Hatch Profile – Callibaetis – Three Geeky Bug Facts That Will Help You Catch More Fish

Hatch Profile – Callibaetis – Three Geeky Bug Facts That Will Help You Catch More Fish

In many ways the hopes and dreams of fly fishers rest on the existence of bugs. Sure, you can venture out onto your favorite piece of water on any given day and catch some fish, many times lots of fish, when there is seemingly no bug activity. But, those aren’t the days that get etched into your memory. Those aren’t necessarily the days that inspire you to make life decisions. Like, say, picking a college that is surrounded by the most prolific dry fly fishing on the East Coast, or, perhaps picking a wedding date in late September which, conveniently, doesn’t overlap with any major trout stream hatches…hypothetically speaking, of course.

Streamer fishing has its virtues; “the tug is the drug”. And, nymph fishing most certainly produces more than it’s fair share of memorable days and 3-dimensional challenges. But, nothing in our sport tops the visceral experience that is watching a body of water come to life with an exuberance of bug activity, and the ensuing trout feeding frenzy. In my opinion, nothing illustrates that better than a Callibaetis spinner fall on western stillwaters.

Callibaetis mayflies have a massive distribution across most of North America. It is the western subspecies (Callibaetis ferrugineus hageni), though, that produces inspirational fishing on countless lakes, and several notable rivers, in the Rocky Mountain West.

Callibaetis mayflies live in stillwater environments. They thrive in water that has rich weed growth. And, while the emergences are often inconspicuous, the spinner falls are the stuff of legends.

Callibaetis mayflies, along with their diminutive brethren Tricos and Midges, are responsible for the legendary “Gulper” fishing that happens on Hebgen Lake each summer from late-July to mid-September. The shallow, weedy arms of Hebgen Lake are such ideal habitat for Callibaetis mayflies that they produce an awe inspiring amount of insects. Dense spinner falls occur here, and trout rise to the spent adults with such rhythm and regularity that you can hear the fish rising with an audible gulp that resonates across the glass flat waters.

Warm, calm mornings are ideal conditions for these size #14-16 speckle winged mayflies to form mating flights. It is impossible to miss them when they are around as seemingly billions of adults will dance above the water in a rhythmic undulation. When it is good, and it often is in Big Sky Country, spinners will blanket the water, and everything on the water, including fishermen.

Callibaetis spinners are unmistakable due to the unique speckled blotches present on only the leading edge of their fore wings, and their two long, widely separated tails. Their bodies range in color from brownish-olive to tan to light grey with a majority of spinners displaying a lighter tanish-grey coloration on the bottom of their abdomen and a darker, blotchy charcoal color on the top.

Here are Three Geeky Bug Facts about Callibaetis that will help you catch more fish.


1. Callibaetis are Multi-brooded

When we think about the life cycle and seasonality of mayfly hatches, we generally reference a particular bug with its spot in the seasonal lineup of hatches. Certain bugs, like March Browns, hatch in the early season, and they are followed by summertime hatches of PMDs, and autumn hatches of Mahogany Duns, etc. These hatches occur at roughly the same time every year with the progeny of those hatches growing and developing in the river until the following season when it is their turn to complete the cycle.

There are certain bugs, however, that breed multiple times during the course of the fishing season. Like their cousins the Baetis (Blue Winged Olives), Callibaetis will begin hatching early in the season (June in Big Sky Country), and those early bugs produce the ones that we fish later in the season. Also, like their Baetidae cousins, the size of individuals decreases with each brood of the season. Spring hatches of Callibaetis can have duns as large as size #12, whereas September emergences will produce size #16.

Early hatches of Callibaetis are often available in fishable numbers far earlier than when we begin paying attention to them. Unfortunately, the unsettled early season conditions of June in the Rockies don’t often produce dense mating flights of spinners, or the glass flat lake surfaces required for dry fly fishing.

