Current Edition

current edition

Last year at this time of year residents in my hometown were fighting to keep the place from being washed away by the mighty Upper North Platte River.
    This year if you’re trying to float the river, it’s fish awhile, drag the boat, fish awhile and drag the boat.
    The Platte and Encampment Rivers and surrounding streams have forever been the life-blood of this valley, not just for ranching, but for recreation and domestic use as well.
    Float fishing for trout is tops among dudes as well as locals.
    Folks here often combine their regular jobs with that of being river guides. Such was the case of a local hydrographer. He not only measured and regulated irrigation water, he also ran a guide service and was known for his wild tales about both.
    When asked about the difference between a hydrographer and a water commissioner or ditch rider he reported, “It’s about $400 a month more.”
    Folks still relate one of his greatest float and fishing escapades.
    On a beautiful day in July, the guide was floating a couple of paying know-it-all dudes down the river for a day of trout fishing. His clients were inexperienced, plus fishing was slow to start. “Jerry” was rowing to all the hot spots, but the fishermen were unable to cast into the holes or would snag in the willows or hang up on the bottom.
    Of course, the high-paying clients began to complain about poor fishing and doubted the “oarer’s” skills. Jerry was working hard, putting on minnows, hitting riffles and hot holes, showing them where to cast, untangling lines and clearing hooks of moss or debris, but to no avail.
    Following lunch and a few beers, catching started to improve. After each decent cast it was, “trout on.” As fishing improved, so did the disposition of the anglers.
    A great afternoon on the river was developing and, in a gleeful shout, one dude asked, “I wonder what the poor people are doing today?” to which the guide replied, “Rowing this (bleenkity-blankity-blinking) boat!”
“Where the Trout Leap in Main Street” is the slogan of Saratoga.
    With the Upper North Platte River running through the center of town, the sports fishing industry is and has historically been one of this area’s top tourist attractions and provides dozens of jobs, including many for young people.
    One of the most attractive jobs was the fishing guide. Recently, a couple of those early-day “oarers,” as they were called, shared their teenage experiences, which I pass along.
    “When I was 16 years old, back in the 1950s, I got a job as a fishing guide during the summer. This was great as the job started when the North Platte River ice cleared, and the flow was reasonable, or nearly so, which was close to when school was out for the summer.
    “We would row these boats with two fishing dudes aboard – one in each end of the boat and the guide in the middle seat.
    “The boats were plywood and 14 to 16 feet long, and they were built so the center was lower so they pivoted freely. The rower/guide sat in that middle seat and faced down stream to spot the rocks, trees and shallow water and try to avoid handing up, breaking the boat or throwing those dudes into the water and drowning them, which was considered poor guide practice. You didn’t row for ahead propulsion – the water did that. You just dodged the rock and picked the best approach to rapid stretches of the river.
    “In some areas if you didn’t approach correctly you would get into deep do-do and flip or hang up the boat. We sometimes got a downstream oar too low, and it would dig in and break, or worse yet, fly back and hit you in the head, so each boat carried a spare.
    “Sometimes we would end or start the trip right in Saratoga, but mostly we ‘tailored’ both ways. Usually we’d have two boats on a trailer pulled by a six-passenger station wagon. Some outfitters had Jeep Wagoneers so the driver and four dudes would sit inside and me and the other guide (usually another 15- or 16-year-old buddy) would ride in the top boat on the trailer along with two coolers, two minor/bait buckets, various fishing poles, nets and such.
    “We’d go someplace where we could put the boats in that was a good days float above where we wanted to get out. We were on the river all day so we carried beer, wine, booze, soft drinks and even water and lunch. We’d unload the boats, put them in the water, load all the stuff, get the dudes aboard, push off and get those dudes fishing. In those days we mostly used minnow seined by the outfitter and guides out of the river for bait.
    “The rowing was like some other jobs, mostly relaxing until the rapids and then you worked fast and pulled hard for several minutes. Also, you had to show many of the dudes how to fish, which sometimes was interesting. At the end of the day we cleaned the fish caught, loaded the boats and equipment and returned to Saratoga.”
