You swear it's all in the wrist: a flick here, a power stroke there, and that silvery filament arcs through the air like linear poetry. As any angler knows, there's more to fly fishing than arm motion. Think flies, rods, nets, guides and funny hats. Think boats, maps and word-of-mouth tales of secret pools reachable only by circuitous game trails through dense forests and scree fields. Think the softness of the Snake River with the hardened Teton peaks watching over. Think Jackson Hole.
An Art, An Obsession
Chasing the Snake River's fine-spotted cutthroat trout is a dream come true for anglers of all ages and abilities. From the upper reaches of the Gros Ventre River, through the braided Grand Teton National Park section of the Snake, to the lumbering stretches of the South Fork and the Salt rivers, anglers find more trout than there are flies with which to catch them.
Some waters are rich with insects. Others are swift, shallow and clear as glass. Some are exciting and some meditative, a few a mix of both. Regardless of the season, you won't be disappointed fly-fishing in Jackson Hole.
It's hard to beat catching numerous fish, all on dry flies, and not seeing another soul all day! - Jason "JB" Balogh, Fish the Fly
Early Season Options
If you're planning a trip to Jackson Hole early in the season, be aware that spring snowmelt runoff may be a factor. Different streams clear at different times so it's important to choose your fishing spots carefully. Spring runoff can last from the beginning of May to the middle of July.
What's your move?
If the lakes are thawed out, you should think about renting a float tube and hitting Yellowstone Lake or one of the lakes at the base of the Tetons like Jenny, Bradley or Taggart. (Cast out big wooly bugger, pull out some line, kick. Repeat.) If you can gain access to some of the region's spring creeks, they will most likely be clear and fishable. However, many of them do not open until August and many others are only accesible via private land.
The tall water section of the Snake just below Jackson Lake Dam usually runs clear for four miles or so until the muddy waters of Pacific Creek and Buffalo River join in. If you arrive in mid-June, your best bet is to drive into Idaho and hit the Henry's Fork. The famous green drake mayfly hatch starts around that time, and if you've never experienced this natural wonder, the journey is worth the effort. Some advice for the Henry's Fork: dry fly. Light leaders and delicate presentation. Patience.
When the runoff ends, usually by mid-July depending on the winter's snowpack, the options increase and there will be spectacular fishing until November. Once the rivers are clear, its drift boat season on the Snake.
The Mighty Snake
You can start fishing the Snake River with nymphs and streamers as soon as you get a few feet of visibility. You should start seeing some surface action by late July. Ask an outfitter for tips on where the best wading spots are, although the true pleasure in fishing the Snake comes from the full drift boat experience that lets you spend the day rolling through the exciting scenery and a varied fishing of a longer section of water.
To fish the powerful Snake by boat, however, you'll need an intimate knowledge of the river in order to safely navigate some of the more tangled and shallow sections. For this expertise (and invaluable tips of where the fish are!) we recommend drift boat fishing with a guide. They have the boats plus they'll man the oars so you can do the fishing!
Meet a few of the top Jackson Hole fly fishing guides as they take some time to answer questions from the Traveler.
Bugs and Trout
When it comes to fly selection, mayflies, caddis flies and any sort of nymph is really just practice for when the big bugs come to town. Around mid-August, just before summer gives way to fall, the airspace above the Snake fills with hoppers and a few giant stone flies. It is then, when the river is most clear and the trout are hungriest, that you really want your fly on the water. There is very little sipping action, cutties can hit hard and heavy so you'll want to bump both tippet size and attentiveness up a notch.
While an occasional brown will be taken and small brookies can be gound near major tributaries like the Gros Ventre, fishing the Snake means you'll be chasing cutthroat; the only native trout in an increasingly nonnative ecosystem. What does this mean for the practical angler? It means fishing big flies whenever possible, including streamers if you've got enough rod to pull it off without embedding a No. 2 hook in your shoulder blade.
The snake is great for beginning anglers, because you can use the big attractors and you needn't play match-a-hatch. - Patty Reilly, Guided Connections
As always, talk to folks in the local fly shops for the best, most up to date information and don't forget to have fun. That's why you're out here, after all.
Making it Happen...
For the complete rundown on going fly fishing in Jackson Hole and what you'll need to know before you go, check out our full article.
Then its time to head out for an afternoon on the water with blue sky overhead, eagles in the trees, and a rod wisping from your arms. Feel what makes Jackson Hole an angler's paradise.