The Gulpers of Hebgen Lake
I’ll be the first to admit I lead a semi-charmed life. August of 2020 will go down in the books as some of the best fishing of that year, but it was not without hiccups. If you like stories of big trout, combined with some weird, life drama, this story is for you!
As a young woman new to fly fishing in the 1990s, I read every issue of Fly Rod and Reel or Fly Fisherman Magazine that arrived in the mail. The stories of big trout in beautiful, mountainous regions were always a favorite read.
One article from back-in-the-day I have never forgotten was of the “Gulpers of Hebgen Lake”. The article told tales of big trout feeding on small to mid-sized mayflies with abandon all over the lake’s surface. I dreamed to experience that one day.
Speed up to August 2020. Tim and I were about to conclude a visit with friends in Last Chance, Idaho where we fished the Henry’s Fork. A well-timed email fishing report (keep reading to learn about a well-written fishing report that you should sign up for!) arrived that offered a few paragraphs about the Gulpers and how to fish them now.
Madison Arm of Hebgen Lake
The fishing report mentioned the Madison Arm of Hebgen Lake as being the most productive top-water fishing spot. Out came the atlas and our destination became the Madison Arm Resort which offered the only launch near the hotspot.
Our friend, Bob Duport of Western Mountains Guide Serice in Maine, joined us for that fateful first day on Hebgen. The road into the Resort was atrocious. Actually, it was like nothing I had ever driven on – and I’ve driven a LOT of dirt roads in my life. It was a washboard, combined with deep ruts, in an ancient volcanic-ash muck.
The folks in the office at Madison Arm Resort were smiling and kind. I paid the $15 launch fee and proceeded to back the driftboat down the narrow, paved ramp.
I’m fairly skilled at backing up a driftboat trailer. Always calm and never fussed, as I know that’s when things can go wrong. I needed to correct the approach a few times while getting the boat down the ramp to the water.
Not a big deal, it was mid-morning so there was no one at the launch. At least not yet.
Tim and Bob guided me to the water, then hollered for me to stop. The bowline was hooked on, the straps removed, the anchor attached; it was time to launch the boat.
But the boat didn’t budge. Another boat was motoring up to the launch. OK – let’s come in at a steeper angle so the boat will slide off.
I drove up a little, then back down again (maybe more than once) to give a steeper gradient. A truck with an empty trailer was positioned to collect the incoming boat.
I reach the new incline and stop, but the boat won’t budge. Both men were tugging and pushing on the boat so violently the Tahoe rocked back and forth.
The driftboat just stayed put.
I put the car in park and got out to help. Was there a strap still attached? What could be holding it so firmly in place? The boat and trailer were at a much steeper angle. The boat should slide off and splash in the water. This was crazy.
The driver of the truck gets out. A small, Asian-American woman peered down the ramp in disgust. The three of us were tugging, pushing, pleading with the boat to no avail. Then we realized it.
The fiberglass gel coat had welded to the rubber bow stop.
Then the yelling began. The small, older woman’s verbal assault was a mix of English and her native tongue. She was hard to understand but her angry looks told the story. She wanted us off that ramp now.
Taken aback and a little afraid, our efforts to get the boat off the trailer reached a fever pitch. Pulling, prying, kicking, and praying, the weld finally broke, leaving gel coat on the bow stop, and the boat slid to the water. We unloaded gear at lightning speed and I steered away from the ramp to park my rig.
As I passed the woman, who must surely be named Karen, the insults spewed from her as she waved angry hand gestures at me.
Parking the car, I grabbed the pups and scurried to the waiting boat. We motored several hundred yards offshore. The lake was like glass. No fish were showing.
Had I made a colossal mistake?