July 16, 2020

Story & photos by Dave Zoby

Being a recovered trout bum and a current member of the fly fishing press, I’m used to roughing it. I’ve driven the Al-Can Highway four times, sleeping in the bed of my truck on a leaky mattress. Add in my two fishing dogs, and a certain picture begins to emerge.  I survive by keeping my expectations low, and my options open. So when I traveled to Dubois, Wyoming to do a story on the excellent fly fishing one can experience on the Upper Big Wind, I was pleasantly surprised by my accommodations at the Jakey’s Fork Homestead. The Creekside Cabin, where I was booked, is a hand-hewn log structure built in the late 1800s.  Though the cabin has been modernized, the structure retains its authentic flare.

Jakey's Fork Homestead Creekside Cabin

            Carolyn Gillette has a long affinity to the outdoors. A New Yorker, she first came to Wyoming to work at the National Outdoor Leadership School (NOLS) in Lander. From there she worked with Sweetwater Fishing Expeditions, an outfitter who takes fishermen and photographers into the Winds. Today, Carolyn owns and runs Jakey’s Fork Homestead, a boutique B&B that sits on the banks of a rushing trout stream. Just a few minutes from the action of downtown Dubois, this little oasis sings with birdsong. The ancient cottonwoods lean over the creek–their cache of leaves provide shape for the trout.  When I left Casper to come to Dubois, it was 90 degrees and gusting. When I found my cabin—“Welcome Dave” was written on the trout-shaped chalkboard—the temperatures by the stream were in the low 60s. But the best part was the scent of the willow and cottonwoods, a mixture of smells that remind me why I love the high country.

Creekside cabin welcome sign at Jakey's Fork Homestead in Dubois, Wyoming

            My cell phone wasn’t getting reception, there was no television. I sat in a chair overlooking the creek and allowed my mind to settle. I had a book with me: Fishing Rivers of the Far North, by Dan Gapen. I could hear hummingbirds trilling in the canopy, but I couldn’t see them. I read about casting spoons to lake trout, and fishing with Ojibwa guides until I lost the light.

            The next morning, at 7:30, I met Carolyn for breakfast in the main house. From her coffee table I could see the iconic open face of Whiskey Mountain. A steady rain was falling and Carolyn asked if I was worried the fishing might not be great. Brent, an annual guest at the cabins, said that the fish had been hitting dry flies all week, but the rain might put an end to it. “I only want to catch them on top,” he said.

Brent was a dry fly purist. I had encountered his kind before. He was out West surveying a building site for a cabin he had built in Pennsylvania. The plan was to disassemble the cabin, pack it on a trailer, and bring it to the Winds in August.  Brent seemed able to laugh at himself. He was either mid-joke or about to tell or joke. He told me that none other than fly fishing legend Joe Humphreys once came out and stayed at Jakey’s Creek.

            Carolyn patted the table. “He set his vice up right here and tied flies all night,” she said.

After a day on the wild Upper Big Wind casting streamers with Darren Calhoun, one of the nation’s few Native American fly fishing outfitters, I was whipped. We caught some dandy trout, but we worked for them. Darren said that I should come back when the water is clearer and see what’s really possible on this untouched stretch.

Trout caught with Wind River Whitewater & Flyfishing near Dubois, Wyoming.

            After dinner in town, I went back to the B&B. Brent had a redeye flight out of the Jackson Hole the next morning. So Carolyn and I sat with a bottle of wine and talked about Wyoming. She was surprised we had put in a whole day in what she called “a monsoon.”  She told me that the cabins were original homestead cabins owned by the Simpson family, the political clan that we’ve grown to know over the years. Even better, Butch Cassidy spent Christmas of 1889 in one of the cabins. We talked about authors we liked, and trails in the Winds where we had been. I told her I was leaving early in the morning, so I wouldn’t need breakfast.  She made me some to-go snacks—blueberry muffins, fruit—and said she wanted to show me something.

            The previous winter, her neighbor, the nature photographer Bill Sincavage, set up a trail cam. His house is only a few yards away from the Jakey’s Creek cabins. One windy, winterish night the camera picked up a mature mountain lion stalking the patio area. The big cat saw something inside the house that piqued his interest. In the video, he stares. The wind blows. It’s 4:19 in the morning, March 4th. The lion returned may times this spring to look through the glass doors.

            “We caught all kind of things on this camera—it makes you think differently about the neighborhood,” said Carolyn.

            It was still raining as I walked to my cabin. I jingled my keys and called out a few times just to let whatever was out there know that I was here too.

Posted in Notes From the Field