If you’re coming out to fish the Madison River or the Henry’s Fork in the late summer, a trip to Hebgen Lake is a must. Hebgen is fifteen minutes north of the town of West Yellowstone and helps feed cold water to the Madison River below Hebgen Dam. Hebgen Dam is a massive concrete structure towering over eighty feet above the Madison in the “between-the-lakes” section. This technically makes Hebgen a reservoir and not a lake.
Many anglers fish Hebgen right after ice-off by slowly stripping streamers and chironomids near the bank where the ice has receded. But it is the late summer that brings anglers from all over Southwest Montana to experience the exceptional dry fly fishing opportunities that Hebgen offers.
Starting in mid-July, hatches of callibaetis begin to take place. Callibaetis, also known as Speckled Spinners, is a mayfly with a mottled wing between the hook sizes of 14-16. Callibaetis usually hatch around mid-morning before the wind picks up. Large trout in Hebgen averaging 17-19” in length cruise the shallows like bonefish for these mayflies. Trout pick their prey off the surface and make a “gulping” sound, which has given name to this type of fishing on Hebgen: “Fishing for Gulpers.”
Around mid-August, hatches of tricos occur. Tricos, or tricorythodes, are tiny mayflies that are well-represented with hook sizes between 18-22. Because tricos can be challenging to see when fished as a single mayfly, many anglers opt to fish “clusters.” Clusters are numerous tricos that are stuck together. Strong hatches of midges in the winter and blue-winged olives in the late fall can also be in clusters. You can represent a cluster by fishing a larger dry fly in size 16, then drop a single trico mayfly pattern a foot off the back of your bigger dry.
In areas where spruce trees are present on Hebgen, spruce moths can also provide exceptional fishing on Hebgen and nearby Quake Lake. Spruce moths are sporadic; however, the trout do key in on them. The moths need water and dive into the lake’s surface during late July through August.
Fishing for gulpers on Hebgen can best be described as fishing for bonefish with dry flies. There are some trophy-sized fish in the lake that break the 24” mark. On calm mornings or evenings, not only will you be able to see the rise form, but with a good pair of polarized sunglasses, you can also watch the fish cruise in the shallows.
Recommended Hebgen Lake Flies:
- X-Caddis – tan/white (size 14)
- Sparkle Duns (size 14-20)
- Rusty Spinner (size 14-20)
- EZ Caddis – tan/white (size 14)
- Buzzball (size 16-18)
- Hi-Vis Trico Spinner (size 18-20)
- Ice Cream Cone (size 12-16)
- Home Slice (size 4-6)