October 19, 2010
Back in 1980 the managers of the Deseret Ranch's Sage Creek cattle ranch on Route 120 just south of Cody, Wyoming, pushed some dirt into a wet draw and created a 150-acre cattle watering tank. They named it Stewart Lake, and near the ranch headquarters they bulldozed another watering hole (40 acres) they called Wylie Lake. Then, in 1993, Lovell, Wyoming, guide Steve Bassett convinced the ranchers that he could manage the place as a pay-for-play fishing lake.
By 1997 stories were circulating about huge trout being taken in the food-rich, shallow lake, and last April I visited what had been modestly renamed "Monster Lake." It was an experience.
In April the lake lay gleaming like a shiny puddle in a high-plains coulee. Cattle lounged across the hillsides and meandered here and there along the road leading down to the lake. Clouds scudded across a cold Wyoming sky, and a biting wind pushed miniature whitecaps against the car tires lining the lake dam.
We fished in kick boats and float tubes, trolling olive or black Woolly Buggers (tied with Squirrel Brite dubbing), Bead-head Buggers, olive or black rabbit-strip leeches, and olive mohair leech patterns. We repeatedly hooked rainbows and browns ranging from two to three pounds. It was early-season fishing, before the massive hatches of late spring and summer and before the lake's aqueous weeds had grown to the surface and complicated fishing.
We kick-trolled the flies, paddling, stopping and stripping, then kicking again. The trout took after the pauses, on the kick, and on the strips. We quickly lost the fish count and experimented with flies and colors until we became satiated with hooking, landing, and releasing fish on virtually all the flies we threw on Teeny 130- and 200-grain heads. Then we pumped to shore for food and rest.
The cutthroats were spawning along the dam, the only place they had to try it in the manmade lake. We watched the guides cast to the cruising flame-red cutts. Males up to five pounds attacked the flies and came to hand with hooked kypes and vents that dripped white milt (cutts don't spawn successfully in the lake). After spring, the cutts go deep and become extremely difficult to catch.
Then we stood on a shoreline ledge and sight cast to cruising rainbows and browns and caught more fatties as the shadows crept across the lake. It had been a typical early-season day on Monster Lake, but the season changes dramatically as the spring solstice approaches, the lake's waters warm, and aquatic insects burst forth.
After ice-out (March 1 to April 1), orange scud patterns tied on #6 Daiichi hooks take 90 percent of the fish. Also at ice-out, a Clouser Minnow with a white top, burnt-orange bottom, and dark-olive tail matches the 2- to 5-inch leopard leeches in the lake. And olive or grizzly Zonkers and dark-olive bead-head leech imitations are deadly. During late April, Denny Rickards's Stillwater Nymph is a lake favorite.
In the first two weeks of May, Monster Lake's midge hatches (#14-#16) come off in dense swarms and trout feed greedily on the surface. Browns, rainbows, and brookies are taken on Barr midge imitations and #18 Pheasant Tails fished on 3X or 4X tippets and 6- or 7-weight rods with enough reserve power to horse fish free of the rapidly growing weeds. The trout gorge in the shallows and they can be stalked from shore.
From the last week of May through June 7, Monster Lake has superb dry-fly fishing to Callibaetis hatches (#14-#16 Parachute Adams) that come off from 11 A.M. to 3 P.M. When the water temperature reaches 60 degrees, large trout can take from 50 to 100 yards of backing, and many fish are lost in the weeds if you use less than 1X or 2X tippets.
The lake's damselfly nymphs begin their shoreward migrations in mid-June and become a favored trout food through the first week of August. Nymphs and emerger imitations are the ticket, including Steve Bassett's #12 bead-head tied with olive/tan sparkle dubbing on Tiemco 200R hooks with an olive marabou tail. He also fishes his olive/rust/olive nymph tied on #8 Daiichi 2220 hooks with an olive marabou tail, and his #12 damsel emerger fished in the film. The damsel emerger is tied on a wide-gap hook and has an olive dubbed body, a blue foam top, and an olive rabbit-strip tail.
From the last week in June through the first week in August, the capering sedge creates high drama at Monster Lake. The fish chase and catch the water-running insects, and anglers skate a Goddard Caddis downwind across the surface to draw explosive strikes from giant rainbows and browns. Hooking is exhilarating, but playing and landing present challenges in the lake's weedy waters.
October can be the best fishing at this lake. As water temperatures cool, the beefy trout move into the shallows to chase flat-head shiners (they turn blackish after they spawn). The days are cool and the fishermen few, and the fishing is with a Steiner Duck-tail Minnow. Anglers take large fall-spawning brookies and browns at the dam shallows, and 30-fish days make the season's end special.
This year most rainbows and browns at Monster Lake will average around seven pounds and brookies will average around four pounds. Anglers can fish Monster or Corral lakes (35 acres) for four-year-old rainbows (three to four pounds) and cutthroats (one to eight pounds); they use leech and Mysis shrimp imitations. The best fishing is in May and September.
Anglers stay at Cody motels, and air service is easy from Denver into the Cody airport. Fishing fees are $175 per rod per day and $150 for each successive day, with a limit of 10 Rods leased per day. Kick-boats and float-tubes are provided. For booking information, call (800) 840-5137.