Fly fishing Gray Reef  on the North Platte River can be intimidating for the first timer as it is big water and for the most part has undefined water that the fish like to feed in. Understanding the water and the fish you are after is the first step to becoming successful not only on Gray Reef but all the waters you may fish.  I will try to break down the different aspects of reading water for different times of the year as well as how to set up and fish a nymph rig properly.


First you must understand that trout are very energy efficient machines. In other words they are not going to expend any more energy than what they consume. So if you are fishing very fast water in the middle of winter you will more than likely go home skunked. The trout just are not going to hold in that kind of cold water if there is very little food coming to them. Conversely, the same holds true in the middle of the summer with high water temperatures and low oxygen levels, the trout are going to seek out faster water or riffles where it is cooler and more oxygen is being dissolved into the river. That is why a lot of tailwaters fish best in spring and fall. With plenty of insect activity, moderate water temperatures, and good oxygen levels their feeding activity increases. Because some tailwaters are controlled and reservoirs are drawn down from different levels of the water column you have a better controlled water temperature. This is why some tailwaters such as the San Juan River, Green River and Big Horn River have become so popular. The fish tend to feed well throughout the year. Gray Reef on the other hand is fed by Alcova Reservoir a fairly shallow lake compared to those listed above that have deeper lakes; therefore, there is more of temperature fluctuation throughout the year, causing the trout’s feeding habits to change along with those temperatures. I’m not saying you cannot catch trout at Gray Reef in the middle of winter. You just need to stop and think about where the fish will be lying in a run during that time of year.


A typical nymph rig consists of a tapered leader with a strike indicator; split shot and one to two flies.

The key to success for catching Gray Reef trout whether your nymphing or streamer fishing, is to be on the bottom. The Rainbows are big and lazy; they lie right on the bottom and wait for food to come to them. Setting up a nymph rig for Gray Reef or any water for that matter depends on the depth of the water you are going to fish. Typically you want to set your indicator twice the depth of the water you are going to fish. The fly shop guides will fish a nine foot leader when the flows are running at 500 cfs and will go to 12 or 14 feet when the flows are running above two thousand. The most important thing to remember is to keep adding tippet and or split shot until your flies are bouncing on the bottom. You will know this when you see your indicator ticking as it is floating during your drift.

Next let’s talk about leader size. The water at Gray Reef is rarely gin clear, so that eliminates the need for fluorocarbon leaders which are expensive to begin with. The trout are not leader shy, so typically we use a 3x (8 lb.) tapered leader to our point fly and 4x (6 lb) tippet to the trailer fly.


We add our trailer flies by adding 20 inch piece of tippet to the point fly. We tie the tippet right to the bend of the hook with the same kind of knot you tie your fly on with. I like to have the same amount of distance (about 18 inches) between the split shot to the point fly as I do from the point fly to the trailer fly. This lets the whole rig turnover while you are casting.




The important key here is to understand what a dead drift is. Insect nymphs do not have the ability to swim very fast and are therefore carried along the bottom by the current, so a dead drift replicates this. The next time you see something floating down the river, notice how it is floating. It will be floating along at the same approximate speed as the water. Now envision your flies floating along the bottom of the river. They must be floating along at the same speed as the water, or they will look unnatural to the fish.


A dead drift is achieved by casting up river and as your line and indicator is floating downstream you must put a mend in the line. A mend is basically achieved by putting a belly in the line in the opposite direction than what the current is naturally forming. For example if you see a belly forming downstream during your drift, you will need to pick up the fly line a flip a belly upstream. All this does is to take the drag off the line so that the flies are not being pulled through the water and are drifting freely.


Now while you’re doing all this, you must keep an eye on your indicator. If you see it stop or twitch it is time to set the hook. Setting the hook is something that some do well and others struggle with. Ninety nine percent of the time the fish will be facing upstream, therefore you must set by lifting your rod with an up and downstream motion. Since this is in the opposite direction the fish are facing you will have a much better hooking angle.   You can also increase the time to pick up the line when setting by pulling or stripping on the line that is in your hand. You do not need to set the hook hard, but rather fast and smooth. As soon as you feel resistance on the other end stop your setting motion or you will break off the fish and the jerk will be on the wrong end. If you have a successful hookup let the fish run and get all the excess line your reel. I see so many fishermen that have $300 reels with smooth drags, but fail to use them. They think stripping the fish back to them is the way to fight the fish. Believe me, the drag on the reel is a lot smoother than what you can achieve by pinching the line between your fingers.


I hope this information helps some of the beginners and first timers to Gray Reef. Feel free to call us at anytime if you have questions or need help on how to fish our waters.


Mark Boname/Owner