Fly Fishing in Yellowstone National Park – The Waters

Yellowstone Nationa Park - The Waters

America’s first national park provides endless venues for fly fishing. This is the second installment of our series: Yellowstone National Park – the Waters. Richard Parks, fly shop owner just outside the northern entrance to Yellowstone National Park (YNP), has identified over 100 streams, rivers, and lakes to fish.

Here are ten waters to consider if you make a trip to fly fish in Yellowstone:

Yellowstone River

This is the major river in YNP.

Perhaps the most popular section is the 13-mile stretch between Yellowstone Lake and the Upper Falls — especially in Hayden Valley. After the mighty ‘Stone emerges from the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, access is difficult until Tower Fall.

Dave, my podcast partner, and I like to hike down to the river from the Tower Fall parking area and then fish upriver. You can also access the river from the bridge near Tower Junction.

Madison River

The Madison begins at the confluence of the Firehole and Gibbon Rivers at Madison Junction. You can expect to catch 8- to 14-inch trout (the locals) during the spring and summer. Then, the “runners” — the big brutes heading up from Hebgen Lake to spawn — typically show up in late September and October.

Lamar River

This is an outstanding fishery!

However, it gets a lot of pressure. Also, as the joke goes, all it takes to make the Lamar muddy is an elk urinating a few drops into it. Actually, even light rain seems to turn this river chalky or brown.

Gardner River

Like the Madison, the Gardner has local trout in the 8- to 14-inch range. But during October, the browns come up from the Yellowstone to spawn. Dave and I have also caught some big rainbows and cutthroats that trail behind the spawners in search of eggs.

There’s usually less pressure on the Gardner in October than there is on the Madison.

Slough Creek

This is another well-known fishery in YNP, but frankly, it’s a long hike to get to the second meadow where the best fishing begins. I rode in on horseback with my dad and a friend several years ago (the fishing was good), and that’s the only way I’d do it.

Firehole River

This fabled river, well, stream, fishes best in June and October — before the thermal water flowing into it warms it up enough to make the trout lethargic. It’s a superb choice if you like dry fly fishing.

Gibbon River

The Gibbon River is more stream than river.

The good news is that the stretch from Elk Park (near Norris Geyser Basin) to Madison Junction is right along the highway, making for easy access. That’s also the bad news. It gets a lot of pressure from anglers. But it usually fishes well through the summer.

Indian and Panther Creeks

If small creeks are your thing, these are great choices. At least they were a couple decades ago when my family and I used to camp at the Indian Creek Campground. We had a great time fishing these little creeks. The trout are small but abundant. Both creeks join the Gardner (or Upper Gardner, to be precise). I’ve had success in all three waters.

Lewis Lake and River

The inlet and outlet are the most productive places to fly fish Lewis Lake. As far as the Lewis River, the fastest sections below Lewis Falls usually give anglers the best chance for success. Brown trout run up into this stretch from Jackson Lake in the fall.

Yellowstone Lake

This huge lake fishes best early in the season — that is, for the four weeks or so after it opens on June 15. The fish are closer to shore. Try some of the sheltered bays as well as the shore near the inlet streams and the outlet to the Yellowstone River.

A disclaimer

There is terrific fishing in the other 90+ waters I did not have time or space to mention! For more detailed information, consult Richard Park’s fine book, Fishing in Yellowstone National Park

Admittedly, I’ve weighted my suggestions towards moving water and towards the northern part of Yellowstone. That’s where I have spent most of my time over the years.

Also, check out our previous post on the basics of fly fishing in Yellowstone—including the need to carry bear spray! We hope you get a chance to fish in this magnificent area.

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