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This section contains four of the Park's most popular rivers: the Madison, Gallatin, Gardner, and Gibbon. All are easily accessible by car and rated blue-ribbon trout streams. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rates the Madison the world's second best trout stream; the Yellowstone River is first.

In The Living River (Nick Lyons Books, New York, 1979), Charles Brooks described the Madison River as the world's largest chalkstream. He wrote that its waters are rich in calcium bicarbonate-the mineral most crucial to aquatic life and the base of the food chain that nourishes the wild trout for which this river is world famous.

The Shoshone called the Gallatin River Cut-tuh-o'-gwa, or "swift river." The Gallatin is this and much more. Its icy waters hold a diverse and abundant insect population, providing plenty of food for three species of trout, mountain whitefish, and the rare Montana grayling.

The Gardner River is often overlooked in favor of more publicized waters, and local anglers like to keep it under their hats. The river offers something for everyone-meadow water for the dry-fly angler, and rough-and-tumble stretches for the nymph fisher. Attractor flies and terrestrials provide fun fishing all summer long.

The secrets to the Gibbon River are under lock, and only the patient
 and observant angler will learn the combination. Deep pools and undercuts harbor large brown trout and the elusive grayling. Riffles and pockets hide rainbows and brook trout. This stream gives the fly fisher the choice of an easy or a very challenging day.

Good fishing is where you find it, and numerous small streams and lakes in the northwestern quadrant of the Park are available to those willing to explore the backcountry.


Blacktail Deer Creek - Brook Trout
This lovely tributary to the Yellowstone River is 7 miles east of Mammoth on the Mammoth-Tower Highway. Blacktail Deer Trail follows the creek along the 4-mile stretch downstream to the Yellowstone. The fishing is excellent for richly colored brook trout in the 9- to 10-inch range. During terrestrial time, July through September, the trout ravenously attack grasshopper, beetle, and cricket patterns. Easy access and good fishing make this one of our most popular small streams. The fishing on the upstream side of the highway is also good and receives a lot less pressure.


Duck Creek - Brook-Brown-Rainbow
Duck Creek is good-sized meadow stream located 8 miles north of West Yellowstone, then east off Highway 191 on the Duck Creek Road. Formed by the waters of Campanula, Gneiss, and Richards Creeks, this fine stream meanders its way through country heavily populated by bear and moose. In spawning season. Duck Creek's small population of resident fish is bolstered by brown, brook, and rainbow trout averaging 16 inches that migrate from Montana's Hebgen Lake. Pale Morning Duns and Gray and Green Drakes can bring the fish to the surface during June and early July. Terrestrials such as ants, beetles, and grasshoppers are a must in late summer. Look for mayfly activity on overcast days and terrestrial action on bright, sunny, and windy days. Duck Creek is one of the few waters in Yellowstone Park that suffered as a result of the fires of 1988. However, the good water years of 1993, 199$, and 1996 are gradually reducing the heavy siltation caused by the fires, and necessary habitat for both resident and spawning trout is now available.


Fan Creek - Brook-Cutthroat-Rainbow
This tributary to the Gallatin River, located at Mile Marker 22, 22 miles north of West Yellowstone on Highway 191, is reached by taking the Fawn Pass Trail, then taking a left onto the Sportsman Lake Trail. A small meadow stream, Fan Creek holds healthy populations of cutthroat and rainbow trout, along with the occasional large brown. Baetis, Flavs, Green Drakes, and Pale Morning Duns are plentiful, and there are some caddis hatches. In late summer, terrestrials are good producers here. For such a small stream, Fan Creek holds trout that can be exceedingly selective and difficult to catch. Attractor flies work fine on most small streams, but here we recommend matching the hatch.


Gallatin River - Brook-Brown-Cutthroat-Rainbow-Grayling-Whitefish
The Gallatin begins as an icy trickle leaving remote Gallatin Lake at nearly 10,000 feet in elevation. On the first half of its 12-mile journey downstream to Highway 191, the frigid water of the Gallatin provides little in the way of trout habitat. About halfway between the lake and the highway the habitat improves, but the river
remains a small-fish proposition-mostly cutthroat and brook trout, with a few rainbows and browns.

Once in view of the highway, 20 miles north of West Yellowstone, the river develops more character. Willows begin to line the riverbank, and as the water meanders through them, undercut banks and weed beds begin to appear. Fish numbers and sizes increase proportionally with the improvement of the holding water and increase in insect life. The river is still ice cold here and is usually discolored by snowmelt until July 4. Immediately after clearing, both aquatic and terrestrial insect activity increase.

