Fly Fishing in Yellowstone National Park – The Basics

People laughed at John Colter’s description of the area that became Yellowstone National Park. They referred to it as “Colter’s hell” because his description of bubbling mud pots and boiling waters seemed too amazing. The place is amazing, and so is fly fishing in Yellowstone. Your fly fishing bucket list needs to include Yellowstone National Park (YNP).

Here are the basics you need to know about fly fishing in YNP if you’re planning on making a trip.


The earliest you can fish in YNP is Memorial Day weekend. So if you plan an April trip to Montana (a great time to fly fish there!), don’t expect to make a side trip to YNP. The season opens the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and extends through the first Sunday in November.

However, some waters do not open until June 15 or July 15. Most notably, the Yellowstone River upstream of Chittenden Bridge near Canyon does not open until July 15.

Some of the best fly fishing is in the fall when the crowds of tourists are gone and the brown trout are spawning.


Anglers 16 years of age and older need to purchase a YNP permit. Currently, you can purchase a 3-day permit for $18, a 7-day permit for $25, or a season-long permit for $40. You can purchase these at fly shops outside YNP as well as in the Park at visitor centers, backcountry offices, or the Yellowstone General Stores.

You do not need a state permit (Wyoming or Montana) to fly fish in YNP. However, if you’re fishing near the Park’s boundary, make sure you have a state permit or else know exactly where the boundary line runs. For example, if you fish the Baker’s Hole area on the Madison River, you may want to fish both in Montana and in YNP.

Wading Boots

Felt-soled footgear is prohibited!

The purpose of this restriction is “to reduce the potential for introduction or spread of aquatic invasive species” (according to YNP regulations).


There are two restrictions that fly fishers can easily overlook. First, your weights must be lead-free. This applies both to split shot used for nymphs and streamers as well as to the ribbon or wire wrapped into your streamers. I still have a few Woolly Buggers I tied years ago and weighted with lead wire, so I remove those from my fly box when I fish in YNP.

Second, hooks must have barbless points.

YNP regulations say that you can pinch down the barbs with pliers. I sometimes carry a small pair of needle nose pliers for this purpose. You can even use your hemostat (forceps) to do this, but in my experience, it only works well with size 16 flies or smaller.

Grizzly Bears

YNP is grizzly bear country! So take the necessary precautions.

First, it’s best to avoid fishing alone. Second, make noise—especially where visibility is limited. Preventing surprise encounters will go a long way to ensuring safety. So talk loudly or sing. You may feel silly hollering “Whoa bear!” every time you approach timber or thick brush. But it could save your life. Third, do not leave your vehicle without bear spray! Your life may depend on it. You can purchase bear spray in stores outside YNP.

Alright, that covers the basics. You can find out what waters to fly fish in our upcoming article on “Fly Fishing in Yellowstone National Park — The Waters.”

Also, please note that regulations can change from season to season, and so do water conditions. So make sure to check with area fly shops, and by all means, ead YNP’s fishing regulations for yourself.

4 Replies to “Fly Fishing in Yellowstone National Park – The Basics”

  1. Planning a trip Aug. 13 and will be in the parl for five days. My wife and another couple. My delima, they don’t fish but promised me I can do some fishing. Staying at a cabin in Wapiti, Wy.

    1. Paris, we hope you have a terrific time! The Yellowstone in the Park should be a great options. You might even check on the North Shoshone outside the Park. I think you’ll be staying close to it. I suspect that one of the fly shops in Cody, WY will provide you with some good information. I’m not familiar with the fly shops there or I’d recommend one.

  2. Leaving for YNP on Aug. 11. Hope to do some fly fishing. Any tips before I leave would be helpful, flies I should take or purchase.

    1. We’re envious, Don! That should be a great trip and a good time to fish in YNP. First, make sure to check with some of the local fly shops in either West Yellowstone (Blue Ribbon, Jacklin’s, etc.) or Gardiner (Park’s) to find out what’s fishing best and what flies are working best at the moment. Personally, I’d spend most of my time on the Yellowstone River. Terrestrials should be working well, so make sure you have some hopper patterns as well as beetles and ants. You can also use streamers and nymphs. The Firehole will be too warm, and it’s not the best time of the year for the Madison (in my opinion)–although you could get some fish to rise to caddis in the evenings. The Lamar River might be good, although it gets muddy any time there’s more than three drops of rain. MAKE SURE TO CARRY BEAR SPRAY–anywhere, but especially if you fish the Lamar or Soda Butte Creek.

      As far as patterns, I’d include terrestrials (mentioned above) and some standard dry fly patterns–Elk Hair Caddis, Parachute Adams. For nymphs, I’d stick with the standard Hare’s Ear or Beadhead Prince in about a size #14 in a lead fly and then a size #18 Copper John (red, copper, green, or black) for a dropper. The variations are endless, but that kind of a tandem should work fine. You could also use a stonefly pattern as your lead fly. Finally, for streamers, I’d go with some Woolly Buggers–either brown, black, or olive. Again, fly shops might have some “hot” recommendations.

      I hope this helps! Let us know how you do.

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