Most years, those early season emergences go largely unnoticed, and it is their offspring that draw our attention later in the summer when weather conditions are more conducive. The warm, calm mornings of mid-summer in Big Sky Country provide both the perfect environment for massive flights of spinners and the glass flat waters needed to bring hordes of trout to the surface.

While average June conditions are generally not optimal for Callibaetis spinner falls, it’s important to remember that the bugs are still active. Duns will continue to emerge, sometimes trickling off one at a time, randomly throughout the day. On the rare day in June, when conditions are cloudy and calm, emergences can be concentrated, and provide outstanding dry fly fishing with duns. The occasional warm, calm morning in June can also generate a fantastic dry fly session with Callibaetis spinners. More often than not, these early season spinner falls are sparse, providing just enough food on the surface to get fish hunting on top, but not so much that your fly is competing with hundreds of naturals for the attention of gulping trout.

2. Callibaetis Nymphs are Strong Swimmers and Fast Emergers

Callibaetis nymphs are a perfectly evolved product of their weedy, stillwater environment. Their bodies are slim in profile with feathery gills, and pronounced variegation on their tails. Coloration ranges from light olive to tan, or gray.

Callibaetis nymphs are agile swimmers, dashing from one weed tendril to the next with short, powerful bursts of speed. Frequently, nymphs will pause for a brief second between sprints, hanging motionless in the water column with their abdomen hanging down. This choreography is important to imitate when fishing Callibaetis nymph imitations. Short, swift strips of 4-6” with a definite pause between movements is the best retrieve as fish will commonly pounce on the fly at the pause.

Just as they move through the water with speed and momentum, Callibaetis nymphs emerge into duns quickly at the water’s surface. It’s common for the nymphs to make several trips back and forth to the surface in preparation to emerge, but once they commit to the meniscus and break through the surface tension, they make quick work of the act. During these “practice runs” the nymphs are prepared to make their quick escape at the surface with fully formed wings bulging beneath their dark brown thoracic carapace (wing pad).

For more great info about Callibaetis nymphs check out this great Callibaetis Nymph Article from our Blog archive written by our very own fanatic of all things stillwater, Matt Klara.  

3. Callibaetis aren’t just found in Lakes

Callibaetis mayflies may be the most infamous stillwater hatch, and Big Sky Country is home to some of the most legendary spinner falls of these speckle winged mayflies.

Hebgen Lake, outside of West Yellowstone, MT, is ground zero for the notorious activity known as Gulper Fishing. Named for the nail biting sound that echoes across the glass flat waters of Hebgen’s weed-laden arms and bays as large trout gulp Callibaetis spinners from the surface, Gulper Fishing is an annual pursuit that rivals the most celebrated spectacles in Fly Fishing.

As epic and addictive as Gulper Fishing is, it’s not the only Callibaetis game in Big Sky Country. The same slow water environments that harbor fantastic populations of Callibaetis on lakes also exists on several of our most legendary rivers. The Henry’s Fork of the Snake River, the Yellowstone River in YNP, and the Missouri River all boast substantial populations of these speckle winged mayflies.

When Callibaetis are found in riverine environments, they aren’t present in the same abundance as stillwaters. Emergences and subsequent spinner falls are generally sparse in comparison to the activity seen on legendary waters like Hebgen or Yellowstone Lakes. What Callibaetis lack in numbers on rivers they more than make up for in the influence they have on feeding fish. When Callibaetis are present on rivers like the Henry’s Fork and Missouri, they are usually the largest bug around at that time, and trout go way out of their way to feed on them.

Now Get Out There and Find Some Callibaetis Mayflies

If you haven’t experienced the thrill and suspense of fishing to cruising gulpers on a warm calm morning in Big Sky Country, do yourself a favor and explore one of the many still waters in our region during Callibaetis time. Remember, Callibaetis will be active as early as June when conditions permit. The bugs will be larger (size #14) in the early season, and later broods will be smaller (size #16). If you fish the nymph imitation, do so with short, brisk strips of 4-6”, and be sure to pause between strips. And, don’t forget to have some Callibaetis dun and spinner imitations when fishing the Henry’s Fork, Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers (in YNP).

