Hebgen Lake is renowned for its rainbow trout and brown trout, averaging 19″ in length, cruising the calm waters, feeding on the surface for Callibaetis, Trico’s and Spruce Moths. Fishing Hebgen Lake can be challenging but the rewards can be large. If you enjoy fishing a dry fly and you like a challenge make Hebgen Lake your choice for at least one day of your fishing vacation!
Hebgen Lake is located between the west entrance to Yellowstone National Park, near West Yellowstone Montana, and the Madison Valley to the north. Because the Hebgen Dam was built in 1914 for the purpose to store water to regulate flows downriver when needed, Hebgen Lake is technically a reservoir. Hebgen Dam is an earthen embankment dam constructed with a concrete-core that stands 85 feet tall and spans 721 feet in length. The dam’s 78-foot bottom feed of cold water into the Madison River is a key element for water temperature control, especially during the warm summer months from late June through early September.
Fishing Hebgen Lake will begin as soon as the ice starts to disappear. Depending on Mother Nature, open fish-able water can be available as soon as early April. The water temperatures, naturally, will be colder than normal which means the trout’s metabolism is slower – when fishing streamers during ice off the name of the game is S…L…O…W… retrieves with streamers like crayfish patterns. Also, keep an eye out for rising fish. These fish will be looking up for midges, in larger sizes 12-14. The Chironomid really gets underway in good numbers mid to late May and will continue to hatch into mid-July.
Hebgen Lake is renowned for its dry fly fishing during the peak summer months of July, August and September. For the still water angler, you could potentially spend three straight months throwing dry flies on Hebgen Lake. In mid-June when the water starts to warm up we will start to see, in small numbers, the Callibaetis hatch. As the water continues to warm from July through August, the Callibaetis hatch becomes prolific, with millions of them hatching daily. This hatch will last through mid-September. This is what Hebgen Lake is known for, with rainbows and browns averaging 19″ in length cruising the calm waters, feeding on top for adult Callibaetis. “Gulper” fishing can be challenging because of the longer, more accurate cast needed to be successful. Gulper refers to the sound these big rainbows and browns make while surface feeding on adult Callibaetis & Tricos during these prolific hatches. The Tricos start to make the annual debut around mid-July and they will continue to hatch through September. Terrestrial fishing on Hebgen Lake gets underway in late July when we start to see Spruce Moths followed by flying ants in mid-August.
When fishing Hebgen Lake, our guides use aluminum, modified “V” haul Jon boats with outboard motors. This allows us to explore the 21 square miles of water, and 65 miles of shore along numerous arms and coves, and seek out the rising fish. With the motor boats, we are not restricted to one area as we would be with our drift boats. Our motor boats are also equipped with oars and an electric trolling motor, allowing us to move stealthily towards cruising fish if needed.
During the prime summer months of July, August, and September, an average day starts with a launch time around 9 am, when the water temperature is warm enough to encourage hatches. As long as the wind does not pick up we can spend the entire day chasing rising fish. If the wind picks up we will relocate to several protected arms and coves and try our luck there. If the main body and all the coves are too windy we will pull off of the lake and make a short drive to the Madison Valley and finish our day fishing the Madison River.
During the fall months of late September through early November, we use the jet drive Jon boat to access the mouth of the Madison River, targeting the staging grounds of the rainbow and brown trout with streamers and dry flies before they head up the Madison River into Yellowstone National Park.