southeast corner of Yellowstone National Park is one of the most remote
areas in the continental United States. The only roads are along its
north and west boundaries. It's over 40 miles as the crow flies from
Fishing Bridge on Yellowstone Lake to the Thorofare patrol cabin in
the southeast corner of the Park, and there isn't a road anywhere. Throughout
this region, travel is mostly by foot trail and boat.
The Yellowstone Lake-Thorofare region
contains Eagle Peak, the highest point in the Park, at 11,358 feet;
Two Ocean Plateau, where streams drain to both the Atlantic and Pacific
Oceans; and Yellowstone Lake, the largest natural freshwater lake in
the United States above a 7,000-foot altitude. It's also the headwaters
for the Yellowstone River, the longest undammed river in the U.S.
The region contains the largest concentration
of grizzly bears in the lower 48 states, as well as elk, moose, wolves,
and wolverines. But for fly fishers the big draw is the Yellowstone
cutthroat, the only trout native to Yellowstone National Park. This
is the worlds largest natural cutthroat fishery, and many mammals and
birds, like the grizzly bear and bald eagle, rely on the life cycle
of this crown jewel of American trout.
The cutthroat trout in this good-sized tributary to Heart Lake run big,
averaging around 16 inches. Access it by following the Heart Lake Trail
for 7V2 miles to Heart Lake, then skirting the north shore of
the lake on the Trail Creek Trail for another 2 miles. The long hike
and the marshy conditions mean few anglers fish this creek. The cutthroats
here are never selective; almost any fly pattern resembling food will
This major tributary to Yellowstone Lake is located 3 miles south of
Lake Butte on the Thorofare Trail. Clear Creek is a beautiful stream
that provides thousands of cutthroats with a safe place to spawn until
late in the season (August). Check the regulations each year, as opening
dates change with the spawning seasons and grizzly bear closures. Wherever
you find spawning trout, we recommend leaving them be so that they can
propagate without the added stress of angling.
A 1/2-mile hike south from Lake Butte on the Thorofare Trail-found 10
miles east of Fishing Bridge on the Fishing Bridge-East Entrance Highway-will
take you to this heavily fished cutthroat spawning stream. Intense grizzly
activity forces an opening date in August. Check regulations before
making the short hike to this creek. We recommend giving the spawning
trout a rest.
Heart River -
This 4-mile-long outlet of Heart Lake enters the Snake River on the
north edge of Big Game Ridge. The Heart is best reached by following
the Heart Lake Trail 7Vi miles south to Heart Lake, then 4Vi
miles east to the Heart River Cutoff Trail, a total distance of 12 miles.
The river leaves the lake just south of here for its 4-mile trip down
to the Snake River. Fishing is good for cutthroat trout that run 8 to
14 inches. The lower end of this river is quite marshy, so we prefer
to fish it near its outlet from the lake with Callibaetis mayfly
- Brown-Lake Trout
This river leaves Lewis Lake 11 Vi miles north of the South
Entrance, on the West
Thumb-South Entrance Highway.
(Another 4-mile section of the Lewis River, known as the Lewis River
Channel, located between Lewis and Shoshone Lakes, is detailed in section
4, Southwest, of this book.) The first H mile of river as it
comes out of Lewis Lake is easily reached from the Lewis Lake campground
and offers good fishing for browns and lake trout, which move in and
out of the river. Be sure to bring your bug repellent, as mosquitoes
and biting flies are fierce. Below this point and for about a mile downstream
to the falls, access is difficult because there's no trail. Downfall
timber and steep cliffs make this a place to avoid; it offers poor fishing
for small fish.
From its falls downstream to the canyon,
the Lewis follows the West Thumb-South Entrance Highway for a little
over 2 miles. This stretch is reminiscent of a spring creek, with slow-moving
meadow water and large, wary Lewis River Canyon brown trout. Hatches
of Pale Morning Duns, Green Drakes, and Flavs, along with several caddis
species, will bring these fish to the surface. In the late season, terrestrials
also account for some big fish. This is major-league fly fishing. Long
leaders, fine tippets, and stalking skills are necessary for success
in this section.
When the Lewis River enters its canyon,
access is nearly impossible due to the steep canyon walls and rock faces.
The river remains in the canyon for several miles, until it joins the
Snake River near the South Entrance. Despite repeated attempts, we've
never found good fishing in the canyon. The dangers of climbing in and
out mean its best left alone.
This remote river gets little angling pressure because of the long hike
and its inconsistent fishing. Although a number of trails reach this
river, the easiest route is to follow the South Boundary Trail 9 miles
east to the Snake River Trail, then follow the latter, which runs along
the river's entire length. The trailhead for the South Boundary Trail
is located at the South Entrance to the Park. Brook, brown, rainbow,
and lake trout are found here, but cutthroats and mountain whitefish
make up the majority of fish caught.
Access to the river is more difficult
than it appears on a map; much of the stream is in a canyon, with no
bridges or trails to get you there. You're on your own. The Snake River
Trail from Harebell Creek to its end near Crooked Creek is a series
of ups and downs, switchbacks, and seemingly endless river crossings
that will test your mettle. Buy a good compass, a topographical map,
and a first-aid kit. Get yourself in good physical shape, then consult
a backcountry ranger about this hike.
