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Fly - Fishing Yellowstone Waters

There are over a hundred lakes and a thousand miles of streams in Yellowstone National Park; nowhere in the world are so many public rivers and streams found in such a condensed area. Seven varieties of gamefish live in Yellowstone: cutthroat, rainbow, brown, brook, and lake trout, along with grayling and mountain whitefish. Only cutthroats, grayling, and mountain whitefish are native to the Park.

In the 1890s, any lake, stream, pond, river, or slough that held water was stocked with fish. Little was known then about fisheries management; many of these places could not support self-sustaining populations and returned to their former barren state. Those that could support fish retain wild populations to this day. The last fish were stocked in Yellowstone in the mid-1950s.

The Park is divided into four sections by a network of roads called the Loop Roads.

1. Northwest: West Entrance (West Yellowstone, Montana)-Madison Junction-Norris Junction-Canyon Junction-Tower Junction- Mammoth-North Entrance (Gardiner, Montana).

2. Northeast: East Entrance-Fishing Bridge-Canyon Junction- Tower Junction-Mammoth-North Entrance (Gardiner, Montana). Cody, Wyoming, is one hour east of YNP's East Entrance.

3. Southeast: South Entrance-West Thumb-Fishing Bridge-East Entrance. Jackson, Wyoming, is one hour south of YNP's South Entrance.

4. Southwest: South Entrance-West Thumb-Canyon Junction- Norris Junction-Madison Junction-West Entrance (West Yellowstone, Montana).

The first river to clear from snowmelt is the Firehole; it's often the only game in the Park on the opener, and each May a group of Firehole River regulars eagerly awaits the Memorial Day weekend. The Firehole usually offers great dry-fly fishing during afternoon mayfly hatches and continues to do so until the end of June. By the second week of June, the Gibbon and Madison Rivers drop and clear, the ice comes off Yellowstone Lake, and the fishing season is under way for other waters. One by one the Parks rivers run clear of snowmelt, and most become fishable by July 4. Usually, the last rivers to clear are the Yellowstone and Lamar in early July.

There is no "best" time to fish Yellowstone Park. Each month of the short season offers its own style of best fishing. From the season opener in late May through the end of June, the best places to fish are the Firehole, Gibbon, Madison, and Lewis Rivers, and both Yellowstone and Trout Lakes, when they open on June 1st.

In July, all waters become fishable in the Park, including the small streams. Insect hatches are at their peak in July, and this is a favorite time for dry-fly fishers. The Firehole and Madison Rivers are two exceptions, however, because a combination of thermal water and summer heat raises their water temperatures into the 80s. Fishing is slow on these two rivers until water temperatures drop in early September. July and August are our fair-weather months, with the most consistent hatches and favorable stream conditions.

August is the best time for lake fishing in the Park. This is a great time to fish the backcountry lakes in Yellowstone, as the mosquitoes and biting flies thin. All rivers except the Firehole and Madison continue to fish well through the month. As the aquatic insect emergences wane, terrestrials play an increasingly important role in the trout diet. Imitations of grasshoppers, ants, crickets, and beetles are a mainstay in the angler's arsenal until the end of the season.

During the late season, September and October, only a few hatches remain. The big Green Drakes appear on the Lamar River and Slough Creek, along with tiny Blue-Winged Olives and midges. The Firehole and Madison Rivers become fishable again and produce excellent hatches of BWOs and midges. October is the best month to come if you want to catch the large migrating fish in the Madison and Lewis Rivers. As spawning time approaches and the weather becomes more winterlike, these big trout become aggressive and territorial, attacking baitfish imitations and other large streamer flies.

HATCHES___________________________________________________

Whenever possible we refer to insects by their common names. When no common name is available, we use an insect's scientific name.

In the accompanying chart you'll find an overall emergence table that will give you an idea when to expect various insects throughout the Park. In the chapters to come, major lakes and rivers where hatches are important are also accompanied by specific emergence tables. Below is some broadly useful information about insect activity in the park.

 

 

BEAR COUNTRY____________________________________________

Yellowstone is bear country, and there is no guarantee of your safety. Bears often utilize trails, streams, and lakeshores. Entry into some areas may be restricted; check with a ranger for specific bear management information. Traveling alone in bear country is not recommended. Make enough noise to make your presence known to bears. If you should encounter a bear, give it plenty of room, detour if possible, or wait for the bear to move on. If a bear should charge or attack and the situation allows, climb a tree. If you are caught by a bear, try playing dead. Do not run; this may excite the bear. Carefully read all bear country guidelines and regulations and be prepared for any situation. From Fishing Regulations for Yellowstone National Park

WHAT TO BRING____________________________________________

Each gate community offers a selection of fly shops and guide services. Make it a point to check with these local experts regarding current stream conditions and hatches. First-time visitors should spend a day or two with a knowledgeable guide; this can save you a lot of gas and boot leather.

We recommend an 8 -  9-foot rod balanced for a 4- to 6-weight line. A floating weight-forward or double-taper line will handle most situations. Full-sinking lines are helpful on lakes, and sink-tip lines are often used when fishing streamers or big nymphs in the fall.

Felt-soled, chest-high waders are the choice of most Yellowstone anglers. Lightweight waders made of Gore-Tex or microfibers are convenient for packing along on backcountry trips. Neoprene waders are required in colder weather, especially when tubing lakes or fishing in the fall.

Never go fishing in Yellowstone without rain gear, sunscreen, sunglasses, bug dope, and a hat. Backcountry users may want to have a can of bear repellent (pepper spray) handy and hang bells on their packs. Although we single out bears, all animals in the Park are wild and should be given a wide berth and proper respect. We have seen more visitors put up trees by elk, bison, and moose than by all the bears combined.

