Fishing Idaho’s Upper Teton River

Fishing Idaho’s Upper Teton River in October can be a perfect 70-degree sunny day or a blizzard. In the last few years, I have experienced both.

Upper Teton Weather

FFI Certified Casting Instructor Tom Dempsey and I have been caught in the latter a few years ago. It was an interesting dilemma for be surrounded by rising fish but struggling to tie on a dry fly with numb, frozen fingers. Proudly, we did not leave the fish until the weather deteriorated into blizzard conditions.

This recent early October day was the opposite.
FFI CI Chuck Iossi and I had the opportunity to fish the Teton on one of those perfect autumn days. The time of year has the added benefit of absent paddle boarders, canoes, and rafts. In fact, we saw more moose than people.

The insects most often encountered this time of year include Tricos, Gray Drakes, Mahogany, BWOs, and October Caddis.

While I handled the oars, Chuck caught the majority of the fish using a Purple Haze dry fly or a Mahogany emerger. We caught about 30 mid- range size Rainbow, Brook, and Cutthroat trout. Casts were to specific targeted rising trout using 12-14 foot leaders of 5-6x. All casts were made from a sitting position. A drag-free drift was important because this portion of the Teton fishes like a crystal-clear slow-moving spring creek. The fish have plenty of time to examine the imitation but if presented properly these fish readily take a dry fly.

When fishing from a drift boat, my advice is to cast while seated if possible. I am certain you will have more stealth, and catch more fish.

Dino Frangos
FFI Master Casting Instructor

The Bighorn River and Jack Dennis

When an opportunity arose to fly fish an iconic Western water with a legendary guide I could not pass. The Bighorn River and Jack Dennis represent the ultimate fly-fishing experience. Both demand your A-game fly fishing skills with tight loops, pinpoint accuracy, and landing 20+ inch trout.

To set the stage I want to start with Jack Dennis. Jack moved to Jackson, WY at a young age. Over the ensuing decades Jack’s reputation grew with his eponymous fly shop, designer of flies, author, TV personality, and guide to politicians and celebrities. Now in his seventies, Jack is finally slowing down to enjoy grandchildren and limiting himself to summer guiding the New Fork River in Pinedale, WY and the Bighorn River in Thermopolis, WY.

This trip centered where the Wind River exits the canyon of the Wind River Indian Reservation and becomes the Bighorn. This meeting place is called the Wedding of the Waters. One of only a few examples where a river changes names in midstream.

This portion of the Bighorn is home to large Brown, Rainbow, and Cutthroat trout. During the summer months these fish see a good number of anglers and can be very spooky and selective. I fished with Jack in late September and there were only a few anglers. I saw a few fishermen wading in a large riffle near the top of the Bighorn, but by far a drift boat was chosen.

During my 2 1/2 days of fishing, targeting specific rising fish was our approach. Accuracy and a drag-free drift were paramount. If one or the other was lacking there was no chance to catch that fish. Typically, I had only one cast at each fish if the fish was holding in place. If the cast was long the fish “blew-up” and was gone. To improve chances of hooking a fish, casts were either cross-stream or upstream. Both methods minimized drag but the fly needed to be within a few feet of the fish. No chance with a downstream presentation. My casts ranged from twenty to sixty feet using 5x tippet on a 4 or 5 weight rod. Trico spinners and a small Parawulff (a Jack Dennis design) dry fly were the most effective patterns.

The fish takes were explosive. These large fish basically self-set the hook. The biggest challenge I had was avoiding an immediate snapped tippet if I did not raise the rod tip fast and high enough. The fish immediately dive into the weed beds below. I must admit I had my share of break-offs.

Fly fishing the Bighorn River is worth a trip to challenge your fly-fishing skills. Combine fishing with a visit Jackson, WY and Yellowstone, a scenic 4-hour drive away.

Doc Frangos
FFI MCI Fly Casting Instructor

Jack Dennis Catch

Smallmouth Fishing in Maine

As I sit here contemplating my upcoming trip to Iceland, I started scanning photos of our June 2022 trip to the Wheaton Lodge in Maine. For the last 5 years we have journeyed 2 hours north of Bangor to Forest City, Maine to hammer the smallies.

Sitting on the banks of Grand Lake, 24 miles long, the lodge that was built almost a 100 years ago does it “the Maine way” with small cabins, wood stoves, guides who still wear the tall leather lace up boots, fishing from handmade 24-foot canoes.  All of this combined to offer a glimpse of how fishing in Maine was at the turn of the century.

Glacier carved lake of crystal-clear water bathing huge granite boulder peeping above the surface challenges the navigational skills of the most seasoned guides.  Lakes are measured in miles thousands of acres with endless uninhabited shorelines. Another boat besides your Wheaton Lodge guest is rare.

Now to the fishing. Expect 20-50 landed fish per day. For the top water angler, paradise. Pretty much anything on top works. Foam poppers are a favorite on 5-7 wt. 15 lb. leader. I always bring a vintage bamboo. Got to do it the “old” way. But even though these guys are bass they like a subtle presentation. Let it sit, no stripping like for a largemouth.

