Best Rivers: The Snake River

The Snake River in Jackson Hole, Wyoming, is one of a few select rivers graced with the honor of having its headwaters in Yellowstone, our nation's oldest and largest national park. About 85 miles of blue-ribbon trout water await the angler who wants to try out his or her skill on the river. The river's predominant species of trout is Wyoming's beautiful native cutthroat.

The river can be broken into eight distinct sections. Due to the size and length of the Snake, it's recommended that the most efficient way to fish the river is to float it either by drift boat or raft. A professional guide is strongly advised. He or she knows the river and can put you where the fish are. Wade fishing is possible but difficult, due to the few access points on the river. The first and upper section from Lewis River to Jackson Lake fishes well from early summer, when it clears, through to the early fall when the large browns make their way upriver from the lake to spawn.

The second section, Jackson Lake to Pacific Creek, is where the river empties out from the lake through Jackson dam. This section of the river consists of smooth, slow flat water to almost dead flat water in most areas, meaning the fish have more time to inspect your fly. This section is considered a “match the hatch section” as the trout will most likely be more selective. Attractor patterns such as Royal Trudes, Wulff patterns, and hoppers will still produce, but sometimes the trout in this section are finicky. Here, especially below the dam, the wading is great because the river is accessible from the parking area, and there is a long stretch with easy wading terrain.

The third section, Pacific Creek to Deadman's takeout, has a reputation for producing a good number of fish. Attractors work well throughout this section providing you work the banks and holes thoroughly. Wade fishing is possible at both access points, where Pacific Creek meets the Snake, and at the Deadman's parking area.

The fourth section, Deadman's to Moose, is a great section to fish attractors, Trudes, Adams, Muddler Trudes, and hoppers. Wade fishing is not common on these sections because of inaccessibility to the river. The next section, Moose to Wilson, is one that tends to produce bigger fish. Using an attractor pattern with a beadhead dropper is a great tactic for successful fishing.

The sixth section, now considered the lower part of the river, Wilson to South Park, is probably the most fished stretch of the river. Regardless, the fishing is still productive. Wade fishing is popular by the bridge which crosses over the Snake into Wilson. A road runs along the riverbank for over a mile south of the bridge where you can pull off and fish anywhere on the banks.

The final two sections, South Park to Dog Creek and Dog Creek to West Table, are much slower and deeper sections to fish. Deep nymphing and moving the fly around both produce the best results. Also, big hoppers on the surface can rise some fish. If you float the last section, beware you do not miss the takeout at West Table, because proceeding farther will mean treacherous whitewater.

Prime time to fish these sections is from mid-July (usually when the water clears from spring runoff) through fall. Your fishing arsenal should include a 9-foot, 5- or 6-weight line with leaders tapering down to 4X. The Snake is a great beginners’ river. Proper presentation and working your flies thoroughly over lies—not matching the hatch—is what determines your chances on the river. Whether you wade or float, your time on the river will be memorable. The majestic Tetons guard the west bank, creating a magnificent backdrop. The Snake is a rare resource, symbolizing beauty in its most natural form; please respect the river and the wildlife surrounding it when you visit.

South Fork

Beginning its journey from the Palisades Reservoir, the South Fork River, a much larger and heavier flowing river than the upper Snake, has gained popularity as one of the best fly-fishing rivers in the country. Two factors create a superb fishery, big hatches of big flies and large numbers of big fish. The river opens Memorial Day, but the season usually gets under way with the beginning of the famous salmon fly hatch which usually emerges around the beginning of July. Flies hover over the water like convoys of B52s, and it's no wonder the fish are as big as they are. Cutthroats, browns, and rainbows thrive here, making this river a heavenly experience to fish. Because this river is so large, it's almost mandatory that you have either a boat or raft to float. Wading is difficult because the river steeply drops off the banks.

The river can be divided up like the Snake. From the dam to Conant, from Conant to Cottonwood, and from Cottonwood to Poplar are popular and produce outstanding action.

The South Fork is more of a technical river to fish. Matching the hatch becomes necessary in many situations. Dominant hatches are Salmon flies, Golden Stones, Pale Morning Duns, Caddis, and Yellow Sallies. Imitations of these flies will increase your success rate, providing you happen to be on the river when one of these hatches is going off. Attractor patterns, especially hoppers, also produce. They always seems to raise a fish or two when nothing else in your box will work.

Toward the end of August, the river's productivity slumps for a short time, but soon picks up with the emergence of the Baetis flies in early September when the temperature cools down. Getting into the fall months, the browns get into their spawning mode and become aggressive. Your chances for catching a nice 3- to 5-pound brown are best during this time, using large Woolly Buggers and Woolly Worms with rubber legs.

The South Fork is only an hour-and-thirty-minute drive from Jackson. However, you do need an Idaho fishing license. It's a scenic river with a large population of big fish, so it's well worth the short drive for world-class fly-fishing.

Henry's Fork

While other rivers are high and muddy during the spring runoff, meaning unfishable, Henry's Fork runs clear and constant just ninety minutes northwest of Jackson. Considered one of the world's largest spring creeks, it lives up to its reputation as a world-class trout stream. With prolific hatches and an enormous number of rainbows and cutthroats, “the Fork” is a special river with many qualities other rivers don't have.

The sections from Box Canyon to the Ranch and from the Warm River to Ashton open on Memorial Day. This is one of the few rivers in the West that can fish well that early in the season. The section from Island Park to the Riverside Campground opens June 15. The river is recognized as being a technical river to fish. With the abundance of huge hatches, the fish have no obligation whatsoever to take your fly. Matching the hatch is extremely important, aside from having good casting skills and proper presentation. Stalking your fish, especially big fish, is what you should be prepared to do. These fish are not stupid. With so many of them having already been caught and released, catching them demands long hours of patience and a measure of stealth.