Yellowstone's lakes and ponds remain an untapped resource and largely unexplored, visited by only a handful of Yellowstone regulars. It's a mystery why so many anglers are reluctant to give lake fishing a try.

Yellowstone's stillwaters offer solitude, a pleasant change of pace from the sometimes crowded rivers, and a chance to see the Park as few others do. The lakes feature fishing for all trout species, and they provide your best opportunity to land a trophy trout or one of the seldom-seen grayling. The lakes have periods of fine dry-fly fishing to emerging insects. When insects aren't hatching, there's great fishing with subsurface flies. Each season we seem to spend more and more time exploring the lakes of Yellowstone. Remember that if you're bringing in a boat or float tube, you'll need a permit for your watercraft as well as a fishing permit.


Yellowstone National Park is managed as a natural area to protect plants, wildlife, geology, and scenery. Angling has been a major visitor activity for over a century. Present regulations reflect the park's primary purposes of resource protection and visitor use. The objectives of the fishing program are to:

  1. Manage aquatic resources as an important part of the ecosystem.
  2. Preserve and restore native fishes and their habitats.
  3. Provide recreational fishing opportunities for the enjoyment of park visitors, consistent with the first two objectives.

In Yellowstone, bald eagles, ospreys, pelicans, otters, grizzly bears, and other wildlife take precedence over humans in utilizing fish as food. None of the fish in Yellowstone are stocked, and populations depend on sufficient number of spawning adults to maintian natural reproduction and genetic diversity. In Yellowstone National Park, we place less emphasis upon providing fishing for human consumption and put more emphasis upon the quality for recreational fishing. Anglers, in return, have the opportunity to fish for wild trout in a natural setting.

Because of the increasing number of anglers in the park, more restrictive regulations have been adopted in Yellowstone. These restrictions include: season opening/closing dates, restrictive use of bait, catch-and-release only areas, and number/size limits according to species. A few places are closed to the public to protect threatened and endangered species, sensitive nesting birds, and to provide scenic viewing areas for visitors seeking undisturbed wildlife.

Permits and Fees

A permit is required to fish in Yellowstone. Anglers 16 years of age and older are required to purchase either a $10 ten-day or $20 season permit. Anglers 12 to 15 years of age are required to obtain a non-fee permit. Children 11 years of age or younger may fish without a permit when supervised by an adult. The adult is responsible for the child's actions. Fishing permits are available at all ranger stations, visitor centers, and Hamilton General Stores. No state fishing license is required in Yellowstone National Park.

Non-toxic Fishing

Yellowstone National Park has implemented a non-toxic fishing program. Nationwide, over three million waterfowl die from lead poisoning through ingestion. Because lead from fishing tackle concentrates in aquatic environments, tackle such as leaded split shot sinkers, weighted jigs, and soft weighted ribbon for fly fishing are prohibited. Only non-toxic alternatives to lead are allowed.


General Fishing Regulations

1. Fishing Permits and General Fishing Season

a. Fishing Permits: Anyone 12 years of age or older must have a valid Yellowstone National Park fishing permit to fish in the park. A fishing permit is valid only if signed by the permittee. A permit fee is charged for anyone 16 years of age or older. Children 11 years of age or younger may fish without a permit when supervised by an adult. The adult is responsible for the child's actions.

b. Park Rangers may check permits, inspect tackle and fish, and inspect creels and/or other containers where fish tackle may be stored.

c. General Fishing Season in Yellowstone National Park is open each day from 5 am to 10 pm, beginning on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through and including the first Sunday in November. There are several area-specific exceptions to the general opening dates.

2. General Tackle and Bait Restrictions

a. Each angler may use only one rod or line, which must be held in hand.

b. Only artificial lures and flies may be used. No natural or organic bait such as salmon eggs, worms, insects, or foodstuffs is allowed. Scented attractants are illegal.

c. Lures may have only one hook. The hook may have a single, double or treble configuration. No fish snagging is allowed.

d. Flies may have only one hook with a single point. Up to two flies may be used on a single leader.

e. Leaded fishing tackle such as leaded split-shot sinkers, weighted jigs (lead molded to a hook), and soft lead-weighted ribbon for nymph fishing are not allowed.

3. General Size and Possession Limits

a. Size and possession limits vary by species and area. The maximum number of fish an angler can keep is five per day (not counting lake trout from Yellowstone or Heart Lakes, or brook trout from Pocket Lake) of which at least three must be brook trout. An angler must cease fishing immediately after filling his/her possession limit except on Yellowstone Lake. Possession limits include all fish, whether fresh, stored in freezer/ice chests or otherwise preserved.

b. Fish that do not meet the specified size restrictions must be returned carefully and immediately to the waters from which they were taken. Unintentionally killed fish should also be returned to the water so that they can be consumed by wildlife. It is the responsibility of the angler to be able to measure fish lengths and to identify fish by species.

4. General Closures: No fishing from any road bridge or boat dock.

5. Boat and Float Tube Regulations: A Boat Permit is required of all types of vessels. (Float tubes are classified as vessels. They are not allowed on any river or stream in Yellowstone except the Lewis River between Lewis and Shoshone Lakes.) Boat Permits must be obtained in person at any of the following locations: South Entrance, Lewis Lake Campground, Grant Village Backcountry Office, Bridge Bay Marina and Lake Ranger Station. Non-motorized permits only may be obtained at Mammoth Backcountry Office, Canyon Backcountry Office, Northeast Entrance, and Bechler Ranger Station. Fees are charged for both motorized and non-motorized boat permits