Lewis River below Shoshone Lake
Yes, because of the shenanigans currently going on in Washington DC you cannot get into Yellowstone Park to enjoy and appreciate what happens in Lewis River between Shoshone and Lewis Lakes this time of year. But if those “pols” ever recover their reason, do their job and open government functions before the end of Yellowstone Park’s fishing season the first weekend of November, consider the following (that is weather and roads permitting). Here’s what goes on there: you will see the densest population in the Park and maybe anywhere of brown trout congregating to spawn. They come from both lakes into the riffles in the upper part of the river to seek the right substrate for spawning. Like the beginning of an Old West gold strike the males move in to establish a “claim” (spawning territory in this case). They scrap to keep out interlopers ( claim jumper in the case of humans). Soon the hens come in to take advantage of the claimed territory, and the spawning begins. Because of the brown trout population in both lakes, the Lewis River system hosts the biggest brown trout population in Yellowstone Park. Their spawning run between the lakes begins late in September and peaks about a month later. For decades it was almost a secret shared by anglers from Jackson Hole , West Yellowstone, and other communities close to the Park. But in the 1960’s an angler craving notice published in a national magazine an article on the spawning run, and its presence thus became common knowledge. Now this event is a destination for many anglers.
There is a way to avoid the resulting crowds that slosh through the river and by doing so put many fish down. Get there early in the day before the disturbances start and more action will result. It may mean beginning the four mile walk from the trail head just above Lewis Lake at “oh-dark-thirty”, camping for the night at the outlet campground or at one of the nearby canoe campsites (permit needed), or waiting for a stormy day. But if you are successful in being among the first on the three-quarters of a mile of river where the fish concentrate you can be in for unforgettable fishing. All you need is a fairly stout rod (six or seven weight) and strong (3X-2X) nine foot leader, floating line, and large (4-2/0)streamer flies in either colorful or somber hues. Trying to keep a low profile or presenting from as far away as possible while swinging a streamer in front of a school of browns will result in hard, deliberate strikes. These strong fish range from around seventeen on up to near thirty inches and they do not give in easily, such is their spawning urge. Warm clothing, reliable waders and good physical conditions are required. So is preparation for bad weather. I recall a trip when three of us arrived at the same time as a storm came in. As snow accumulated and winds dropped wind chill to uncomfortable levels, anglers left in droves. We, however, fortified with “potable antifreeze” spent the night and awoke to an abandoned river which offered unbelievable streamer fishing. It cleared off that night, making wake-up air temperatures around ten below in degrees F. But the three of us had the river to ourselves, so cold did not matter.
Here’s something to consider: if those Washington DC shenanigans end sometime this month, those browns will have been undisturbed for days if not weeks. The first several fly-fishers visiting the river will experience unbelievable fishing. That could be YOU!