Fly Fishing the Shoulder Seasons
of Jackson Hole



by Scott Smith


A frequently asked question during the busy summer fishing season is what do I consider to be the best months to fish our rivers in the area. I generally have to chuckle as the guy up front hooks yet another nice fish on perhaps the largest dry fly in my arsenal and the person behind me is so awe struck by the scenery and cobalt blue sky that he or she is not too concerned about the catching. My initial thought is what everyone refers to as the peak summer months, which is June thru September. Then I begin to recall truly incredible excursions almost every month of the year, so after releasing a solid 15incher from the net I look at the guy and comment that October and April are the best times, for me. Again, I laugh as he looks back and says “but is it not snowy and cold then,” as everyone assumes. By now we are breaking for lunch on a nice gravel bar or island and it allows me to elaborate on one of my favorite subjects, the changing seasons and how our rivers and trout respond to those changes.

The fact is that there truly is fantastic angling in our region year round and if I had to guess, just about anywhere else as well. What you have to consider is if you are up to the challenges of the shoulder seasons, referring mostly to early spring and late fall. The first challenge being that outside of July and August, snow and colder temperatures are a real possibility. Obviously, the closer to winter the better the chance for these conditions to arise. As a guide, this is the easiest challenge to overcome, just be prepared for anything. A good guide will have everything you need and then some. During this time the most valuable clothing I end up loaning out is a fleece ski hat and fingerless fishing gloves, these two articles can make or break a day if the weather decides to turn foul.

Before June and after the first of October our pace is much more relaxed and the big morning rush for the river is absent. Most activity will be concentrated between noon and 4pm when the optimum water temperatures are present. A typical day would have you on the water by 11am, fishing for six hours or so and making it back in time for dinner. Now, if you are looking to brush up on your technical angling, these periods can be the best to learn and test your small dry fly skills. At this time ninety percent of the hatches you will encounter will either be midges or baetis(BWO), in sizes #18-22. May sound challenging, as it is, but very exciting and you may be surprised by the size trout that take these minute morsels. On the other end of the spectrum there are streamers, these imitate larger food items, such as minnows and sculpins and are best before and after the hatches. Because the shoulder months coincide with some spawning periods you could find yourself battling it out with a trophy trout. The main challenge to fishing a streamer is often the need for a longer cast, sometimes with sinking lines or shooting heads. In addition, good line handling skills are a must but in any case the guide can really help you with the techniques.

River flows at these times are generally low which has positive and negative effects. On a good note it concentrates trout in slower, deeper runs taking the guesswork out of where to fish; sometimes it can be quite obvious. On the other hand some sections of river are just too long or shallow to navigate which can be heightened by the shorter days. Wade fishing at this time can be excellent if you know what holes have winter habitat, otherwise you could spend a lot of time in fishless water.

Lastly, what I consider to be the best benefit to trout hunting at these times is the quietness and solitude. Over the years all these rivers will see an increase in traffic, possibly to the point where they need to be regulated but the late and early season months can give you a sense for what it was like many years ago, no crowds and often eager trout. Also, do not forget our area lakes at these times, they can be red hot and in general are not utilized by most fly fishermen.

So, if you are looking for an alternative season to go fly fishing in the Jackson Hole area take a closer look at the months not listed as “peak”. There may be a few new challenges but you will certainly see the benefits and reap the rewards. Keep in mind to check for off season rates not only with accommodations but with guide services and dining as well. Pay close attention to the weather in the west while at home, sometimes it can be real nice in April or October and airlines often offer great deals during the slower seasons. Last tips are to be open minded, consider lakes, and always listen to your guide and go on his or her suggestion. Always embark with the attitude to learn and take in the entire experience and the fish will follow.