The freestone rivers and streams that run through the Greater Yellowstone Ecosystem are some of the most fabled and majestic in the world. The Madison, Gallatin and Yellowstone are just the beginning of the list, and they are the headwaters of thousands of miles of rivers that eventually flow to the Mighty Missouri and Mississippi Rivers and the Gulf of Mexico. Yellowstone National Park, hands down one of the world's coolest places, anchors this geographic region and it's tall snowcapped peaks set the backdrop to many of our days on the water.
Classic western towns like Bozeman, Big Sky, Livingston, Ennis, West Yellowstone and Gardiner are the hubs of culture for this area, and there is more than enough fun to go around in these spots if that's what you're looking for. The options for lodging, dining and non-fishing activities (white water rafting, rock climbing, horseback riding, art collecting, museum strolling, etc.), are incredibly abundant. There is something for everyone in Yellowstone Country, especially if you like a little outdoor adventure and the sound of moving water.
The fishing options are equally as bountiful. Driftboat fishing is the norm on many of our larger rivers and private lakes, but we also wade fish a good number of secret small creeks that we don't talk much about until we've got you in the car and blindfolded. When spending a number of days in the Yellowstone area we highly recommend a sampler plate of fishing options so you can get a true taste of what the area has to offer. We call this our Montana Trout Tour, and it is the best way to explore the area and get the full Montana experience.
This area receives more tourist visitors that any other part of Montana, and for the do-it-yourself angler there are lots of easily accessible roadway fishing spots to wet a line. But like many others have found, especially in a place so popular for fishing, having a pro guide lead you to the secret hotspots is well worth the investment.
The Yellowstone River in Paradise Valley is a pilgrimage to the birthplace of Montana fly fishing. Early on, anglers worked diligently to protect this free-flowing masterpiece. These pioneering fly fishers knew what magic lurked in the Yellowstone's waters, and have managed to keep it the country’s longest free flowing river. That's right, not a single dam on it.
Rising deep in the heart of a Wyoming wilderness area and gaining momentum in Yellowstone National Park, the Yellowstone River tumbles out of The Park near Gardiner, Montana. Surrounded by jagged peaks and banked with cottonwoods, the Yellowstone River is one of the most scenic places on earth and a near perfect place for a fly fishing trip of any sort.
Fishing Seasons and Techniques
The Yellowstone River is usually the last Montana river to work through its run-off, and it's this necessary waiting that makes fishing the Yellowstone River so great. Typically, for almost two months, it is too high and off-color to fish, but when it drops and clears just enough on the edges, the big bugs (salmon flies) and the big rainbow trout, brown trout and native yellowstone cutthroat trout turn on to them. Fishing on the Yellowstone River is primarily dryfly fishing, but stripping streamers in the fall can land some trophies as well. This river is a true favorite of ours.
The Yellowstone can be broken in three distinctly different reaches; the upper Park section, the middle Valley section, and the lower plains section. The piece of the Yellowstone that is in Yellowstone National Park is accessible only by wade fishing, and it requires some hiking to reach it in most spots. You will find mostly native Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout in this area who love to devour big, bushy dry flies.
Once the river reaches Gardiner and rips through Yankee Jim Canyon it has officially entered into the Paradise Valley, which is the most popular section. This 50 mile valley is flanked by the high peaked Gallatin and Absorka mountain ranges on either side, and the river itself is the classic run-riffle-pool stuff everyone loves. Rainbow trout, brown trout, and cutthroat trout are all found in this section with great abundance.
After the Yellowstone flows through Livingston, one of our favorites towns in all of Big Sky Country, it turns east and runs another 40 miles to Big Timer. This lower section is fished less, but is productive to those who know it and gives up some true trophy brown trout for the dedicated angler.
All said, the Yellowstone River is a true gem with an amazing history and should be on the bucket list of every serious angler. We think basing out of Livingston is the best way to go, as this little river/cowpoke/artist community has everything you need to get the full Montana angling adventure.