    Both of the young men were trusted guides and gained valuable experience and responsibility from these early jobs. One became an engineer while the other remained in Saratoga to become a world-famous guide and outfitter.
    In a 1987 interview, the outfitter noted that it wasn’t possible for local youngsters to learn the guide business any more with the new rules and regulations.
    “ . . . When they said we needed licensed guides in every boat, it hurt us,” he said. “We were using local boys, starting them at 13 or 14 on the boats to learn. By the time they were in high school I could send them anyplace. The law made it so boys had to be 18 to start.
    “At 18 the boys were too smart to learn anything,” he laughed. “All they wanted to do was drink beer and chase girls.”
The following letter to the editor appeared in The Saratoga Sun over 100 years ago on May 11, 1911:
    “Shall we Saratogians allow little old New York State to put over a fish story like the enclosed and remain silent?
    “What has become of our heavyweight fisherman? Is the ‘King Fisherman’ dead, or only married?...
    “The trout used to bite so voraciously in Saratoga that a good fisherman had to climb a tree to protect himself…
    “The story in the New York Sun is to the effect that a boy was leaning over the gunwale of a boat looking into the water, when a trout caught him by the nose and held on until the boy fell back into the boat thus securing a fine big trout at the expense of a bloody nose.
    “We rather think we can beat that. Ten or 12 years ago a boy of 12 wanted to go fishing and coaxed his father to allow him to take his rod and fine fishing outfit. A younger brother, a boy of seven, wanted to go along and made such a fuss about not having a fishing rod that his father tied a twine string to a bed slat, bent a pin  for a hook, baited it with a piece of bacon and told the youngster to go, too. The boys went to the iron bridge that spans the river here and fished. In about 20 minutes pandemonium broke loose.
    “It was a warm quiet day, and sounds carried far, and a greater part of the inhabitants of the town rushed to the bridge to rescue the drowning boys. But the yells and whoops and demonical shrieks continued and a motley procession of small humanity came trooping off the bridge, led by the boy with the bed-slat, who had a four-pound rainbow trout dangling from his bent pin.
    “Strange to say, the boy lived to be a strong healthy man and retains a very vivid recollection of his first trout.”
With the going out of the snow on the Medicine Bow range, considerable mining activity has resumed, according to an article in the Grand Encampment Herald on May 16, 1902.
    In part, the news item stated that much activity is noticeable this spring all along the Medicine Bow in south central Wyoming. The mountain range is now better know as the Snowy Range and lies between Laramie and Saratoga.
    According to the Herald, the Dewey, long idle, is working and the Cumberland will soon start work again for the season. The William Penn, recently purchased by a stock company, will start work at once, while many prospects will be working within another month.
    Gold Hill, with its many properties, is rapidly coming to the front, and will eventually be tapped by the Laramie Hanhs’s Peak & Pacific railway, now in building. The New Rambler will install a smelting plant, to which many properties along Douglas Creek will be tributary.
    The story continued, “The Medicine Bow range should be watched with interest during the present season. There are some very fine propositions over there, and money is being spent to place them among the shippers.”
    (Note: The LHP&P railway was built from Laramie, but never reached Gold Hill or Douglas Creek. Instead, it diverted from Centennial to Fox Park and then to Coalville a few miles west of Walden, Colo. Gold Hill was abandoned in the 1920s and the smelter was never built at the New Rambler. The LHP&P operated up until the early 2000s, when the line was abandoned and the tracks removed.)
Wages for ranch and farm hands has long been a topic for discussion. Below is an article from The Saratoga Sun from April 11, 1918.
    “A large number of the members of the Saratoga Valley Stock Growers attended a meeting in Saratoga at city hall last Friday. The gathering was called for the purpose of discussing the farm labor problem, and a scale of wages was adopted as follows:
    Ordinary ranch work, $50.00 a month and board, lights and fuel.
    Hay hands, $2.50 a day.
    Hay stackers, $3.50 a day.
    Professional irrigators, $3.00 a day.
    Teams, $2.50 a day; employer furnishing hay, owner furnishing oats.
    The ordinary ranch hand wage is $5.00 above the government recommendation, as now employers now contend that they cannot provide good board, fuel and other items to their help.”