With dozens of world renowned rivers and streams in our region, it’s not surprising that our local stillwaters are often overlooked by visiting anglers. But, the Stillwater opportunities in our area are considered by many to be as exciting and diverse as the moving water angling! Large reservoirs, large and small natural lakes, tiny beaver ponds and sloughs, and high alpine tarns can all be found locally. While some waters fish best from a motor boat, pontoon, or float tube, others are very accessible to shore bound anglers.
Two of the more popular lakes in our area are Hebgen Lake and Henry’s Lake.
Hebgen Lake is a large reservoir on the Madison River located just a few miles outside of West Yellowstone. It’s a prolific stillwater with excellent numbers of rainbow and brown trout. It’s not known to produce giant trout like nearby Henry’s Lake, but the trout are really good sized, typically running from 15-19 inches, with a few larger. The first time you tangle with one of Hebgen’s 18 inch rainbows and you see that backing knot fly out of the rod tip, you’ll wonder if you haven’t hooked something much larger! For those who enjoy stillwater fishing, Hebgen is a great local destination. Good public access provides anlgers with float tubes or pontoon boats lots of water to fish. Anglers do well from ice out through the season fishing subsurface with sinking lines and buggers or nymphs, using chironomid techniques, or by employing traditional stillwater tactics more commonly practiced in the UK.
By mid-late July Callibaetis and Trico mayflies bring fish to the surface in good numbers, and dry fly opportunities are common until the afternoon winds come up. Fish can still be caught blind fishing with sub-surface patterns, but fishing to the rising “gulpers”, named for the sound they make when they suck mayflies off the calm lake surface, can be loads of fun and a great sight fishing challenge. Gulper fishing consists of spotting cruising trout that are eating mayflies at consistent increments. Watch the rise pattern of a single fish, calculate where they will feed next, and lay your fly several feet ahead, hopefully catching the trout in its feeding rhythm. It has been described by many to be the closest thing to flats fishing available here in the mountains of Montana, and it’s one of our specialties.
Just over the continental divide from West Yellowstone sits the beautiful and prolific Henry’s Lake. This spring and tributary fed lake is the secondary source of the famed Henry’s Fork of the Snake River. The relatively shallow nature of this lake combined with all of the groundwater springs combine is the perfect recipe for a true trophy trout destination. Cutthroat trout, brook trout, and cutthroat-rainbow hybrids all grow to prodigious size here, with talk at the boat ramps focused on pounds rather than inches. Access is very good, with multiple boat launches and also a few places where shore based angling can be effective early and late in the season.
Unlike Hebgen Lake, which offers excellent dry fly opportunities for a good part of the summer, Henry’s Lake angling is almost 100% focused on the subsurface. Sinking lines ranging from slow intermediate to super fast sink are the norm, with patterns like leeches, buggers, callibaetis and damsel nymphs, and scuds taking center stage. Chironomid/indicator techniques can also be very effective. Because there is so much food available to the fish here, they typically won’t go very far out of their way to chase down and eat a fly. So, the key is to get your fly in the zone and keep it at the right depth for as long as possible on each cast. For similar reasons, flies which are suggestive of multiple food sources are often more effective than precise imitations, unless the fish are keyed in on one specific food item, such as during a prolific damselfly hatch.
Like many trophy trout lakes, the fishing on Henry’s tends to be somewhat cyclical, with great years and not-so-great years. Time of year is also important here, with seasonal variation in water temperature and aquatic vegetation playing key roles in how, when, and where fish feed. That said, those anglers willing to learn this body of water and put in the time are typically rewarded with some of the largest trout found in our entire area. Stop in or give us a call and we’ll be happy to share what we know.