Snake River, Wyoming Fly Fishing

by Huston Heatherly

Location

The Snake River originates in Yellowstone National Park and eventually runs into Jackson Lake in the Grand Teton National Park in near Jackson Hole, Wyoming. From a small dam, the tailwater then runs and empties into the Palisades Reservoir. From there the Snake continues through Idaho and eventually joins the Columbia River in Washington state. The nearest airport with local amenities is the Jackson Hole Airport (JAC).

About the Snake River in Wyoming

The Snake River offers some of the most exciting fly fishing in the United States during the late summer months, and some of the most spectacular scenery as the Snake cuts through the Grand Teton National Park.

Like most rivers in the area, the winter months can have excellent fishing, but there are also times where the river will be locked up with ice. Spring runoff for the Snake River can be high and the late summer months extremely dry. Regardless, the Snake River offers some of the finest trout fishing in the United States, both because of the fish and the location. 

The more renown trout fishing occurs below the Jackson Lake dam. From here the river runs nearly 80 fishable miles until is reaches the Palisade Reservoir.

While it could be considered a tailwater, the majority of the river acts like a large freestone river several miles downstream of the dam and offers excellent floating and wading opportunities.

The Snake is prone to water fluctuations and changes in temperature downstream of Jackson Hole dam. The Snake can be a difficult river to get a handle on as one area may provide smooth shallow water while the next presents whitewater rapids with the next section giving you long deep pools. 

The Snake is a large and sometimes aggressive river that demands patience and care when wading or floating.

Types of Fish

The Snake River possesses a unique species of cutthroat, the finespotted cutthroat. These are highly aggressive feeders, and this results in some of the most exciting dry fly fishing in the continental US.

Besides the finespotted cutthroat, the Snake river also contains a modest population of wild brown and rainbow trout though they are more scarce than the cutthroat. 

Best Times to Fish

This river is accessible and fishable year round although the hottest fishing months are from mid to late June through September after the spring runoff has receded. 

Pre-runoff in early spring can also present some excellent midge and BWO hatches. 

Winter: The Snake is best-fished mid to late afternoons. In the dead of winter, the river might not be fishable during certain periods due to ice.

Spring: Early spring offers some great fishing before the runoff occurs. You are still best served to wait until mid afternoon before making it out to the river letting the temperature rise a bit.

Summer: During this prime fishing time early morning can bring great nymphing opportunities with the hatches beginning to heat around 10 am through the evening. 

Fall: Early fall mimics the summer months in terms of productive fishing occurring throughout the day. By mid to late October the water temperature begins to drop again and a few extra hours of sleep in the morning will help both you and the fishing.

Access Points

·        Jackson Lake Dam

·        Wilson Bridge

·        South Park Bridge

·        Astoria

·        Dog and Elbow

Tactics and Gear

Your standard 9 foot 5wt rod will serve you fine on the Snake. 4wt rods paired with lighter tippets are also excellent for drifting midges and delicate presentations of small BWO flies. 

For the late spring and summer hatches, post-run off, dry flies presented with 9-12 foot leaders/tippet in the 4-6x range are a staple.  A large terrestrial with a nymph dropper up to two feet below the terrestrial is a favorite setup for successful anglers on the Snake. 

During the early spring, pre-runoff stage nymphing will be your go to fishing tactic. Pre-runoff, March to April, is a fantastic time to hit this river as the fish are beginning to become more active again, and the summer crowds have not yet set in. Double nymph rigs are regularly used again using  9-12 foot leaders. Look to dead drift your nymph patterns through slow moving, deep holes. 

During the runoff, the Jackson Hole Dam tailwaters are still fishable and should be the area you target. Do be aware that fishing pressure ramps up in this area during the runoff.

Hatches and Flies of Importance

The Snake offers multiple hatches of a variety of insects on the river such as PMDs, Caddis, and Drakes along with a near year round BWO hatch.

What the river is specifically known for is the large Stoneflies that make an appearance during the mid-summer through fall months along with an abundance of terrestrials such as grasshoppers that the fish feed on consistently.

Midges, streamers, and BWOs patterns can take fish from the river year round although during the summer and fall months the fish will key in on the various hatches and terrestrials in the river.

Some of the more popular nymphs include BH pheasant tails, Prince nymphs, hares ear, and copper johns sizes 10-20.

Winter

BWO: Size 18-24 

Midges: Size 20-26. Zebra midges are very effective during this time. 

Streamers: Size 4-10 black leeches, sculpins, zonkers, and wooly buggers. 

Spring

BWO: Size 18-24 

Midges : Size 20-26 

Mayfly nymphs stated previously

Summer (Post runoff):

PMD’s: Sizes 16-20

Gray Drake: Size 10-14

Tricos: Sizes 20-24

Caddis: Sizes 16-20. Various colors in the pattern will work. Tan, brown, black, and olive can all be found hatching on the river.

Yellow Sally: Sizes 16,18.

Golden Stoneflies: Sizes 6-12. If you can nail down hatch times fishing nymph imitations can land fish.

Salmonflies: Sizes 2-8. If you can nail down hatch times fishing nymph imitations can land fish.

Terrestrials: Hopper patterns in sizes 6-16. Ant and beetle patterns sizes 14-20.

Fall

BWO: Size 18-24

PMD’s: Sizes 16-20

Caddis: Sizes 16-20. Various colors in the pattern will work. Tan, brown, black, and olive can all be found hatching on the river.

Tricos: Sizes 20-24

Mahogany Duns: Sizes 16,18. Parachute patterns are irresistible to fall trout. Look to drift these along calmer waters where hatches are occurring.

Terrestrials: Hopper patterns in sizes 6-16. Ant and beetle patterns sizes 14-20.

Area Guide Services

·        Snake River Angler

·        Yellowstone Outfitters

·        WorldCast Anglers

·        Spotted Horse Ranch


Wyoming Fly Fishing Regulations and Fishing Access

Wyoming Fishing Regulations:

Wyoming fishing access:

Other Useful Links for Fly Fishing in Wyoming

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