McCoy Creek provides pleasant distraction

By Chris Hunt

ALPINE, Wyo. — It had been one of those crack-of-dawn fishing days, and now, by late afternoon, my fishing partner Kurt Friedemann and I were completely drained.

But, as we eyed the steady flow of McCoy Creek from the dirt road that parallels the stream, we found the energy to once again string up our fly rods and hunt wild trout.

We started at daybreak with breakfast at a truck stop in Soda Springs. We worked our way north, where we fished the upper reaches of Tincup Creek and plucked small, but spunky wild cutthroats from the water. We then worked our way into western Wyoming, where we stopped for a Coke and browsed the fireworks selection at a convenience store in the tiny town of Freedom (it’s tough to leave a Wyoming border town without cache of bottle rockets, but somehow we managed).

 alpine valley on the south side of Palisades Reservoir.
Photo by Ben Arellano

From Freedom, we drove north to the little village of Etna where we snuck back across the Idaho border and toyed with another stream full of wild cutts — Jackknife Creek. Finally, as the day had progressed into the evening, and after we’d crisscrossed the stateline three or four times, we found ourselves back in Idaho skirting the southern edges of Palisades Reservoir and trying to decide if we’d had enough fishing for the day. Once we got a look at McCoy Creek as if wound its way down out of the Caribous between Black Mountain and Poker Peak, we decided we weren’t too spent to give one more stream a try.

It was late in the season — early September — and we’d been kicking up grasshoppers all day as we trudged through the brush surrounding the small streams we visited. I tied on a tired old Joe’s Hopper pattern, and disappeared into the willows lining the stream. Kurt tied on a Chernobyl Ant and wandered downstream a ways — we were to meet at the car in about an hour because we figured that’s how much daylight we had left.

To make a long story short, it was well after dark by the time we both made it back to the car, and we left with a healthy appreciation for the cutthroats in McCoy Creek. While neither of us caught anything of size, we were both pleasantly surprised at the voracity with which McCoy’s little natives attacked the high-floating terrestrials. Over a cold beer and under a darkening mountain sky, we swapped stories about little cutts coming completely out of the water in search of our flies. The fish, while they scarcely topped 10 inches, put up spirited fights in the dim evening light.

Since that night a few years back, we’ve made sure to pay McCoy a visit whenever we get the chance. Armed with a cooler stocked with cold beer and a flybox bristling with a few size 10 hopper patterns, a stop at McCoy has become a regular occurrence when we find ourselves in the neighborhood.

Prime water

McCoy is fishable along its entire length, save for the short stretch right before it reaches Palisades Reservoir, and then only in drought years when the stream crosses a barren stretch of sand and gravel that’s normally the lake’s bottom. McCoy Creek Road follows the stream’s entire length, which makes this a great location for family campouts with a little fishing mixed in. The upper stretches of the stream are definitely the most pleasing to the eye, and the fish, which never get really big, are identical to their downstream brethren. The downstream stretch runs through more of a canyon landscape which makes for easy wading and easier casting; upstream, McCoy is a meadow stream lined with bushy willows. Both sections offer the same as far as fish are concerned — it’s up to you to determine which fishing environment you prefer.

The fish

McCoy’s cutthroats aren’t anything terribly special — they’re essentially carbon copies of the fish that live in nearby Bear Creek (see Journal Outdoors, Aug. 2 edition). As is the case with Bear Creek, McCoy doesn’t spill over with big trout. Most of the stream’s large cutthroats have come and gone by the time the stream is fishable in late June or early July. Cutthroats from nearby Palisades Reservoir use McCoy as a spawning stream each spring, and most have returned to the lake by the time anglers can effectively fish the stream.

Instead of trophy hunting, the angler fishing McCoy Creek should focus more on the aesthetics of the whole experience. You’d be hard-pressed to find a prettier mountain valley, and the stream itself is truly beautiful. You’ll lose a few flies when you try to cast into the willow-shrouded holding water, but it’s worth the sacrifice just to be out there, knee-deep in an icy mountain brook casting to wild trout.

The flies

McCoy generally doesn’t clear up from spring runoff until the middle of June at the earliest, and sometimes it hasn’t fully shed its high water until the middle of July. This fact alone makes it a great spot for late-summer fishing, and that means terrestrial patterns — hoppers, ants, beetles and even spiders work wonders on McCoy.

Try something simple at first to get a feel for the sometimes-swift currents of McCoy — with big terrestrial flies, you’ll have to accomplish a drag-free drift to really entice the fish. I prefer a Joe’s Hopper pattern simply because it’s easy to see and it makes that appreciative “splat” when it hits the water. Both red and black ant patterns work well, as do foam beetle and spider patterns. If you see a hatch of mayflies (most likely, it’ll be a pale morning dun hatch or, later in the year on cloudy days, blue-winged olives hatch out), don’t be afraid to switch flies. If your fly arsenal lacks the terrestrial patterns, go with tried-and true-attractor patterns — Royal Coachman, humpies or Adams patterns should all work well.

How to get there

The easiest, most direct route to McCoy Creek is to take U.S. Highway 26 east out of Idaho Falls to Alpine, Wyo. From there, turn south on U.S. Highway 89 and drive about three miles. Take a right (west) on McCoy Creek Road (Forest Road 87) and drive along Palisades Reservoir’s southern edge until you get to the stream. Follow it upstream until you find a stretch of water you like.


Chris Hunt is City Editor for the Idaho State Journal






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