There are streams and rivers near that offer brook trout and landlocked salmon. The St. Croix has pickerel, sunfish, as well as largemouth and smallmouth bass. Save the largemouth and perch for shoreline fish chowder at lunch. The guides love to show off their culinary skills between war stories. No cold sandwiches and chips. Steaks, pork chops, and lobster boil always with potatoes and onions, fried or boiled, your call, kick lunch time in the lake up a few notches.

I feel humbled, honored, and blessed to be able to experience this rare treat. I’ll keep coming back at ice out every June.

Thomas R. Dempsey
Certified Casting Instructor and founder of Gulf Coast Fly Fishing School, Mobile, Alabama

Bob Marshall Wilderness

By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

cut throat

When my fishing buddy first suggested fishing the Bob Marshal Wilderness I said “where’s that?” “THAT’ is 1.5 million acres of wilderness in the northern part of Montana about one hour north of Missoula. The creation of the Wilderness Act of 1964 led to the protection of 110 million acres of public land in the U.S. Devoid of structures and roads these areas limit access by not allowing motors, 4-wheelers, no bikes, not even chain saws. Hike in on foot or ride a horse.

We started our 8-day trip from the Rich ranch at Lake Steely which has been owned by the C. B. Rich family since the early 1900’s. Peggy, one of C.B.’s daughters lead us in with her granddaughter Kiley in the rear. Speaking of rears, thank goodness for padded saddle cushions. Our first day was a 4-5-hour ride into the wilderness to a hunting camp. Everyone pitched his own tent and crawled into his sleeping bag before the 8-hour ride the next day. The most beautiful country starts to pale after 8 hours in the saddle walking 1-foot wide trails with a 300-foot drop inches away. Glad these horses knew what to do. They are ridden 3 years before graduating to a trail horse. Our stop was on the South Fork of the Flathead River. It was clear and cold with areas that probably had never seen a fly fisherman.

The fishing was spectacular. These cut throat trout were hungry, aggressive and would have hit a beer can if thrown. The gear was a 4-5 wt. with 4x tippet and finished off with a dry fly. Nymphing is cheating. Parachutes and hopper size 12 worked well and everyone caught fish AND to make it complete we ate a supper of cut throat one night. The sky really put on a show at night. No lights, just stars and shooting stars. Makes you wonder about the first people to cross the area in the pioneer days with no rails, Gortex, or fleece. We camped a couple of days on the Flathead here and began the ride back, but this time we broke up the 8-hour ride with another overnight camp on the river. The final day we stopped at Pyramid Lake on our ride back to fish and take a dip if you wanted to join the Pyramid Lake swim club. Three hardy souls were all you could get out of our 10-person group. After this refreshing plunge it was back to the ranch and pack for home.

What made this trip unique was the wilderness, pristine and unspoiled. No evidence of human trespassing.

Don’t Overlook Mountain Whitefish

By Dino N. Frangos

The last few evenings on the Teton River in Idaho have provided some impressive dry fly action during an evening spinner fall. Aggressive hits with an excellent fight. Good presentation casts with non-drag drifts were rewarded.  Are we talking about Cutthroat, Rainbows, or Brookies?  No, we are talking about the often maligned Whitefish.  Mountain Whitefish are widely distributed throughout the West. A member of the Salmonid family, they are normally thought of as bottom feeders, but from personal experience they will actively pursue a surface meal. They are a native fish and not a significant threat to the Cutthroat population. Their eggs are an important source of food for trout. The two groups tend to populate different levels in the water column.

Mountain Whitefish typically range in size from 10-12 inches. An older fish may reach 15 inches.  These fish often congregate in groups, so if you get on one, you will probably catch others. They put up a very spirited fight and landing them is a lot of fun. Their small mouths can add a little more challenge to the hook set.  Having caught a lot of Mountain Whitefish with dry flies on the Teton this summer, this spirited fish has gained my respect. In my opinion, those recreational fly fishers and guides, who bad-mouth Mountain Whitefish, are only demonstrating their inexperience and ignorance.

Smallmouth Fishing Mecca

By Thomas R. Dempsey, M.D. CCI

Some 100+ miles north of Bangor Maine lies the best smallmouth bass fishing your angling heart can imagine. I have had the opportunity to make my second trip to northern Maine to experience one of the most unique fisheries anywhere, the Wheaton’s lodge on Grand Lake. Tucked along the shore is Sandy and Patrick’s fishing camp offering one the experience of “how it was done”60 years ago. The 20 ft. Grand Isle canoes and the guides in tall leather lace up boots with waxed rain gear, offer you the chance to fish the “traditional” way. Every day is a new adventure in this proud state that outlaw’s highway billboards, so nice. Shore side lunches or more accurate consist of steamed lobsters, steak, chicken all cooked over open forehand the fish chowder made from the harvesting of some outlaw largemouth bass is something that is indescribable. and the lodge meals give you the flexibility of any gourmet restaurant. Oh, let’s not forget the real reason we are there, the fishing. My preference is of course a fly rod 5 to 7 wt., floating line with any bug to catch them on top. Look for ant rock, and these lakes grow rocks. Cast to the dark shadowed side and wait. The take can be kamikaze or very subtle, either way a 2- to 4-pound bronze back is left chopping on your fly. They will hit about anything that crosses their stick zone. Yes, the small have neighbors, white perch, pickerel, largemouth bass and land locked salmon but the smallmouth are why you are here. Check out Wheaton’s lodge on the internet or better come fish there.