An elk hunt to remember starts with a detour for fly fishing
Prologue: An amazing hunting opportunity fell upon my lap and the subsequent events that unfolded will be forever etched in my mind. Furthermore, there's simply not enough time to write about everything. This story is long enough that it must be broken into segments. Finally, I hope this story encourages you to enjoy the natural wonders available to us all.
Moriah defined: "A mountain range referred to in the bible; specifically in the book of Genesis."
So, what does Moriah mean to me; you might ask? Moriah is the name of a ranch owned by Stu Phillips and his family. This is the story of how one lucky guy like me got to hunt one of the most beautiful ranches in the west.
The Moriah Ranch located in southeast Wyoming was going to be my home for the next 10 days. I’d be hunting for elk, fly fishing for three species of trout and sharing this experience with eight other people I hardly knew, except for just one person — Gary Zenz.
Gary Zenz is a fellow Rotarian from Chelsea; he also happens to be good friends with Stu Phillips, the owner of the Moriah Ranch, a 22-square-mile ranch in the heart of the Laramie mountain range. The ranch hosts an incredible trophy elk population, record book pronghorn antelope, mule deer, mountain lions, wild horses, coyotes and prairie dogs.
Let us not forget the rainbow, brown and brook trout that inhabit the creeks and reservoir which encompass this expansive and majestic property. Before I get corrected, please note that brook trout are actually from the Char family.
Gary and I were selling "Duck Race" tickets on behalf of Chelsea Rotary earlier this summer, tending our table on Main Street during "Sounds and Sights" on Thursday evenings, when Stu came up to our table. Gary and Stu greeted each other with big smiles and a firm handshake as I quietly watched. It only took Gary a few seconds to introduce Stu to me, and we shook hands.
"Gary has told me a lot of nice things about you," said Stu. I sheepishly smiled and thanked Stu for the compliment. Stu then asked if I wrote an outdoor column and I confirmed it. Thankfully he liked the column.
Without hesitation Stu asked if I’d be interested in Elk hunting on his ranch. Of course I said it would be an honor and that I would love to go. Just so you know, saying "no" wasn’t an option, but somehow those words came out of my mouth. I explained to Stu that we had an 8-month-old daughter at home along with 10- and 11-year-old boys. I just couldn't leave my wife alone for 10 days.
Stu smiled and recommended that I "think about it" overnight. I told him that I would and we shook hands and parted ways.
I couldn't believe that I just turned down a free elk hunt. I played the encounter with Stu over and over in my mind and thought of different ways to talk to my wife about the idea of making such a trip.
Later that night my wife and I did have this conversation. I told her about meeting Stu, how generous he was and how I declined his offer to hunt elk on his ranch.
Without hesitation Shelley told me that I’d be a fool to pass up on such an opportunity and that she'd be fine with the kids. Can you believe the wife I have?
I called Stu the next morning and firmed up the details. Holy cow, I'm going elk hunting!
Gary Zenz and I flew out to Denver together met up with Stu's son Jordon and two companions who I’ll talk about later. We’d be following Jordon to the ranch, and I’m glad we did.
The last 35 miles driven were on dirt road, and "desolate" doesn't begin to describe how remote we were from the nearest town. Stu said it this way during our safety briefing "an ambulance is an hour and a half away so be careful."
We saw the Moriah Ranch sign and drove onto the property. Written on the other side of the ranch side said the following: "In the beginning God created the Heavens and Earth" - Genesis 1. How fitting for such a beautiful place.
Let’s talk fly fishing!
How can I explain the wonders of fly fishing to someone who’s never tried it? First, I’d tell you to rent the movie called "A River Runs Through It." That movie will illustrate the wonders of fly fishing as narrated by Robert Redford. Also, the cinematography will take your breath away. You’ll be looking online for a fly rod after watching that movie.
There’s something magical when watching a perfectly placed dry fly make its way downstream. Your previous experience tells you there's a trout waiting in ambush at the head of that pool or tucked in tight behind the rock at an eddy.
All you can do is try to crouch low into position without being spotted and shadow cast upstream and try to land your fly at that right moment. There's a moment in your cast when you decide to lay the dry fly on the water surface.
It lands ever so gently and moves softly with the current. You strip your fly line to reduce the slack in case a trout strikes.
Your eyes focus on the fly when a silver flash suddenly appears from below. The water erupts and the fly has disappeared.
Now! Pull back on your rod and strip your line as quickly as possible to keep the line tight. The large rainbow, brown or brook trout races for cover in the hopes of breaking your line. You simply can't let that happen.
You have to pull the rod to the left or right and keep that fish away from underwater hazards like branches, stumps or sharp rocks. You can't pull too hard or you’ll break the line; it's all about finesse and strategy in this game. Landing any trout is a magical experience. But, landing a monster trout is truly a miracle on the water.
The above mentioned description of fly fishing is one that I’ve experienced many times over the years. It has been years since I’ve fly fished for trout or salmon, and knew the ranch had some amazing fly fishing opportunities.
There were many challenges that awaited me as I tried to fly fish here. These challenges included high winds of up to 20-30 mph at times, being unfamiliar with the structure and not knowing the hatch. None of these challenges came close to my greatest problem-not fly fishing in years. My brain knew what to do but my fine motor skills simply weren’t there.
As a matter of fact, I looked pretty pathetic on the water. The brass weighted woolly buggers made an unmistakable "smack" as they hit the back of my head from improper casting. Stu would smile and say, "I heard that one, bud."
Thankfully, my previous experience on the water began showing signs of life. Stu took me to the reservoir and tried our luck with our fly rods. It didn’t take long before I hooked up on a gorgeous rainbow. I didn’t keep enough pressure on the hook and she came off. Ugh but how exciting nonetheless.
Stu and I made our way to a shallow bay on the back end of the reservoir. I tied on a Hopper pattern dry fly and made that elusive cast. Stu and I both agreed this cast was what we were looking for.
I began stripping the line when the water surface exploded! I used both hands and heaved back on my five-weight rod keeping that trout away from a nearby half submerged tree. My nine-foot rod did most of the work and soon brought in one of the nicest rainbow trout I’ve ever caught. Stu took out his camera and took the picture above for all to see; thank you Stu. Just think; this was day one of our trip!
Stay tuned for next week’s segment!
The bucks are beginning to show significant signs that the rut is beginning. Please send your pictures to my email address: firstname.lastname@example.org The best picture/story will be featured in my column. The firearm season is less than one week away so be sure to sight in your gun! Be careful out there and shoot straight!