This stream was named by the Indians a century or more before the whites came into the area. It was first known of by white men in 1743 when La Verendrye reached the area of the Mandan Villages. David Thompson of the North West Company is credited with the first writing of the name in English, in 1798. But Thompson did not explore beyond the river's mouth on the Missouri.
It rises in two branches, the higher on the west slope of Yount's Peak (12,161 feet high) in the Shoshone Range of Wyoming. The Shoshone, Wind River and Absaroka ranges are all part of the same peak system that extends from Dubois, Wyoming, to Livingston, Montana.
The first tributaries, Thorofare and Atlantic creeks, join the stream on the Thorofare Plateau at about 8,000 feet. It first becomes a trout stream here, and for the next twenty-five river miles before entering Yellowstone Lake, elevation 7,733 feet, it is a meandering, many-channeled brook with a clean gravel or sand-silt bottom. It lies in a broad valley, one to three miles across, which is often marshy or boggy.
This area is as primitive and wild now as it was 200 years ago when it was one of the most difficult spots in the West to reach. It is still the most difficult, time-consuming place in Yellowstone Park to get to, and three days is about the minimum time required to visit and fish it. The fish are neither larger nor more plentiful than in the river below the lake. Still, if one wishes to fish an almost untouched trout stream in beautiful surroundings, there is probably none anywhere in the forty-eight lower states that have been less affected by man than this one. From the lake, which collects the input of more than a score of icy streams, the river emerges as one of the largest trout streams in the nation, and one of the best.
The well-intentioned abuses of earlier years-trapping, stripping, restocking in an effort to help nature-have largely been stopped. The river is now left pretty much to nature, and is being managed for the welfare of the creatures in and around it with the result it has become perhaps as natural a trout stream as currently exists, outside of Alaska or remote Canada, on this continent.
The first mile below the outlet has been closed to fishing.This includes the famous Fishing Bridge, an atrocity in its time. From the end of this closed area to the start of the next at Sulphur Caldron, is little more than six miles of water so unbelievably good that it supports about 4,500 anglers per mile of stream during the season and still maintains its quality. It is catch-and-release fishing, perhaps the most prolific such piece of water anywhere in the world. It is possible to catch and release over seventy-five trout averaging two pounds in a day's fishing, and catches of fifty or more are not at all uncommon. It is currently restricted to flies and single-hook lures.
Just below the lake outlet, the river is broad, 300 to 400 feet across, and there are boggy areas that one must be aware of and watch out for. Only a small portion of the water can be covered by wading and flotation devices of any kind are banned. It holds an enormous pod of trout.
A little farther on the banks become better defined and road and river edge closer together. Two road miles below the outlet the two parallel each other in close proximity all through this splendid fishing stretch. Mostly the river is a large, deep, gliding stream over a clean gravel bottom. This picture is deceiving. This is a very powerful river, moving relentlessly to its downstream falls. One can stand in his waders out in the river and feel a steady movement of the gravel under his feet. In time one will be edged steadily and slowly downstream without volition.
Le Hardy Rapids is a beautiful fast-water stretch about halfway between the lake outlet and Sulphur Caldron. At times, for study and management purposes, it is closed to fishing.
Buffalo Ford is the well-known spot where anglers by the score gather. On some days, as many as 150 fishermen will visit this quarter-mile-long stretch and, incredibly, all will catch from a few to many trout, running one to three, and occasionally more, pounds.
The section of the river below Sulphur Caldron down to Alum Creek, a little more than six miles of water, is a marshy, boggy area that is loaded with wildlife and waterfowl. It is closed to fishing as a nature study area, and it is a pure joy to visit. On any given day one may see buffalo, moose, deer, antelope, coyotes, muskrat and marmots, as well as birds and waterfowl-including the rare and beautiful trumpeter swan. The closing of this area for this purpose is another example of the Park Administration moving closer to the ideal in managing this wonderland for all creatures, and for the continued enjoyment by mankind.
Below Alum Creek to Chittenden Bridge over the river just above Upper Falls, the bottom is a rather featureless affair of various silts, muds and clays over rhyolite lava bedrock. This is less propitious water for trout and aquatic insects and the fish are fewer. However, there is reason to believe that trout migrate into and out of the area, for reasons presently unexplained, and one can occasionally hit a bonanza here. But venture no closer than a quarter-mile of the bridge. The current here is picking up speed for its leap over the falls, the bottom becomes smooth bedrock, and several unwary anglers have been swept to their death. This is a very powerful river here and elsewhere and must be treated with intelligence and respect.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone is as beautiful and as awe inspiring as that of the Colorado. There are choice, safe locations from which it may be viewed. There are trout in the river throughout its length, but they are neither larger nor more plentiful than elsewhere. It is a minimum 1,500-foot vertical climb into and out of, and if it is solitude in angling that you are after, it may be had far easier in the Black Canyon, a mile or two below-downstream-of the mouth of the Grand Canyon.
The river comes out of the Grand Canyon in the vicinity of Tower Falls (on Tower Creek, a tributary). There is a mile or two of good, fast, boulder-filled pocket water up and down stream of the Cooke City Road Bridge that is great fun to fish if you like fast-water fishing. I like it.
Black Canyon stretches for about twenty miles from its head just below the bridge, all the way to Gardiner. From the head of the canyon to Gardiner, it is out of sight of, and from one to four miles from the Mammoth-Tower Junction Road. This is the longest uninterrupted stretch of the river, and for those who can make a relatively easy hike, it is the best place in the world to find solitude and good fishing at a rather small physical price.
The terrain is not difficult to cross in most areas. The ground cover is mostly sagebrush and bunchgrass, interspersed with common juniper. The footing is good, and it takes only from half to one and a half hours to reach the river from the road.
This is fast water, runs, rapids and cascades, even a falls. There are some giant smooth-surfaced pools, but they are pools with a powerful current. The pool bottoms are polished bedrock, the rest of the stream bottom is large rubble and boulders. Waders cannot generally be used, so wear your hiking boots.
It is stone fly water and the nymphs live from one to four years in the stream before emerging as flying adults. There are several caddis species that generally are found along the current edges and in the quieter waters. The best fly most of the time is the big, weighted stone fly nymph, but here you will need more kinds and sizes than elsewhere. Both the black Pteronarcys and the golden amber Calineuria, Doroneuria and Hesperoperla are found in numbers. Salmonflies here include all three species, and you'll find them hatching in June, July, August and even into September. So, along with the nymphs and a sinking line, one wants to carry the dries and a floating line.
You will probably not see another angler except your own party along this stretch. It is fished only by the very dedicated. Yet it is not that difficult of access and is excellent fishing for strong, wild, lusty fish of one and two pounds.
In effect, it is an undisturbed, wilderness river, close to a major roadway, that offers solitude and superb fishing for the angler willing to walk a bit.
If you take the above precautions, you will have a most enjoyable angling experience and one that few people have taken. Also, while in there, you will get the feeling that this was what the world was like before man came upon the scene. It's worth making the trip just for that.
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