For generations the West has held a certain captivation over the hearts and minds of the public. From its depiction on the silver screen to the often gritty day-to-day operations, the ranching lifestyle seems to beckon adventurers to try their luck – and their determination – against the land. From early dude ranches to the resurgence of sustainable agriculture, ranching has found a perennial place in American culture.

But what does it truly take to build and sustain a ranching operation in the Mountain West? Unlike any other type of property, purchasing a ranch requires special planning and consideration, whether it be a commercial business or a legacy estate. Like any enterprise, and perhaps more so than most, ranching requires careful foresight, vision and the right resources to succeed.

Matching Ambition with Foresight

There’s an old joke about a young rancher who wins the lottery. Asked what he is plans to do with his newfound wealth, he replies, “Well, I guess I’ll just keep ranching until it runs out.”

While humorous, the adage reflects the realities facing most commercial livestock operations. Ranching is a labor- and capital-intensive venture, with often tight margins. Returns are subject to market forces, which can cause prices to fluctuate wildly from year to year. Compounded by equal variability among inputs, like feed and growing conditions, and mounting competition from foreign suppliers and government regulations, the appeal of ranching can quickly lose its luster without the proper groundwork at the outset.

As any profitable rancher will say, preparation is key to long-term success. That requires determining clear management roles and responsibilities, staffing and operational plans. Small ranches often are family owned and operated, but even then, it often takes additional labor to facilitate day-to-day operations.

For cattle ranches, it’s important to establish the type of operation—whether it will support yearlings, which are typically raised from calves until market ready, or cow-calf herds, in which the calves are raised to market but heifers are kept year-round. The latter generally requires more infrastructure, pasture and labor, since livestock is maintained continually.

Both methods require a certain carrying capacity, or the land and resources needed to support the herd. Those considerations are subject to environmental factors, like climate and access to water. Areas with harsh winters, for example, demand seasonal feed programs, which require special attention to ensure livestock is properly nourished.

Beyond operations, ranching requires business foresight to navigate the ups and downs of the market. Rancher regularly rank livestock prices as one of the hardest aspects of the business. It’s not unusual for rates to swing from year to year depending on a number of factors, including market saturation, feed costs and even federal and state policies. Boom years can be followed by years of depressed prices, which have been the downfall of many ranches unable to weather the trough.

Finally, ranch buyers should consider succession planning. Estate taxes are frequently identified as one of the largest barriers to a ranch’s long-term operation, and rightfully so. Many family operations have been subdivided or sold entirely simply to cover transfer costs. But less obvious challenges, like divergent visions or disinterest among future generations, have turned many ranches into untenable obligations.

‘Whiskey’s for Drinking, Water’s for Fighting’

There’s an old saying among ranchers that “whiskey’s for drinking, water’s for fighting.” It underscores the importance of access to water, which in many places can determine the productivity of the land. But that’s just one important piece of the equation.

 

The Mountain West boasts some of the most diverse ecology in the country. But the region’s rugged beauty can often belie the fertility of the land. Most established ranches support hay or grain crops, which in turn provide feed for livestock. But sustaining the productivity of the land takes careful management.

Recently, many ranches have returned to practices of regenerative agriculture, first developed by early pioneers, which include rotational grazing and “range composting.” These systems help maintain nutrient levels and foster new growth, together which can prevent erosion and help mitigate droughts.

Determining the quality of the land has been aided in recent years by new technologies and better productivity reports, which can identify soil conditions, yield loads and even deterioration risks. Ranch buyers are wise to fully vet the quality and potential of a property to ensure it meets their needs.

Value Is in the Buy

Unlike any other type of property, purchasing a ranch requires a keen understanding of the industry and the many factors that determine the value of a deal—both agricultural and economic. The countless considerations – location, productivity and tax liabilities, to name only a few – can be overwhelming for the unfamiliar buyer. In that regard, the right broker can make all the difference.

As a profile of Western Ranch’s Live Jackson Hole team in the Wall Street Journal notes: “Routinely spending years with clients before they buy, ranch brokers must be equal parts tour guide, park ranger, financial adviser and agriculture expert, adept at representing both lifelong cattle ranchers and urban billionaires, and discussing heli-skiing in the same breath as complex water and mineral rights.”

 

 

The dedicated team of professionals at Western Ranches represents the most ranch and farm properties in the Mountain West, with more listing volume in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho than our nearest competitors combined. Our success owes to the commitment of our agents. They know the industry, its challenges and its opportunities because they live in it, with experience and backgrounds as diverse as the region itself.

