The Heart of the Season

by | Jul 13, 2020 | 0 comments

As we approach the middle of July each year, I tend to feel a little bit of anxiety as I begin to consider the bewildering diversity of fishing opportunities that surround us here in West Yellowstone.  As a guide, now is when I begin to have almost TOO MANY good options and the difficult thing can be to decide which one to take each day.  As an angler, I begin to think of all the places that are still on my list after a lifetime of exploring Yellowstone country and I grapple with the reality that I might only have time enough to tick just one more off of what seems to be a growing, rather than shrinking list.

We at Big Sky Anglers choose to live here in West Yellowstone because of its incredible diversity of water types and virtually endless fishing options for anglers of all skill levels and interests.  We not only live here because of the opportunities found to engage all anglers as customers but also because we, as anglers, remain engaged in angling pursuits here even after a lifetime of flyfishing in the area.  Draw a simple 100 mile radius around West Yellowstone on any map and you will have encapsulated more squiggly blue lines and world class fisheries than can be found in a 100 mile radius just about anywhere else on the globe.  This place both keeps us on our toes and inspires us.  We love to share it with others and look forward to chances to introduce anglers to new experiences.

The middle of July represents to us the heart of our season.  It is exactly in the middle of what we would call our prime time, which arguably ranges from the beginning of May through the beginning of October.  Summertime dry fly fishing is in full effect, good hatches are occurring during the daylight hours and good evening fishing can be found with regular spinner falls and caddis emergences.  At this point in the year, there is more quality fishable water around us than at any other time.  Terrific fishing can be found on the Henry’s Fork and Henry’s Lake in Idaho, Montana’s Madison, Gallatin, Missouri, Yellowstone Rivers as well as many of the region’s stillwaters, of which Hebgen sits atop our list due both proximity to the shop and the angling diversity it offers.  Yellowstone National Park, with the exception of the waters warmed by geyser influence like the Firehole and Madison, numerically dominates the area’s options and great trout fishing can be found in any quadrant.  Many of the high country and back country streams are just now coming into shape for their short but productive time of year. 

Perhaps foolishly, I have decided to attempt to summarize some of the option available to us during the Heart of our season.

Let’s start in Idaho.  The Henry’s Fork is perhaps the single most diverse river in our lineup.  It has everything from technical spring creek fishing on a large scale to wild and seldom traveled wilderness canyon sections that offer a high quality outdoor experience on just about any day of the summer.  Though some of the fantastic fishing that we experience in June on the Fork has shut down due to high irrigation demand and high summer temperatures in the valley, the river fishes consistently well all the way to the town of Ashton.  Just below the Island Park dam the remarkably consistent fishery of the Box Canyon is entering its prime season, which will extend through the middle of October.  The Railroad Ranch has good hatches throughout the month of July before shifting into more sparse and technical August fishing with fewer bugs and terrestrials.  Evening fishing is still high on the list of great ideas here at this time and will continue to be so until the end of the month or first weeks of August.  The canyon country below the Ranch and the water just outside of the caldera remains highly oxygenated and offers consistent fishing almost every day for beginner and intermediate level anglers.  Henry’s Lake begins to weed up and the hardware/trolling traffic begins to lighten up a bit, leaving most of the water to fly anglers.  This will continue into August and the fly opportunities continue to increase from now through the middle of October.  The Henry’s Fork provides on very large piece of a large puzzle of opportunity at this time of year.

In the portion of southwestern Montana that is immediately around West Yellowstone, the Madison River and Hebgen Lake dominate the list of options.  The Madison is now at its most active time of year and this represents the heart of the dry fly season on one of our nation’s finest dry fly fisheries.  Good hatches provide great action for anglers of all skill levels throughout July, and the classically wide-open landscape of this iconic Montana river lends itself to the production of a great many terrestrial insects during the month of August.  Water temperatures stay consistently cool throughout the heat of summer here, especially now that the Hebgen dam has been repaired, and dry fly fishing remains an excellent option through the end of August.  If the Madison is on your list of rivers to experience, these next two months are some of the best times to experience it.  Hebgen Lake is a robust Stillwater fishery, perhaps best known in the flyfishing world for its incredible hatches of tricos and callibaetis, as well the large trout that gobble the spinners from the surface of the water in easy rhythm, those we refer to as “gulpers”.  This is some of the most entertaining Stillwater fishing available to fly anglers, and it is located right in our backyard.  If you are a repeat visitor to Yellowstone country with a fly rod in hand, experiencing “gulper” fishing is something that should most definitely be on your list.  Hebgen also offers an incredible variety of subsurface fishing opportunities throughout the summer, similar to Henry’s Lake.

There are over 1,800 miles of squiggly blue lines in Yellowstone National Park and just over 220 lakes within its boundary.   Virtually all of this water holds trout of some sort: Rainbows, Browns, Brooks, Lakers and Cutthroats, both Yellowstone and West Slope.  There are also Grayling and Mountain Whitefish to be found.  Outside of the waters that directly receive geyser effluent (the Firehole River, portions of the Gibbon, and the Madison), most of this water is in prime shape and is now ready to be explored.  In the Northwest, the Gallatin and Gardner Rivers are in their prime and will remain so through the end of August.  In the Southwest, the more remote river systems beckon the backountry angler with some fine fishing, hot spring soaking, and waterfall exploring opportunities.  In the southeast, lies the headwaters of two of the United States’ great rivers, the Yellowstone and the Snake.  Much of this water hasn’t been fishable until just now due to regulations and runoff conditions. The Yellowstone and Lamar Rivers, as well as Slough and Soda Butte Creek in the northeast are now in shape and begin to draw anglers from around the globe.  The open Serengeti-like terrain of this corner of the park provides not only exciting fishing but also some of Yellowstone National Park’s best wildlife watching.  Now is the time to begin fishing in earnest the bulk of the water in the crown jewel of our National Park system. 

Whether you are bound for Yellowstone country with plans to fish every day or have come to simply experience this part of the world and would like to fish for a day or two, the next two months offer some of the most consistent and diverse fishing to be found in this remarkable region surrounding West Yellowstone.  We are truly and fortunately, located at the epicenter of trout fishing in the American West.