You might expect the Upper North Platte River to be too popular. Sure, it’s one of the most scenic freestone rivers in Wyoming, thriving with more than 4,000 catchable wild trout each mile. But rarely are your thoughts and experiences distracted. In fact, this inviting water is virtually uncrowded and fishes well almost year round. It’s just a matter of knowing where and when to fish.
About the Upper North Platte River
The Upper North Platte River is among Wyoming’s best for fishing and scenic float trips or plunging through rapids. The river enters Wyoming from Colorado, through a deep, rocky canyon in the Platte River Wilderness of the Snowy Range. It meanders north through mountains, cottonwood-lined meadows of the Platte Valley and, finally, through majestic desert vistas. It encompasses over 150 miles of free flowing, undammed water. Whether you’re fishing from a raft or along a peaceful shoreline, chances are you’ll be bragging about your catch, the unforgettable scenery, and spectacular wildlife.
Few angling experiences offer such diverse natural fishing conditions as the Upper North Platte River. The river offers healthy populations of brown and rainbow trout and is considered a “Blue Ribbon” trout fishery with over 4,000 catchable fish per mile. You could fish a lifetime and still not uncover all that this river has to offer. Your arms will tire before you can cast to all of the deep holes hiding those hungry lunkers.
Wildlife experiences are abundant on the Upper North Platte River. Bald eagle nests are numerous and you are likely to see these giants gliding above, caring for eaglets in easily viewable nests, or perched, with fish in talon, on a sturdy cottonwood limb directly overhead. The melody of many songbirds and bouquet of ducks, geese, heron, cranes, shorebirds, and hawks will fill your mind and camera. Mule deer, moose, elk, bighorn sheep, river otters, mink, and beavers often share the hillsides, shoreline, and shallows with you.
There are 14 public access areas along the North Platte River from Colorado to Interstate 80. This map shows locations and relative distances among access points. Many offer wade fishing, restrooms, picnic areas, camping and boat launch sites.
Adventurers often base out of Saratoga (population 1,655) as there are several places to stay, great places to eat, the Saratoga “Hobo” Hot Springs (which is open 24/7, free of charge), experienced fishing guides, and shuttle services.
Springtime Fishing (Pre-Runoff)
Every Spring, the chatter around Saratoga is filled with predictions of when the river will “peak” and be at it’s fastest and fullest capacity. The amount of water in the Upper North Platte River is dictated by the amount of snowpack in the nearby Snowy Range and Sierra Madre Mountain Range and how quickly the snow melts.
Springtime brings warmer temperatures and more open water. Rainbow trout begin to spawn around the end of April and appear more colorful than any other time of year. The fishing is superb prior to spawning as these fighters are typically more aggressive when water temperatures are cooler. Many of the lower elevation public river access locations (Pick Bridge, Foote, Saratoga, Treasure Island, and Six Mile Gap) become free of snow between April and mid-June. These are ideal places to fish in solitude and enjoy the scenery. It’s a good idea to check with local fishing guides like Hack’s Tackle and Outfitters for water conditions and to find out which flies and lures the fish are chasing.
Peak Floating and Fishing Season
Spring runoff draws out the high water rafters to test the whitewater at famed Northgate Canyon. Located between the Routt and Six Mile Gap public access areas, this part of the river promises big waves, white water ripples and an all out thrilling adventure through five series of rapids that can range up to Class IV. (Daily flows at Northgate Canyon can be found from the U.S. Geological Survey.) Navigation on this part of the Upper North Platte River is technical due to numerous rocks and maneuverability issues, so cinch up your life jacket, find an experienced guide and be prepared for an unforgettable rush!
Early season fishing peaks when the runoff ends, typically mid-June through early-August. You can always find a stretch that’s fishing well among the 14 public access areas along the North Platte River from Colorado to Interstate 80. One of the local favorites is to launch at Bennett Peak and drift through beautiful canyon scenery to Treasure Island. At Treasure Island, you can stop and stretch your legs. Then continue downstream as the river flows through cottonwood and willow-lined banks to Saratoga. This is a wonderful all day trip in early summer, before the flows drop and water temperatures rise. Be sure to get an early start. You’ll be rewarded with eager trout and beautiful landscapes. It’s also worth noting that in Wyoming, the navigable water over private land is public. However, the river banks and river bottom are still considered private–so you aren’t allowed to stop and get out and wade, drop anchor, etc. Please watch for signs that indicate public lands and avoid trespassing on private land.
As the season progresses and water levels drop, slower sections downstream from Saratoga offer good fishing, no matter where you launch. Late-July and August brings hatches of tricos and blue wing olives which can draw prolific strikes from surging browns and rainbows. If you prefer to wade the river and fish, there are miles of scenic trails that hug the shoreline through the National Forest, BLM, and Treasure Island access areas.
Fall brings cooler water temperatures and hot fishing from mid-October through November. Healthy, fat brown trout become more aggressive as spawning season approaches. Fall is the time of year when brown trout are their most colorful. Float season is typically finished upstream of Saratoga. And many adventurers are hunting or viewing the fall colors, so fishermen have long stretches of the river and thousands of trout all to themselves. This is a great time to take advantage of one of the best fishing spots in Wyoming – the Miracle Mile. This 7-mile stretch of the North Platte River garners it’s name from the large numbers of rainbow and brown trout and several trophy-sized fighters. The Miracle Mile is located between the Kortes Dam, below Seminoe Reservoir, and the headwaters of Pathfinder Reservoir. It’s roughly 1.5 hours from Saratoga and well worth the trip!
No matter when you visit Wyoming, one of the best experiences is floating and fishing the North Platte River. Hopefully, you’ll find yourself in Saratoga.
This article is featured on TravelWyoming.com.