“A good ranch broker does everything necessary to learn about a client’s needs and has the understanding to match those to the exactly right property,” explains Steve Duerr, who has facilitated numerous high-profile sales. “It can be complicated, especially without the right knowledge. We are in the business of empowering both buyers and sellers to ensure their success.”

“There is no other life like ranching,” says Deidre Griffin. “It’s a passion—and one that we are fortunate to share.”

To learn more about what makes ranching in the Mountain West so extraordinary, contact our team.

Following negotiations of the Louisiana Purchase in 1803, American settlers began migrating westward. The acquisition from France, which President Jefferson would later say “stretched the Constitution until it cracked,” incorporated some 828,000 square miles of new territory, which boasted auspicious potential for those willing to brave the unknown.

Over the subsequent century, pioneers began pushing west in earnest, encouraged by reports from early expeditioners, who described vast and fertile lands beyond the Mississippi River. Many early settlers were met by impressive free-roaming herds of cattle and bison, particularly throughout Texas and Oklahoma, that had been domesticated, to varying degrees, by Native Americans and Mexican vaqueros.

The cattle, settlers soon realized, proved an unexpectedly lucrative business specimen. Texas cowboys – as they would come to be called when ranchers began large cattle drives that often spanned hundreds of miles – started rounding up herds, breeding them and flooding East Coast markets with a steady supply of beef. The burgeoning trade created a stable industry in a frontier rife with booms and busts.

Ranches in those early days were loosely defined. Built around affordable homestead plots issued by the government, pastures were often shared and cattle herds comingled to maximize the productivity of the land. That communality put a high importance on brands—and brand inspectors, range lawmen of sorts that enforced ownership and sought to stop rustlers. Regularly, cattlemen grazed stock on public lands, a practice that continues today, albeit under more formal federal and state regulation.

With only rudimentary cultivation practices and virtually no modern technologies, early cattle ranching generally required sizeable tracts of land to support even a modest herd. In the Rocky Mountain West, long winters required ranchers to manage both summer pastures and fields for raising hay to feed during the long winters. Many operations employed ranch hands, or “cow pokes,” responsible for moving cattle throughout the year, which involved the unenviable task of warding off predators.

Unwittingly, that style of ranching created a sustainability model that experts today herald as a solution to greenhouse emissions. By frequently moving herds, only briefly feeding on each spot, the cattle would not overrun the land. At the same time, their movement turned up the soil, allowing it to absorb more rain and minerals, and their manure naturally fertilized the ground.

The Development of Agribusiness

Through the early and mid-20th Century, as commercial and residential development restricted the land available to run cattle, and as conglomeration began to concentrate operations, a new model of ranching emerged: “macro-ag.” As imports and competition brought down beef prices, business-savvy ranchers soon realized the cattle business was a numbers game—larger, easily managed herds equated to greater profitability.

Rather than feeding an exclusive grass diet, which necessitated large amounts of land to support even a modest-sized herd, many ranchers switched to a combination of grain and high-protein hays like alfalfa. Unlike grass alone, those feeds put on weight and “finished,” or fattened, cattle for market in as little as nine months, compared to a year-and-a-half or more by free-range grazing. Grain diets, which developed markets for crop growers, could also be fed in concentrated feedlots, which needed much less space.

For decades the feedlot model dominated the beef industry, and smaller traditional ranchers were often forced out of the market by economies of scale and low prices, particularly in down years. The decline in competition created a snowball effect, producing fewer and larger mass-agriculture operations.

In tandem, awareness of greenhouse emissions began to gain greater public attention, which put the beef industry under intense scrutiny, which continues today. Cattle, by nature, emit a lot of carbon dioxide and methane—the latter of which has a significantly higher greenhouse effect than CO2. Experts estimate that cattle produce as much as 26 percent of the United States’ greenhouse gas emissions. Others put the figure around 14 percent.

The beef industry’s “carbon hoofprint” compelled many environmental activists to call on Americans to consume less red meat. And ranchers’ plight was not helped by popular conceptions of feedlots, which often invoked images of cattle packed into over-populated concrete corrals. As recently as 2018, studies have argued consumers should eat 90 percent less beef and 60 percent less milk to stave off effects of climate change.

But what’s old is new, and more recently – within the last quarter century – a new generation of ranchers is embracing old techniques to not only mitigate livestock’s greenhouse impacts, but potentially reverse climate trends. Regenerative ranching, evidence shows, helps capture carbon into the soil, offsetting emissions from cattle and actually producing a net-negative carbon output.