River access is easy all the way to the Park's north boundary, as the river flows parallel to the road. Numbered roadside mile markers are a quick way to identify your location. The river comes into view on the east side of the road at Mile Marker 20 and for the next 11 miles remains in the Park. (Keep in mind that the mile-marker number is the same regardless of your direction of travel.) Once you leave the Park near Mile Marker 31, your Yellowstone Park fishing permit is no longer valid; you'll need a Montana fishing license from here downstream. This stretch of water is a pleasant mix of mountain freestone and meadow water, with enough undercut banks to house larger fish. Boulders, pockets, pools, and eddies combine to present a challenge to any angler, with enough variety to suit any mood or technique.

The Gallatin has a good population of rainbows, along with browns, cutthroats, grayling, and whitefish. This looks like classic rainbow water, and the average trout runs II to 12 inches. First-timers on the Gallatin are often surprised by browns twice that size, however. They're also surprised by where they hold. The browns are in the obvious deep runs, pockets, and undercuts, but they also turn up in water so shallow that their backs are out of the water. We relearn this lesson every year: Keep your eyes open for every inch of water. In the Gallatin, the big fish are often in small-fish water, and the small fish are where we think the big fish should be.

Because the Gallatin hosts an incredibly diverse insect population-more than 200 species of mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies-attractor flies are often more successful than match-the-hatch patterns. The notable exceptions are hatches of Pale Morning Duns, Flavs, and Green Drakes.


Gardner River - Cutthroat-Brook-Brown-Rainbow-Whitefish
From its source at Joseph Peak west of Mammoth to where it crosses the Norris-Mammoth Road at the lower end of Gardner's Hole, the Gardner River is strictly a small brook trout fishery. On this part of the stream (along with Panther, Indian, and Obsidian Creeks) children 11 and younger may fish with bait. This is a popular place for family camping, and serious fly fishers should move downstream. On the east side of the Norris-Mammoth Bridge are Sheepeater Cliffs, and there's good fishing for 8- to 10-inch brook trout here. Below Sheepeater Cliffs, the river drops 150 feet over Osprey Falls into 800-foot-deep Sheepeater Canyon. The river in this area is practically fishless, and getting into and out of this canyon is dangerous. The river becomes fishable again about IV2 miles below Osprey Falls. The only access to this section is at the Tower Bridge, via the Mammoth-Tower Road. Only Vi mile of fishable water lies upstream of the bridge before the hazards of hiking begin to outweigh the rewards of catching a few pan-sized trout. Downstream from the Mammoth-Tower Bridge the river flows through Gardner Canyon, a pleasant 3-mile hike along sagebrush and greasewood trails. Lava Creek enters from the east, adding nutrients and a few cutthroat trout to the river, which they share with brooks, browns, rainbows, and a few large whitefish. Most of the stream is typical canyon water, with boulders, riffles, and runs. There are also a few nice pools in this stretch. The middle of this short canyon is accessible via a trail behind the Yellowstone School and Mammoth housing area. The 45th Parallel Bridge-so called because its halfway between the equator and the North Pole-crosses the Gardner River at the bottom of the canyon. From here to the north boundary of the Park, the river plunges through 3 miles of cascades and boulders, known locally as Shotgun Chutes, before entering the Yellowstone River at the town of Gardiner, Montana. Although the river flows alongside the road and access is easy, the character of the water makes fishing difficult. September, grasshoppers) beetles, and gargantuan Mormon Cricket patterns will bring trout to the surface. The average resident trout here run 10 to 12 inches, but an occasional lunker brown will make you wish you'd put on fresh backing this season. Autumn is a colorful time on the Gardner. Aspen leaves are turning red and gold, bull elk are bugling and sparring for their harems, and big brown trout begin migrating up the Gardner from the Yellowstone River. While the fishing in September is okay, October is the best time to try for fall-migrating fish. Rainy or snowy days are best for fishing big streamers, nymphs, and Baetis mayfly imitations to fall-run browns. Even on bright, sunny days, the Gardner is one of those rare rivers where you can still get into migratory fish with big attractor dries and terrestrials. Regardless of the weather, we always make it a point to fish the Gardner every fall.


