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Fly fishing for trout on Hebgen Lake

Updated: Jan 3, 2023

western shore of Hebgen Lake

The conclusion of the trip to Wyoming and Montana was another stillwater expedition – this time to Hebgen Lake approximately 13 miles from West Yellowstone. The lake is legendary for its ‘gulpers’ – big trout that slurp hatching callibaetis mayflies off the surface in the summer months. Hebgen is a man-made reservoir with a variety of fish species – brown trout, rainbows, mountain whitefish and cutthroat among them. This lake covers 6,500 acres – fifteen miles long by four miles wide, so having a powered watercraft is essential.

I learned to fly fish on stillwater in the Lake District of England in the 90s, but it is not often that I do so now. When I do, I am reminded that it is a decidedly different technique from fishing in flowing current. The takes can be more subtle, and the hook set quicker. Thankfully, these fish did not hesitate on the strike and our ratio of fish hooked and in the net was very high that morning because of the violent and committed takes by these fish.

a nice 21" rainbow on Hebgen

Our guide for this expedition was Matt Morrill of Undaunted Angler. At the start of the day, we quickly dubbed Matt as ‘Fish Santa’, not only because of his great white beard, but also because of the numbers of fish that we hooked up and put in the net in the early morning. The lake is known for ‘gulpers’ that are targeted with dry flies, but the movement of these fish that morning was too sporadic, and we began the day with nymphs under an indicator.

As I learned from our guide, Matt, the key to dry fly fishing on this lake was to predict the pattern, or linear progression, of the ‘gulpers’ and present your fly ahead of where the fish would likely next appear. But as I mentioned, the ‘gulpers’ were not following a predictable pattern, which is why we stuck to a tandem of nymphs (red midge – called an ice cream cone - with flashback pheasant tail) where we started on the western shore in the early morning.

a very nice brown caught by Lars on Hebgen

Like the previous days, the productive morning fish dissipated into languid exertion – cast, retrieve, nothing, repeat. Our early successes on the western shore were short-lived and Matt started moving us around a lot – it was clear that he sensed a challenge moving into the lunch hour. We moved from the western shore to the Grayling Arm in search of big browns over the lunch hour. We then moved to several choice spots along the ‘runway creek beds’ that pre-dated the reservoir in hopes of enticing structure predators.

In the end, the futility imposed by the afternoon heat drove some of our fishing party to pop some cold ones and marvel at the backdrop of Lake Hebgen. If you like stillwater fishing, I would highly recommend Hebgen Lake as a novel option.

Note: I am not being compensated by Matt of Undaunted Angler. I am simply a satisfied client of the 'Fish Santa'.

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