Big Sky Anglers Weekly Fishing Report — June 21, 2018

Big Sky Anglers Weekly Fishing Report — June 21, 2018

It’s been an absolute soaker across Yellowstone Country this week. Thunderstorms, heavy rain, and wind have dominated our weather. Streamflows across the region have risen, but we’ve seen some great June fishing in these scuzzy conditions.

Snowpack readings at our Snotel sites for the Madison, Firehole, and Henry’s Fork watersheds have all dropped to, or are reading nearly zero. The high country in Yellowstone Park remains snowy, and we expect to see runoff conditions on rivers like the Yellowstone, Lamar, and Slough Creek for at least a couple more weeks.

Temps have been in the 50’s with heavy rain all week, but the upcoming forecast looks like Summer will make its second coming for the season early next week with sunny skies and daytime highs back up to the 70’s.

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.

Henry’s Fork

The Railroad Ranch opened last weekend, and as anticipated, the gray skies and cool temps brought out great emergences of mayflies. PMD’s, Baetis, and Green Drakes have been hatching in good numbers. Hatching activity has been late in the afternoon on these cold days, but with warmer weather on the way, we should expect to see a more typical routine of PMD’s and Green Drakes from late morning to early afternoon, and Caddis in the evening.

Flows out of Island Park have jumped up to nearly 1400 cfs as a result of all this moisture. Island Park Reservoir is currently just over capacity, and discharge could possibly remain high into the upcoming weekend if we see more rain.

The lower river fished well this week. Green Drakes, Flavs, PMD’s, and Baetis have been thick on these rainy afternoons. As conditions improve we’re excited to see strong spinner falls of Flavs and Grey Drakes on warmer, sunny mornings and evenings.

Yellowstone National Park

Scuzzy weather brought out thick emergences of PMD’s and Baetis mayflies on the Firehole, Madison, and Gibbon Rivers this week as well. The heavy rains bumped flows up to nearly 900 cfs on the Firehole, but fish continued to rise. Water levels are stabilizing now, and have almost fallen back to where they were before all this rain. The billion or so PMD’s that have hatched over the last few days are patiently waiting for an opportunity to form a mating flight. So, be on the lookout for dense spinner falls on the first calm, warm morning or evening in the coming days.

As things dry out and warm back up in the coming week look for two new rivers to start fishing well in the park, the Gallatin and the Gardner. Both of these fun rivers were beginning to look good before the wet weather, and both should provide some consistent nymph fishing, as well as isolated dry fly opportunities with Caddis and PMD’s.

Madison River

Big flows are back on the Fifty Mile Riffle. Due to this week’s heavy rains, and the fact that the reservoir is at full capacity,  Northwest Energy has raised the release from Hebgen, and plans to continue raising it to 2900cfs.

Interestingly, these big flows are relatively clear compared to what we are used to seeing with run off. The Carrot Basin Snotel site is currently reading zero, and most of the Madison tributaries like Cabin Creek, Beaver Creek, and the West Fork are clearing quickly.

Salmonfly nymphs are migrating to the banks in the lower valley near Ennis. As conditions warm up over the next week we could see the first of these big bugs on a big, relatively clear river…could be fun!

Missouri River

Flows are up here as well, though not drastically. After seeing almost 20k cfs a few short weeks ago, a 2,000 cfs bump to 14k doesn’t seem like much.

What is impressive however, is the biblical bump that the Dearborn had this week. On Saturday the river was at 300 cfs. On Tuesday it peaked just shy of 10,000 cfs! That’s an amazing amount of water thanks to what some are suggesting may have been as much as 8 inches of rain in the headwaters over a 72 hour period.

Things should start to dry out and get back to normal on the MO this week. Hopefully flows will continue their downward trend towards single digits and consistent dry fly fishing levels. In the meantime, nymphs are keeping rods bent and nets full.

Stay Tuned!