Gibbon River - Brook-Brown-Rainbow-Grayling-Whitefish
The Gibbon River has it all: meandering meadow stretches with deep undercuts inhabited by big browns, riffles with rambunctious rainbows, pockets holding voracious brook trout, and secluded pools hiding the elusive grayling. After leaving its main sources, Grebe and Wolf Lakes, the Gibbon flows through a maze of downed lodgepole pines until crossing the Norris-Canyon Road on its way to Virginia Meadows. This section of stream is best left to its resident moose and bear, as human travel is next to impossible amid the downed timber. Virginia Meadows begins on the downstream side of the Norris-Canyon Highway and offers fine fishing for

small brook trout. There's a picnic area at the lower end of the meadow, accessible via the Virginia Cascades Road. The entrance to this one-way drive is about 2 miles downstream from the meadow and follows the river back upstream to both the cascades and the picnic area. Below the cascades and for the 2 miles downstream to Norris Junction, the water is full of pockets, pools, and undercut banks that hold plenty of browns, brooks, rainbows, and the occasional grayling. Its best fished with a high-floating dry fly bounced over and through the scattered cover that lines the stream.

At Norris Junction, with the addition of water from Solfatara Creek, the river changes its character, becoming noticeably deeper and wider as it passes the campground and crosses the Norris-Gardiner Road. From here to Elk Park, a distance of about 2 miles, the river flows behind Norris Geyser Basin; the browns become larger, the brook trout fewer, and the rainbows far between. Geothermal features start to appear along the stream, adding both nutrients and water and preparing the habitat for increased insect life as the river turns the corner into Elk Park.

If you head south at Norris Junction, Elk Park will be the first meadow on your right and a great place to see elk. The river is like a spring creek here, with slow-moving water and tremendously undercut banks. The insect hatches also resemble those of a spring creek: Baetis (Blue-Winged Olives), Pale Morning Duns, Brown Drakes, and Green Drakes. Caddis include Oecetis and Lepidostoma. This is on-your-knees fishing to wary brown trout. Sharply honed stalking skills and a high degree of patience are required to land fish here. You must be able to focus and concentrate. The only time we recommend searching the water with a fly is during terrestrial season.

As you journey downstream from Elk Park the elevation drops radically, and there's a mile of unproductive, shallow rapids next to the road. The gradient then levels and the water slows at the Gibbon picnic area) upstream of Gibbon Meadows.

The scene here is much the same as at Elk Park, only this meadow is much larger. The depth is also more uniform, and the flow more even, in this stretch. There are fewer undercut banks and weed beds, and it isn't as obvious where [ trout hold. If you don't spot any surface feeding, look for fish holding in the shadows next to the bank. Like Elk Park, I Gibbon Meadows can be difficult fishing, but its a lot of fun for someone who enjoys mixing hunting with fishing.

Leaving Gibbon Meadows behind, the river becomes pocket water all the way down to Gibbon Falls, a distance of 5 miles. This is fun fishing for anyone who likes searching the water with attractor flies for 8- to 12-inch fish. Browns and rainbows predominate in this, the Gibbon River Canyon, along with the occasional grayling and small brook trout.

At Gibbon Falls the water drops 88 feet, forming a barrier to migrating trout. The river here is a succession of riffles, runs, and pools, custom made for the wet-fly and nymph angler. Its good fishing during Junes Golden Stonefly emergence and a favorite with many locals during grasshopper time. However, this section is especially noted for its fine fall fishing.

In October, from Gibbon Falls 5 miles downstream to the rivers confluence with the Firehole at Madison Junction, large brown and rainbow trout head into the river to spawn. These fall-run fish, moving upstream from Montana's Hebgen Lake, attract fishers from around the world.

This creek follows Highway 191 north of West Yellowstone, from Mile Marker 11 upstream to Mile Marker 17. Most of the fishing takes place along this stretch, because Graylings headwater contains small fish and is located in trailless backcountry that's often closed to human travel due to high grizzly bear activity.

Grayling Creek - Brown-Cutthroat-Rainbow

Grayling Creek is a medium-sized mountain stream that offers excellent fishing during hatches. Green Drakes and Pale Morning Duns (including PMD spinner falls), caddis, and Little Yellow and Golden Stoneflies will bring the trout to the surface. Brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout average 11 inches, but those anglers willing to hunt will find an occasional lunker.


Madison River - Brown-Rainbow-Grayling
-Whitefish. National Park Mountain overlooks the beginning of the Madison River, which is formed by the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers. It was here that a small group 
of men with foresight conceived the idea of setting aside the natural wonders of Yellowstone as a national park.
The Madison River has been called the worlds largest chalkstream. From Madison Junction to the west entrance of the Park is a 14-mile journey. The road follows the river for 10 of these miles, making access easy. The fishing, however, is never easy. According to Charlie Brooks, in his Trout^ and the Stream (Crown, New York, 1974), only 20 percent ^ of those fishing this water catch fish. Success demands a stealthy approach and all the concentration you can muster.

