The Snake River begins in the southern portion of Yellowstone National Park; here the drainage accumulates snowmelt and quickly gains in size before entering Jackson Lake in Grand Teton National Park.
The river’s most popular fishing begins below the small dam at Jackson Lake and extends through the Jackson Hole valley to the Palisades Reservoir. Covering nearly 80 river miles this fishery is the centerpiece watershed of our area and is home to the coveted Snake River Finespotted Cutthroat and a small population of brown trout.
Aside from the short tail water section below Jackson Lake, the river is mostly a freestone stream. Over the nine floatable sections the river drops an average of 15’ per mile creating exciting fast paced float fishing and challenging, yet fulfilling wading opportunities. Because of the river’s latitude and elevation it is not known for its winter fishing but is best in early spring and then again mid-summer into the fall. Not well known for heavy hatches, this river is one of the best stonefly and terrestrial fisheries anywhere and is famous for its large dry fly fishing.
Generally, a 9-foot graphite fly rod for a 5 or 6 wt. line will work well. Shorter ones will also work but can be limited by the wind. Spin fishermen will want an ultralight outfit with 6 lb. test line about 5 ½ foot to 6' in length. During much of the summer you can comfortably wade wet but during the early and late season you may wish to have hip boots or waders. Polarized sunglasses will greatly help your ability to read the water and make your fishing day more comfortable.
Flies for the Snake have changed over the years. The ones used years ago, such as the Dark Variant, probably still work but they have been replaced by patterns tied with new materials and improved techniques. Which fly you use depends in part on where and when you’re going to fish.
The flies that you use on the Snake depend on the time of the year you are fishing. Early in the season, when the Snake is just clearing and greenish in color Krystal Buggers, Conehead Kiwis and Clousers will work well. Once the Snake starts to get a bit of clarity to it, you can change to some of the larger dry flies and have good success.
For fishing during the main part of the summer, a variety of patterns will work well. At that time of the year you are not necessarily imitating a specific insect but someitimes presenting the fish with something that could represent several food sources. Popular patterns include a variety of Chernobyl Ants, PMX patterns, other miscelanous foam patterns and Turck’s Tarantula in a variety of colors.
Once the hoppers are out, I would not be on the river without a couple of patterns in different sizes. Popular hopper patterns include Rainey’s Hopper, Gorilla Hopper and Sanchez Foam Wing Hopper (all of these are foam hoppers). One nice thing about these foam flies is that they float like a cork and can be used to drop a nymph off of when the surface action isn’t hot.
The Chernobyl Ant has come a long way in a few years and there are a huge variety of different colors and styles. The Red Winged Ant (one of the winners of the Jackson Hole One Fly contest) is a great pattern which can be changed for a variety of hatches later in the year. In smaller sizes the red belly ones work as an attractor pattern, while the tan ones seem to imitate a stonefly which begins hatching in August. A variety of PMX ties round out the bill.
Most of the time you don’t need to “match the hatch”, but these fish can and will sometimes key on certain insects, especially in slower sections. Jack Dennis’ Parawulff series has become quite popular in the last few years. The PMD, BWO, and Gray Parawulff will generally imitate what is needed on the Snake.
Even though the Snake is best floated, wading access is available throughout its length. Anywhere a bridge crosses and some of the boat launches will provide some access to the wading angler. The Wilson Bridge is probably the best example and provides a good length of fishing access. Both Pacific Creek Launch and Schwaubackers Landing are boat launches that also provide good access to the river. South of Jackson the access increases as the river leaves the Park and enters Forest Service land. There are a number of camp areas and pull offs south of the Hoback Junction bridge which provide excellent access to the wading angler.
Because of its size and character, the best way to fish the Snake is from a boat. Although an amateur boater can float several areas of the Snake, there are areas that are best left to those who know the river. For recent river changes stop by our store or, better yet, hire a guide for a day. They’re on the river every day, know the best spots and can put you on to fish that you might overlook. Their experience is invaluable and a fishing float trip is one that you’ll have fond memories for years to come.
A guided trip is also the best way to reach the spots that can’t be reached by the wading angler.
This river is especially good for beginners because the Snake River Cutthroat is very fond of dry flies and a beginner can catch fish on his first outing. Drop into our store or call us to set up a trip. If you didn’t bring your fishing gear, don’t worry, it’s included in the price of the trip. Remember, during the busy months of summer, it’s usually necessary to book a bit ahead, often as much as a couple of weeks ahead to get a guide.
