In September, 2004, two of my buddies from Rutherford County, Bill Booth and his fellow high school teacher Thomas Crawford, and I spent a week trout fishing and horse wrangling in Wyoming. We stayed with Boulder Lake Lodge outfitters, at the east end of Boulder Lake, in the southwest corner of the Wind River Range. On the map the Lodge is located north east of the tiny town of Boulder, which is south east of the better know town of Pinedale, in west central Wyoming. This was Bill’s third trip to this lodge; it was my second trip there; and it was Thomas’ first trip.
The Lodge is located in classic western high desert country. It is surrounded by sage brush flats and willow lined snow melt creeks. Whenever I have been back out west since then, and smelled the tangy scent of sagebrush and the sweet scent of willow, it takes my memories back to the Lodge.
The food at the lodge was home style cooking, plentiful and delicious. The owners had two daughters in the 7th and 11th grades. Both were smart, tough, sweet and hard working. They were experts on horse and fun to be around.
We fished on Boulder Creek that ran adjacent to the Lodge on BLM land; and the Green River upstream from Daniel, WY, which is further northeast from Pinedale in the Bridger-Teton National Forest of the Wind River Range; and on the South Fork of Big Piney Creek in the Jim Bridger Wilderness of the Wyoming Range across the Green River Valley on the Idaho border.
For bait we used worms and spinners. I know, not very high tone, and disdained by purist fly fishermen, but effective. My most deadly combination was a Panther Martin orange and gold spinner with a worm on the treble hook, cast with a split shot on a light spinning rod and reel.
We caught many native brook trout in flaming fall spawn copper colors, some rainbow and a few cutthroat. Bill caught a brown trout, at 20 inches and 3 ½ pounds the largest trout of his career, in riffled, knee deep water on the Green River. We released most fish but brought a few back to the outfitter’s lodge to cook.
One day, the high point of my fishing career, Thomas and I hiked upstream on Boulder Creek, east of the Lodge, about 5 miles into the Wind River Range, and fished along the way. For lunch we kept four medium sized trout. We made a camp fire by the creek in the national forest and baked the trout in aluminum foil, with butter, salt and pepper. We ate them fresh and hot out of the fire, just 30 minutes from finning in the cold water. The pink meat tasted smoky and nutty, not the slightest bit fishy. Yummy!
Another afternoon we took the outfitter’s 12 year old daughter Katy and helped her catch her first fish! She was excited!
A couple times I got to play cowboy. Just after dawn I helped Katy wrangle up the horses from where they pastured overnight in several meadows near the lodge. We would bring them to the corral to be fed, brushed, saddled, bridled and readied for the day’s work.
During our outings we spotted all sorts of wildlife - coyote, moose, golden eagle, red tail hawk, mule deer up close, and hundreds of pronghorn antelope. We saw black bear scat on the trail and claw marks in the trees; and elk prints on a few trails. One day I saw four fresh mountain lion tracks on the trail I was taking up Boulder Creek! One of the wranglers confirmed the tracks.
We had unseasonably early fall cold weather, even for our 7,500 feet altitude. Every day we were in snow showers. The creek waters we waded were always freezing cold from the alpine snow melt. I wore a neoprene wet suit and booties in the water. Bill and Tom were tougher (or dumber…) and waded in fabric pants and socks with tennis shoes. I honestly don’t see how they could stand it. One day a full snow shower fell that accumulated one inch on the ground. The elk hunters outfitted from our lodge who were at about 10,500 feet altitude in the Wind River Range said they got six inches accumulation.
Our biggest scare came when we drove our rental car several hours northwest to South Piney Creek Road, west out of Big Piney, WY, in the Wyoming Range near the Idaho border. We parked near the pioneer gravesites at the Darby Creek Road intersection. We were 30 miles from the nearest house in national forest wilderness, with no boots and no camp gear. No one knew we were there. We fished the South Piney Creek in Snider Basin, in sight of the Oregon Trail wagon tracks. After fishing in biting cold wind and spitting snow for several hours we got back to the car. Something broke about the car and the key would not turn in the starter switch. At first we laughed like crazy at the predicament. Eventually, we decided we were in trouble. Thomas and I used my Leatheman tool to work on every car part we could access under the hood and behind the dashboard, to no avail. We never got the car to start.
Thomas built a fire, so with the nearby creeks and fish we would have plenty of water and food. The car could give us shelter. Bill and I tried to call for help on our cell phones but we had no reception. After several more scary hours, I saw an elk hunter drive out of the woods a half mile down the road. I raced to his pickup truck before he could drive away and flagged him down. We hitched a ride to the Big Piney Sheriff’s Department office. Bill made numerous calls to the rental car agency, who eventually arranged an expensive ride in a taxi van back across the state to the Lodge. The next day the rental car company delivered to us a replacement car. They said when they got a wrecker to the stranded car with another key, it started right up! Go figure.
The elk hunters outfitted from the Lodge had good luck, taking five bulls out of six tags. When the wranglers horse packed the meat down from the mountains in the middle of the night, I got up and helped unload the horse panniers and hang the elk quarters in the barn. It was heavy, hard and bloody work. Then I helped unsaddle, unbridle, water, brush and feed the horses.
When I got home I had to do some heavy duty laundry for all the kinds of stuff ground into my clothes – dirt, mud, fish scales, fish blood, elk blood, horse manure. Carpe Diem!