Hebgen Lake

The wild weather, storm, wind, and rapidly fluctuating barometer have been really toying with the emotions of our local stillwater focused anglers.  The stillwater hunt can be as much mental as it is physical at times.  Tiny windows of opportunity have been producing some action, but consistency has not been happening this past week.  Look for that to improve is weather and water level stabilizes.

There are some early season Callibaetis showing here and there, along with chironomids.  Damsel’s aren’t popping in big numbers yet either.  Attractor flies fished subsurface in likely areas will probably be your best bet.  With the lake at full pool and the weeds not fully developed yet, consider topographic features to be as or more important than weed edges right now, and don’t be afraid to move around and cover water until you find what you are looking for.


Big Sky Anglers Weekly Fishing Report — June 14, 2018

Big Sky Anglers Weekly Fishing Report — June 14, 2018

It’s an exciting time of the season to be a fly angler here in Yellowstone Country. With river conditions shaping up, the weather forecast looking great for fishing, and the Railroad Ranch opening this weekend, it’s sure to be an excellent week.

Snowpack levels across the area have fallen again this week with almost negligible amounts remaining at local Snotel sites. Black Bear, which is an indicator for both the Fire Hole and Henry’s Fork headwaters, is the only exception, and still shows roughly 20 inches of snow on the ground. This high elevation snow will continue to melt off slowly over the next few weeks, and should have no immediate impact on water clarity.

We’ve seen some below average temps this past week across Yellowstone Country, and more of the same is in the forecast. Cool, wet conditions with daytime highs in the 50’s – 60’s, and rain are predicted through the weekend and into next week.

If you find this news of scuzzy weather disappointing, then you most likely have never stood in the middle of the Ranch on the Henry’s Fork, or below Biscuit Basin on the Firehole during a gray, cool June afternoon amidst millions of emerging mayflies, and gobs of rising trout. Fear not, fair weather fishing friends! This is the combination of variables that we dream about for June fishing. Pack your Gore-Tex, and a puffy layer. Fill the Stanley with coffee. And, make sure your dry fly arsenal is well stocked. It’s going to be a fun week.

Read on to see our take on this week’s fishing, and check out the links below to stay current on area forecasts, flows, and snow pack.  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.

Carrot Basin Snotel (Madison River drainage)
Black Bear Snotel (this is the closest station to the headwaters of the Firehole and a good general indication of snow pack in that area. This is also one of the four indicators of snow pack and water supply for the upper Henry’s Fork)

Henry’s Fork

Friday June 15 is the opening day of fishing for the Railroad Ranch, and it’s like Christmas Day on the Henry’s Fork. The rest of the river has been open and fishing well for weeks. All the while, those big, beautiful rainbows in the Ranch have been quietly feeding in solitude, bulking up in preparation for another season of testing anglers skills at the highest level.

Water and weather conditions could not be more ideal this weekend for the Ranch. Flows out of Island Park are around 700 cfs, and will remain steady through the weekend. Weather in Last Chance will be cool and wet with showers and highs in the 60’s.

Expect to see good emergences of PMD and Baetis mayflies with these conditions from late morning through the afternoon in the Ranch. Will the Green Drakes show? You’ll have to go to know.

The lower river below Ashton continues to fish well. Flows below Ashton bumped slightly this week, but have fallen again, and are currently around 1700cfs. The Fall River has fallen quite a bit in the last few days, and is now around 1400cfs. It’s a smorgasbord down here these days with Salmonflies, Golden Stones, Caddis, PMD’s, Green Drakes, Gray Drakes, and Flavs all playing a part in the fishing at different times in different locals. Cool, wet weather will benefit mayfly activity and the fishing here as well.

The Ranch opener also coincides with Henry’s Fork Days, the annual celebration and fundraiser for all things Henry’s Fork put on by the Henry’s Fork Foundation. Here’s a link to the foundation website. https://henrysfork.org You’ll find more info about the event, as well as a schedule, and of course, ways to show your support. We can’t stress enough how important the Henry’s Fork Foundation is to the health of this fishery, and how vital their role is in managing it successfully. So, if you haven’t already, join the foundation, and help them protect this world-class fishery.