From Elk Meadow downstream to Big Bend, then past Mount Haynes and Nine-Mile Hole to Riverside Drive, the river is a succession of deep runs with undercut banks. The bottom is randomly carpeted with lush weeds that reach the surface, creating a complex mix of crosscurrents. Controlling drag is paramount to fishing this stretch successfully. We advise long leaders and tippets to help achieve drag-free floats.

This 9-mile chalkstream section is home to several important trout stream insects. Mayflies include Baetis (BWOs), Pale Morning Duns, Gray Drakes, and Tricos. While several caddis are available to the trout, we've found only Brachycentrus adults present in sufficient number to entertain rising fish. Salmonflies are the predominant stone-fly and therefore the stonefly of choice. This early-June hatch is extremely variable, confined to short sections of riffle water where the habitat is ideal for the nymphs.

From July through September, terrestrials form an increasing portion of the trout diet. Good places to fish imitations are the meadow stretches of Elk Meadow to Big Bend, then downstream to the bottom reaches of this section, most notably Grasshopper Bank. At Riverside Drive, just below Grasshopper Bank, the river loses its chalkstream character and becomes freestone-riffle water.

The next 5 miles of river, from Riverside Drive to the Barns' Pools, lacks holding water and is mostly unproductive. With the exception of a few very short runs such as Shakey Beiley's, the river in this section is not worth your time. Its just too shallow.

A half mile inside Yellowstones West Entrance is a dirt road on the north side of the main road that takes you down to the Barns Pools, named for the stables that used to house the Park's horses and stagecoaches. When you reach the end of the road, you'll be at Hole #2. Around the corner upstream is Cable Car Run, and around the corner downstream are two more holes, locally named, with great imagination, Hole #1 and Hole #3. For the next 3 miles downstream, the river winds northwest in a series of oxbows to the Parks boundary. This portion of the river is only accessible by hiking downstream from the Barns' Pools or upstream from the Bakers Hole campground and the Montana state line.

Many refer to this part of the river as Beaver Meadows, because of thenumerous beaver holes along the banks. This area is a haven for moose and bears, which like the security of the willows and bogs and nearby thick stands of lodge-pole pines. As the river meanders through this meadow, deep pools and enormous undercut banks provide great holding water and security for trout and whitefish. This stretch is primarily a fall fishery, hosting great numbers of migrating trout that move upstream from Montana's Hebgen Lake to spawn. A resident population of trout is virtually nonexistent.

Late September through October is the time to fish the fall spawners in the Madison. Short days, cold weather, and snow squalls signal both the fish and a hearty breed of fishers that its time to return to the Madison. Heavy rods, large tippets, and big flies are required to land these lake fish moving in to spawn. Fish of up to 4 pounds are not uncommon.

For gear we recommend a 7-weight rod, IX-2X tippets, and a good selection of big nymphs and streamers in various colors. This type of fishing is not unlike steelhead and salmon fishing. These fish are territorial, protecting their turf rather than actively feeding. We believe in using big, bright flies to take advantage of this aggressiveness.

Although we look forward to the fall fishing each year, it marks the beginning of the end. November means big snows, bitter cold, and the close of the season.


Straight Creek - Brook Trout
This fine little brook-trout fishery flows both into and out of Grizzly Lake. It's located along the Grizzly Lake Trail, about 6 miles north of Norris Junction on the Mammoth-Norris Road. Above the lake. Straight Creek provides little habitat for trout; below the lake, it merges with Winter Creek and supports a good population of wild brook trout averaging 8 inches. In July there's a hatch of Green Drakes, providing fun dry-fly fishing for eager brookies.


Tower Creek - Brook-Rainbow
This rough-and-tumble, medium-sized trout stream enters the Yellowstone River near the Tower Falls carnpground. Upstream from the campground, Tower Creek offers excellent fishing for 9-inch brook and rainbow trout; the Tower Creek Trail parallels it. Below the campground, a well-traveled trail takes you down to the Yellowstone River, where you can fish your way upstream to the spectacular Tower Falls itself. The lower water, from the Yellowstone River to Tower Falls, is best fished with high-floating attractor flies such as Trudes, Wulffs, and H&L Variants. Above the falls, upstream from the campground during July, August, and September, try terrestrials such as beetles and grasshoppers.

 


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