One week in Thermopolis, Wyoming…
Why we came…
To fish the Wind and Bighorn Rivers and to explore the famous hot springs.
We stayed at Eagle RV Park and were quite comfortable. We had full hook-ups, good laundry facilities, decent wi-fi, and cable TV. Large cottonwood trees would make satellite reception nearly impossible from all but one or two camp sites. The Verizon cell phone signal was reliable for data and voice. Dennis, the campground owner, and his teenage son, are friendly and do their best to make everyone happy. The rates are also very reasonable, especially for stays of a week or more. The campground is on the south side of town and was convenient to the Bighorn River, Hot Springs State Park, restaurants, and stores.
We liked Thermopolis, elevation 4,300 and population 3,000. That’s low elevation by Wyoming standards so summers would be hot, but winters a bit more tolerable. Spring and fall are nearly perfect. There is a decent selection of restaurants and a few small grocery stores. And the reasons we came, the Bighorn River and the hot springs, are conveniently in town. We would gladly come back, especially this time of year!
Thermopolis and the Bighorn River from Monument Hill in Hot Springs State Park
We fished five out of the seven days we were in Thermopolis. We spent two days fishing the Wind River Canyon and the other three days fishing the Bighorn.
The Wind River Canyon is part of the Wind River Indian Reservation and requires a reservation fishing license. At $25 a day, it’s fairly reasonable. There is also a seven day license and an annual license that would make more sense for a longer stay. The Wind River Canyon is known for it’s huge brown trout that commonly grow to 24-30 inches. Fall is the best time to catch them so our hopes were high.
The fishing report was, “Ok, but you’ll have to work for them”. On day one, I was skunked, but Arleen caught a 15 inch brown trout…that’s my girl! On day two, Arleen didn’t fish, and I caught an 18 inch brown trout. After a total of 20 hours of fishing, we only managed two trout. The Wind River Canyon let us down, but we’d definitely do it again. The scenery is spectacular and with each cast, anticipation grows of hooking a salmon-sized trout!
Beautiful scenery in the Wind River Canyon
Fall fishing in the Wind River Canyon
Fighting a brown trout in the Wind River Canyon / It got off…"CRAP”!
We spent three days fishing the Bighorn River in Thermopolis and a few miles to the north.
Ken, from Victoria British Columbia, and Scott, from Sheridan Wyoming, were our neighbors in the campground. They make a regular pilgrimage to fish the Bighorn. We shared fishing stories and recommended places to go. They offered to take me fishing the next morning. I was excited to float and fish with two good guys that knew the river! Arleen planned to hike some trails in Hot Springs State Park.
We launched their drift boat at the Wedding of the Waters, where the Wind River changes its name to the Bighorn River. The fishing was consistent…we each caught three or four. It was a mix of rainbow and brown trout that averaged 16-18 inches. Scott caught the biggest…a 20 inch butter colored brown trout. It was fun casting small dry flies to pods of feeding fish! But it was tricky to make the required drag-free presentation as we floated by. We usually only got a cast or two and then looked ahead for the next pod of feeding fish. We floated about five and half miles to the 8th Street bridge. I really enjoyed fishing with Ken and Scott and am very grateful they invited me!
Float route on the Bighorn River with Ken and Scott / I caught this 17 inch brown trout
Ken and Scott floating the Bighorn River near Thermopolis WY
Ken netting Scott’s nice brown trout
Later that afternoon, Arleen and I fished the Bighorn near the Longwell access. I caught an average rainbow and an average cutthroat trout. It was a beautiful evening.
A nice fall evening on the Bighorn River at the Longwell access
The next day we fished the Wakely access area. Arleen hooked a couple but didn’t land them and I caught three or four average trout. The highlight of the day was Arleen targeting a pod of rising trout. We spotted them at the tail end of a shallow, slick pool. The water was only shin deep and clear. The trout would spook easily and be difficult to fool. Arleen studied the situation, came up with a plan, and put it into motion. She slowly circled to the side of the fish and targeted the closest ones with well-placed delicate casts…I watched with pride and admiration! She never spooked them, but as she crept closer, they moved an equal distance away. She had two opportunities as trout rose to her small dry fly, but she didn’t connect! It was pretty intense for both of us. Her fly-fishing skills are pretty darn good!
