Wyoming conjures images of cowboys, high plains, Native American culture and Rocky Mountains. The state is the 10th largest and least populated making it a great place to explore away from the crowds. Almost 50 percent of the land is government owned, the most in the country, meaning there is a lot of public access even if there isn’t a lot of public. Kayak Angler’s wandering photographer and story collector, Dustin Doskocil, packed his camera and kayak for a six-day adventure through Wyoming, traveling the path less traveled and fishing remote waters to bring us the tales and images of a trip through history into the Wild West.
Expect cool mornings and hot days with no trees for shade
It’s a long drive between towns
Leadhead jigs and soft-plastic tail
Seems like everything was keyed on slow rolling a jig
Walleye are good eating and the slot limit is in effect
There is a lot of water to explore
Comfortable kayak for long days and many miles
Find Out-of-This-World Fishing in Wyoming
When I travel, I don’t do a lot of research. I pick a few ideal locations to visit and let the road take me the rest of the way. I’ve lived in Colorado for more than four years, but I’ve never crossed the border into Wyoming.
When I first considered exploring Wyoming, I imagined wild mountain rivers, giant brown and rainbow trout in crystal clear water with grizzly bears on the bank and the Tetons in the background.
Then I heard about the relentless drought and pictured lines of summer tourists flocking to the northwest corner of the state. Wyoming is the least populated state and least densely populated state in the United States. Visiting Wyoming and waiting in line or standing shoulder to shoulder misses the point. In search of wide open skies and uncrowded vistas, I opted to check out Wyoming’s less traveled fishing holes.
My initial plan was to drive to Bighorn National Forest to fish the Big Horn River. I was excited to drift between towering giant canyon walls and cast lures to uneducated fish. After talking to a few other anglers, I uncovered Hawk Springs and Grayrocks Reservoir as hidden fishing spots. A shout out on Facebook resulted in two anglers, James Francis and Michael Remington, who wanted to join me along the trip. On the way, I wanted to check out the cowboy town of Capser, but I never thought I would end up in a ghost town called Douglas.
My first stop was Hawk Springs Reservoir in the southeast corner of Wyoming. The area is desolate and dry, mostly hilly with giant rock cliffs randomly popping out of the rolling hills. The place felt lonely.
The reservoir had a bathtub barren bottom and strange, milky green water. At the boat ramp, I met with James Francis, a long-time tournament angler and kayak bass fisherman.
Our plan was to fish at the dam, but a local we met pointed us to the other end of the lake for largemouth bass.
Largemouth in Wyoming? I wasn’t expecting much, but the fish were there. Largemouth bass are local to the Southeast and successful transplants in the Southwest, but the world’s most popular gamefish hasn’t caught on in Wyoming. Which seems strange, because James and I caught more than 40 largemouth in this weird green lake.
With the local’s advice, we made our way across the lake to find a stand of sun-bleached timber sticking out of the water.
Places to visit in Hawk Springs
Bear Mountain Stage Stop
Load up on snacks and have a beer while chatting with friendly locals
I was paddling a Jackson Coosa HD, which is wide and stable with plenty of open space for gear. I can lie down and get low to photograph or stand up for a different angle. A paddle kayak is more maneuverable, allowing me to spin on a dime to capture a shot or make a cast.
On his first cast, James hooked into a healthy largemouth. After I watched him catch three more fish, I switched over to a jig with crawfish trailer and caught my first Wyoming largemouth.
After we each caught a half dozen fish, we moved to a larger area of tree stumps. James found a point and started catching bass. I explored the timber, fishing every nook and cranny, while James was landing one fish after another on the point.
We fished the entire area, but the bass were only in two spots. So, we ended up going back and forth between the two places catching pasty, white 15-inch largemouth. By the end of the day, we caught more than 40 bass and one walleye all on the same jig and craw.
My second stop was the beautiful Grayrocks Reservoir. The reservoir is surrounded by rock cliffs to the east transitioning into rolling hills to the west.
The low hills are covered in golden grass with spots of bright green sage and a few brave trees. The reservoir is 86 miles north of Cheyanne and a world away from the milky green water of Hawk Springs.
On the way to Grayrocks, I stopped at Taco John’s for a late-night meal. As a native Texan, I take my tacos seriously, so I was reluctant to eat at a fast food taco house. Turns out I was their last customer and I paid for lowering my standards with a bad case of indigestion. Ahhh, life on the road!
I prefer dispersed camping and Grayrocks Recreation Area had plenty of sites available. I chose a spot out of sight from other campers.
Unfortunately, I was in earshot of a rowdy group rocking out all night. Luckily I had earplugs to mute my neighbors.
Early the next morning, as I passed the offending campsite, I considered setting off my car alarm. But I was meeting James for a full day on the water and didn’t want to waste time getting to the launch.
Just after sun up, James and I reached the dam to find actively feeding smallmouth bass. James caught two 20-inch walleye, a respectable rainbow trout and a monster catfish.
After a solid morning at the dam, we headed to the other side of the reservoir where we could see timber on the map. On these western reservoirs, the far side from the dam usually holds timber.
We pulled our kayaks and relaunched at a boat ramp closer to the timber. Even with the portage, it was a good distance to the deadfall.