Yellowstone National Park

The best fishing and water conditions continue to be in the Firehole, Madison, and Gibbon Rivers in the Park. Runoff is still a factor for much of the Park waters, but the warmer, geyser-influenced fisheries near West Yellowstone are in prime condition. Flows on the Firehole are currently perfect at around 400 cfs, and clarity is ideal with a slight tea-stained tannic brown that is typical here.

You can expect to see good emergences of PMD’s and Baetis mayflies throughout this system on cool, wet days. The cooler the weather, the later the hatch. Often times, you can fish a stellar emergence of PMD’s on the Firehole, and as it’s wrapping up, move downstream to the Madison to find the same hatch occurring later in the day.

Salmonflies can still be found in isolated sections of highly-oxygenated, fast moving water throughout this system. If the sun peaks out, and temps warm, look for the last big stoneflies of the season in these waters to make an appearance.

Madison River

Flows have dropped significantly on the Madison this week, and clarity has improved. Overall, water conditions are great for mid-June. Flows are around 1000cfs below Hebgen, and 1400cfs at Kirby. There are less than 10 inches of snow left on the ground in Carrot Basin. The remaining snowpack in the Madison watershed will have a nominal impact on streamflows and clarity from here on.

Nymphing remains the main game here, and it’s been a good one. Both the walk-wade, and float sections are fishing well. The dry fly game is slowly starting with some Caddis and PMD’s in isolated areas, but consistent action is still a week or so out. As is usually the case with the Madison, when the real bug activity starts here, it pops and fish feed hard on the surface. Stay tuned for good things to come from the Madison in the next few weeks.

Missouri River

You guessed it, flows are down here as well. Below Holter, we’re seeing around 12,000cfs. That’s still a lot of water, but it’s getting closer to 10,000cfs, and that’s getting closer to consistent dry fly fishing flows. Some PMD’s and Caddis are around. Fish are rising in a few places, but you need to have the encyclopedic knowledge of someone who has devoted most of their adult life to learning this river to find them consistently. Someone like Greg Falls for instance, BSA’s own “Mr. Miyagi of the Missouri”, might find some rising fish right now. Otherwise, consistent nymph fishing is bringing fish to the net on a daily basis. The next few weeks will get exciting here as well. Stay tuned as this turns into one of the best dry fly fisheries in the world by the end of the month.

Hebgen Lake

The majority of the fish we were finding up and on the bite before the cold snap responded to the rapid weather change by dropping down deep and going off the bite for a bit.  With stabilizing weather conditions, look for happiness to return to both the fish, and the anglers that pursue them.  Match chironomid emergences if you see rising fish, and remember, if you see emerging chironomids or concentrations of shucks on the water, there are probably big numbers of greedy trout feeding subsurface as well.  During non-hatch times don’t be shy about stripping a Seal Bugger, Stillwater Nymph, X-mas Tree Bugger, or your own favorite stillwater attractor pattern on a sinking line selected to match the depth of the water and the speed of your retrieve.


Big Sky Anglers Weekly Fishing Report – June 7, 2018

Big Sky Anglers Weekly Fishing Report – June 7, 2018

Every year there is a week, or sometimes a day in Yellowstone Country when it feels like summer has finally arrived. Spring labors on like an old Ford truck rolling down the road in low gear. Rainy and snowy, its stammers and chugs until one day the rpm’s get high enough to shift into the next gear and start cruising. This was the week that we shifted into high gear, and we are now rolling along right into summer.

After last week’s heavy rains, high-elevation snow, and thunderstorms, we have seen several days of warm, dry weather. The forecast is calling for more of the same with highs in the 70’s through the upcoming weekend. There is a slight cool down early next week, but it looks warm and dry again after that.

Snow pack levels fell rapidly this week with two to three feet of snow remaining in only the highest elevations in the area. Warm temps in the upcoming days and weeks will continue to eat away at the remaining snow.