A Return to Tradition

Like early forms of ranching, regenerative agriculture relies on rotational, or “holistic planned” grazing, which involves shuffling herds from one plot of land to the next. More deliberate than those early days, cattle are kept on purposefully small tracts for short periods. That allows them to eat down the grass, but not overwhelm it, while simultaneously aerating and fertilizing the dirt, which stimulates growth once the herd is moved on.

“Altering cattle grazing patterns and herd clustering to emulate those of their buffalo predecessors has a significant positive impact on the environment, including the health and diversity of the native grasses,” the Organic Consumers Association reported recently.

Many ranchers have discovered, too, the benefit of regularly replacing topsoil, or “range composting,” which, in addition to sequestering methane, helps maintain nutrient levels and foster growth. Healthy foliage, in turn, captures more carbon from the atmosphere, pulling gases out of the air. It also prevents erosion and runoff and better retains water, helping prevent against drought.

This process of regenerative ranching – which is hardly as economical as mass feedlots – has been buoyed by the modern food movement, which has put a heightened value on health, social and environmental accountability. In tandem with ranchers’ focus on ecological stewardship, a new generation of consumers has put a premium on knowing where and how their food was raised. And, increasingly, the public has gravitated towards grass-fed beef, which providers a healthier option to fattier grain-fed beef.

This combination of consumer and producer behaviors has begun to reshape and replace the former macro-ag model. Grass-fed beef commands only about a four percent market share of U.S. beef sales, according to a 2018 study by the Stone Barns Center for Food and Agriculture, but retail sales doubled year-over-year between 2012 and 2016, from $17 million to $272 million.

That’s given rise to smaller ranches, which for decades struggled to compete against corporate giants. It has even attracted unlikely allies, like presidential candidate and environmental activist Tom Steyer, who, with his wife Kat Taylor, founded the 1,800-acre TomKat Ranch in Pescadero, California.

“Think of the ranch as a huge science experiment,” Mr. Steyer told the New York Times in 2013. “Can you raise animals sustainably? Can the land become the carbon sink that it once was? Can you demonstrate a way of doing agriculture, raising food, that doesn’t damage the environment?”

“We would continue raising cattle even if no one ever ate another steak,” Taylor told the Los Angeles Times. She explains that the ranch’s model, and its cattle, could help reverse ecological changes that have contributed to climate change—and could upend agribusiness in the process.

The cattle industry’s embrace of regenerative practices is helping pull along other agriculture, as well. Leveraging natural synergies among bovine, chicken, fish and a whole host of other species, innovators have begun to harness symbioses. Inka Biospheric Systems, the New York Times reports, is developing a fish and vegetable business on the Steyer ranch using barley fodder from crops and black soldier flies and earthworms attracted by manure.

The vermicompost byproduct Inka produces, the article adds, is used to fertilize stressed locations on the ranch and made into compost teas that can be spread on orchards and on livestock as a natural pesticide.

“What we are slowly doing is taking on the waste streams the ranch creates and converting those into assets,” says Brian Whitney, former chief executive of Inka.

Ranchers have long considered themselves stewards of the land. Like no other business, they rely on the health and productivity of the dirt under their feet to survive. Now, on the shoulder of innovative new practices and technologies, cattle ranching is gradually transitioning from an object of blame to a serious solution to climate change.

To learn more about cattle ranching and this remarkable region, contact our dedicated team.

*Article courtesy of Western Ranches, the ranch division of Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates.

wsj ranch feature

wsj ranch feature

Meet The Brokers Who Wrangle Luxury Ranch Sales
These brokers face grizzlies and avalanches to sell multi-million dollar Western properties

Live Jackson Hole’s Chopper Grassell and Richard Lewis were recently featured in Wall Street Journal article, Meet The Brokers Who Wrangle Luxury Ranch Sales.

READ FULL ARTICLE ON WSJ.COM

“Routinely spending years with clients before they buy, ranch brokers must be equal parts tour guide, park ranger, financial adviser and agriculture expert, adept at representing both lifelong cattle ranchers and urban billionaires, and discussing heli-skiing in the same breath as complex water and mineral rights. “You can be sitting around the kitchen of a third-generation rancher having coffee in the morning, and then in the afternoon you’re in the truck with a very well-known, successful business person from Palo Alto or New York,” said Greg Fay, the founder of Fay Ranches who last year sold newscaster Tom Brokaw ’s Montana ranch, which had been listed at $17.9 million. He added: “We joke that it’s like being bilingual.