Early season brings on massive hatches of Salmon flies, big Stone flies, Green Drakes, and Caddis. Pale Morning Duns are seen on the river around the second to third week of June. Later in the month, the large Green and Brown Drakes make their appearance, raising big trout. When July arrives and the days get hotter, the major hatches begin in the early morning and the late day. Small tippets and long leaders are the standard.

The advantage of Henry's Fork is the variations of water. The section from Box Canyon to the Ranch is primarily a good nymph stretch with faster water and many pockets to work your fly. Beadheads always seem to produce action. From the Ranch area down, the water slows and flows steadily, creating great dry fly action. Because it's completely accessible and easy to wade, the river tends to crowd fast. It's not uncommon to see a line of fifteen anglers working within a 50-yard stretch. On weekends, especially, the crowds are apparent. If possible, fish the river on weekdays, when it is noticeably less congested. One of the best times of the season to be on the river is the fall. Cool days and the absence of tourists create superb opportunities for ambitious anglers to have a truly memorable day.

Henry's Fork captures western fly-fishing in its true essence; beautiful scenery, huge hatches, and the abundance of large trout. When you visit the area, I strongly recommend you visit “the Fork.” Purchase an Idaho license and get ready for an unforgettable experience.

The Green River

If the Snake still happens to be running muddy in early July, which it usually is, it would be wise to check out the Green River. Flowing out of the Wind River range, the Green makes its way south through Wyoming into Utah. Although the river is quite smaller than the Snake, its reputation for producing nice-sized browns and rainbows has surpassed that of other rivers twice its size.

The Green slowly winds its way through high desert terrain leaving great areas for wading as well as floating access. Driving an hour south from Jackson, you will encounter a steel bridge, formally known as Warren Bridge, which crosses the Green. Before crossing the bridge, take a dirt road on the left which follows the river for a few miles. There you will find twelve access points for fishermen.

The river gets a lot of attention because it has great hatches all through the summer and into fall. From Golden Stone hatches to Big Gray Drake hatches in July, a fly fisherman can have a field day if he or she happens to be there when the river “goes off.” July is prime time to fish this beautiful river, when the mighty Gray Drake is hatching. Trout can't seem to resist a well-drifted Gray Drake over their nose. Yellow Sallies will do the job also. Some flies that work well are Parachute Adams and Stimulators. The hatches usually get under way in the morning and early evening. The wind picks up heavily in the late morning and blows hard all afternoon. This creates a difficult situation for casting and presentation. Getting to the river early will give you plenty of time to catch numbers of fish.

The rod of choice on the Green is a 5- or 6-weight with a 9-foot setup. The 6-weight comes in extremely handy when the wind picks up, giving you greater power to punch that fly against the wind. There is some pocket water just above the bridge which can produce fish with Yellow Stonefly nymphs. A word to the wise: private property lies below the bridge so possibly angry landowners could spell danger for the unwary angler. It's not possible to wade below the bridge unless permission is given to you by a landowner. Floating can be done, providing there's no contact with the private property. I recommend you fish with a guide on the Green. The river can become technical at times, so hire a professional guide, who has the knowledge to help you out and put you into fish.

The Green is unique, an exciting river to fish. It has all the characteristics of trophy water with a bounty of trout. Crowds congregate on the bigger rivers, so the Green is also a nice river to “get away” to. If you would like to have a chance at a big brown or rainbow, then the Green is the place to wet your fly.

The Tellico River

Wild and stocked trout inhabit 138 miles of one of the Southeast's premier trout fishing destinations, the Tellico River. Shared by Tennessee and North Carolina, the Tellico is just south of the Great Smoky Mountains National Park within easy drive of Atlanta, Birmingham, Charlotte, and Nashville. Tributaries here remain uncrowded and pristine.

Brown trout topping 20 pounds have been taken here, and each year anglers catch trophies of 10 pounds or more. The Tennessee portion of the river, primarily for catch-and-release, contains both stocked and wild trout. All of the Tellico in North Carolina is exclusively wild trout water with rainbows dominating the lower sections. Farther along marks the beginning of the brook trout territory.

With cat-eye markings and a strong red band on each side, rainbows are known for their spectacular coloration, as are brookies. The North River, a tributary to the Tellico, suffers from fishing pressure but has some of the best wild trout fishing in the Southeast.

Anglers wishing to match mayfly hatches will face a challenge in the Tellico area because mayfly hatches are usually scarce. Caddis, Stoneflies, and terrestrials, however, can provide good fishing. Local anglers prefer traditional attractor and searching patterns. For dry flies, they choose various Wulff patterns, a Trude Coachman, or Parachute Adams. For nymphs, they use the Tellico Nymph (so named here), George Nymph, and Zug Bug. But providing year-round dry fly fishing are the yellow and olive Elk-hair Caddis.

Because of rough water, plunge pools, and overgrown vegetation in the Tellico basin, fly-fishing instructor Jeff Cupp suggests small-stream tackle—rods in the 2- to 5-weight range in lengths from 6 to 8 feet and 4X to 6X tippets on leaders as short as 6 or 7 feet.

Tellico Plains has limited accommodations, cabin rentals, campsites, and fly shops. For information call the Green Cove Motel and Trailer Camp (423-253-2069), which sells all the local favorites as well as fishing licenses and permits. Cupp says one of the best southern fly shops is Little River Outfitters in Townsend, Tennessee (423-448-9459).

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