Much has been written – and deservedly so – about Yellowstone National Park and its fisheries. (Take a look at Marc’s articles elsewhere in this blog for some very interesting samples.) What about the Tetons just south of Yellowstone?
Since the Tetons don’t bother with foothills, the view from the road is incredible. Rugged peaks simply erupt from sage-covered flats. And all kinds of trails lead right into these eye-popping mountains. Naturally, what makes it a complete destination – at least for the typical Pisciphilia reader – is the nearby fishing.
It’s all about the cutthroats in this part of the world. Other trout seem to be merely incidental catches. No need for any size 20 Tricos. Large, attractor dries are the usual fly shop recommendation.
I’m no expert; in fact, I’ve merely sampled the rivers around Grand Teton National Park on a couple of different trips. Nevertheless, I hope my impressions might spike your curiosity and even help you plan out a possible trip…
The Snake River: This is the one you’ve probably heard about. It’s a big, wide river with a relentless, pushy current. Don’t even think about wading across! It parallels the Tetons and then runs south. Common wisdom dictates that a drift boat is the best way to fish it. Nevertheless, it is quite possible to walk along and pick at some very juicy-looking pockets along the bank. Better yet, if you find some braids, crossing a side channel or two will lead to enough water to keep you busy all afternoon. You can even feel a little bit smug, knowing you’ll cover those enticing seams more thoroughly than the guy who zipped by in the drift boat.
The Wilson bridge access, just outside the town of Jackson, leads to a path that runs up and down the river in both directions. Locals walk their dogs there and you might have to relinquish your spot to an exuberant black Lab. Despite that, the Tetons form an impressive backdrop and you can definitely find some nice braids. I have to admit that although the numbers were okay; my biggest fish from the area was perhaps eight inches. Maybe my technique wasn’t quite dialed in?
There are other places, like boat ramps and the Moose Bridge, to access the Snake River for wading. Further researching the resources at the end of this article will likely reveal even more. Although wading is thoroughly enjoyable, the Snake offers a lot of river and a lot of scenery. On my next visit I will seriously look into the guided drift boat option.
The Hoback River: The medium-sized Hoback River follows Highway 191 and pours into the Snake south of Jackson. There are many access points along the highway and the river has a little bit of everything – shallow riffles, rocky runs, pocket water, and deep glides. The good water is much more obvious than on the Snake. It is far more wader-friendly as well and you can cross some sections quite easily. Although the holding spots might be a fair hike apart, there are definitely 8 to 14 inch trout to be had.
The Gros Ventre River: This stream is a little smaller than the Hoback and just as easy to read. It seems to follow a well-defined pattern of riffles and runs. Crossing it to optimize your drift is possible in most areas.
Despite all this, my catch rate on the Gros Ventre was almost nil. Nevertheless, I know the fish are in there and I’ll be back. In the meantime, I’ll blame my lack of success on the bull moose that wandered into the stream and forced me to detour around a couple of prime runs.
Speaking of wildlife, the Gros Ventre River runs right by Gros Ventre campground on the road to Kelly. The river is easily reachable from the road and the sage flats in this region are like an American Serengeti. On more than one occasion, bison delayed traffic as they crossed the road.
Granite Creek is a small stream that is paralleled by a good gravel road as it tumbles toward the Hoback River. It alternates between pocket water in forested sections and a classic meadow stream in picturesque valleys. (Think Soda Butte Creek with far fewer fishermen).
The meadow sections were perhaps my favorite places to fish in the entire region. Although the water looked impossibly skinny from high up on the road, there were actually all kinds of places where the bottom slipped out of sight – undercut banks, around boulders, and just below riffles – where the bottom slipped out of sight. It seemed like most of these places held fish that were extremely adept at quickly spitting out a dry fly.
However, a few actually came to hand. They were solid, gorgeous cutthroats up to 14 inches. Given the size of the water they came from, they seemed like true lunkers,
Granite Creek also had a couple of bonus features built into it. One was a spectacular waterfall near the end of the road – a great place to simply admire, or cool off by splashing around. And if you cooled off too much, there were some hot springs right at the end of the road.
Miscellaneous Notes: A standard 9 foot 5 weight worked great on all the above rivers except for Granite Creek, which was more suited to an 8 foot 4 weight. When large attractors like Chernobyl Ants and Turk’s Tarantulas did not get eaten, smaller patterns like Trudes, Humpies, Irresistibles, and Goddard Caddis filled the gap. Drifting the odd nymph or swinging the odd sculpin pattern also worked.
Book: Flyfisher’s Guide to Yellowstone National Park by Ken Retallic. (It includes a chapter on the Tetons!)
Fly Shops in Jackson, Wyoming: High Country Flies and also the Snake River Angler. (Be sure to check out their websites.)