Ranch brokerage in its current form is relatively new. It was only a few decades ago that moneyed, big-city elites like Ted Turner, Charles Schwab and Malcolm Forbes started buying up Rocky Mountain ranchland primarily for recreational rather than agricultural purposes.”

“In the early 2000s, money was so easy, it was just pouring in,” recalled David Halgerson, a ranch broker in southwestern Idaho. In 2007, Mr. Forbes’s heirs sold his Colorado ranch for $175 million—more than 20 times the estimated $50 an acre the patriarch had paid in the 1960s.”

richard lewis chopper grassel wsj

The article goes on to quote Richard Lewis, “but since the 2008 financial crisis, ranch buyers have become much more cautious, and are more likely to scrutinize a property’s agricultural production (or “ag,” as ranch brokers call it) as well as the views, said Wyoming ranch broker Richard Lewis. Mr. Lewis said he once worked with a client for eight years before he finally bought a ranch for $48 million.”

“Brokers have to sell not just a property, but the ranching lifestyle and romance of the Old West. Often—and this is the fun part for brokers—that means behaving like a glorified tour guide, taking clients hunting, horseback riding and fly-fishing. The job tends to attract people who embody the lifestyle buyers are looking to emulate,” the article goes on to talk about.

Chopper Grassell also says in the article, “Nobody’s getting rich doing this—you’ve got to love the land.”

READ FULL ARTICLE ON WSJ.COM or VIEW PDF OF ARTICLE

Article by Candace Taylor on August 22, 2019 and photography by Greg Von Doersten for the Wall Street Journal.

jackson hole rodeo

Take a drive around any given small town in rural American on any given summer night, and there is a good chance of finding a throng of trucks and trailers, cowboys and cowgirls, livestock and rough stock, parked around the metal fences of a dirt arena. At once gritty and pastoral, it’s a scene iconic to the American West—Rodeo. And from the proverbial one-horse town to the country’s biggest cities, its popularity is burgeoning.

 

A rodeo team roper

In many ways, rodeo’s success itself bucks convention. As many remote communities – the kind of places where cell coverage is still spotty and population signs read like they are missing a digit – struggle against population declines and economic stagnation, the sport born from their traditions and fast-disappearing lifestyles is now riding high.

Nationwide, there are more than 600 rodeos sanctioned by the Professional Rodeo Cowboys Association (PRCA). Countless more are operated independently. Bull riding, one of rodeo’s marquee competitions, is the fastest growing sport in the United States.

They say true cowboys are a dying breed, but not judging by their sport. From association memberships to airtime, most metrics point towards growth, especially at the professional level.

The rising number of competitors owes to a myriad of factors, like high school and even peewee rodeo programs that introduce the sport at a younger age and a stable economy (pro rodeo participation fell to near-record lows in 2009). But it’s also fed by the sport’s mounting celebrity. Rodeo has become a staple on many television networks, and audiences, in person and by broadcast, have steadily grown—as have the jackpots. Prize money hit an all-time high of more than $46 million in 2015.

There’s a strong case that rodeo’s entry into the mainstream is a result of the very suburbanization that has put mounting pressure on the communities typically associated with the sport. Over three-quarters of the U.S. population today lives in an urban location. In 2010, there were more than 41 metros areas with populations above 1 million people, up from 12 in 1950 and projected to grow to 53 by 2030. With limited access to ranching and agriculture, the spectacle of rodeo is even more pronounced within those demographics, which has helped to drive ratings.

But perhaps the more convincing case for rodeo’s sudden surge in popularity is less nuanced. The sport is a celebration of the heritage and lifestyles on which much of the country was built. Competitors and spectators stand and doff their hats for the National Anthem. They put a hand over their hearts for the Pledge of Allegiance. And they take a moment of silence for those who gave their life in service to our country.

And then there’s the sheer thrill of the sport. The teamwork between horse and rider for the timed events, the contest between animal and athlete for the judged events, and, of course, the unpredictability of the livestock throughout—there are few competitions that require such measures of athleticism and daring, and both in spades.

“People identify with what the cowboy represents,” Troy Ellerman, a former commissioner of the PRCA, said in a 2006 interview. “We are a slice of America that’s carved out an identity for itself and is becoming more and more popular. And a 2,500-pound animal against a 150-pound guy? It’s pretty good to watch.”

That’s proven prescient. Rodeo’s growing stature has created a booming industry. The Houston Rodeo, one of the largest in the country, generated some $391 in economic activity this year from ticket and on-site sales, lodging, food and auxiliary purchases. That spending created nearly 4,000 jobs in the area, according to research by Economics Analytics Consulting, LLC.

