This post is an excerpt from an interview with fishing guide Dave Ellerstein. Dave has been a fishing guide for over 20 years and is owner and founder of Jackson Hole Anglers. In this interview Dave shares his thoughts on fishing in Jackson Hole and the Greater Yellowstone region.
Dave Ellerstein: Thanks for having me and including me in this broadcast.
Dave Ellerstein: Our client is coming to Jackson Hole, and sometimes they’re experienced fishermen and sometimes they’ve never fly fished at all. But at the heart of it, they’re just looking to have a fun day. They’re looking to get outside and have fun experiencing the rivers, the mountains, and the scenery here. Going with a guide provides a level of safety, a level of knowledge and hopefully actual quantifiable results in catching fish, right? Our clients are looking to learn something, have some fun, see beautiful scenery and enjoy stress free fishing. Whether it’s a family day, or a couple’s day, or just a solo mission, they want it to be easy and pleasant fishing in the paradise of Western Wyoming. I think that was one of the parts of your question there. Our clients choose us for a variety of reasons. One is experience; we’ve been company for almost 20 years now. We have very experienced guides that are still young at heart and want to make it an entertaining day. You are going to be safe and they are knowledgeable at putting people out to fish.A lot of it has to do with the philosophy of our company, which are we tried to customize every trip to every person. We don’t just try to fit people into a cookie cutter trip. We’re always willing to make a trip special for people, whatever their individual needs are. Whether it’s that their timing needs to be different than a normal trip, or the number of people need to be different, or what they’re looking to do needs to be different. We try to customize the trips to the guests. Jackson Hole Anglers has lot of different water options, which we’ll talk about later in the interview, but that’s something that’s very appealing guests. Right now when we’re having this conversation, it’s the middle of June, and the Snake River is high, muddy and not worth fishing, fortunately, it’s not the only water we have. So we’re fishing in other regions where the water is clear, and the fishing is good, so regardless of time of year or current circumstances we’re always going to have good fishing to put people onto.
Dave Ellerstein: We do a lot of half day trips, and a ton of full day trips. We have some multi day trips that are true overnight trips, where we go off into the back country, and spend nights either camping, or in cabins, and fish multiple days on faraway lakes and rivers in the Wyoming back country. Other times we do multi day trips for people, where maybe they want to fish three days, but they want to come back and stay in a nice hotel in Jackson each night. This is fine too, so we’ll make multiple day trips basically, but every night coming back so they can eat in a fine restaurant, and stay at a nice hotel. And then yeah plenty of people are looking to just do a single day trip, or a single half day trip. We do a ton of those also. A lot of different types of trips that we run.
Dave Ellerstein: Not much. Generally, we just ask that people show up dressed for the day, right? Hats, sunglasses. Rain jacket, just in case. Dress appropriately for the weather, so that depends a little bit on time of year. If they’re out here early August, maybe all they need is shorts and a T-shirt, hat and sunglasses, and a rain jacket, just in case. If they’re out in here October, probably a few more layers. They might want to wear a long sleeve shirt, a fleece, a warm jacket, a rain jacket, maybe even have some gloves. For the most part, they just have to think about what they wear. We provide all the equipment.We provide rods, reels, line all the fishing related stuff. People don’t have to worry about any of that. We will take care of all the gear. We’ll take care of lunch, and waters, sodas boats, guides, and transportation. Visitors don’t have to travel with anything special. They’re more than welcome to and a lot of people do choose to bring their own gear, but they certainly don’t have to. We come loaded to bear every day regardless.
Dave Ellerstein: There are a lot of great places to fish around here. The Snake River is kind of the main river that we fish, for a variety of reasons. One, obviously it’s the closest river that runs through the heart of our valley, so you don’t have to drive very far. You get to spend most of your day on the water fishing. Generally, it’s only a ten or twenty minute drive to the access points that we’re going to use. And so there’s certainly a convenience factor to the Snake.
There’s also the scenery factor the Snake, where it’s just unbelievable. Big snow cap mountains and there are bald eagles, osprey, and herrings flying around. Biggest advantage of the Snake is that it’s one of the largest and best native Cutthroat populations on the planet. Cutthroat Trout, which are native here, are plentiful. They rise readily to dry flies. They don’t stalk the river at all. These aren’t hatchery fish. These are all wild, native fish that you’re fishing. This is a really important and they’re just beautiful. They’re beautiful fish, and because they rise readily to dry flies, it’s really fun because you can dry fly fish for them throughout most of the year, which is a great. It’s a great thing to watch a fish swim up and hit something on the surface. It’s really exciting to do, and gives everybody a pretty good spark.
Dave Ellerstein: The Green is awesome. The Green River we fish quite a bit as well. It’s a very different fishery than the Snake; again it’s got great scenery. You’re looking at the Wind River Range, and the Wyoming Range, and the Gros Ventre Range. You’re seeing some beautiful snowcapped mountains while you’re out there. It’s a much smaller river than the Snake, so it’s a fairly intimate feeling river. There you’re fishing for Brown Trout and Rainbow Trout primarily. Both of which tend to grow bigger than the Cutthroat do on the Snake. So if you’re looking for a trophy trout experience, the Green is a great place to go. You may not catch the same numbers of fish over the course of the day, but you’re going to catch some big fish. Not to mention that it’s really pretty and it’s out near beautiful Pinedale, Wyoming, It has a very different feel than Jackson. The Green River in short is a world class fishery.