The geographical footprint of Yellowstone National Park and the areas surrounding it are undoubtedly some of the most pristine and wild places on this continent. Throw in the stunning geo-thermal features (hello Old Faithful!), and it's historical importance of being the first National Park in the world (created in 1872), and you've got a destination like no other on this planet.
Fly Fishing in Yellowstone
On top of all that other cool stuff, Yellowstone also has fantastic angling opportunities as well. The Firehole River, Gibbon River, Lamar River, Yellowstone River, Slough Creek and Soda Butte Creek are all gems that fish well. Since no float fishing is allowed in the Park all of our trips here are wade access and while good fishing can be found close to roads and trailheads, the real rewards come from taking a nice hike, getting away from the rest of the crowds to where the buffalo roam and the deer and the antelope play. When the conditions are right we fish lots of dryflies to rising fish in Yellowstone, and we've been doing it since the mid-nineties so we've got a few secret spots we might show you too.
Catching a native Yellowstone Cutthroat trout from the Yellowstone River in Yellowstone National Park makes for a story you'll be telling your fishing friends for years to come.
Fishing Seasons and Techniques
The fishing season in Yellowstone opens on the last weekend of May and goes through early November. Most waters here are accessed either through the north entrance at Gardiner or the west entrance at West Yellowstone. You can expect a bit of driving to get to the best waters, and probably some tiem stuck in a buffalo-jam, but the pace of life in the park is a bit slower so relax and enjoy the scenery.
A wide variety of mayfly and stonefly hatches will take place over the course of the season on the waters within Yellowstone, and the terrestrial fishing is also very good. We like to throw dryflies on the small streams that you find inthe park, sometimes big black beetles, sometimes tiny technical tricos.
While you can spend a lot of time fishing through the rivers that are in Yellowstone, we find a one or two day sampling here as part of a greater Madison River or Yellowstone River trip is the perfect match. Many of our package trips are built around a Yellowstone National Park day of fishing for good reason.
If you like the challenge of sight fishing and presenting small flies to big, wary trout in small, gin clear waters then spring creek fishing is definitely for you. If you like to have more solitude in your day and a more intimate experience with the river and it's surroundings then you also might like fishing private waters like these:
As a general rule of thumb you have to pay to play on these world renowned private waters, and daily rod fees range from $40 in the off-season to $100+ in the primetime summer months. Fishing the spring creeks is a great option when run-off conditions make rivers like the Yellowstone unfishable, especially in the spring. They are also great as a one or two day portion of a multi day package trip where you sample a wide range of fishable waters in the area.
Fishing Seasons and Techniques
Because spring creek water temperatures are constant, and usually warmer than our snowpack fed rivers and streams during the winter months, they make for great 'off-season' fishing spots. The primetime season on these creeks will begin in the spring (as early as March but surely by May), as the trout rise to midge and baetis mayflies. After that the summertime hatches will take over; pale morning duns, caddis and tricos. Hopper, and and beetle fishing can also be fun and productive in the summer and fall months.
The fishing on these spring creeks is definitely technical and not for the faint of heart. Long leaders, small flies, lengthy casts, spooky trout and heartbreaking refusals are all part of the game. So is some of the most perfect sight fishing opportunites that you'll ever find. The challenge is the fun here, and when you crack the code and get that stubborn trout to finally slurp your fly you know you've earned it.
In addition to these private spring creeks we also offer trips on many private spring fed mountain and prairie lakes, and on top of that we have access to a number of super secret small water spots that you can read more about on our Private Access Water page. Sometimes it's nice to get a little extra elbow room and check out a new place where the trout don't meet many other anglers.
The Madison is another river that gets it's start deep in Yellowstone National Park and flows generally north toward Three Forks where it joins the Jefferson and Gallatin Rivers to form the Missouri River. Along the way it cruises by West Yellowstone, Ennis and in the lower section enters the Gallatin Valley close to Bozeman. It is slowed along the way by two dams creating Hebgen and Ennis Reservoirs, and also by Quake Lake which was formed by an earthquake in 1959. The Madison Mountain Range, home to Big Sky, flanks the river to the east as it flows through the Madison Valley and provides one of the more picturesque backdrops you'll ever have while you're busy catching trout.
