Would You Like to Fish Greys River? Here's a Tour:
By Paul Stauffer
In my previous article, except for Murphy Lake, there was no mention of the Greys River area. The Greys River corridor, which runs east over the Salt River Range, is a marvelous composite of high mountain lakes, gorgeous scenery, and a river full of Snake River fine-spotted cutthroat trout. It abounds with wildlife including elk, moose, deer, waterfowl, beaver, otter, and many other birds and mammals, including large carnivores such as bear and cougar. The traveler might access the corridor by driving up the Smith's Fork road, which can be accessed by turning east off US Highway 89 at the south end of Star Valley onto a gravel road as one climbs out of the valley. Warning, your vehicle should be equipped with 6 ply (at least) tires as this road can be rocky and will only get worse when you arrive at the headwaters of Greys River. The road to Smith's Fork (named after the famed Jedediah Smith) wanders close to the old Lander cutoff to the Oregon Trail (watch for markers along the road). This route will have you venture up out of the Salt River drainage and over the hill into the Smith's Fork drainage. If you have your fishing gear ready, you may want to stop along Smith's Fork Creek and try your luck for a rare subspecies of cutthroat, the Bonneville cutthroat trout. These were thought to be extinct at one time, but it has survived and is doing well in this drainage. Check the regulations; for 2019 the limit on the Smith's Fork is 6 fish, but only 3 may be cutthroat trout and only one may exceed 16 inches.
After summiting the Smith's Fork drainage, you will descend into the beautiful LaBarge Meadows. Here you may discover a few pronghorns, commonly called antelope even though they are not true antelope, but a totally unique species. These meadows are very near a tri-basin divide: Labarge Creek exits to the east and joins the Green River, which flows into the Caribbean Ocean. Smith's Fork, which you just left behind flows to the Bear River and from thence to dead-end at the Great Salt Lake. You will turn left at the junction to encounter the headwaters of Greys River, which runs about 60 miles to its junction with the Snake River at Alpine and from there to the Columbia and on to the Pacific Ocean.
Pic at right: The Greys River (click for an enlargement)
Your first sight of Greys River will be a mere trickle of a creek alongside the road, but it will quickly grow as springs and tributaries pour in to become a river within just a few miles. Here the fishing regulations change. The limit on trout is 3 fish (brook trout excepted—check the regs; you can keep more of these) and only one cutthroat over 12 inches may be kept. It would be unusual for you to catch anything but native Snake River cutthroats in this river. Warning, go slow, this road is not maintained and you may disappear into a pot-hole or damage a tire on the sharp rocks.
The fishing can be good through the entire reach of Greys River, and the trout are not selective as a general rule. Spinners and other lures are effective as are almost any fly if fished correctly. Personally, I have had better luck on wet-flies than on dries, unless there is a hatch and the trout are rising. Other exceptions to the wet-fly rule would be during grasshopper season (August and September), and when the larger stoneflies (salmon flies and golden stones) are out, especially on the lower river and on Little Greys River, a tributary far downstream of your position on the upper river.
As you travel down the river, the regulations become more restrictive once you pass Corral Creek. From this point until you reach the Murphy Creek Bridge, bait is prohibited—only flies and lures are legal. Don't be in a hurry. The scenery is well worth the drive, and if you can manage to get through the possible snowdrifts in June at the head of the river, there will be a plethora of wild flowers to enjoy, and it would not be unusual to encounter one or more mule deer fawns along the road. I should add, it is possible that the road at the head of the river may not be passable until July—check with the Greys River Ranger District Office in Afton before taking this route in June. If you are traveling in September, you will love the large golden patches of quaking aspen which dot the hillsides.
By the time you reach the Forest Park campgrounds, the road will have improved considerably because it is maintained from there to Alpine. Alternatively, you could have started at Alpine and had fair to good gravel roads all the way to Forest Park even in June.
There are other sites to see on your way, if you don't spend too much time fishing. You could drive up the Sheep Creek road to see a gem of a waterfall on the south side of the road. The Box Y Ranch is a favorite place for our family to stay. The cabins were built by an old trapper, Sam Young, Jr., and are kept in mint condition by the current operators of the ranch, Tim and Cindy Haberberger and their daughter, Megan. Cindy is a great cook if you are looking for an excellent meal.
Farther downriver you can find side-roads to the east marking Blind Bull and Deadman creeks. Historically, these roads ended at coal mines, and there are interesting tales, particularly about how Deadman got its name (a horse thief was shot). The mines are now closed. The one at Deadman, called the Vail Mine, blew up in mid-winter of 1938 killing five miners. The remains of the mining camp can still be seen.
Pic to left: Paul and his grandchildren on Greys River (with daughter looking on).
Greys River is floatable in inflatable rafts from about the Box Y Ranch downstream, but the river can be treacherous with trees blocking the channels, and in some places very technical rapids. Be sure to check out the stretch you want to float before hand, and if you are not competent as a river runner, the fishing is just as good from the bank. It is all public land belonging to the Bridger-Teton National Forest with the exception of the Box Y Ranch and the Deadman Ranch a short distance downstream of the Box Y.
As you arrive at the Murphy Creek Bridge, and if you haven't caught a fish yet, drive up the Murphy Creek Road to Murphy Lake—a lovely gem I mentioned in my first article. If you continue downstream you will encounter the confluence with Little Greys coming in from the east. This tributary is full of small cutthroats, except during the spawn in June when larger trout run up from the main river. You are now not far from Alpine. I hope you enjoyed the trip.
~ Paul Stauffer
About the author: Paul Stauffer is an over 70-year resident of Star Valley, and an avid fisherman. He has authored the books: "A History of Fishing in Star Valley, Wyoming", available at Hastings and Dog Eared Books in Afton, as well as Pioneer Anglers in Alpine; and "Pharmacists and Pharmacies of Star Valley 1891-2015", available soon through the Star Valley Historical Society web site. We at SVWY are pleased to have Paul agree to write articles for us. Visit us again and look for more on the way.