he has an extensive knowledge of the Wind River's fisheries, people and habitat. In other words, you’re not getting a rookie guide that is both short on experience and short on years in the sport. Oh no, the "Shoshone Cowboy" is the real deal and by that, I mean the man knows his fishery, he knows how to row and he dictates how anglers fish on the BLC. If you think you are going down to the BLC to fish a double Steel Worm set up or articulated Streamers all day, you'll likely be disappointed. Though Blane will change his game plan based on his client’s skill set, the BLC is primarily a Dry Fly fishery, at least during the Summer.
I began this guided trip by meeting Blane at a rest stop about 10 minutes from our put in. The Shoshone Cowboy greets you in his 25-year-old Chevy Suburban with his raft in tow. Blane's Suburban might be the fishiest vehicle I have ever sat in. Very similar in bad assery and style to Shaggy and Scooby's Mystery Machine. From there we both drove down to the BLC's dam which is the primary put in for this float. Blane has a Shoshone tribal member meet us at the put in to sell us our Tribal license. This saves us a ton of time as these licenses are not available for purchase on line and like a lot of tribal licenses only available at the most out of the way location. As my wife and I prepared for our day, Blane gets our rods ready to go by tying on a two Dry Fly set up consisting of a Purple Haze and Black Caddis. Though I prefer to fish with only one Fly, I am nonetheless pleased that at least Blane does not engage with the legal, but sleazy Wyoming practice of Fishing with three Fly's. Why is drifting 3 Fly's "sleazy"? Because an angler that fishes with 3 Fly's is the same angler that fish's with raw shrimp to catch a Steelhead or live crab to catch a Redfish. They don't give a flying fuck about sport but rather how many Trout they can talk to their buddies about while standing near the water cooler at the tire Shop on Monday morning.
The BLC is a unique fishery. It's a Tailwater that has both freestone and stillwater qualities. The first mile of this fishery is classic Tailwater. Flat water, a grassy stream bed and spread out large Boulders that look like Trout Condos. The first thing Blane did was row us upstream and over to the spillway in hopes of seeing a couple of heads sipping in this concrete Trout alley way. Sure enough, after only a couple of minutes of looking for that head, there was my bitch. One drift and KAPOW a beautiful 20" Brown comes right up and eats my #16 Purple Haze 15 feet from where Blane has our raft positioned. One of the aspects of being guided by Blane is his excitement when his client does well. Blane promotes and embodies a positive guided experience. I can't stress how much more enjoyable it is to be with a Guide who enjoys his time with a client as opposed to a Guide who's burnt out on rowing people down the same river day after day. After Fishing the spillway, we head downstream to fish some of the most amazing flat water I've ever seen. This portion of the river is wide, deep and slow in flow which allows the Shoshone Cowboy to navigate his raft both quietly and accurately in the pursuit of rising fish. This technique is simple, you see a boil or a tail, Blane works you over to that area and allows you to present your Dry Fly. This is not easy angling because bigger Brown Trout usually get that way because they are smarter than your average Trump administration official. You better be stealthy and drag free if you want to get a reaction. However, if you get a good drift these Golden-Brown beauties will respond. During this trip we noticed a nice fish coming up more than once in a couple of minutes. Once in the correct position, and on my first drift with my Black Caddis Dry there it was. Another 20" plus Brown that we got to see come up and eat in gin clear water. To me as an angler, there is nothing better than that. I would have never been able to approach and present to that fish wading the BLC. That's another interesting aspect of the BLC in that depending on stream flows this is not an easy fishery to wade on foot. I've never fished the BLC after Labor Day when apparently, they lower stream flows to a much wade friendlier level.
Once we start to move downstream the river changes to more of a Freestone with pocket water and those delicious soft edges and seams coming off of fast current. Right about this time I begin to pester Blane as to whether it's "Pink Pookie time" yet. This is my way asking Blane to tie a Hopper on. Blane does a good job of sticking with his program as he replies, "not yet Richie". Shortly thereafter, The Shoshone Cowboy asks that my wife and I get out of the raft and walk down below a serious set of whitewater rapids that Blane doesn't want to row us through. He could row us down this stretch that's for sure, but it is sketchy even if you know what you are doing and as the Shoshone Cowboy says, "no sense in ruining a good day" by having one of his clients knocked into a dangerous stretch of water.