We saved our best day of Bighorn fishing for last. We launched our kayaks from Kirby Ditch and floated almost nine miles to Longwell. Other than two small diversion dams, it’s an easy class one float. The first diversion dam is right by the Kirby Ditch launch. You shoot this one on river left and try to stay out of the rocks. It was a little tricky, but we did just fine. The second diversion dam has to be portaged on river right. It’s a short, easy portage, especially with kayaks. In most places the current is slow enough that we could paddle upstream to make multiple drifts. There are trout nearly everywhere, but the most cooperative ones were in slick water that was knee to waist deep along the banks.
Float route on the Bighorn River from Kirby Ditch to Longwell
Fishing while trying to kayak a river is not easy! Though the current is slow, it still takes constant maneuvering. Stroke stroke, grab rod, stroke stroke, grab rod, cast…repeat over and over. Now imagine hooking a good-sized trout…rod in one hand and paddle in the other. You still have to keep yourself out of the bushes, rocks, and other hazards as you drift along, fighting the fish. I floated nearly a quarter mile before landing some of the bigger, stronger trout! The best method was get to the middle of the river to fight them. The next method to was somehow beach ourselves and fight them while stationary. An anchor system would have been great, but we don’t have that option.
And the fishing? Freakin awesome…We must have caught 30 trout! They were all 15-19 inches long. Except for two browns and one cutthroat, they were all rainbows. Most hit nymphs fished 1-3 feet deep, but Arleen had multiple opportunities on big floating terrestrial flies. She had one big rainbow that hit and jumped about two feet out of the water and broke free…it was quite the image! They were all strong fish and we had a blast!
Netting a nice rainbow on the Bighorn River
Another nice rainbow trout
Rod doubled over while fighting a strong Bighorn River rainbow trout
A rainbow trout and a brown trout
The other reason we came to Thermopolis was to check out Hot Springs State Park. From the web link:
“Over colorful terraces along the Big Horn River at Thermopolis flows water from mineral hot springs. More than 8,000 gallons flow over the terrace every 24 hours at a constant temperature of 135 degrees Fahrenheit. The park has a free bath house where the water is maintained at 104 degrees for therapeutic bathing. Hot Springs has 6.2 miles of universally accessible trails and hiking trails.”
Arleen’s mom, Ellen, spent a night in Thermopolis to hang out with us and also to soak in the hot the springs. We enjoyed our free 20 minute soak under bright blue skies and confortable weather. There were just two other local guys so it was quiet and pleasant. 20 minutes in the 104 degree water was plenty! We were relaxed but felt weak as we slowly climbed out of the pool.
Soaking in the hot springs
The trails were nice and well maintained. There are short boardwalk loops across the unique formations and various other trails near the river and to the top of Monument Hill. It would be easy to hike for a bit and then take a dip in the hot springs.
A huge travertine terrace, the swinging bridge, and the Bighorn River in Hot Springs State Park
Rock formations and mineral deposits in Hot Springs State Park
The Teepee Fountain…compare the width to the pictures below
The same Teepee Fountain in its early years. As water flows over the structure, it cools and deposits layer upon layer of travertine. The same process is responsible for terraces throughout the park.
The state park also has good access to the Bighorn River with great fishing. Thermopolis is fortunate to have such a nice place that’s so accessible!
We are in Kemmerer, our last stop in Wyoming. We have fished the Green River below Fontenelle Reservoir, and have also explored Fossil Butte National Monument. From Kemmerer, we head to Heber City, Utah for the winter!
Canadian Geese on the Bighorn River
Mergansers watching us float by