The National Finals Rodeo in Las Vegas, often called the Super Bowl of rodeo, generated $113 million in spending over 10 days last December, according to conservative estimates. Wyoming’s Cheyenne Frontier Days, “The Daddy of ‘Em All,” created over $27 million in economic activity last year, and the annual Reno Rodeo pulled nearly $60 million into the local economy. Such has become a reality of the industry. Big ticket events equate to big money.

A bronc rider holds on as spectators look on

 

For elite competitors, rodeo can be a lucrative living, too, although still modest compared to most major sports. The purse for the National Finals Rodeo this year will top $10 million, or about a $50,000 payout for event winners. PRCA champions generally earn between $200,000 to $500,000 per year, according to the organization’s data. Coupled with often large endorsement packages, top athletes’ earning potential is not insignificant.

In 2016, five-time World Title Champion bull rider Sage Kimzey became PRCA’s youngest millionaire, then only 22 years old. Even so, his combined career earnings of less than $2 million pale in comparison to the multi-million dollar deals regularly inked by professional athletes in better known fields.

Like most sports, it’s not easy to break into the upper echelons of rodeo. Nor is it often a glamorous life. An amateur competitor might collect $10,000 to $15,000 per year, the equivalent of a part time job, the Cowboy Lifestyle Network reported in 2017. But for most aspiring cowboys and cowgirls, there’s nothing part time about the gig.

Competitors travel frequently, often driving long distances from one event to the next. It’s not uncommon for athletes to participate in multiple rodeos in a single day, with no guarantee of a payout when the dust settles. It’s a grueling lifestyle, to be sure, and one that participants roundly agree is driven by a passion for the sport rather than monetary gain.

Even for mid-range competitors, a year’s winnings may not cover their costs of travel and caring for their animals. Health insurance, especially among bronc and bull riders, is generally unheard of; the premiums are simply unrealistic in this line of work. An injury or stroke of bad luck can quickly spell one’s undoing.

“Unless you are at the very top, you will not retire from it,” says Jimmy Crosby, a former bull rider.

In this multi-faceted sport, cowboys aren’t the only ones vying for potentially big winnings. So are the animals. A top-performing bull or bronc can earn significant prize money, and a market has emerged for breeders. Like riders, these animals compete for large purses, which can total over a million dollars for a season. In 2012, for example, Bushwhacker, then the top-ranked PBR bull, was valued at just under $1 million.

“Bull riding is a big business,” James Gorman reported in the New York Times earlier this year. “For the past 15 years or so, bucking bulls have been intensively bred like racehorses to make them harder to ride. Breeders use high-tech reproductive techniques and a detailed, computerized registry of 180,000 bulls and cows…For those who do buck, it’s a sweet life.”

A bull rider at a local rodeo

The upshot is a sport that’s becoming increasingly challenging. As Gorman puts it, now all the bulls are hard. In 1995, 46 percent of bull riders completed their ride; today, only 26 percent do. Against such odds, it’s little wonder that rodeo has been called the “most dangerous sport.”

It defies logic, to some degree at least, that cowboys and cowgirls would gamble so much on such long-shot odds for what most likely will amount to a modest income and tough living. But an adrenaline high, the admiration of an anticipatory crowd, the struggle to hang on for eight seconds or set the perfect catch loop—those feelings often don’t conform to reason.

Perhaps that explains rodeo’s growing appeal. At its heart, it is a sport of grit and determination, good luck and strong spirits, fueled by the need to test one’s mettle under the lights of a grandstand and the cheers of a crowd.

In that sense, the sport is emblematic of the West itself: steely, resolute and independent—and yet still somehow dynamic and indomitable. Like the West, it is a thing of uncertainty, where the thrill and reward of the experience is worth the wager of it all.

“The tough part about roping for a living is that there are no guarantees,” says team roper Kendra Santos. “There is no paycheck in your mailbox every other Friday. You’re basically gambling on your skills and the luck of the draw.”

“Still, cowboys are true grit. They do not back down,” Santos adds. “This is something we love. It’s a dream. I know I’ve been doing this for 28 years, and I haven’t been able to shake it.”

Wyoming Rivers

With more than 27,000 miles of fishable waters, Wyoming is an angler’s dream come true. From glacial lakes to big tailwaters that support thousands of trout per mile, it’s little wonder one of the country’s most expansive states is also one of the world’s most popular fishing destinations.

Below is a guide to Wyoming’s best trout fishing rivers from our friends at Orvis. Contact our team to learn more about why the Cowboy State is one of the last best kept secrets in fishing and to explore how to experience this remarkable region.