This white-water section flows down into the "Lilly Pad" section of the BLC. This is a unique stretch of this fishery. The Lilly Pad area of the BLC is a Lake section of this river. BLC stream flows dump right into this huge pool that's about the size of three or four football fields. In the middle of this pool is a huge Lilly Pad patch. The cool thing about the Lily Pads are that at certain times of the year Blane will have his clients strip either Damsel nymphs or Damsel Dry's for the Large Brown Trout that use the Lilly Pad's as cover. The flow that dumps into the Lily Pad section is a delicious shallow to deep riffle that gets an anglers dick harder than a 10-pound diamond. The Shoshone Cowboy does a great job of repeatedly rowing this riffle and thus giving his anglers time to fish dozens of drifts. It seems every square foot of this area could hold the Brown Trout of your season. This section of the BLC is Hopper water at its finest. Shallow water deliciousness turning into gin clear depth makes every drift of a Dry Fly similar to watching your lady slowly drop her panties. At some point you just know you are going to get a peek at some "sugar" and maybe even a “rise" with your #6 weight. The BLC is some of the best and varied Trout water landscape I have ever fished.
By late morning Blane finally agrees to let me Hopper fish. There is just something about floating foam on this fishery. That never gets old. Every quality stretch of holding water on the BLC holds a legit Brown Trout. Though the BLC also has a Rainbow and Cutthroat Trout population, a bulk of what you'll catch and want to catch are the Brown's. After a quick stop for lunch that consists of a cold cut and cheese platter from a supermarket in Riverton Wyoming, we head back out for our final stage of our float. If there is one knock on the BLC it is that this is a relatively short Guided Float. From where you put in at the after bay until where you get out, this might be a 5-mile Guided trip. Though Blane does a great job of milking every stretch of this world class fishery all while giving you hundreds of drifts on premium water, rest assured the "cream" is in the first half of your day. The last portion of the BLC is a lot of whitewater that is both hard to row for Blane and tough to fish for the angler. That certainly does not mean that the BLC doesn't fish to the end, it's just more likely you'll do a bulk of your damage before the Shoshone Cowboy's salami and provolone tray.
There is another lower float that Blane can take you down where you merge onto the Wind River itself. I just haven't had the pleasure of experiencing that stretch yet. There is some wade fishing on the BLC although lower stream flows are needed to effectively pull this off because when the BLC is running high, wade fishing it is extremely difficult.
The BLC is protected by the Nature Conservancy. The banks of the BLC are part of the historical Winchester Ranch. Fly fishing "oligarchs" from both Orvis and Patagonia have both had a hand in angling and protecting this fishery. The fact that the BLC is in the middle of nowhere, tribally outfitted and expensive to fish (Wyoming State fishing license, Shoshone Tribal Stamp AND Blane charges $600 per day plus tip) makes this an exclusive fishery for those who seek an oversized Brown Trout opportunity.
Over the last year, Blane has gained access to some additional Wind River fisheries that have never been outfitted or hardly even fished. Blane also has a Teepee camp with an outboard boat operation on the actual Bull Lake that offers as good of Brown Trout fishing as the BLC as well as huge Rainbow Trout and world class Ling fishing. The surrounding wilderness offers a legit population of Grizzly Bears and Rattlesnakes making it interesting to hike, hunt and fish around the lake itself.
The Shoshone Cowboy is a great fishing Guide. Blane sees the good in his customers and works within their strengths, not their weaknesses as anglers. The area that surrounds the BLC is rich in history and tribal culture and Blane adds to the quality of his Guided trips by sharing a lot of that history and experiences with his clients. Most importantly, Blane also has a lot of fun when he is out there, and it shows.
Don't take the Foul Hooked Whitey's word for it. Let the BLC's middle of nowhere location, multiple licensing costs and high Guide fee keep you from experiencing this New Zealand standard quality Trout river.
Deciding to take a Guided day with the Shoshone Cowboy on the BLC is similar to an infamous scene from the movie Wedding Crashers when Will Farrell's character Chaz responds to being told that a wedding crashing peer was getting married;
"What? What an Idiot. (Kick, Kick) What a Loser. Good. Good. More for me and you".
~The Foul Hooked Whitey
Next up- Piney Creek in Sheridan Wyoming. "Why Piney Ain't So Shiney".....
- Foul Hooked Whitey