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Hebgen Lake Fishing Report

The Hebgen Lake fishing report is an annual report on what you can expect each year. As a primer to the Hebgen Lake fishing report be sure to review our Outside Yellowstone Directory - Hebgen Lake for equipment and techniques. This report is up-to-date on what's happening with one of the finest dry fly lakes in the world. (For more in-depth information on fly fishing Hebgen Lake go to Hebgen Lake in our Outside Yellowstone Directory)

Recent years, due to dam repairs, have reduced winter lake levels dramatically. This has eliminated vast areas of winter nurturing habitat for many of the aquatic entomology. As a result, many of the epic Callibaetis spinner falls that was once common on a typical summer day, is now meager in comparison. The winter lake levels during 2015-2016 were not as severe. There were far more spinners, however, after many years of absent spinners, it usually takes a few years for the younger generation trout to become conditioned (gulpers) again.

The last 5 years or so, I've also witnessed an influx of novice and guided fly fishers turn what was "the world's greatest dry fly lake" into just another bobber lake. Judging how most of the western rivers are now fished, it seems this trend is here to stay. If you are into the bobbering scene (you know if you are), then no need to continue reading the following babble. If you're an experienced angler, a little inside tip, nobody is impressed on how many fish you caught (indicator fishing), it's how you caught it. It's a Skillset thing. In other words, two fish on the single dry fly is far more impressive than six fish blind cast bobbering. The better Fly shops and guides would never tell you this, they work hard and need to make a living and have more empathy than me.

From mid-May to late July, Hebgen Lake is a Chironomid factory. It's this prolific midge hatch that teaches the Hebgen trout to feed on top. By the time the famous Trico and Callibaetis hatch arrives, these fish are accustomed to feeding on spinner flies. This is a recipe that creates perhaps the finest dry fly fishery in the world. There is other prominent world class dry fly waters but none can boast rising trout on any calm, sunny or overcast day, for four months out of the year.

Now let's go to the midge report. As soon as the huge Chironomid emergence begins the fish become very active. These post spawn rainbows are feeding in less than 1 foot of water all along the north shore of the lake however if it's a low snowpack year and they raise the levels, the beds will be too far out and deep to fish. As always, 20" rainbows and browns are common. Midge adults and pupas are the patterns of choice. The fish feed throughout the lake. Midge emergence begins around 10:30 am and working trout start to pod up. Chasing these pods are best accomplished from a boat (with an onboard electric) or pontoon.

If you find fish consistently rising then go with a Midge Emerger dry fly pattern. Keep your casts ahead of and in front of the fish. You must quarter your cast to the incoming fish. Casting from behind or even from the side of the fish is futile. If your cast is 1 foot off target, they will not go out of their way. The early season chironomid is a size 12 then by July they can be down to a size 20 in the main body of the lake (in the arms, the midges are usually a #16). When the fish get selective in a size 20, it's usually over open water (20 plus feet) it is here where you can use long leaders and 6x tippets. Be careful on the take, in fact, don't strike - more on this technique later. The main body of the lake is best during the spring. Your best access is either the north shore or west shore of the lake. Rise forms will begin around 9:00 am and last until early afternoon on any calm day and will begin again around 7:30 PM till dark. On calm, overcast, rainy days you can cast to pods of rising fish all day but be prepared to chase them down. During the hot summer months, if it is foggy and/or drizzly, a size 18 or 20 midge emerger is absolutely deadly and there is no need to cast further than you can see.

June Callibaetis
Spring means June Callibaetis. You can bank on this emergence when there's Salmonfly chatter in the air. Gone are all the guides and local fly fishers off to populate the closest Salmonfly hatch within 200 miles of S.W. Montana and S.E. Idaho. The spring Callibaetis emergence also coincides with the Yellowstone National Park fishing season opener. You will have the lake to yourself except for those in the know. Callibaetis are multi-brooded so the June emergers are a size 14. Find weed beds near the shoreline with Callibaetis emerging. The key is to fish the emergence over the littoral zone weed beds that survived the winter lake drawdown (from the continuous dam upgrade). It's that simple. The emergence time is not so simple. Depending on weather conditions, the first emergence of the year will begin around 10:45 and last to about 12:30. The deeper shoreline weed beds will have Callibaetis emerging in the early afternoon around 1:00 pm and last to about 2:30 pm.

If you do your homework you'll have about 4 hrs of Callibaetis Emerger action. This is the one and only time of year where the trout are the least selective especially if it's overcast, drizzle or a bit of chop. On sunny days, is when it gets difficult. When you encounter a Callibaetis emergence, cloudy or sunny, you must have patience. These fish are not Gulpers. Again Gulpers are either midge adult/emerger or mayfly spinner feeders. Obviously, you must lead your cast however, it is a little difficult to predict the trouts rhythm if they only rise once. If you're fishing flat water, you must leave your dry fly Emerger on the surface and lift your rod tip very slow or retrieve your line just enough to create the slightest ripple wake. Where most fly fishers fail is casting too much. Nobody's around to see how far you can cast, nor does anyone care. If you must impress yourself, do it on your lawn at home. If you want to catch trout taking Callibaetis Emergers, quit playing fly fishing "Whackamo" and leave your damn fly "on the water" until you have a guality target. Why is this important? These trout are feeding on random Emergers with abandon...no rhythm. The good news is you don't have to be as accurate as later in the season. Again leave the fly on the water and these fish will eventually find it, if you have a clean target, go for it. Remember Callibaetis Emerger feeders are looking for active bugs so give it a nudge.

