Winter decided to make an early appearance this week by bringing snowfall and sub-freezing temperatures. It seems as if summer barely made an appearance this year and it is likely that 10 out of 12 months this year will have brought snowfall to West Yellowstone. Some are speculating the continued heavy moisture could bring a fourth consecutive winter with a high snowpack. As skiers rejoice over this notion, anglers have reason to as well. High snowpack equals high and cold water throughout the warmer months which can benefit our trout streams. Only time will tell, and we keep our fingers crossed for future conditions that allow trout to thrive. Stay tuned, winter is coming!
Before everyone gets a case of the “wintertime blues” we still have the bulk of the Fall fishing season ahead of us. Fish are migrating, their colors are changing, they will be packing on weight for the winter, and fall-spawning fish will be participating in the reproductive cycle. We are fortunate in this region to have so many fisheries built on the shoulders of wild fish. Please be respectful and leave spawning fish alone. Avoid casting to their redds and allow them to spawn without interruption.
Personally, fall is my favorite season of the year. Montana/Yellowstone Country comes alive in the fall as elk are bugling, mule deer are migrating, waterfowl fill the skies, and fish change their colors and habits in response to the change in weather. October is “cast and blast” season for sportsmen and sportswomen that face the challenge of splitting their time between hunting and fishing. Whatever it is that encourages you to venture into the woods and to the river, get out and enjoy it while you can!
And so the Grasshopper Feast of 2019 seems to be coming to a close. It was one for the books. With this most recent cold snap and snowfall the last of the hoppers were most likely laid to rest. Although, fish may still be willing to eat a grasshopper/terrestrial pattern used as an attractor in tandem with a dropper. Don’t put your foam-bug box away quite yet.
For those still itching for dry fly action the Madison is producing regular BWO hatches when conditions are right. Look for them to hatch during the mornings on sunny days and throughout the day when cloudy. Keep an eye out for sipping mouths in the riffles as sometimes their rises can be concealed in this water.
For sub-surface action, streamer fishing can be productive. Let the conditions (and the fish behavior) dictate size, color, and presentation. A leech or wooly bugger pitched in tight to pocket water and off the sides of rocks has potential to convince an aggressive trout to move from its lay.
For the nymphing game throw a small nymph such as a baetis nymph, shop vac, three-dollar dip, or zebra midge in tandem with a large nymph such as a rubber legs or wooly bugger. Small mayfly nymphs are active in the system right now with BWO’s emerging. At the same time fish are looking to pack on weight in preparation for when their metabolisms slow down during the upcoming winter months. Some stoneflies will exist in nymph form for two to four years (depending on the species) and are a regular food source for trout in the Madison looking for a big meal.
The lower and upper Fork offer potential fishing opportunities, currently. Head to the lower section to toss streamers and look for BWO’s or make moves on the Ranch water to chase a chunky rainbow sipping mayflies. Whatever your fancy, the Henry’s Fork has potential to be an angler’s time well spent. Worst case scenario, the scenery never disappoints.
On the Railroad Ranch look for baetis, pseudo’s, and Mahogany Duns. Cloudy days will likely provide the most conducive conditions for these bugs to pop and bring risers to the surface. These hatches can bring an abundance of fish to the surface making it seemingly difficult to pick out a larger target but can provide action for those looking to learn these waters.
The lower river has had solid BWO hatches so far this fall. Look for heads along the banks to midriver as there is a number of locations fish may hold. Rabbit fur/squirrel tail-based streamers have been productive as well. There are heavily grown weed beds in certain sections of the river, keep that in mind when setting depths for sub-surface flies. On a clear day the snowcapped Teton Mountains are visible and just about make the trip worth the drive just for that sight.
This morning’s outside temp was bit chilly to say the least. Hovering between 16 and 20 degrees the river was cloaked in steam from the Dam to Cascade until noon. There is a blanket of snow throughout the valley and the views are nothing short of gorgeous when the sun pops out revealing the high country. Fishing has been good overall, with nymphing, streamer fishing and dry fly angling all producing over the course of the day. Flows are sitting a bit higher than normal and the extra water is super nice. We’ll be up here hanging out and guiding anglers for the next couple of weeks or so and fishing the entire river.
