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How Did Trout Get in the River?

by Wyoming Livestock Roundup

By Dick Perue

A recent discussion around the table at the “Old Codgers Coffee Clatch” concerning how trout got in the Upper North Platte River, which flows through town, prompted me to reprint the following story.

According to historic accounts, the Upper North Platte River hasn’t always been a Blue Ribbon trout stream.

Early-day trappers, who ranged up and down the valley in the period between 1850 and 1870, swore there were no game fish in the North Platte River or its tributaries in those days. However, by the time Warm Springs (later named Saratoga) was established in about 1874, residents discovered there were thousands of trout in the river.

Several theories abound as to how the rivers, streams and lakes of the valley became stocked with trophy trout.

One theory is, in 1871 or 1872, a westbound Union Pacific express train loaded with eastern rainbow trout bound for the West Coast became stranded on the Fort Steele bridge across the Platte and was forced to dump its load of dying fish into the river. 

From there, thousands of trout migrated 30 miles upstream and flourished in the waters fed by warm springs and flowing with tons of natural feed. Historians also contend the newly planted small trout had little competition and few predators. 

Another account claims the first trout planted in the lower valley were brought from the Little Snake River (Baggs) drainage in cream cans and pails and released in Jack Creek in about 1880. Yet another story states a rancher brought in the first shipment of trout in 1888 and planted them in Brush Creek, thus populating streams in the upper valley.

The first fish hatchery was established on Heather Creek in 1906 and began planting local streams with rainbows and browns. The National Fish Hatchery, which exists today, was opened in 1915 and for years stocked local streams and lakes with a variety of trout.

Saratoga’s first slogan promoting the great fishing was “World’s Greatest Trout Fishing,” then “Where the Fish Jump” and later changed to “Where the Trout Leap in Main Street” when a national outdoor writer used it as his headline for a story he had written about the superb fishing and the “trout leaping” in the river as it ran through town, but then, that’s another fish tale to be told later.

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