by Gary Willmott
At the base of the Tetons lie Jackson, Jenny, Leigh and Phelps Lakes. These are very deep, cold glacial lakes with excellent habitat for trophy lake trout, cutthroat, brook trout and a fair number of brown trout (in Jackson Lake only).
The current state record lake trout (50 pound) is out of Jackson Lake, caught in the early 1980's. Excellent fly fishing starts right after ice out, usually early to mid May but sometimes as late as early June; lakes higher in the mountains ice out much later. At this time the fish are in the shallows in search of baitfish, which makes them especially vulnerable to bank fishermen. Concentrate your efforts on points, shallow coves and large flats bordering dropoffs. A topographic map is a valuable tool for fishing these lakes. It allows you to study the area you want to fish, teaches you about bottom contours and saves you time and effort by allowing you to concentrate on more productive spots than just blind casting from shore.
The common mistake people make is to cast and start retrieving immediately. You end up covering a limited amount of water and often ignoring the bottom half. When you first get to a spot, cast out and count how many seconds it takes to reach bottom. Make your next cast, count one second and start your retrieve. The following cast wait two seconds and start your retrieve. Using this method work your way all the way to the bottom. If your lure takes fifteen seconds to hit bottom and it stops or pauses at eight seconds set the hook fast, as you probably were intercepted by a suspended fish. Suspended fish are usually on the feed but are difficult to locate. Once found, these fish can provide action that is fast and furious.
As the water starts to warm the fish move to deeper structure and the shore fishing becomes more difficult. The experienced fisherman starts trolling the depths with steel lines and downriggers, concentrating on the deep bars. Vertically jigging spoons and jigs is also very effective. There are a number of guides licensed on the lakes; check the chamber of commerce for information.
In mid September the water temperatures start to drop triggering the spawning urge of the lake trout. The Mackinaw spawn on deep wind swept points in 20-90 feet of water with gravel and boulder strewn bottoms. The fish become the most active at sunset and in the night. Midday action can be incredible if a big storm rolls through. I've had excellent action in severe snow storms in late September. Be careful at this time of year, as the water is cold and the waves can swamp a small boat in no time. Jackson Lake is closed in October to protect the spawning macs, but the other lakes are still open and the fishing is good. In October and November use the same tactics as in the spring.
January starts the ice fishing season, my personal favorite, because the big fish are very accessible at this time. You can position yourself at a good bar, not worrying about your boat being blown all over and "pump some serious lead" (which means use heavy lead headed jigs). The best action is at sunrise till about noon and then again in the evening. Ice fishing is the stupidest, most boring sport you can imagine, but I sure love every minute of it. It's almost an addiction! It takes a dedicated person to spend ten hours on a frozen lake at below zero temps, not get a strike all day, then get up at 4:00 am the next morning and do it all over again. It took me four years of fishing three days a week, sunrise to sunset, to get my first twenty pounder. I caught him in ninety feet of water on a one ounce jig, and he was well worth the time and effort I put in.
Concentrate on the bars, points and long tapering flats leading into deeper water. I concentrate my efforts in 30 to 100 feet of water most of the time. This year I started to experiment fishing the depths and have hooked fish in water from 130 to 200 feet deep. However, landing a fish at that depth is a different matter. I hooked a freight train in 191 feet of water this year that I never stopped. These types of situations will leave you shaking for days.
Tackle is very similar to other lakes of this size and depends on the season. For spinning gear in the spring and fall I recommend a medium action with 8-12 pound test line. Some of the favorite lures include Crocodiles, Panther Martins, Flatfish, Kastmasters, jigs and Jake's Spin-A-Lure.
Although fly fishing many lakes is not easy, it can be done in some areas. Using a canoe or float tube is a great help when fishing a lake. Because of the wind, it's suggested to have a 9 foot rod for a 6 or 7 weight line. Sinking, floating and shooting tapers will all be useful for lake fishing. Some suggested wet patterns should include wooly buggers, zonkers, double bunnies and bunny leeches. Although most of the time you'll be using wets, on certain occasions you can find some dry fly action; it all depends on the lake. Primary action will occur in June through July. Patterns for this time should include large caddis, callibaetis and black flying ants.
As you can see, the lakes of Jackson Hole offer action throughout the season in some of the most spectacular scenery available in the world.