Wyoming Rivers

YELLOWSTONE RIVER (PARK SECTION)

Fly fishing the Upper Yellowstone River within Yellowstone National Park takes anglers to one of the remotest regions of the lower 48 states, and the headwaters of the longest free-flowing river in the US. The first 25 miles of the Yellowstone River flow through the Park, and Yellowstone cutthroat thrive in its freestone waters. While the cascading headwaters hold mostly smaller cutthroats, the winding, slower water between Thorofare and Yellowstone Lake hold many fish reaching the 20-inch mark, or above.

FIREHOLE RIVER & SLOUGH CREEK 

Yes, they’re all amazing, and it’s hard to pick just one river in or around Yellowstone National Park, while leaving room to discuss other regions of Wyoming. It would take a lifetime to discover what each of these pristine rivers has to offer — or you could hire a Yellowstone National Park guide who already has the experience. The Firehole River and Slough Creek both provide quintessentially Western fly-fishing experiences and no list of the best fly-fishing rivers in Wyoming would be complete without them. Whether you’re casting next to geysers and geothermal features along the Firehole, or sight fishing cutthroat along Slough Creek’s meadows, Yellowstone National Park’s rivers will make you think you’ve gone to angler’s heaven.

SNAKE RIVER

South of Yellowstone National Park you’ll find Grand Teton National Park and the Snake River. If you’ve never heard of fly fishing before, you’ll likely have seen a picture of the Wyoming section of the Snake River. Its scenic path through the valley of Jackson Hole is a photographer’s dream. But the cutthroats and browns (lower sections of the park) are what draw anglers from all over the world. The river begins as a series of small creeks, 15 miles from the nearest road. Most fish here are cutthroats in the eight- to ten-inch range, but for a true wilderness fishing experience, few places in the Lower 48 can compare. Below Jackson Lake, the Snake River grows to an easily floatable river with gravel bars, riffles, and pools. While you can wade fish sections with great success, only a float trip will do the Snake River Canyon justice. Talk to a Jackson, Wyoming guide or outfitter, and they’ll help you discover this gem of the American West.

GREEN RIVER

Better known on the Utah side of the border, the Green River in Wyoming provides outstanding fly-fishing opportunities for browns, ‘bows, and cutthroats on its journey from the Wind River Range to the Flaming Gorge Reservoir. Forming on the western side of the Winds, the Green begins with over a hundred miles of freestone river with much of its banks accessible through public land. The cutthroat and ‘bows in this section are typically smaller, but a strong 16-inch trout sipping dries from the fast flowing riffles is quite common. Just downstream of La Barge, the Green enters Fontenelle Reservoir. The next 40 miles below the reservoir provide trophy trout fishing on a classic tailwater, with ample access points through Seedskadee National Wildlife Refuge. If you’re looking for a classic Western fly-fishing destination where you may not see another angler all weekend, the Wyoming section of the Green should be at the top of your list.

WIND RIVER & EAST FORK OF THE WIND RIVER 

The Wind River begins its journey atop Togwotee Pass in the Absaroka Mountains, and picks up water from the eastern side of the Wind River Range as it heads south. Its glaciated namesake range holds some of the best high-country lake fishing in the Lower 48. But often overlooked is the river flowing to the east of the peaks. For its first 30 miles, the Wind River’s brook trout and cutthroat freestone waters can be fished with a general Wyoming fishing license. Then the river enters the Wind River Indian Reservation, which offers its own fishing permit. Here, the river grows and supports plentiful populations of cutthroat, rainbow, and brown trout. The Wind River enters Boysen Reservoir near Shoshoni, WY, and upon exit, flows through Wind River Canyon — a productive tailwater with many trout reaching the 20-inch mark, and above. The Wind River is truly one of central Wyoming’s premier fly-fishing destinations.

BIGHORN RIVER

As the Wind River exits the canyon and nears the town of Thermopolis, it becomes the Bighorn River. Better known for its tailwater fishery across the border in Montana, Wyoming’s section of the Bighorn should not be overlooked. The Thermopolis section enjoys the same tailwater benefits as the Wind River Canyon section, upstream. With a slower descent and median summer flows ranging from 1300 to 1600 CFS, this section of the Bighorn is most effectively fished on a float trip. From Thermopolis to Lucerne, anglers regularly hook into browns measuring 20 inches or more — all thanks to the consistent temperature and flow from Boysen Reservoir. Spring and summer bring BWOs and caddis, but the trico hatches from June to early October excite most dry fly anglers. Think there’s only one Bighorn worth fishing? Think again.

