Lake - Montana's Premier Fly Fishing Lake
Lake has the most prolific hatches of any stillwater fishery in North
America. This nutrient rich lake receives its source from a river
system like no other. From fourteen miles up where the Gibbon and
the Firehole meet to form the Madison River, the unusually warm temperature
that inhabits the Upper Madison helps to form the perfect chemistry
and nutrients that the Hebgen aguatic life thrive in.
But what really sets it apart is the
trouts feeding habits that generously indulge in Hebgens aquatic smorgasbord.
Even though Hebgen Lake is considered to be one of the top dry fly lakes
in the country, its proximity to Yellowstone National Park and the surrounding
blue ribbon waters make Hebgen just another body of water to consider
when most anglers come to the Yellowstone region. The excuses are many:
"Its too crowded", "I prefer moving water"
, "Not enough action" etc. For those of us who love large
selective rising fish, enough said!
There are many factors to consider when
flyfishing Hebgen. As with any large body of water, check out the isobar
forecast the day you plan to fish. The earlier it is in the season,
the more likely the wind will be a factor. Ideally you want a calm overcast
day. However what really sets Hebgen Lake apart from any stillwater
fishery, especially as it gets deeper into the season, is in knowing
that even on a bright bluebird day, the fish are usually rising during
one of the three prolific Hebgen hatches.
Now lets get down to the equipment necessary
to put success in your favor when stalking these wily gulpers.
Rods - A 9 5 wt medium or medium fast action rod is perfect for
Hebgen. Hebgen is visual fly fishing at its finest. This is not river
fishing. The trout are on the move and faster than most people think.
The most common mistake is casting on or behind the fish. A medium action
rod is perfect to get the fly there NOW with a minimal amount of false
casts. One other quick tip for those using the popular fast action rods.
Do your arm a favor and SLOW DOWN that casting stroke. Let whatever
rod your using, do all the work. My favorites are a 95 Sage Lightline,
A Winston 95 (hate that tiny stripping guide) and a Sage 95
SP. A 6 weight rod will work just fine if you can delicately lay the
fly down. Ive seen so many good casters out there make a perfect
cast only to see the fly flop down and spook the fish. A 6 weight also
increases water saturation on the fly line aiding in "casting spray"
when false casting.
· Large Arbor Reel - I have been
an advocate of large arbor reels since the moment I used one many years
ago fishing for steelhead on the Deschutes River with my good friend
Ralph Cutter. Large arbors are now quite the rage and for good reason.
They pick up line fast aiding in fish recovery and leave no memory when
stripping line thats near the end of the spool which is often
necessary when casting to these fast cruisers on Hebgen.
· Double taper Line - Say What! A double taper line is the best
line available to help aerialize a line. If your casting close, 30
or less then it obviously doesn'tt matter. Since were talking
Hebgen Lake then youre much better off using a 5 weight DT. Aerializing
a line will give you a more accurate cast. You still must shoot your
line only with a DT youll have less to shoot because youll
have more of it in the air. You will also want to be able to pick up
a fair amount of line to recast quickly. A Weight Forward, with its
thin belly doesnt allow this. Ever seen someone strip out line
in a hurry to a working fish only to have wrapped up chicken gumbo coming
out of their reel.
· A 16 leader - Start with a 3 butt section using
25# Clear Maxima. Next tie on a 9 4x tapered leader and finally
a 4 5x tippet. This may seem in excess compared to your river
leaders but dont fret the stiff butt section will compensate and
your tippet will lay out nice and "straight". You do not want
curl. If you can see any part of the tippet curled up and glistening
so can the fish. On occasion, it may be necessary to use 6x with 22
midge pupas or midseason tricos but this is the exception.
Contrary to the general opinion,
the fly selection for Hebgen Lake is one of the least factors to consider.
A basic knowledge of insect hatches and a matching pattern is all you
need to remember. The three major hatches on Hebgen Lake are Chironomid,
Tricos and Callibaetis.
· Chironomid - Key features to remember when tying or selecting
a midge pupa pattern is to make sure it is slender, small copper or
silver ribbing and a distinct thorax or head. Adding a slight "flash"
will help especially for the smaller patterns later in the year. You
cant go wrong with black or light olive colors on Hebgen or anywhere
· Midge Emerger - Any style paratilt with a trailing shuck made
of Zelon or Crystal Flash will work fine. Again using black or light
olive and youll be covered.
· Midge Adult - The midge adult is the poor mans ant and
highly underated. Whens the last time you seen or used a midge
adult pattern. Try to buy one, youll likely get the " this
will work" routine. Clip the wing off your parachute, tap it with
superglue and clip the tail off and you have the best adult midge pattern
available. Colors - you already know.
· Tricos - There are many Trico patterns available. Most will
work just fine. All you really need are two stages, the adult and the
spinner. Colors - guess what, black and olive - Hmmm! Unfortunately
with Tricos, its not that easy. Of the three major hatches on
Hebgen, size is most important with Tricos. This is because there are
so many for so long a duration and almost always when the water is dead
· Callibaetis - There are four stages to pattern after on Hebgen.
All of which are very important, the nymph, emerger, dun and the spinner.
A excellent Callibaetis nymph pattern you probably have, is the Pheasant
Tail Nymph. Any callibaetis cripple pattern is a good emerger, a Hebgen
Upright is a good dun imitation and for a spinner imitation, you cant
go wrong with a Mathews Foam Spinner in light gray. Sizes - 14 and 16.
