Hebgen Lake Fishing Report
The Hebgen Lake fishing report is presented as a yearly summary of what you can expect each year since it is apparent that Global Winds are here to stay. As a primer to the Hebgen Lake fishing report be sure to check out our Outside Yellowstone Directory - Hebgen Lake for equipment and techniques, however, this report is more up-to-date on what's happening with one of the greatest dry fly lakes in the world.
Now lets get to the midging report. As soon as the huge Chironomid emergence begins the fish become really 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 pattern 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 on board 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 on 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.
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 cast without spooking the fish, remember all it takes is to spook an individual fish and 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
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 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!
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.
* If you have purchased "Fly Fishing Yellowstone Hatches dvd" and still have further questions on how to fish Hebgen Lake, please call Blue Ribbon Flies at 406 646-9642 (be sure to ask for someone who actually likes to fish the lake).