NORTH PLATTE RIVER, GRAY REEF & MIRACLE MILE

 Wyoming’s North Platte River Gray Reef holds nearly 5,200 trout per mile. If every trout was 12 inches long, you could essentially line them up into one solid ribbon of trout stretching the entire Gray Reef section. But we all know trout follow the food, so take some time to study the water before wading or drifting — or, hire a local Wyoming fly-fishing guide to show you where the big fish are holding. From Casper, head southeast a half hour to Alcova. The Gray Reef begins below Alcova Reservoir and runs north along WY-220. Access is limited, with much of the surrounding land under private ownership. To get a true taste of Gray Reef and its eight-pound (plus) browns and ‘bows, talk to a North Platte river guide or outfitter about reserving a float trip.

About 20 miles upstream, between Pathfinder Reservoir and Kortes Dam, you’ll find the Miracle Mile stretch of the North Platte. Contrary to its name, the Miracle stretches between five and eight miles, depending on the water levels of the Pathfinder Reservoir. The tailwater conditions below Kortes Dam provide plentiful food, allowing for hundreds, if not thousands, of trout to grow to trophy size. Load up your nymph box, and your gas tank, as the Miracle Mile is about 20 miles from the nearest paved road.

UPPER NORTH PLATTE RIVER

The upper reaches of the North Platte River provide a freestone fishing experience much different, but no less exciting, than the trophy waters below. While water levels are less reliable than the dam-controlled water downstream, the North Platte near Saratoga and Medicine Bow National Forest is easily floatable through much of the season and can be floated spring through fall in big snowpack years. A float trip isn’t necessary, however, as this section of water has numerous access points, including a long section through the National Forest. From its headwaters all the way to the town of Saratoga, the North Platte is designated Blue Ribbon trout fishing with at least 600 pounds of trout per mile. So, whether the BWO’s, yellow sallies, or PMD’s are hatching, or you’re looking for trout subsurface, the Upper North Platte is a Wyoming fly-fishing experience not to be missed.

TONGUE RIVER 

The Bighorn Mountains, in the north central block of Wyoming, are one of the lesser known ranges in the West. From the range’s eastern slopes, the Tongue River drains northeast, through Dayton, Ranchester, and Kleenburn, towards Montana, before it joins up with the Yellowstone River. At 265 miles long, only the upper reaches, within Wyoming, are prime trout fishing waters. From Sheridan, it’s a half-hour drive to Dayton, where there are multiple access points to the main river. This section consists of riffles and runs, flowing over gravel into deep pools, which hold big browns, ‘bows, and cutthroat. Upstream in Bighorn National Forest, the Tongue is divided into the North and South Tongue Rivers. Both provide diverse fishing experiences, with sections of gentle, meadow-lined banks and faster pocket water. To find a slice of solitude, venture into the canyon section of the North Tongue River, which is accessible only by hiking into the bottom of the canyon.

SAND CREEK 

Most anglers visiting Wyoming to fly fish head to the central or western thirds of the state, for good reason. But hugging the border of South Dakota, Wyoming’s Black Hills give birth to the limestone-lined Sand Creek. This is not a mighty river like the North Platte or Snake: it’s a slow, meandering creek, fed by springs and lined by grassy banks. But thanks to the cold spring water and nutrients, Sand Creek is home to one of the highest concentrations of trout in all of Wyoming. While there may be literally tons of fish, the gin-clear, slow water gives them an easy view of approaching anglers, and poorly presented flies. You’ll need to bring your best presentation and stealth to Sand Creek, but the payoff and alternative scenery are well worth the adventure.

Contact our team to learn more about Wyoming fishing and fishing properties that put this lifestyle at your fingertips.

*Article courtesy of Western Ranches, a division of Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates.

Wyoming Fishing

Wyoming Fishing

Each spring a remarkable transformation overtakes the Mountain West. As the long winter gives way to the first signs of spring, the snowfields begin to recede, breathing fresh life into the surrounding rivers, lakes and creeks. To the outdoor enthusiast and the causal recreationalist alike, this perennial thaw is something of an invitation back into the wilds after an icy hiatus. And to none does it call more clearly than to those with a rod, a reel and fly box.

Vast watersheds and an abundance of native swimmers make Montana, Wyoming, Idaho and Colorado the envy of the world’s fly-fishing community. Each year, anglers from around the globe flocks to these local waters, which now support a multi-million-dollar industry.