· Flying Ant - This is not a major hatch on Hebgen but if you
see ants, you better try them - even if you dont see ants besides
you probably have a few in your box. Sizes will range from a large 14
to 18 and black or brown will work fine.
one or all three can be going on at once. What about damsels? They are
around for a few weeks in late June and early July, just as they are
on all the major lakes in the Yellowstone region, but they are not a
major hatch on Hebgen. The Chironomid is a major force beginning in
late May. The early season midges will be a size 12 to 14 and the fish
will be schooled up in the open water gorging on overcast days. The
three arms, Grayling, Madison and South Fork of the Madison, are in
runoff stage during the early season and consequently are not a factor
until mid-June. You can however, find fish feeding on midges in any
one of the arms, just not in numbers like the main body. These early
open water fish are hot and not so selective during the early morning
as compared to the evening risers. Towards late May fish can be found
feeding on midges whether its calm or overcast. However if it
is overcast, the fish go on a frenzy and youll find wave after
wave of working pods of fish. The main Chironomid hatch will last until
mid July as each brood progressively shrinks until they reach a size
26. But we have not seen the last of the Neolithic insect. They will
By mid-June another stillwater superstar make its first appearance.
The Callibaetis is the mainstay for Hebgen Trout. Its arrival in June
is low key. Very few fly fisherman seek out the June Callibaetis because
of its emergence location. In mid-June, the weedbeds where the Callibaetis
thrive are sporatic and only appear on the southwest bank of each part
of the lake. The important thing to remember about the early season
Callibaetis is the nymph and emerger stage. Under the right conditions
and location, the nymph fishing is exceptional just look for the weedbeds.
In late August, when the Callibaetis can be in the millions, the spinner
July Tricos and Callibaetis
By mid-July the phenomena known as "gulpers" becomes apparent.
These feeding trout or "gulpers inherit their name from their surface
feeding gulp they make while cruising along at a deceptive pace. The
Trico is what their after and it triggers their distinct feeding habit
until the end of September. If your preference is short range casting,
then Tricos is for you. Hebgen Tricos requires you to keep you casting
close. The gulpers are not easily spooked. They have an agenda all you
need to do is select the correct stage and keep your cast within 2 feet
of a working fish anything closer and you alert the fish. Anglers who
have a tendency to splat their dry fly have a very difficult time with
Tricos. Remember, Tricos are not caddis - no dive bombing. The Trico
hatch will last until the mid-August then the fun begins.
Despite fishing conditions around the country, nothing compares to Dry
Fly Callibaetis fishing on Hebgen Lake during the month of August. Often
you will hear anglers complain about the doldrums in August, though
this can be true if you're into nymphing the famous rivers around Yellowstone,
it's a shame they don't widen their angling experience
and visit one of the country's greatest dry fly fisheries in Hebgen
Lake, just minutes away from the west entrance to Yellowstone National
Casting to working fish on a river is
simple. You select a matching pattern, you position yourself as close
as possible, you target your fish and you cast to your stationary target
without spooking it until it takes or refuses in which case, you change
your fly. Life is simple, all is well. Casting to working fish on Hebgen
can be as simple as long as you remember to lead the fish and dont
spook them with too many false casts. Know your casting range and accuracy
level. Youll know what their taking - just look. If you need to
move closer, just remember the closer you get the more chance there
is to spook them with your presence, false casts or fly line. Pick out
single fish and get your fly a few feet ahead of where the fish should
come up next. Allowing a buffer zone on your cast accomplishes 2 things:
You wont spook the fish, with leader or fly splat and 2) It gives
you a chance to slightly move the fly in the path of the fish.
(If you dont know where or when it will rise next, then quit casting
and observe unless youre out there for fly casting aerobics in
which case flail away). Remember, Splatting a dry fly is counter-productive
unless your hopper or salmonfly fishing.
As the season progresses, unlike the
rivers, the Hebgen fish will become less cautious. Casting for Hebgen
gulpers is the most satisfying of all dry fly fishing. Your stalking
a fish at any given range. It becomes a personal challenge to try for
working fish beyond your casting ability and when you get humbled you
can always pick one off at point blank range and feel like a hero. I
believe fly casting is what fly fishing is all about otherwise we would
all be dapping with "poles". One final note about accurate
fly casting with distance - its fun.
Lake has 3 major hatches that are of special interest to the fly fisherman,
The Chironomid or midges, the Tricos and my favorite the Callibaetis.
The Chironomid is a major force beginning in late May and is the first
major hatch up in Yellowstone Country. The early season midges will
be a size 12 to 14 and the fish will be schooled up in the open water
gorging on overcast days. The three arms, Grayling, Madison and South
Fork of the Madison, are in runoff stage during the early season and
consequently are not a factor until mid-June. You can however, find
fish feeding on midges in any one of the arms, just not in numbers like
the main body. These early open water fish are hot and not so selective
during the early morning as compared to the evening risers. Towards
late May fish can be found feeding on midges whether its calm
or overcast. However if it is overcast, the fish go on a frenzy and
youll find wave after wave of working pods of fish. The main Chironomid
hatch will last until mid July as each brood progressively shrinks until
they reach a size 26. But we have not seen the last of the Neolithic
insect. They will be back.
Hebgen Lake is one of the best sight fishing lakes in the country and
we will take advantage of this special type of fly fishing by mentioning a few techniques we use to catch these Hebgen trout.
Our favorite technique is casting to targets with a dry fly matching whatever's occuring at the time. When you have a working fish, target your cast ahead of the fish
by timing its rise form. You must lead your cast according to the fishes
feeding pattern plus add a little buffer. You want to have the opportunity
to recast and not spook the fish. More often than not most anglers like to test their long distance skills and in the process scattering the school. Be patient and be selective on your target.
The riseforms on Hebgen are for adults, spinners or emergers. Each riseform is distinct so spend time observing the insects and feeding behavior and you will have success.