James searched the downed trees farther from shore and I cruised into a cove. As soon as I entered the sheltered water, a herd of baitfish spooked along the shore. Immediately, a school of smallmouth attacked the frantic baitfish.
I called James and we started whacking them, catching one smallie after another on spinners and swimbaits. We caught fish on any lure that looked like a shad.
When the action slowed, one of us would paddle along the bank to scare the bait. Then we would cast into the melee. The pattern held up most of the day and we returned to the launch tired and excited. After covering more than 12 miles of the lake, we had another great day of Wyoming fishing.
Places to visit in Douglas
College Inn Bar
The Rockies Burger is fantastic
Great place to catch a shower and some Z’s. Meet a few locals at the bar and look out for ghosts
After the trip I asked myself, why did I stop in Douglas? The answer: because I was tired and hungry.
After doing some searching on Yelp, I found a bar with a decent burger. From the outside, the College Inn Bar looks like any old bar in any old town. But walking into the place I was surprised to find a 60-foot grand bar with design and craftsmanship telling of a different time.
The walls are painted with detailed murals and host a variety of taxidermied animal heads. As you would expect in a western drinking hole, a table of cowboy hats was playing poker in the back and a couple of guys were shooting pool. I sat at the bar and ordered a drink. After chatting with the bartender, I found out the College Inn used to be a brothel, completing the Wild West ambiance.
After I ate a burger and drank a beer, I went for a stroll and found the Hotel LaBonte. The classic Western flop house looked as old as the bar. I walked into the empty lobby and started looking for the staff. I found the hotel bar instead.
A couple sitting at the bar offered to buy me a drink and gave me the low down. When the desk clerk returned, I rented a room for $60.
After a much-needed shower and some image management, I went back down to the bar to find a few local ranchers drinking and bullshitting. I joined them. They informed me the hotel had a ghost child wandering the halls and the College Inn Bar has the spirit of dead prostitutes creeping around the place. According to my hosts, the whole town and most of Wyoming is haunted.
Places to visit in Bighorn
Horseshoe Bend Campground and Barry’s Landing
Make a reservation before heading to Bighorn Canyon
The next day, I pulled up to my reserved campsite at Horseshoe Bend Campground and Barry’s Landing National Forest to meet Michael Remington, a multi-species angler from Colorado.
Bighorn Canyon National Recreation Area is located northeast of Yellowstone. The park is famous for spectacularly beautiful canyon walls along the Bighorn River, which starts where the Wind River turns into the Bighorn River and flows north into Montana to feed the Yellowstone River.
The recreational area is filled with wildlife. During my visit, I spotted wild horses, bighorn sheep and a roadrunner. However, I think my favorite encounter was huge flocks of doves flying through the canyons. Some bevys numbered over 100 doves and I could hear their whooshing wings approaching from 300 yards away. Hugging the steep, striated walls of the canyon, the doves rushed by like they were late for work.
While the wildlife and scenery was breathtaking, the fishing wasn’t great. Michael trolled lures all day while I cast along the river bank. We threw everything in the tackle box without much luck. At the end of the day, I caught a small, mangy-looking walleye with only one good eye.
On the way back to Colorado, I drove across the Bighorn National Forest. The ride was gorgeous, winding through the mountains and over a steep pass. The area reminded me of Colorado with big mountains and rocky terrain drained by creeks and streams. The lower elevations are forested by pine trees and I could imagine a plethora of wildlife. I wished I had more time to explore.
My plan was to stay in Buffalo. When I arrived at the one-horse town, I realized it was not the spot for me. The dark streets and empty lots told me to keep my head down and my mouth shut.
Places to visit in Casper
Hot Spring State Park
Take in the colorful terraces and soak in 104-degree therapeutic water
Gruner Brothers Brewery
The Italian egg rolls were surprisingly delicious and the Forever West IPA is amazing
Garden Creek Waterfall
An 80-foot waterfall with wild flowers and great views of Casper
Chicken Fried Steak and Eggs—more please
To validate my feelings, I took a quick walk down the main drag and popped into a local dive bar to feel out the vibe. The bartender seemed to be drunk. A dozen people scattered among tables and barstools were eerily quiet. I tried to strike up a conversation with a couple at the bar, but it didn’t go anywhere. There was no fun at this joint.
So, I amended my plans and moved on to Casper. At first Casper seemed to be another quiet town. Then, after a few beers at Gruner Brother Brewery, and a tour from the owner, the town started to grow on me.
The next morning before breakfast, I took a side trip to photograph Garden Creek Waterfall. Waterfalls fascinate me and I always stop to admire them. The 80-foot fall and short hike offered a glimps into the local flora and fauna with a great view of the town below.
With my appetite piqued, I hit Sherrie’s Place for an awesome breakfast, which I walked off by strolling around the charming town. My unexpected stop in Casper turned out to be a perfect departure from my Wyoming road trip. With a cool vibe and independent spirit steeped in rough and tumble history, Wyoming and its people are a great escape from the hustle and bustle.
This article was first published in the Early Summer 2022 issue of Kayak Angler Magazine. Subscribe to Kayak Angler Magazine’s print and digital editions, or browse the archives.
Like fishing on the moon, stark landscape and harsh conditions welcome Wyoming anglers. | Feature photo: Dustin Doskocil