Big Sky Anglers Weekly Fishing Report – 10/11/2018

Big Sky Anglers Weekly Fishing Report – 10/11/2018

I would say with confidence that fall is here and here to stay. We had both snow and rain with more on the way, and temps are ranging from the high 30’s to 40s’ for the rest of the week. As Steve mentioned in the last report, the battle of the seasons has begun and I’m pretty sure fall is about to knock out summer very shorty. Actually based on the weather, the knockout should be taking place on Thursday with scheduled snow throughout the day. Despite the persay colder, uglier weather the fishing here has been quite good. From the Henry’s Fork to sections of the Park and the Madison in Montana, we have fishing to satisfy any type of fall angler.

As far as surface bug activity is concerned we continue to see Baetis, Caddis, Tricos and Pseudo’s. For subsurface activity, emerging stages of these insects can be mimicked with size 12-16 soft hackles both swung on a tight line or dead drifted. Streamer fishing the Madison on these blues feeling days, both in Montana and the Park along with the Henry’s Fork around Ashton can find you very pleasing fish that are guaranteed to put a smile on your face. The Fork around Last Chance can give you some great opportunities at some good fish on drys as well.

As far as preparing to fish within our little 60 mile radius here in West Yellowstone, I would say have a 4wt for smaller water in the park like the firehole, a 5wt for your bigger water Baetis fishing on the Madison/Henry’s Fork and a 6wt for all your streamer’s. Oh, I almost forgot, dont forget your euro nymphing rod if you’ve got one. Come in and pick Roberts brain here at the shop if you are less familiar with euro nymph fishing or want to up your game.

So if opportunities of colored up browns and hot rainbows or delicate presentations with dry fly imitations interest you, I’d say you’re in luck. 

Read on to see our take on this week’s fishing, and check out the links below to stay current on area forecasts and flows.  Stay tuned as we report each week on hatches, flows, weather, and more. For the most up to date info stop by the shop, give us a call, or drop us a line.

West Yellowstone Weather Forecast


Yellowstone National Park

A large percentage of our fishing being done in the park is locally here on the west side. Both the Madison and Firehole Rivers are great places to fish but two very different waters.

Right now, as many of you know, the healthy, mature, Browns and a unique fall-run species of Rainbow are venturing their way up the Madison towards their spawning grounds further up river. As far as targeting these fish its a kind of pick your poison type of deal. Swinging soft hackles, nymping and streamers are all an option. These migratory fish don’t rise very readily do to the nature of their physical state but some areas of the madison do have the type of waters and conditions so be on the lookout.

Then you have the Firehole, which has the most bug activity given the geological features which make this water unique. Hatches of Baetis can been seen through the afternoon and can be fished with drys and, swinging smaller soft hackles or nymphing. Swinging smaller leeches and streamers is a fun choice as well.

Madison River

Nothing drastic has changed as far as our last report, but I would say with dropping temperatures and flow changes the Browns in these waters will be feeling a little more frisky. On brisk, wet days Baetis can be seen later in the afternoon. Focus on slicks and softer water where little nypmhs have a chance to swim up and hatch. Imitating the emerging stage of insects with soft hackles or something with a little CDC within the first foot of the water column could also be a unique way to catch these fish if it’s not really happening up top.

On cloudy days break out the streamer rod for more aggressive fish. Swing it in the runs, strip it in the buckets and high stick it in the pockets. The most effective streamer fishing is going to be with a sinking tip line but you could use a floating line for shallow pocket waters.  

Missouri River

It’s October and that means some of the BSA crew is up on the MO stripping streamers and headhunting for those grand Missouri River trout. Joe, Jon, Hoovie, and Earl are all guiding up there now, and many of the other BSA crew members are swinging through for some fun fall fishing. Gray, scuzzy days have generated some of those monstrous hatches of fall Pseudos that the Missouri is famous for. A few larger Baetis have been seen in addition to a mysterious, cream-colored mayfly that we are trying to identify. In between pods of rising fish, small streamers fished on floating lines or light sink tips have kept the crew busy. Stay tuned for more reports from the Mighty Mo through the end month.

Henry’s Fork

Over on the Henry’s Fork you’ve got a little bit different climate given the slightly lower elevation compared to West Yellowstone and YNP, but somewhat similar fishing game in general. Beatis and Pseudos around #20 are the ticket when it comes to dry fly fishing both around Ashton and Last Chance.  If you’re fishing the Railroad Ranch section of the Henry’s Fork at this time of year you’ll likely see very few people and find some good fishing. The bugs aren’t very big bug but cool, cloudy days can produce strong hatches. As always, long Leaders and and small flies are a must here. The drag on those small drys is much more noticeable because of their size so be sure to bring your best game.

Fishing streamers on the lower river below Ashton will be good with streamers, nymphs, and dries as well. Those Browns will be in a similar mood as the fish in the Madison system near West Yellowstone.

