FISHING AND BOATING

XStream Angler Instream Flow / Powder River, Middle Fork

Powder River, Middle Fork

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Length: 9.96 miles
Priority Date: 02/02/1987
Printable Access Map: Download Map
Technical Report: Download Technical Report
X-Stream Angler Article: Download XStream Angler Article

*Angling regulations may have changed since X-Stream Angler Articles were written. Please check current Fishing Regulations for current fishing limits.

About the segment - The Middle Fork of the Powder River rises in the south end of the Bighorn Mountains of north central Wyoming and generally flows in an easterly direction towards the small town of Kaycee. Near its source the stream carves its way through a deep canyon before exiting into a wide, fertile valley bordered by high red cliffs. Though frequented by fishermen and recreationists today, the area has a long history of use by people. Petroglyphs and pictographs on rock walls through out the area give evidence of human use dating back thousands of years. But the region is probably best known for harboring famous and not-so-famous outlaws in the late 1800’s. The Middle Fork flows through the Hole-In-The-Wall country made popular by its use by such colorful characters as Jesse James, the Logan brothers, George “Flat Nose” Currie, and Butch Cassidy’s Wild Bunch. The geology of the area formed an ideal place to rustle cattle being pushed to market on the nearby Bozeman Trail or lay low from other crimes. Up to 40 outlaws at a time reportedly maintained a semi-permanent residence in six log cabins on the old Willow Creek Ranch. When pushed by the law, outlaws occasionally sought refuge in two caves deep in Middle Fork Canyon. The outlaw cabins are long gone, but you can still visit the caves.
 

Rationale - The recommendation from July 1 to September 30 provides base flow to maintain trout production. The recommendation from October 1 through March 31 protects base flows for winter survival. The flow recommendation from April 1 through June 30 is intended to protect base flows for rainbow trout spawning. The Middle Fork is a highly popular and valuable fishery to the state and draws anglers from across the U.S. and other countries.

Fishery - The Middle Fork is one of the most productive trout streams in the state, hosting over 5,000 catchable-size trout per mile. An equal number of smaller fish wait in the wings to test your angling skills when they mature. Rainbow trout slightly outnumber browns through most of the instream flow segment and there are a few brookies in the very upper headwaters. The majority of trout range between about 8 and 14 inches though a few individuals up to 17 inches lurk in the deeper holes.

The predominant habitat form through most of the instream flow segment is pocket pool-type habitat associated with the many boulders scattered in the streambed. At base flow in late summer, most of the stream is less than knee deep, though holes up to 5 feet or more occur with some frequency. You’ll find many clean gravel riffles that afford top quality spawning habitat and habitat for aquatic insect production.

The stream increases somewhat in size throughout the instream flow segment, due to the gradual accumulation of water from springs. On average, it’s about 25 to 30 feet wide. Given the diversity of aquatic insects in the stream, a wide range of flies will work well. Dry fly fishing is superb with popular patterns being humpies, Adams, and elk hair caddis on number 14 hooks or smaller. Hairs ear nymphs and woolly buggers work well when the fish aren’t hitting the surface. The daily and possession limit is 6 fish but all fish between 10 and 16 inches must be released. Only one of the fish you keep may be over 16 inches. Most anglers voluntarily practice catch and release fishing – in part because of how the regulations are set but maybe because it’s an hour hike back up to the canyon rim.

How to get there - Go about 11 miles west of Kaycee on Highway 190 to Barnum (now just an abandoned building at the end of the pavement). Turn south here on a good gravel road and go about 3 miles. About ½ mile after crossing the Middle Fork (this part is on private land), you’ll see a sign directing you west up the slope of the mountain. Though 2-wheel drive sedans have been known to make it up and back from here, you’ll find this portion of the trip much easier in a fairly high clearance 4-wheel drive vehicle – especially if it rains. This part of the road will parallel the canyon rim above the river for it’s entire length. There are several trailheads that lead to the stream. Expect at least a half hour hike down to the stream and up to an hour to climb out.
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