For anglers that prefer to employ the dry/dropper technique, you will find more success in the Grayling Arm. The Callibaetis nymphs are more active for a longer duration in the Grayling Arm and casting distance and accuracy is not as critical with this method.

July Callibaetis and Tricos
In past years August is Callibaetis time to fish Hebgen Lake, however, if it's a drought or global wind year, then consider July. Callibaetis are multi-brooded and during June / July, most anglers will not experience it if they are not over the Callibaetis weed beds. The Callibaetis hatch has a tendency to migrate throughout June, July, and August so they can be prolific in one location and emerging two weeks later at another location. During July, the Callibaetis typically like to emerge around 11:30 and depending on water temperature and cloud coverage (affecting water temperature), may continue until mid afternoon. During early July, Emergers adults and nymphs are far more effective than late July and August. The Northwest shorelines of every arm can have good numbers of cruising fish. Plan on arriving by 10:00 (earlier if you want to fish Tricos) and use the stalk and wade method. Shoreline fish are easier to stalk than the open lake fish in that they generally cruise left or right and you have a better chance to cut them off plus they don't seem so selective.

By mid-July, along with Callibaetis, the first of the Trico clouds appear. These two super hatches will continue right on through September. Along with spring midges, the Tricos train Hebgen Lake fish how to become gulpers. The Tricos give the early bird anglers a reason to arrive early on the lake. When fishing the Trico hatch, the fish tend to be very selective. Tippet is not the problem (5x will work fine), as long as the fish see the fly first. Your casting has to be "dead on" and your fly pattern has to be a perfect match. The most important thing to remember when fish are rising all about you is to place a good cast ahead of the fish or pod and leave it. Try not to flock shoot or flail away. This just educates the fish that are already educated enough from pelicans and other birds of prey. Always try to be stealthy when casting and picking up your cast - don't water spray right over working fish. Using the correct Trico pattern is even more important than Midge or Callibaetis patterns. Usually, with a Callibaetis pattern, the fish can be further away due to the larger fly pattern plus the fish have a larger window to see that pattern. All this provides for 2 or at most 3 (cringing!) false casts however with Trico feeding fish, the patterns are much smaller (size 18-20) so you must get a lot closer, stay low and be very accurate. The problem will be, at such a close range, you cannot make many false casts without spooking the fish, remember all it takes is to spook an individual fish and the whole pod is gone. So choose or tie a Trico pattern that does not soak up a lot of water and requires minimal casts. Use good floatant. Hebgen trout generally do not prefer Trico spinners. They prefer duns or spent adults with upright wings.

August - Mid September
August was the money month for Hebgen Lake Gulpers but something happened along with climate change - global winds! Typically August is Gulper month. Absolutely the best place (maybe in the world) for consistent rising fish due to the nutrient rich Madison/Firehole inlet, weed beds and wind protection (along with the main body, Hebgen Lake is divided into 3 arms) that contribute to this intense weed bed factory. Callibaetis spinners fall from 11:00 am to late afternoon and the fish will gorge on them. Any lifelike Callibaetis pattern will work from an Adams to foam spinners to deer hair uprights. The problem is not any one of them will work all the time so you have to mix them up and be sure to watch the rise forms. Another go-to pattern is flying ants. Look for ants along the shoreline and trees. If you see splashy rise forms after the wind is up, fish are on ants! Keep in mind that these surface feeders become easier to catch as the season progresses well into September

Gulpers is too general a term. It doesn't explain what the fish are taking. Nose sippers are on spinners or duns. Aggressive takes are on emergers. Tailers are on subsurface nymphs, One-timers are taking emergers or subsurface nymphs and head and tailers can be on both nymphs and duns and those fish are opportunistic and easier to catch. While on the subject of rise forms, try to pick out consistent rising fish - fish that rise more than twice are usually in a solid feeding pattern. If you can, make a longer cast (60' plus feet) and really lead them. If their timing is off and miss your fly, you'll be able to get another shot at them as long as you let them pass and you pick up without spooking them. This is why a longer cast is so much fun because you get multiple shots at good working fish. On the other hand, staying low and waiting for the fish to get within an accurate casting range is always the safest and practical way to catching these fish but it's not as challenging. I see far too many anglers that are impatient and cast way too much (I've been guilty a time or two). There are times when the fish are in such a frenzy or there are so many targets that it doesn't matter but usually all you're doing is spooking pods of fish and that can get quite frustrating.

Recommended patterns in chronological emergence:

Midges - Midge pupa's, Hebgen Midge Emerger
Trico - Hebgen CDC Trico
Callibaetis - Calibaetis Nymph, Callibaetis Emergers, Callibaetis Duns, Callibaetis Spinners
Damselfies - Damsel nymphs, Damsel Adults
Ants - Flying Ants


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