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Hebgen Lake Fishing Report

The Hebgen Lake fishing report is offered as an annual report on what you can expect each year since it is plausible that Global Winds are here to remain. As a primer to the Hebgen Lake fishing report be sure to review our Outside Yellowstone Directory - Hebgen Lake for equipment and techniques, however, this report is further up-to-date on what's happening with one of the finest dry fly lakes in the world. 

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. Consequently, 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.

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 surface flies. This is a recipe that creates perhaps the finest dry fly fishery in the world. There are 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 us go to the midging 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 or Griffiths Gnat pattern and fish it dry. If you find pods of fish and they're 1 or 2 time rising, then go to a midge pupa off a Griffiths Gnat. Use 18" of dropper tippet and watch the tippet not the dry fly for the slightest movement. This is not river fishing. These fish will spit the pupa imitation way before your dry indicator even begins to move. 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 but 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.

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 July the first of the brood appears, however, most anglers will not experience it if they are not over the Callibaetis weed beds. The Callibaetis hatch has a tendency to migrate throughout July and August so they can be prolific in one location and gone emerging 2 weeks later at another location. 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. It is truly the Tricos that train the 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. These early season gulpers can be ultra-selective, remember your 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. Here's why. 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. If you find a pattern that works and catch a fish with it - replace it. Its watersoaked and floatant or powder won't work without false casts. 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 global warming - global winds! Typically August is Gulper month. Absolutely the best place (maybe in the world) for consistent rising fish. I can't verify this for certainty since I haven't fished all the best trout lakes of the world -yet, however, I have a network of angling friends and Hebgen Lake always ends at the top. I believe it's 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. The main reason why there are large surface feeding trout (Gulpers) on Hebgen Lake is the Callibaetis spinners and August is spinner month. August in the Rockies, was typically a hot calm month. If by miracle it becomes that once again, then you can count on Callibaetis spinners from 11:00 am to late afternoon and the fish will gorge on them. Any life-like 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 subsurface nymphs and head and tailers can be on both nymphs and duns and those fish are generally hungrier 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 they're doing is spooking pods of fish and that can get quite frustrating.

I much prefer to dry fly fish (no dropper) however if you must fish nymphs then try this, it's a blast. Think of bonefish techniques. This works best as soon as the breeze comes up around 12:00 to 1:00 and works better late July through August. Use a floating line, 5 or 6 wt, I prefer a 5 weight simply because it holds less water and spooks less fish. Use a long leader, 16' to 18'. Most anglers cringe when I mention this so tie on a 3' 20# or 25# butt section and it will cast like a 12 leader just open your loop a little. Tie on a 4x tippet and your favorite #14 Callibaetis nymph. Now as soon as the breeze comes up, the pods of fish will seek out-migrating, emerging and tumbling Callibaetis nymphs and you'll be able to spot the flashing as they do. Generally, the fish will feed against the wind so anticipate their movement and lead your cast 4' to 8' in front of your fish or pod of fish. When they take "don't hold on" because these are moving fish and their strike will surely break you off. They will set themselves so let 'em go and once they've set the hook to play them like normal. You must use 4x for this particular technique or they'll bust you since you're fishing over nymph beds. Because of the wind chop and if you're in a boat, you can stand up and visually cast and see all the action that takes place. As the season progresses into August, this technique works even better, however, by then the fish will be looking up more so using a dun or Emerger, in the wind, is just as effective. I just have a hard time deciding which is more fun!

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

Warning ! This type of sight fishing is intense and can be frustrating unless your casting is accurate. In general, you should be within a foot of your intended target or you need a lot of luck. Perhaps this is the reason most anglers in the last 5 years have foregone single dry fly fishig and rely on the hanging off a bobber method.


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