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How did trout get in Platte River?

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

Early-day trappers, who ranged up and down the valley in the period between 1850 and 1870, swore that there were no game fish in the North Platte or its tributaries in those days. However, by the time Warm Springs, later named Saratoga, was established about 1874, residents discovered that 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 is that in 1871 or 1872, a westbound Union Pacific express train loaded with eastern trout bound for the west coast became stranded on the Fort Steele bridge across the Platte, and the crew was forced to dump its load of dying fish into the river. From there thousands of brook and rainbow trout migrated 30 miles up stream and flourished in the waters fed by warm springs and flowing with tons of natural feed. Historians also contend that the newly planted small trout had little competition and few predators.

Another account claims that trout probably Colorado Cutthroat, planted in the area were brought from the Little Snake River drainage, near Baggs, in cream cans and pails and released in Jack Creek west of Saratoga about 1880. 

Yet another story states that a rancher brought in a shipment of trout in 1888 and released them in Brush Creek, thus populating streams in the upper valley including the river flowing North from the Wyoming/Colorado border through the Saratoga and Encampment 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 “Where Fish Jump,” later changed to “Where the Trout Leap in Main Street” when a national outdoor writer used that as his headline for a 1927 article he had written about the superb fishing and the “trout leaping” in the river as it flows through the heart of town.