As with many fisheries in the area, there is a prime time to fish the Snake. The runoff generally starts early in May and lasts until sometime early in July. During the runoff the river is silty and not very fishable with a fly except for the 4 mile stretch just below Jackson Lake Dam. Once the Snake clears the fish quickly become interested in dry flies and the good fly fishing begins. It usually takes a couple of weeks after clearing for the big fish to get settled in and feeding on a regular basis. After that we are truly in “prime time”.
The flow of the Snake coming out of Jackson Lake will vary with the season and a bit from year to year, depending on the runoff. For the first 4 miles below Jackson Lake dam the river runs slowly with a stable bank situation. There is good bank access for a short distance below the dam, and this is a good area to try some lures. After the first big bend, the river enters an eagle nest area which is closed until August 16. This stops the bank fishing angler, because the area is closed for a half mile both above and below the nest. You can still float through this area, but cannot slow down or stop during this period of time. This stretch is the first to be floated because the dirty water from the runoff doesn't enter until the end of the stretch.
This area generally sees good hatches, most of which are small. Pale Morning Duns, Tricos and Blue Wing Olives mark some of the more important ones. The one difference between fishing this stretch and some of the others is that you fish to rising fish more on this stretch. During August, hoppers can be very effective in places on this slow water, and working wets such as a Wooly Bugger is effective much of the year.
When the river nears Pacific Creek it picks up speed and changes character a bit. Although there are still hatches, and matching them can be very important in the slow water areas, this water can be effectively fished with attractor dries. These flies, such a Royal PMX and Chernobyl Ant, are very effective. There is some access at Pacific Creek for the wading angler, but he will soon be stopped by channels which are to deep to wade. Every year the river changes a little in this area and during a heavy runoff there can be some major changes. Therefore, don't rely on your memory of what the river was like last year and be sure to check the bulletin board at the Pacific Creek access before floating. Because of the log jams, this is not a beginner’s stretch, and you should know how to operate your craft well before floating it.
The next stretch downstream is from Deadman's Bar to Moose. This stretch is faster with more braids, snags and it changes more every year than the stretches above it. Floating on this stretch is not suggested except by a skilled boatman who knows this river well. There is a small amount of fishing access at Deadman's Bar, but better access can be found at Moose or farther down the river. There are a lot of log jams on this stretch which create great cover for the cutthroat. Because the water moves so quickly you generally need to be more precise in your casting.
Below Moose, the Snake becomes even more braided and runs out of the park and into private lands. There are even more log jams than on the upper river, which create good habitat for trout. For the wading angler, access can be found at above and below the bridge at Moose, around the Wilson bridge and the South Park Bridge. The dikes both above and below the Wilson bridge provide good access; one the east side of the river you can go upstream from the Wilson bridge and on the west side of the river you can go both up and downstream for a distance. Before venturing to far it is best to get more detailed information before fishing any particular area. As is true in the Deadman's stretch, attractor dries will work fine.
Below the South Park bridge (the first highway bridge on the Snake south of Jackson on US 189) for a few miles the river is primarily in one channel. Although there are some tricky currents, there are no blind channels on this stretch. The highway follows the river for the entire stretch. This is one of the better stretches for someone new to this area to float, because they can't get lost in the maze of channels. Generally the fish are smaller than in the upper stretches, but they are very abundant. Later in the season when the water drops this is a great stretch to fish because the fish population is so high. Attractor dries, such as a Red PMX, will usually be the best bet here.
From Astoria down the access to the river increases as it flows through Bridger-Teton National Forest. There is a little private land on the east side of the river for a short distance, but the west side is clear of private property. The character of the river changes a bit. Although it is still braided, there are less log jams and the channel is often wider than above. There are some really fine long deep runs which will produce a number of the larger trout. While attractor dries will work well, it is also suggested to have some streamers for some of the deeper structures. There is a little whitewater in some parts and it is suggested that boaters know how to operate their craft in this type of water.
This is the well-known whitewater stretch of the Snake. In this area the Snake cuts into a fairly deep canyon. The bank access becomes limited by the sheer walls of the canyon. Floating should only be done by persons with a whitewater capable craft who know how to operate it. This is a very busy stretch with a lot of whitewater traffic during July and August, but the river traffic virtually comes to a halt in September. Parking at the takeout during the congested times can be difficult. The fishing on this stretch is very good, but different than on the rest of the river. Both dries and wets work, depending on the structure.