While others may climb mountains simply because they are there, flyfishing buddy Pete Mathiesen and I had a more compelling reason to ascend Wyoming’s Wind River Range in late September. There were golden trout in them thar hills, or at least in some of the lakes of the Popo Agie Wilderness Area, and we were determined to catch the rare fish.
The Popo Agie is at the southern end of the Shoshone National Forest, where some of the highest peaks in the Rockies march in jagged lockstep down the spine of the Continental Divide. Several years ago, the Wyoming Game and Fish Department obtained golden trout from California and stocked them in some of the Popo Agie’s alpine lakes. Thumb Lake, at an elevation of over 10,000 feet, was our destination.
Thumb is plainly marked on the map available from the Forest Service office in Lander, from which we embarked. We drove to the trailhead outside of town and hiked for a few hours along a well-marked trail. When we got to within a mile of Thumb, Mathiesen and I pitched our tent and, for the next couple of days, fished the surrounding streams. The weather started out bad and got even worse, with a snowstorm driven by gale-force winds being the main event. We never caught any goldens above the timberline, but the plump cutthroats and brook trout in the lakes, potholes and streams took out some of the sting. They also sufficed for breakfast, lunch and dinner.
On our final morning in the Popo Agie, I trekked up to the lake of the golden trout while Mathiesen stayed below and caught two-pound cutthroats that had never seen a Woolly Bugger. When I reached Thumb, a blizzard started piling whitecaps at my feet and I decided that hiking over boulders and loose shale to the lee side of the lake would have been a dangerous task in the snow. Most quests end in failure and this one would have to wait for a better champion. Are you the one?
Contact: U.S. Forest Service, Lander Ranger District (307-332-5460).