Dave Ellerstein: We fish quite a bit up in Yellowstone. Actually, that’s where most of our guides are today. We fish a few different lakes starting with Yellowstone Lake, which is a huge lake. It is filled with true trophy class Cutthroat Trout. The Yellowstone Cutthroat in there is often pushing 22 to 27 inches, which are really big seven pound Cutthroat Trout. The scenery is just beautiful, and you’re kind of sight casting to these fish. Cruising clear waters on flats, as you see a pod of these mega fish cruising around in maybe ten feet of water. You can cast out to them, strip streamers for them, and try to get them to latch on. You’re in for a great fight on a true trophy fish.
We also fish quite a bit on Lewis Lake, and the Lewis Channel. There you are fishing more for Lake Trout and Brown Trout. It’s probably the closest fishing to Jackson in Yellowstone. It’s only about an hour and twenty minutes from the town square. And you can catch pretty good numbers of fish there. It’s not uncommon to have 40 fish days out on Lewis Lake. And it’s a very good beginner fishery with some nice sized fish. A lot of 16 to 20 inch fish come out of Lewis Lake.
And then we also do wade fishing trips up on the Firehole River. The Firehole River is really cool. It’s listed in a lot of those 10 Places to Fly Fish Before You Die kind of books. It’s just scenically spectacular. There’s geysers going off. There’s herds of bison, and elk walking around you while your fishing. It’s just a visually stunning place to fly fish. It’s not always the biggest fish in the world that you’re catching out of there, but the fishing is just kind of a small minor part of the experience when you wade fish on the Firehole River for a day. It’s a magical place to fly fish.
Dave Ellerstein: We do some private access stuff. Not a ton of it. We have a couple spring creeks that we have access to down in Star Valley, Wyoming. And that’s pretty neat. There’s big great big 25-27 inch trout that are cruising these little clear spring creeks. So that’s pretty fun. It’s a good challenge for people who are looking for that specific type fishing. (Sight casting on educated fish)
We generally fish the spring creeks when a lot of the other rivers are all muddy, and there’s not good public water. But for the most part, I’d say 99 plus percent of our trips are actually on public waters. That’s one of the great things about being in Western Wyoming, there’s just so much amazing quality public water. And you don’t need to go spend insane amounts of money to get private access onto people’s ranches like you do in other parts of the country. Here in Western Wyoming, there’s more amazing public water than you would ever know what do with.
Dave Ellerstein: As far as planning a fishing trip goes, we’re going to have good fishing for you pretty much from early April through mid-November. And that’s a pretty wide window, with a lot of different types of fishing within that window. And so it depends kind of what the goals of your trip are. If you’re just coming out, and you’re on a summer vacation, and you just want to go white water rafting one day, and hiking in the Tetons one day, horseback riding one day, and fly fishing one day, then July and August are definitely your kind of key months for that. That’s when the most consistent warm weather, and pleasant temperatures, and not a lot of precipitation, and there’s great fishing in those months of July and August.
If you’re looking for more of a true fishing dedicated trip, and you want to kind of get away from the summer schedule. The there are other options. The one downside of maybe July and August is that there are a lot of people here. And so if you can come in September / October, those are fantastic months where you don’t have as many people in the valley, and that there’s still great fishing. And you get all the fall foliage, and the elk are bugling in the fall. The rivers like the Snake, the Green, and the Salt are really fishing well that time of year.
In the spring, in April, we get a really great pre-runoff season, that’s often some of the best fishing on the Snake River in the month of April before the runoff starts. So if you’re looking to fish the Snake when there’s nobody out on it, and there’s a lot of fish eating big dry flies, April can be a great month.
And then June is often what we call our big fish season. Sometimes you have to go out on farther drives, because the spring run-offs on the Snake, we have to go further afield, like the Yellowstone Lake, or places like that. But often we’ll catch our biggest fish of the year in June, just because we’re fishing either lakes and still waters, or we’re catching fish as they’re stacking up for the spawn, so that’s what June is all about. There are a lot of good times of the year to come, it just depends a little bit on what you’re looking for, and of course what your holiday schedule is.
Dave Ellerstein: It depends on the time of year you’re coming. Certainly, the further in advance the better because you know you’re going to get on our calendar. And you’re going to get a top guide by booking in advance. So if you know you’re coming here in say the middle of September, and let’s say maybe you know that in June, just put it on the books. We have a pretty lenient cancellation policy, so we can always accommodate you if things need to change. But usually if you can book two months in advance, you’re in pretty good shape.
We do get a fair number of last minute bookings, with people trying to book like three days out. It’s often touch and go. We have to turn away a lot of those. We usually sell out by the time we get to within a couple weeks of a trip. We do our best to accommodate last minute visitors, but certainly if you can book a month or more out, it’s very helpful.
Dave Ellerstein: Thank you very much. Good talking with you, and yeah we’ll talk to you soon. Hopefully, see you out on the water.