July 4, 2019 Hebgen Lake, Montana Dry Fly Fishing Report: 65°/Partly cloudy/Wind in all directions

Posted by Nate & Geoff at 12:00 AM on Thursday, Jul 4th, 2019

Day 2

Geoff and I are developing a new presentation involving still water dry fly fishing. As a part of that offering, we wanted to include the gulpers at Hebgen Lake. So we show up at Hebgen at 9 AM with camera in hand hoping the dry fly fishing had started there. We gear up and walk to an extended point that intercepts a transition line from shallow to deep water. I pull up 30 feet short of the shoreline and view the field. Instantly I mark a big fish feeding tight against the grass line. Then another fish rises 10 feet away from the first.In 5 minutes a half dozen fish are foraging around the point. I study deeper and recognize a sparse number of callibaetis mayflies on the surface.

The wind is mildly blowing out of the north which would require an approach from the north side of the point. That would set up a downwind delivery precisely to the pod of feeding fish. We enter with Geoff on the camera and me on the rod. As we wade in, a few fishermen in a boat crowds into the point targeting the same fish we’re approaching. I bark at the dude warning him if he gets closer, he’ll spook the entire group of feeders. His answer was to drop anchor and hover next to us only 80 feet away. I mentioned it’s a giant lake and a person in a boat has access to it all while a wader fishes a micro environment. He paid no attention and started casting into water we’d already claimed. So be it; you can’t punch a person 80 feet away so we went about our business.

I study the field and the encroachment of the boat had put down most of the rising fish. In slow motion, Geoff and I move to casting range and wait. My tie-on bug is a Black Emperor Caddis #18. Time passes as Geoff and I are frozen in position. Suddenly on a long cast a brownie porpoises moving east. I add line to the pile already drawn and shoot the cast. The line doesn’t fully extend so I rehaul and throw the line. The caddis lands perfectly in the trajectory of the fish. The fly settles, two heartbeats elapse, and a full head and shoulders of the fish arrives at the hook. I set the hook and wrestle a gorgeous 19 incher to the net.

We release the fish and reengage. I get several other chances at rising fish then switch flies to a #16 Flav Searcher which matches the callibaetis on the surface. I mark a target to the south coming in between us and the boater. I shoot a long cast and place the fly 10 feet out front of target. There’s a slight delay and then a big rainbow porpoises over my fly. I set the hook and fight a frisky 21-inch rainbow to the net. We photo the fish as the boater pulls anchor and moves down the shoreline.

From there all elements go downhill. The wind intensifies and rising fish totally disappear. Around 1 PM we head back to camp. It should be noted that Hebgen is at full pond; the water temperature is cold, and there weren’t a lot of bugs.

Night Shift:

After returning from Hebgen in the late afternoon, Geoff and I had an early dinner. While eating around 6 PM, the brown drakes infiltrated our campsite. There were hundreds of them in the air and doing their special form of aerodynamics. They vigorously fly straight upward then freefall with locked wings. It’s a modified form of levitation. Either way, if these bugs are in the air at camp, they would soon be at the river just a quarter-mile away. We don the gear and head straight for the river.

We reach the river and sure enough, the drakes were levitating there as well. We move upriver above all other fishermen and stake out a run on an inside corner. The drakes were still in flight, not settled on the water, but there were still a few random rises in center river. Around 7:30 all hell breaks loose as the drakes begin to ascend to the surface. Instantly the fish respond as they begin to rise in all directions. A few big fish begin to forage along the shoreline above us and we move to targets.

There’s an upriver wind so we post up under a pod of maybe six quality fish. My tie-on bug is a Hatching Brown Drake #10 and I start serving it to targets up ahead. The fish are shy to the bug or they don’t like the delivery up over them. Suddenly out of the corner of my eye, I mark a rise behind us against the grass line only 20 feet away. I quietly turn and lay the Drake pattern exactly in front of the fish. In slow motion a big rainbow head appears and engulfs the fly. I set the hook and steer wrestle a 21-inch ‘bow to the net. This was an old fish but he still had a lot of fight. We release it and readdress the field.

The pod of fish above us were still working so I begin targeting each fish to see if there’s a willing customer. I make a quarter-angle cast to a fish closer to shore and the fly drifts slightly past the strike zone. Then another big fish eats my bug on a half-body out take coming straight at me. I set the hook into a big, wild rainbow. He starts the fight by jumping sideways eight feet and nearly landing on the bank. He then turns and bolts for the center of the river in a big arch moving downward. Then in succession, he jumps five times. He didn’t stop there; instead he jumps three more times and makes three more major runs toward center river. Twelve minutes after hooking this fish, he finally reaches the net. It’s a torpedo-like 21-inch rainbow with a big chip on his shoulder.

We release the fish and move to additional risers. I notice that most of the large fish are across the river and this section is too deep to wade. I have an admission I’d like to interject right now: I was not prepared to fish this brown drake hatch. I only had one Hatching Brown Drake #10 and no spent spinner to this hatch. The fish had welcomed the hatching form of this bug early in the event, but now the predominant hatch phase was a spinner. For the last hour before dark, not a single big fish would eat my offering. It’s a frustrating feeling to be in the hatch without the right bug!

Flies that Caught Fish:

#18 Black Emperor Caddis 
#16 Flav Searcher
#10 Hatching Brown Drake

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