The North Fork
The North Fork of the Shoshone has been rated one of the top 10 freestone rivers in the Rocky Mountains. The North Fork headwaters on the eastern side of Yellowstone National Park. Even though this river is bordered by Highway 14,16 and 20 leading to the East entrance of Yellowstone, seldom is there to be found a crowded fishing spot on this river, due to everyone’s rush to get to the park. The North Fork has 50 miles of river to cast a fly over within the Shoshone National Forest and Washakie Wilderness. Eighteen miles of the North Fork flows through a combination of private and BLM lands, mostly private. There is NO stream access law in Wyoming!
If we neglected to mention the wildlife in our haste to tell you all about the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone, let us now mention the fact that elk, moose, mule deer, Bighorn Sheep, black bear and grizzlies inhabit the wilderness surrounding all the rivers and streams in the northwestern corner of Wyoming, which we call Cody Country. The North Fork of the Shoshone was much favored by Buffalo Bill Cody as a great place to hunt big game. The many lodges dotting the river have some history and relationship with this famous buffalo hunter, Army scout and showman.
North Fork Wild CuttFloat trips are the preferred mode of transport on the North Fork. Each float trip is broken up into 8-10 mile sections where anglers can fish from the boat or stop and take advantage of the many runs and tail-outs as we move downstream to our final destination at day’s end. The float trip season begins July 1 and ends in late August on the upper reaches of the North Fork. The lower 18 miles can be floated until mid-late September, depending upon snow pack and river flows.
Walk/wade angling can be done on the North Fork, too. Even though there are times and places where the North Fork is unwadeable, there are plenty of spots where anglers can spend all day fishing one, two or three long runs. Yellowstone cutthroat, rainbows, cuttbows and brown trout are the dominant species found in the North Fork. All are wild, strong and healthy. Occasionally a brook trout and Rocky Mountain whitefish can also be caught.
North Fork Brown caught with North Fork SpecialBesides the main channel of the North Fork, there are several tributaries of the river which provide excellent angling opportunities during the summer and early fall months. The average trout size in the North Fork is 16 inches, with many larger than that. The tributaries carry a mixed size population of trout. Expect larger fish in the month of July, maybe through mid-August, and smaller trout after that, sized 6-14 inches.
The North Fork has great hatches of all the major species. Stoneflies, mayflies, caddis and midges are abundant during the angling season. Dry flies become the norm after July 1, although the North Fork special, a bead-headed nymph developed on the North Fork by Tim Wade, will consistently keep one’s rod bent all day. Dries, nymphs, emergers, spent and streamer patterns work very well on the trout population in the North Fork. What more can we say? The North Fork of the Shoshone is absolutely the finest trout fishing you will find anywhere. The North Fork has, so far, escaped the attention of those anglers who believe all the hype about Montana. Let the maddening crowd fish the Madison or the Bighorn, while you experience solitude, wildlife and wild trout on the North Fork![top]
The South Fork of the Shoshone is a smaller version of the North Fork. It has the distinction of being a very good brown trout fishery. There are also cutts, rainbows and brook trout to keep the fishing interesting. Access to the South Fork is limited due to private property bordering much of its length, from the confluence of Buffalo Bill reservoir upstream 35 miles to the Shoshone National Forest boundary.
Upon entering the Shoshone National Forest, the numbers of trout increase. It is not unusual for guided anglers to have several browns and rainbows over 20 inches smash a dry during the course of the day, during the height of the summer. Dry flies are favored patterns beginning July 1 and ending mid-October. On bright sunny days, however, the best way to entice a large brown is with nymphs, buggers or sculpin patterns. The South Fork really shines the last two hours in the evening, when the river comes alive with trout up on caddis, green drakes, pale morning dun spinners, and other insects.
South Fork Wild CuttFrom the boundary of the Shoshone National Forest, the South Fork of the Shoshone heads westward for 30 miles or so to Bliss Creek Meadows. The best trout fishing is found in the narrow canyon, requiring a walk of several, relatively easy miles before entering the canyon. Grizzly bears are not uncommon in the upper reaches of the South Fork and anglers should use caution when approaching berry patches or thick stands of willows on the canyon.
South Fork CutthroatFloating is not an option. North Fork Anglers provides walk/wade trips and horsepack trips to the upper South Fork. Horsepack trips are for 4 days, or longer, and require advance booking. Walk/wade trips are the most popular and can be managed by anglers in fair to excellent condition. It should be pointed out that daily trips are not done on the South Fork, just to keep the pressure off this extraordinary body of water. Anglers who book the trip are very satisfied with the effort at day’s end.
The Lower Shoshone River is a tail-water fishery. The North and South forks or the Shoshone river originally joined, then flowed through a deep canyon, much like the Clark’s Fork of the Yellowstone, but a dam built for hydro-electricity and irrigation needs in the early 20th century, blocked the canyon and created an excellent fishery downstream.
The best part of the Shoshone River fishery flows through the town of Cody. Brown trout, Snake River cutthroats, and rainbow trout inhabit the river. Average size of the trout in the lower Shoshone is 14-16 inches. It would be well to take note that many of the trout are much larger, even up to 30 inches.
The Shoshone fishes best during the months of October through May. This is when the flows are dropped, wading or floating is an option, and when the trout fishing is unbelievable. Blue-winged olives and midges are the prevalent insects for the dry fly enthusiast. Fall caddis hatches can last well into November, if Indian Summer prevails, and it usually does. Streamer fishing is very productive. ALL the time! That is not to say the river doesn’t fish well during the summer. It does, however, irrigation demands and irrigation returns turn the river to a shade of what can best be described as creamy tan. The trout rise and feed on emerging caddis, mayflies, midges, golden stones and hoppers during the summer months, but the visual esthetics of the river discourage many anglers from wetting a line. High flows can make wading difficult, but runs, tailouts, pools and riffles provide anglers stalking the banks excellent fishing, even when the water appears “dirty”.
The lower Shoshone flows over 50 miles as a tailwater, where it joins the Bighorn River at Yellowtail Reservoir, a few miles from the town of Lovell. Diversion dams, for irrigation purposes, have broken the lower river into short, 10 mile stretches. As mentioned, the Shoshone below Buffalo Bill dam through Cody and downstream to Corbett Dam is the best, most highly populated portion of the river. From Corbett to Willwood Dam, the river has limited access, still good fishing for browns and cutthroats. Below Willwood Dam to the town of Powell, limited access prevails, although there is a better population of rainbows, cutts and browns due to the nutrient flush coming from irrigated field returns into the river. From the town of Powell, several more diversion dams exist. The fishing from Powell to the town of Lovell can be good, but access is so limited, one would have to be a skilled decipherer of BLM maps to find access. During the summer months, the latter stretches of the Shoshone are to thin to plow, too thick to drink! Fall, winter and early spring is another story altogether and bears investigating.
Floating is the best way to fish the lower stretches of the Shoshone. North Fork Anglers prefers to float and fish the section from Cody to Corbett Bridge the most. It is in this stretch where the mega hatches occur and where the mega browns and rainbows hang out.
North Fork Anglers Shoshone River fishing reports, including reports for other spots.