Coantag Creek - Segment No. 1


Central Bear



Bear River cutthroat trout is a native species that has been proposed for listing as an endangered species by some environmental groups. The Fish and Wildlife Service is charged with making that determination and has ruled that the decision is not warranted at this time because populations of this fish are stable or increasing. Maintaining or improving habitat for this species is of critical importance to the state’s interest primarily to prevent it from becoming listed as threatened or endangered. But it’s also important to maintain and improve habitat and populations of native species simply because that’s the right thing to do for today’s citizens and future generations. The quantities of flow recommended at different times are based on detailed field studies. These flows are recommended to ensure adequate survival in the winter (October through March), protect habitat for spawning and egg incubation (April 1 through June 30), and foster good growth of trout in the summer (July 1 through September 30). Angling opportunities are outstanding and the protection of at least base flows with an instream flow water right will help ensure that future anglers can enjoy the same privilege to fish here as current day anglers.
Coantag Creek is another of the many typical mountain streams that are found throughout the state. The stream flows through towering mountains that seem to go on forever. Willows blanket the stream banks making it tough to fish some parts from shore but affording great angling for those wading up or downstream. Most of the stream is wadeable though there are places requiring you to detour around deep pools and debris jams. The heavily timbered watershed is relatively stable which means the cobbles and gravels are relatively clean of silt. That in turn allows abundant crops of mayflies, caddis flies and stone flies to grow and support the trout that call this stream home. The majority of trout are native Bear River cutthroat trout, but you may find an occasional brown trout. We don’t’ stock any fish here so every fish you catch will have been born and raised here. Mountain whitefish are also found here in relatively small numbers and can be just as fun to catch as the cutts. Expect most of the cutts to range between 8 and 14 inches but also know that there are a few exceptional specimens that grow a little bigger. Area 4 flowing water fishery regulations apply here. That means beginning in 2010 there will be a limit of six trout per day or in possession, only 3 of which may be cutts and only one of those may exceed 16 inches. There are no size restrictions on brown trout in this stream. Anglers may only use artificial flies and lures here.
From the confluence of the North and South Forks down to the confluence with Hobble Creek.
The road into Coantag Creek is a relatively good one that can be traveled in a sedan in good weather on dry roads sometimes, but is lots more enjoyable in an SUV or 4-wheel drive pickup. But before you embark on the trip in, stop by a Forest Service office in Jackson, Big Piney or Kemmerer and get a Forest Service map of the Bridger-Teton National Forest, that has the Big Piney, Greys River and Kemmerer ranger districts. With this in hand head to Cokeville, take highway 232 east out of town, and drive north and east through the Smiths Fork valley for about 12 miles. The blacktop ends at the mouth of Coal Creek and the road forks. Here you’ll turn away from the Smiths Fork River (right or east) and start the gradual climb up Forest Service Road 10062. In about 9 miles look for signs to Lake Alice or Forest Service road 10066. You’ll take that road back to the north again and go another. After going another 5 miles or so, you’ll find Forest Service road 10193 and more signage to Lake Alice. Follow that road down into the Coantag Creek / Hobble Creek drainage. When you finally drop off the hill you’ll cross the stream and find an open meadow where you can park and start walking. If you want to spend a few days here, there’s a Forest Service campground just ahead along the banks of Hobble Creek.
You’d think that of all the fishermen in the state, the most successful anglers might be the ones who spend long days standing in all sorts of streams all over the state measuring habitat. Surely, you’d think an instream flow biologist would know all the angles of where the fish are and how to catch ‘em because they have jobs that require them to spend long days standing in all sorts of streams all over the state measuring habitat. But what may not seem quite so obvious is that, at the end of the day, more often than not the last thing those folks want to do is put their cold, soggy waders back on and charge off with fly rod in hand for a couple more hours of sneaking around the stream. Granted there are exceptions to that rule. There are times when the hatch is so strong and trout are rising so fast that even the most weary field worker can’t resist the call to spend just a little more time in the water. And there’s always the energized summer help from some Midwestern state who can’t soak up enough of the Western extravagance during the day and lathers on more in-stream fun in the evening. But considering the 100+ top quality trout streams I’ve worked in over the past quarter century, I confess that I’ve taken the time to sample the fishing in way too few of them. And when I have taken the time to flip out a fly or two the results have been much less than you’d expect from a person who’s spent that much time in some of the state’s and nation’s best trout streams. Coantag Creek, though, is the kind of stream that can change at least some of that frustration. Late in the summer of 2009, I made a swing by the stream with the newest addition to the crew to introduce him to streams where we’d filed instream flow rights and discuss the finer points of data collection and water law. The day was one of those classic crisp, cool autumn spectacles that demanded we dally just a little to experience firsthand the reason for filing an instream flow water right there. Starting with warm, dry boots may have made all the difference as we soon found ourselves a fair ways up the creek, catching the kind of trout we knew should be there based on past electro-fishing studies. Ten to twelve inch Bonneville cutts were all too eager to try stealing the hopper imitations we offered for their consideration. On about the tenth “one more cast and we’ll go” we rounded a bend to find a pool that my decades of habitat modeling screamed “big trout water!” The trout god’s showed a moment of weakness just then and sent Mike’s fly into a willow along the bank on his first cast. Not wanting to offend them, I had little choice but to honor the window of opportunity they had so graciously placed in front of me. Mike had no sooner finished cursing his bad luck when I shoved him aside and dropped my hopper at the head of the pool. On cue, the classic grey translucent shape drifted up from the depths, grabbed my fly, and proceeded to drag me downstream at top speed, seemingly oblivious that I might break an ankle on the boulder strewn stream bottom. I don’t have much experience playing such fish but was finally able to halt his downstream flight just before he entered a steep chute that plunged into a substantial log jam. A few more less dedicated runs and the 17-inch beast was in-hand posing for pictures. It would probably have been nice if I’d had that kind of success just a little more often over the past couple decades, but it wouldn’t have changed the enjoyment I had that day. Nor would it have changed my appreciation for the value of state-owned instream flow rights that will let other folks experience a similar thrill. That fine specimen, along with a lot of his buddies, is still in Coantag Creek – and he or his off-spring will be there for a long time ready to reward others who take the time to discover this great little stream.