Hebgen and Henry’s Lake

Late autumn is an often overlooked time of year to target stillwaters, probably because there are so many other outdoor activities to do, and because getting stuck float tubing when a snow squawl blows in is about at Type 2 fun as things get. Between fall streamer fishing, dry fly head hunting during baetis and Pseudo hatches, and big game and bird hunting, the lakes are often ignored. Stillwaters can be moody at this time of year, with passing storm fronts changing conditions from day to day. But the trout know that a long winter is coming, and they are feeding HARD when conditions are suitable. Think bigger in terms of fly selection, as leeches and baitfish have replaced the small mayflys of summer as a main food source. As vegetation dies back, scuds are also left homeless and wandering, making for an easy snack for the fish.

Summer Favorites – Hebgen Lake Gulpers

Summer Favorites – Hebgen Lake Gulpers

It turns out that winter can get a little long here in West Yellowstone.  That leaves plenty of time to look back on photos and bring back memories of the warmer days of the past summer, and to look ahead to the upcoming season.

I haven’t spent an extensive amount of time in Montana or fished every “Gotta fish” river, but the places that I have been in this naturally wild state have been a great introduction to what fly fishing this vast state has to offer. My first real introduction to fly fishing in Montana was in the summer of 2012, while working in the small town of Twin Bridges – the home of Winston Fly Rods. The main waters there include the Jefferson, Big Hole, Beaverhead, and Ruby Rivers. Each of these waters has its own specific personality and time of excellence. Fast forward to 2017, and I found myself standing in a soon-to-open fly shop in West Yellowstone, Montana called Big Sky Anglers. My first day consisted of picking up and organizing wet flies (soaking wet flies, not flies intended to fish subsurface) off the basement floor because there was a leak in the foundation.  Meanwhile, I’m thinking to myself, “Great, what have I gotten myself into.”

Within two weeks I realized that I was working with some of the most respected, experienced, helpful, and genuine people in fly fishing, and everyone one of them was truly passionate about what they are doing here in West Yellowstone.

The owners and experienced crew at Big Sky Anglers introduced me to some of the local water, and also encouraged me to pull out a map, find a blue line or blob that looked interesting, and go exploring.  Which brings me to talk the about fishing around here. Basically if you placed a drafter’s compass on a map centered in West Yellowstone and drew a circle with a radius of about 50 miles, you would be circling enough moving and still water to fish for rest of your life. Working for Big Sky Anglers and living in town for the 2017 season gave me the opportunity to merely scratch the surface of these special places.

I grew up bass fishing in Southern California.  In that setting, I fell in love with that feeling of tranquility of being on a motionless, glassy piece of water. But my ignorance and lack of exposure never properly mixed the joy of a calm lake with fly fishing for trout. Last summer, fishing on Hebgen Lake changed all that.

There are many interesting fishing opportunities that present themselves throughout the season on Hebgen, but the Callibaetis hatches and spinner falls during mid-summer set things up for one of my favorite fishing games. It is truly exciting  to witness big, healthy lake rainbows and browns choke down Callibaetis spinners like a hungry bear that just ended its hibernation.

Imagine sitting almost motionless on a glassy lake with beautiful tall pines kissing the water’s edge. There you sit, waiting for the signal. You look down into the air and on the water for any cues of life.  Actually, you are looking for signs of the end of life, since we’re talking about mayfly spinners here, but that’s getting a bit picky.  In time, you see a brilliantly speckled Callibaetis as the boat slowly drifts over the water.  Then, more start to appear and you finally hear it – the gulping sound of a twenty inch rainbow trout arching its nose out of the water to inhale a Callibaetis spinner.  It makes me smile just thinking about it. Mixing the emotions of hearing it with actually seeing it and it’s like tasting Nutella for the first time. You just can’t stop eating it.

The challenge of successfully gulper fishing adds another interesting element to the pursuit.  You can’t be messy at this game, at all. Only bring your A-game and be prepared to mess up a few times along the way. This angling is best done with a partner, or better yet a seasoned guide. One angler positions the boat and spots for rising fish while communicating with the other angler who holds a rod at the ready while also looking for trout noses.  As you scan the surface, you are mentally preparing to make deadly accurate cast of anywhere from fifteen feet, if you are lucky, to sixty feet or more.  Easy right? Some days these fish have a more rhythmic feed style and other times they’re what I’d describe as being “all over the place”. Hebgen’s gulpers can change feeding directions on a dime and will make you waist a lot of casts. If you shout out enough clock positions to your partner and have your line untangled and organized before you make your cast, you can catch a couple of these fish. They jump, run and dart for cover like you want them to and are truly a gratifying fish.

I remember the first time I went out on Hebgen for gulpers with friend and Big Sky Anglers guide Donovan Best. My casting motions were too open which made the boat rock ever so slightly sending little waves out to the feeding fish.  That slight and subtle error spooked several fish before I modified my casting stroke.  Learning from my mistakes, and adjusting what I was doing resulted in a couple of fish that day, and the feeling of discovery was just fantastic!

I’m so excited for summer, gulpers, and the many other amazing fisheries around our area.  I hope you get a chance to head out there yourself during the 2018 season. If you’ve never experienced stillwater fly fishing of this type, I encourage you to give it a try.  Please pop by the shop, say hi, and introduce yourself. We’ll be sure to give you the details on this fun, local game we call gulper fishing. Until then have a great winter and remember, when you free the heel, you free the mind. 😉

Belen