Located at the utmost end of the Thorofare Trail, 30 miles south of
Lake Butte in the southeast corner of Yellowstone Park, Thorofare Creek
is a major tributary to the Yellowstone River. There's excellent fishing
for both spawning and resident cutthroats that average I $ inches, and
its located in the most wild and remote country left in the continental
United States. The 60-mile round trip through the Thorofare's grizzly
country deters most people, but if you have the time you'll be rewarded
by sights and sounds few others will ever know.
Heart Lake -
The Heart Lake Trailhead is 71/2 miles south of West Thumb, on the West
Thumb-South Entrance Highway. For the first 5 miles the trail winds
at a gentle pace through lodgepole pines. It then descends to Witch
Creek and through a meadow for its last IVi miles. This 2,150-acre
lake holds cutthroat and lake trout that average 18 inches. Mountain
whitefish are also present, but they aren't as large. Anglers willing
to pack in a float tube will do best, but you can also wade from shore.
Sight casting to cruising or rising trout can be effective when the
cutthroats are feeding on caddis or Callibaetis mayflies. If
you're after lake trout, we suggest a sinking line and a size-2 streamer
that imitates a cutthroat. The largest lake trout ever caught in the
Park- 43 pounds-was landed here.
Legends say that the waters of a lake on the Continental Divide flowed
to both the Pacific and Atlantic Oceans, but its location was unknown-a
"riddle." The location of the mysterious lake remains a mystery,
so this lake, lying just east of the Continental Divide, was named "Riddle
Lake." Its outlet flows in just one direction, however-east to
the Atlantic. With this the riddle was solved, and the outlet of Riddle
Lake became known as "Solution Creek." This 274-acre lake
is reached by a 2^-mile hike east on the Riddle Lake Trail, which begins
a little more than 2 miles south of Grant Village, on the West Thumb-South
Entrance Highway. The lake offers catch-and-release fishing for cutthroats
that average 14 inches. The 45-minute hike to this beautiful lake is
through grizzly country, so take precautions. Callibaetis mayflies
bring fine rises of trout in July and August.
Twenty-eight-acre Sylvan Lake is accessible right off the Fishing Bridge-East
Entrance Highway, 10 miles west of the East Entrance. There's heavy
fishing pressure here, but anglers can do well on this narrow lake by
wading out and casting Callibaetis imitations to cruising trout
gulping in the naturals. The lake opens to catch-and-release fishing
on July 15, just about the time the Callibaetis hatch begins
each summer. Cutthroats averaging 16 inches are easily caught on this
shallow, 55-acre lake located deep in the heart of grizzly country.
Trail Lake is reached by following the Thorofare Trail 20V2 miles
south from Lake Butte to the Trail Creek Trail. Take the latter west
for 2 miles and you'll cross Trail Creek itself. You'll have to hike
the creek upstream for a mile until you reach the lake.
Lake - Cutthroat-Lake Trout
If you can't find this 87,430-acre lake on a map, you might consider
politics as a career. Only the 31 miles of the west and north shorelines
have road access. More than 80 miles of shoreline are accessible only
by boat or by hiking one of the two trails that provide access. The
Thorofare Trail runs along the east shore of the lake and is located
10 miles east of Fishing Bridge, on the East Entrance Highway. The Heart
Lake Trail, located 7Vi miles south of West Thumb, on the South
Entrance Highway, provides access to the south and southeast arms of
the lake. The Heart Lake Trail meets the Trail Creek Trail at the southeast
corner of Heart Lake. Trail Creek Trail then meets the Thorofare Trail
at the southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake; this completes a loop around
Yellowstone Lake is the worlds largest
wild cutthroat fishery. This fishery was in jeopardy prior to 1975,
when the population reached an all-time low. Then a limit of two fish,
a minimum of 13 inches long, was instituted to protect spawning-sized
cutthroat. Now it's difficult to catch a cutthroat of under 13 inches;
most of the fish are larger. This foresighted management has returned
cutthroat numbers to historic levels, providing a quality fishery that
will last for years.
The lake opens to fishing June 15. Cutthroat
trout are found in the shallow water along the lake's shoreline, where
aquatic vegetation and insect life flourishes in this otherwise deep,
ice-cold environment. Anglers can fish either from shore or from a float
tube; there's no need for a boat.
The most popular place to fish is the
Bridge Bay-Gull Point area-about 2 miles of shoreline next to the road
on the west side of the lake. The other 29 miles of highway access receive
Point is one of our favorite places to fish the lake. Callibaetis
begin hatching around July 4. Since they seldom emerge before 10 A.M.,
we can have a leisurely breakfast at the Lake Hotel and still arrive
at the lake in plenty of time. We get our tubes ready to go, but we
begin by fishing nymphs from the shore to trout patrolling the shoreline.
These fish know when a hatch is imminent. Initially they feed on Callibaetis
nymphs, but they switch to duns as the hatch progresses. Once the fish
make the switch, we climb into our tubes and follow into deeper water,
where the fish tend to take the duns more readily. Tubes help us take
advantage of the best morning and early-afternoon fishing.
As with tubing on any lake, be conscious
of wind direction and speed to avoid being blown away from shore and
having to fight your way back in.
The fishing is as easy as it sounds for
the adventurous angler. With 31 miles of roadside access from which
to choose (and another 80 backcountry miles), you don't have to see
another angler unless you want to.