Read on to see our take on this week’s fishing, and check out the links below to stay current on area forecasts, flows, and snow pack.  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.

Carrot Basin Snotel (Madison River drainage)
Black Bear Snotel (this is the closest station to the headwaters of the Firehole and a good general indication of snow pack in that area. This is also one of the four indicators of snow pack and water supply for the upper Henry’s Fork)

Henry’s Fork

June is a special time on the Henry’s Fork. Like floats in the Rose Bowl Parade, there is a progression of hatches that work their way through the system, each one more exciting than the last. The parade kicked off with salmonflies, and they can still be found in isolated spots throughout the entire system. Caddis, PMD’s, and Golden Stones are beginning in earnest on the lower river, and by the time you are reading next week’s report, we will likely be talking about the Grand Marshall of the parade, Green Drakes in sections of the lower river.

With the Railroad Ranch opener almost a week away (June 15), you can expect to see exciting fishing on the Henry’s Fork for several weeks to come.

Flows out of Island Park were reduced this week, and the river is currently running between 750 and 800 cfs. Island Park Reservoir is at full pool, and excess water is running over the spillway.  Flows below Ashton have been steady right around 2000 cfs. The Fall River dropped slightly this week, and is running around 2700 cfs.

Yellowstone National Park

Considerable snow remains in much of the park’s high country, and run off is still a factor for most of the fisheries. The warmer, lower-elevation waters of the Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison Rivers however have dropped this week, and are fishing well.

PMD’s, Caddis, and Salmonflies are all active in their usual spots throughout this system. Warm, sunny weather is not ideal for mayfly emergences here, but the bugs will still hatch. You may find PMD emergences concentrated in some places, and sporadic in others, but spinner activity will be widespread. Mornings are your best bet for mayfly activity. Windy afternoons are great for salmonflies. And, evenings will have prolific Caddis action.

Remember, NO FELT IN YNP!

Madison River

The “Flush” is over, and as tempting as it is, we will spare you the obvious low brow bathroom analogies.

Flows out of Hebgen were reduced this week, and are currently right around 2,000 cfs. At Kirby, we’re seeing roughly 2800 cfs, and it’s just over 4,000 cfs at Varney. The river is still big at this flow, but clarity is improving quickly.  There’s nearly three feet of visibility, and the color is a perfect fishy-green.

Snow pack was reduced by 14 inches in the last week at Carrot Basin leaving just over 2 feet of snow on the ground here. With warm weather predicted over the next week we should see that number rapidly approaching zero, and the river clearing just as quickly.

Caddis are thick throughout the wade section right now, and we’ve seen the first dry fly fishing of the season here in the last few days. Nymphs, and streamers are still producing well, and all of the best action has been close to the bank.

Remember to wade with caution here. The flows may have been reduced, but it’s still a big, dangerous river to wade at 2800 cfs.

Hebgen Lake

Dry fly fishing has slowed somewhat here in the last few days, but midge activity is still bringing a few fish to the surface in the mornings and evenings in the Madison arm, and along the North shore.

As the lake slowly warms, and thermoclines become more established, fishermen are seeing better results in the deeper water in bays along the south side of the lake with chironomids and leeches.  Don’t be afraid to look to skinny water in the early part of the day though.

Missouri River

Just as everyone was figuring out the deep-nymph game and getting comfortable with almost 20,000 cfs, flows starting dropping on the Mighty MO as well. We’re down around 16,000 cfs below Holter now, and expect to see the river continue to drop as flows are reduced further upstream in the watershed.

Deep nymphing is still the game for the foreseeable future on the MO, and it’s a fun game to play. As flows drop here fish may move out of some buckets, and others will become more easily accessible. It’s a dynamic fishery, and requires constant experimentation, but the results are always worth the effort.

Good Luck out there. Be safe in the high water, and if you’re in our neck of the woods, stop in and say “Hi”. We’ll look forward to seeing you.