Henry’s & Hebgen Lake
The lake fishing is in prime shape if you are willing to skip out on the river action and time your fishing to coincide with key weather and feeding windows. Weeds continue to die back, revealing the tastiest of food items that have been hiding for the trout for a while – leeches and scuds. Fall is baitfish time as well, so don’t be afraid to fish those suggestive patterns like Seal Buggers along the margins when light is low. Look for fish in shallow, along receding weed margins, and near creek and river mouths as those are all seasonal hot spots, and move into deeper water as the day brightens. As water temps really start to cool down, be prepared to slow your presentations as well!
Yellowstone National Park
Look for cloudy days to hunt for baetis and bright sunny days to swing soft hackles and leeches. Attractor mayfly dries such as a Royal Wulff or Parachute Adams aren’t bad bets, either. With the way the weather has been in recent days the water temps may be higher than the air temps. The Firehole is always an experience, from the spunky fish that through generations have adapted to its high temperatures, to geysers and hotpots in the back ground, and to bison grunting and grazing along its banks a trip to the Firehole is generally worthwhile.
Madison River(in YNP)
Cold and wet weather from this past week seems to have pushed a few more fish into the river. Be patient, the best is yet to come for runners of Hebgen. To continue Steve’s baseball reference from last week: play the game from start to finish, even if a few “bad innings” are mixed in. Even the toughest day on the water can result in a comeback from behind win. Try to avoid being like the 2004 New York Yankees who blew a 3-0 lead against their rival Boston Red Sox in the ALCS. Instead be like the 2011 St. Louis Cardinals who were on their final out twice in Game 6 of the World Series to come back and win the series (and their 11th all-time).
Reports of quality fish landed in the net increased this week, as well as reports of more hookups. It’s primarily a nymph and streamer game. Medium to large sized streamers are moving fish. For waters outside the park, articulated flies such as Gallop’s Dungeon and Dirty Dumpsters have potential, while inside the Park (single hooked/barbless flies only) the Bouface Leech, zonkers, larger sized wooly buggers can be successful patterns. Have a variety of colors and sizes as well as a variety of presentations based on conditions and fish behavior.
In the evenings pop into Wild West for a pizza and Postseason MLB action. Enjoy a pie while (hopefully) the St. Louis Cardinals easily handle the Atlanta Braves in the NLDS.
The Northeast Corner
The more moisture the area receives the less consistently fishable the Lamar River will be. That’s been its story all season, as it has been a relatively wet year. Slough Creek remains a potential option, even if other waters around it are muddy. Stormy days could bring BWO’s and Hecuba Drake hatches to waters in this area. Remember, this time of the year isn’t an “early bird gets the worm” situation but rather a “the second mouse gets the cheese” scenario. Meaning, don’t venture to the water early in the morning. Too early means it is more than likely too cold. Wait until noon or later for temperatures to become more ideal for the fish to get up and move.
For those looking for consistent action and a potentially high catch rate, the Upper Yellowstone River is Currently not the spot. For those looking for quality fish, technical dry fly fishing, and what will more than likely be a challenging venture, then these waters may be what the doctor ordered. A few fish remain far and wide but the bulk of the gorgeous Yellowstone Cutthroat this fishery offers have returned to Yellowstone Lake. For the fish that remain, look for baetis and heptagenia hatches in search of slow-sipping cutties. The risk of being skunked is high, but the potential reward of landing one of these brutes could be worth it.
Don’t overlook casting from the shore of Yellowstone Lake. Don’t forget, there is a kill on ALL Lake Trout caught from Yellowstone Lake. Brush up on the regulations and know how to identify a Laker if caught. This a crucial part of the Park’s management plan in restoring native Yellowstone Cutthroat populations within this fishery.