The Maddy, as she's know by the folks who love her best, has made an amazing rebound from the whirling disease impact of the early '90s and is fishing better than ever. The '50 mile riffle' section above Ennis is one of the most heavily fished waters in the state for good reason - it's chock full of hungry brown and rainbow trout that love to eat stoneflies, spruce moths and grasshoppers all day long. The lower Madison below Ennis Reservoir and Beartrap Canyon is a fantastic early and late season fishery during the baetis and caddis hatches, but during the summer months the water's too hot and the tuber crowd from Bozeman takes over the river. Now if you're looking for a bikini hatch, this is the place to be!
Fishing Seasons and Techniques
The Madison River is a year-round fishery and can often produce well in the late winter and early spring, especially the lower end closer to Bozeman, Montana with midges and baetis. The post run-off summer and fall seasons are the highlight here, as the stonefly hatches above Ennis are what dreams are made of. Salmonflies and golden stoneflies will come off in amazing numbers for a couple of weeks beginning in late June or early July to kick things off, and it only gets better from there. The caddis and mayfly hatches will carry things through the summer, along with the spruce moth hatch, until the trout start keying in on terrestrials.
The Madison is the most heavily recreated river in Montana, so it is not necessarily a place to get a lot of solitude, but if you come at the right time and fish with a great guide who knows the river well, you can still find solid fishing and some elbow room for yourself.
Beginning in Yellowstone National Park and winding southward past Big Sky into the Gallatin Valley near Bozeman, eventually arriving in Three Forks to join the Madison and Jefferson Rivers to form the Missouri River, the Gallatin makes a great run through southwest Montana and it fishes well from top to bottom. The locals call her 'The Gally', and this river may be one of the most accessible streams in all of Montana. From a meandering stream in YNP, to a hard charging mid-sized river in the canyon section, to a larger floatable river in the lower portion, the Gallatin has great public access all along the way.
In the Gallatin Canyon near Big Sky you may have to contend with whitewater rafters and kayakers as much as trout, but above and below are generally quiet and allow ample room to find a few nice rainbow and brown trout. The closer you get to the headwaters of the Missouri the larger the fish tend to be, and the more open country you'll get to see along the way as you are on the Gallatin Valley floor.
Our sister flyshop Gallatin River Guides, located within a lob wedge of the river's edge, can take care of all your fly, tackle and informational needs when you're in the Big Sky area. Pat Straub and his crew at the shop know their stuff and sell only the best brands to their anglers, including Simms, Winston, Sage and Patagonia.
Fishing Seasons and Techniques
The Gallatin is a year round wade fishery for both local and traveling anglers. You'll find folks out working the water most days in winter, especially in March as temperatures warm a bit and Big Sky skiers look for a break from the slopes and head out to catch some trout. April and May offer some decent mayfly and midge hatches, but the Gallatin shows it's true colors after run-off has subsided in mid to late June.
Because of it's generally quick pace and smaller fish, matching the hatch is not as important on a river like the Gallatin as a general rule of thumb. A well presented generic pattern (stimulators, parachute adams, humpys, royal wulffs), will get you plenty of attention on most days. The stonefly hatches in June and July - salmonfly, golden stones and yellow sallies - can be phenominal and there's just nothing like having a fly as long as your ring finger devoured by a trout to get your blood pumping.
Green drakes and pale morning duns will fill out the mayfly hatches for the summer months, along with early morning trico emergences and afternoon caddis flights. After that it's hoppers, ants and beetles to get the trout to look skyward, with a nice baetis hatch in Sept and October to round out the season. Tugging streamers in the fall can be very effective, especially beow the canyon where some big brown trout lurk and get fiesty as they prepare to spawn.
The Gallatin River is another Montana bucket list water that deserves your attention, and serves very well as a leg of a Trout Tour through the greater Yellowstone area and beyond.