This post was last updated on March 26th, 2016 at 12:56 pm
Of course, where better to fly fish than Yellowstone National Park. The park has hundreds of public lakes and streams, where about seven varieties of game fish are known to inhabit. These fish are the rainbow, brook, lake trout, cutthroat, brown, mountain whitefish and the grayling. If you’re searching for a good Western river with prime fish populations, Yellowstone fly fishing is the best choice.
The rivers of Yellowstone are known worldwide not only because of the scenic views, but because of the great fishing opportunities. The catch varieties vary each month depending on fish activity, water levels and your chosen location within the park. Below are some of the best rivers and streams within the Greater Yellowstone area and inside the park.
A popular way to fish secluded areas which frequently offer some of the best fishing, is to hike into the backcountry. You can obtain back country camping permits at any ranger station within the park. Due to ever changing weather conditions, it is always a good idea to talk to the rangers about where you should fish to have the best shot at the big ones.
I have tried to cover as many areas as possible, but there are so many rivers and lakes within the park that deserve a chance
The Yellowstone River (Inside and Outside of the Park)
The Yellowstone River is the pride of Southwest Montana Fly Fishing. It is said that the river is one of the greatest trout streams in the world. Yellowstone River is the longest undammed river in the lower 48 states and stretches to about two hundred river miles. The river varies in width from 75 to 300 feet. Only when the water level is low can one wade across it, which means that traveling using a drift boat is usually the best access to it while outside the Yellowstone Park boundaries. Within Yellowstone you will be limited to fishing from the shoreline and wading, which still offers great opportunities. Perhaps among the best and most scenic sections of the river is through Paradise Valley. The Yellowstone River is divided into different sections, all with varying fish and water conditions. This entire river has great hatches, including the giant stonefly known as the salmon fly, which peaks in June or July usually in many areas of the river.
Hayden Valley between the fishing bridge area and Grand Canyon of Yellowstone offers a great section of river with almost 100% access. You can easily walk the edge of the river in search of feeding trout. My best flies are usually Chernobyl ants and small size 20-22 flies for the most picky trout. You should pay close attention while fishing his area because grizzly bear sightings are very common.
Yellowstone Lake to the Yellowstone falls. This sections falls under the property of the Yellowstone National Park. About twenty years ago, the site offered the best experience for flat water fishing for Yellowstone cutthroats. But unfortunately, there was an explosion of the lake trout on the lake a few years back and thus, fewer cutthroats are available, however there are still plenty of trout to hook and the good scenery might get you to try your luck.
Yankee Jim Canyon which is known for its white water rapids. However, the canyon walls and extremely fast water can make it tricky to fish. Using a drift boat in this area is not advised, you should consider hiring a guide or using a raft if you have access to one and know how to use it.
The Yellowstone River Black Canyon is another section of the Yellowstone River. Some parts of the canyon stretches inside the Yellowstone National Park and most of these areas are only accessible through hiking or horseback. This section offers terrific fly fishing especially during mid-July. The best access points are at Gardiner and at Canyon Village. The view of this section is magnificent with big fat cutthroats and prolific rainbows. However, the water has canyons which may be dangerous to wade in. Four miles upstream from Gardiner you can find plenty of easy access points to catch browns, whitefish, cutthroats or rainbows.
Yellowstone National Park
Slough creek is one of the most popular fishing areas of the Yellowstone National Park. The access to this area is relatively easy and the site has marvelous scenery. Hiking in several miles will land you in prime cutthroat fishing, perhaps some of the best in the park. These fish are fairly easy to catch on foam patterns on most summer days, but be prepared for a caddis hatch or potentially a great mayfly hatch of several varieties.
- The Lamar River is one of the favorite and best sites to go to when you’re in the Yellowstone National Park. The valley in the site might be among the most scenic in the whole park. The river offers several great habitats for trout, as it flows through boulders, grassy meadows and prime riffle water. The site offers cutthroat trout although in the lower stretch you can find plenty of rainbows. This river has a great grey and green drake hatch and in July through September you can anticipate great hopper fishing. If you come during the right time, you’ll find great dry fly fishing. This small river has several easy access points and offers fairly easy wading opportunities.
The Firehole River is perhaps one of the best known rivers inside the park with geothermal features that make you feel like you are on another planet. Hot water springs with steam pouring out of the ground right at the riverside make it dangerous walking, yet very exciting in many areas. The areas I have fished the most on the Firehole river are in close proximity to old faithful geyser. I recall huge hatches of caddis almost every time I fished it and I easily caught fish on an elk hair caddis. The Firehole typically gets quite warm by late summer and early fall making fishing difficult.
The Gibbon River has a lot of access points inside the park, as many of the roads follow it for quite a distance. You can find a lot of areas near Canyon with great brook and brown trout, the lower sections offer a different feeling and also have great fishing. The key to finding a great spot on most areas of this river is to spend some time exploring away from the roads.
- The Madison River is known world wide for it’s tremendous fishing. It flows through much of the southwest portion of Yellowstone before leaving the park. It is fed by the previous two rivers mentioned, the Gibbon and the Firehole. The Madison river is known for it’s big brown trout and great hatches throughout the entire fishing season. It tends to draw a lot of attention in the fall due to it’s spawning brown trout.
- The Lewis River is in the southern part of the park and has some good access. Hiking in a ways will get you into some great territory to catch not only the Yellowstone cutthroat, but large brown trout as well. This river only flows a short ways before it meets the Snake river and flows out of the park. A great area is the section between Lewis and Shoshone lakes, both of these lakes have great fishing as well. Trout fishing in the fall for spawning and pre-spawn browns can offer pretty good fishing on the Lewis river.
Local Yellowstone Area Fly Shops
Each town that enters into Yellowstone park has several fly shops that can offer up to date reports on current conditions.
The town of West Yellowstone sits at the south East entrance to the park and it features several good fly shops/ guide services, such as:
In Gardiner MT at the north entrance to Yellowstone you can talk to the folks at Parks fly shop for up to date information on Northern Yellowstone rivers.
North East Entrance
Cook city MT sits in the North East corner of the park. A great shop to contact for up to date info about the area is Beartooth Outfitters
Jackson Hole, Wyoming is Quite far from the Southern part of Yellowstone, but is very close to Teton National Park. There are several good fly shops in this hopping little town such as:
For Current rules and regulations for fishing within Yellowstone park see: National Park Service Yellowstone page here