First Impressions...

It's deliciously cool in the pre-dawn of this summer morning.  I sip coffee and hastily pack a cooler for the day.  Last night I'd packed an inflatable pontoon boat into the back of my little car along with some fishing gear.

Hebgen.  After more than four decades I was finally getting around to wetting a line. I'd rolled the thought of fishing it around in my mind for a long time. Like the Henry's Fork or upper Madison, it was another backyard piece of water that I'd neglected for too long.

I'd heard about them, seen videos.  Fish cruising, vacuuming their dinner from the lake surface.


How hard could it be to catch a few?  It was time to find out.

I hit the road early.  Driving along the Gallatin, then through the northwest part of Yellowstone on the road to West.  There was a bit of fog, the temperature dipped to thirty-six along a low-lying stretch of highway.

Out of the park and north of West Yellowstone, I turned onto gravel.

It was warm by eight, a beautiful, still, blue sky morning. Tricos lit on my car.  Soon they formed into clouds, like mist hanging over the water.  Encouraging.  Fish food.

With the pontoon inflated, I pushed off into the unknown world of gulpers.  Now, fishing from a pontoon isn't my forte.  It's merely a means of transportation.  There's just too many straps, and feet, and oars to catch and tangle fly line.  But, I cope, and mutter to myself, a lot.

Early on, the lake surface was quiet, the rises random.  The Trico spinner fall never amounted to much.  Once the Callibaetis started to drop, the fish got a little more frisky.

It's a game of get as close as possible.  And, it's a game of watch and wait.  I can't cast sixty or eighty feet from a pontoon, so I don't bother.  And, there's no use chasing rising fish. They'll get to you, eventually, sometimes, maybe.  Usually they change direction at the last moment.

After a few hours I started to guess fish movement a little better, and I finally got a shot.

It ate, jumped several feet out of the water, then twice more.  It took line, I got it back. Just as things were looking good the line went dead.  The fish found a stump and rubbed the hook out.  It was one of the bigger fish that I've seen in years.

By late morning there were lots of Callibaetis on the water.  Predictably, more feeding fish too.  Likewise, more chances.

Sometimes I dropped the fly right onto a fish and it ate.  Other times I'd lead by several feet and they'd speed up to grab the fly.  Sometimes I screwed up and spooked the fish.  It was all in a day of  fishing and learning.

By one o'clock the lake surface became rippled.  It wasn't windy, but there was just enough breeze to complicate tracking a fly, coupled with the same funky glare that is my nemesis.  Good enough for one day, my first day of gulper fishing.

And yes, you really can hear the fish go gulp.


  1. Cool. I've driven past Hebgen 50 times but never fished it. If you liked it, maybe I would . . . or could.

    1. Hey Jim, you've got the necessary watercraft, so you're good to go. Fly selection is pretty simple. I think that you'd get a kick out of it.

  2. Lester
    Another prize coming from waters that really test your skills as a fly fisherman. I assume Hebgen is one of many lakes in the Yellowstone. When we were there a couple of years ago we rode by some beautiful lakes that I would have loved to fish, but time was a factor being in the park for only one day.
    In another life----------- Montana should have been my home!! Thanks for sharing

    1. Bill, the biggest skill here is patience. Just have to wait for a fish to cruise by and hope that it doesn't change direction as one is laying out a cast. Great fun all the same. Thanks!

  3. Hebgen is another interesting water that I had to drive by after stopping for a photo and a bit of dreaming. Glad you had success there. Patience pays!

    1. Just got back from another go at Hebgen this morning. Today, the fish were the more patient ones. Fishing conditions were better, but the fish were tougher. Like you I had to be content with photos and one fish to net. Still, a beautiful day. Thanks Walt.

  4. Les: Haven't had much internet time lately. Just catching up. Nice pics of the lake. Top shot is almost impressionistic like...dreamy. I could see Russell Chatham(sp) painting it, or signing his name bottom right. In second photo of lake red pontoon boat really pops. Nice post, as usual.

    1. Bob, I've been "off the grid" a bit myself lately, just trying to squeeze in the last bit of summer activities. I'm partial to the look of the red boat too. It does highlight a photo.

      Thanks for the tip on the book: "Chalkstream Chronicles" on your recent post. I plan to pick up a copy.


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