The growing popularity has increased traffic on many of the region’s rivers, reemphasizing the need for prudent environmental management. But one of the blessings to such rolling expanse is that plenty of waters remain largely undiscovered. As many locals in any number of small towns will tell you, follow a dirt road around here long enough and you are sure to find an untouched river, creek or lake glinting with native salmonids.

Upper Cottonwood Creek Ranch

Wyoming

Yellowstone and Grand Teton National Parks have become synonymous with Wyoming fishing, and, as a result, the area’s rivers are rife with drift boats year-round, and particularly during peak summer months. But the Cowboy State’s rivers hardly begin or end at the Park boundaries. From the Little Bighorn to the Green River and the North Platte to the Greys River, Wyoming’s 27,000 miles of fishable rivers provide a broad range of conditions and variability for anglers looking to get off the beaten path.

Just ask Laura Hattan, owner of the Great Outdoor Shop in Pinedale, Wyoming. In 2005, Hattan and her family left a comfortable life in Nebraska to pursue the outdoors of the Wind River Range.

“The benefits of being here are hedonistic,” she tells Outside Magazine. “I love playing in the mountains. But there’s also a greater benefit in watching my daughter grow up in the mountains, in an environment that’s almost endangered in this country.”

More than 22 species of gamefish swim in Wyoming’s waters, but the state is most famous for its trout, including cutthroat, brook, brown, lake, and rainbows. Cutthroats are the only trout native to Wyoming.

A word of caution to anglers: on waters that flow through private land, individuals must remain in their vessel. Shore fishing or wading is only allowed with permission from the landowner. And always go prepared. Like much of the Mountain West, many of Wyoming rivers and streams traverse bear habitat. Always carry bear spray and give wildlife their space.

montana river

Montana

The vast grandeur of Montana belies the accessibility of its lakes and rivers. Here, the fishing lives up to its reputation in literature and film.

“Outdoor recreation as a whole is the cornerstone of tourism in Montana,” explains Jennifer Pelej, an administrator for the Montana Office of Tourism and Development. “We have an audience that wants to come here for free-spirited adventure. Fly fishing really embodies that.”

Near the northern border, Craig, Montana serves as a gateway to some of the state’s best fishing. Home to only about 40 people, the town boasts three fly shops. And a big run-off year like this promises they will stay busy.

Half an hour outside of Bozeman, anglers can put their paddle boats on the Missouri River, the longest river in North America. Formed by the confluence of the Madison and Jefferson Rivers, and joined by the Gallatin a mile downstream, the Missouri provides trophy trout fishing. A 35-mile stretch below Holter Dam is famous for its dry-fly fishing a mecca for fishermen and women.

Near Twin Bridges, Montana, the Big Hole River has been called the “prettiest river in Montana.” It’s no wonder it has become a destination for those seeking a full experience on the river. Ideal for wading and floating alike, the Big Hole is home to the last native fluvial Arctic grayling in the Lower 48.

Idaho

Generally mild winters provide for early fishing across Idaho, and a surprising variety. During the spring, murky waters and colder conditions can present a challenge, but nothing a fly box full of streamers and wet flies can’t overcome.

Henry’s Fork, a famed stretch of river, gets an early start on rainbow trout. Fishing conditions continue to improve throughout the spring and into the summer, with hatches evolving throughout. A sunny day can make for an unforgettable experience.

On the South Fork, the Lodge at Palisades – an Orvis-endorsed destination – provides the conveniences and accessibility of a world-class facility. For those looking for a less commercial experience, the nearby Swan Valley offer many put-in points to this stretch of river that houses 7,000 trout per mile along braids, riffles, banks and cut-offs.

Live the Life

For both avid outdoorspeople and those seeking a quiet retreat into the wilderness, the Mountain West offers unrivaled fishing. Contact our team to learn more about properties that put this lifestyle at your fingertips. From renown fishing lodges to heritage ranches that provide access to world-class waters, no one knows the region better.

*Article courtesy of Western Ranches, a division of Jackson Hole Real Estate Associates.

Western Ranches, an alliance of leading rocky mountain ranch brokers, is excited to announce the partnership with PureWest Real Estate and PureWest Ranches, the exclusive affiliate of Christie’s International Real Estate in Montana. PureWest is located across Montana: Big Sky, Bigfork, Polson, Whitefish, Hamilton, Columbia Falls, Bozeman, Ennis, Missoula, Kalispell, Lakeside and Livingston.

Western Ranches now offers unparalleled farm and ranch services to buyers and sellers in Wyoming, Montana and Idaho. Please do not hesitate to call on any of our ranch brokers to learn more about this unique alliance.