Fly Fishing in the West Yellowstone area

A Guide to Fly Fishing in West Yellowstone and Beyond

If you could only visit one location, where would/should you go? Alaska would be nice, if you have deep pockets. But keeping it in the lower 48, there aren’t many places so central to great fishing as West Yellowstone, MT. Using W. Yellowstone as a base, you can of course access the park, with unlimited fishing possibilities that would take seasons to fully explore.

But the bonus comes into play when you venture out an hour or so. As rivers go, the major players are the Gallatin and Madison in MT, and the Henry’s Fork in Idaho. And there are a few unknowns, (creeks) worth checking out. For diversification, you have excellent lake fishing at Hebgen, Quake, and Henry’s Lake. If you’re looking for big fish, the lakes are your best bet.

Catching Monster Brown Trout
Catching Monster Brown Trout

A good hybrid trip would consist of one week in W. Yellowstone to fish and enjoy the park, then migrate over the continental divide to Last Chance, ID for week two, and fish the Henry’s Fork (The Ranch) and the Madison below Quake Lake. If the wind and waves on Henry’s Fork beats you up, head down to the Teton for a day to get back into the groove. Don’t forget some crickets and hoppers.

There have been volumes written on this region and it’s fishing, so all the information needed to plan a great trip is at your fingertips. My intent is to get the idea into your head, so you can start sending the spouse subliminal messages of your impending road trip. No spouse? No excuse!

Some Recommended Books

Fly Fishing West Yellowstone: A History and Guide πŸ‘ˆ Links to Amazon

Description: West Yellowstone, Montana, a gateway to Yellowstone National Park, is a stone’s throw from some of the best trout fishing in the world, including the Yellowstone, Madison, and Gallatin Rivers, as well as the countless legendary streams and lakes in the Park. By Bruce Staples (Author), Bob Jacklin (Author)

The Yellowstone Fly-Fishing Guide, New and Revised πŸ‘ˆ Links to Amazon

Description: This fine little guidebook to the best fishing in Yellowstone Park discusses aquatic and terrestrial insect emergences and activity periods, fly patterns to imitate these insects, and effective fishing techniques. Included are specific locations, access points and trailheads, distances, and terrain descriptions. By  Craig Mathews (Author), Clayton Molinero (Author)

Madison River Brown Trout
Madison River Brown Trout – picture credit David Knapp Trout Zone

Planning for West Yellowstone Area

Plan ahead/do your homework. There’s simply too much here to be guessing. I.E.: An early flight into Bozeman will allow you to fish the Gallatin on your way to W. Yellowstone. It’s a two-hour ride on 191, and the river is right there for most of it. (Take your time on 191, all those white crosses represent dead people).

When to Go

Don’t think about June. In a big snow pack year it would be a disaster. This is a July, August, September deal. September is my pick. The vacationers have scattered and the fish have settled down. Bring warm cloths though, at 6000+ feet you’ll be cleaning ice from your guides in the mornings!

What to Expect

Set reasonable expectations. Yes, there are big fish here. Will you get one? Maybe, but just like everywhere else, you need to put your time in. Yes, there are zillions of fish here. Will you have twenty fish days? Maybe. Will you hook into the trophy of a lifetime? Maybe, it’s about cutting in the time and thousands of casts.

Tip: Mid/Late September will see spawners moving out of Hebgen for the Madison. How does a 25′ hook jawed brown sound?

How Long

Time. There is enough fishing here to last a lifetime. A week is cheating you. Ten days is better, and two weeks, well you’re getting warmer. Once you’ve been there/done that, you can focus your attention on your favorites, and hone in on your plans and rivers.

4 Favorite Places to Toss a Fly

1. Madison River

This river is known for its large rainbow and brown trout, and is a popular spot for fly fishing. It is located just outside of West Yellowstone and offers both wade and drift fishing opportunities.

Madison River Access Location

Three Dollar Bridge and Raynolds Pass Access Montana Fish and Wildlife
Three Dollar Bridge and Raynolds Pass Access Montana Fish and Wildlife – LINK

Another great access is at Raynolds Pass, it’s kind of tricky to find the turn off Highway 87. This Google Map Link will help you find the way. I like showing up in the late afternoon, say 5 or 6 pm to hike to a promising spot. I’ll sit and eat dinner and start fishing from 8 pm to 10 pm usually catching the caddis and pmd hatch.

Guide Pro Tip: Just thinking about the Madison excites me. So many fish, and so little time… Let me show you the places to catch fish and open up my fly box to point out the flies that have worked for me. Read this article πŸ‘‰ Where To Fly Fish on the Madison River MT

2. Henry’s Fork

This river is located in the nearby Island Park area and is known for its large rainbow and cutthroat trout. It is a popular spot for both wade and float fishing, and is considered one of the best fly fishing rivers in the region.

Henry’s Fork Access Location

3. Gallatin River

This river is located just north of West Yellowstone and is known for its large rainbow and brown trout. It offers both wade and drift fishing opportunities, and is a popular spot for fly fishing.

Rainbow Trout Nymph Fishing
Rainbow Trout Nymph Fishing

Gallatin River Access Location

Guide Pro Tip: I’ve got a complete guide to the Gallatin River. It contains more access points, flies and some secrets. Read it πŸ‘‰ Fly Fishing the Gallatin River

4. Firehole River in YNP

This river is located in the nearby geyser basin of Yellowstone National Park and is known for its large rainbow and brown trout. It offers both wade and drift fishing opportunities and is a popular spot for fly fishing.

Here, the river is wide and free flowing. It’s categorized as a larger spring creek with a nice amount of plant life.This section has extremely productive dry fly fishing.

Firehole River Access Location

Where To Fly Fish On The Firehole River WY πŸ‘ˆ A complete guide to this amazing river.

The Fly Fishing Gear I’d Recommend

All the rivers listed above are what I’d consider “Big Water”. the Madison can be floated or waded, the Gallatin is a rock scramble and a long cast on the Firehole River is 50 feet.

The Fly Rod and Reel

A 9 foot, 6-weight will work for nearly any fish in these waters. I’ve used a trusted 10-foot, 7 weight on many trips. The 10 foot length is able to push through some of the winds that can develop in the river valleys.

Use a reel balanced to the rod. That 10 footer can get heavy after a full day, so look for a fly reel with porting to lighten it and a smooth disc drag.

A great complete outfit is the Sage Foundation Combo. I did a complete review HERE and also tested it in an “On-Water video for YouTube.

The Fly Line

I was an advocate of getting a cheap weight forward fly line that matches up with your fly rod for a long time. I’ve changed my view and have realized good fly lines can make a day so much nicer. My pick – SA Amplitude Fly Line it’s simple amazing.

It’s not cheap, but it works extremely well. SA Amplitude Fly Line πŸ‘ˆ Link to Amazon for sizes, prices and reviews.

My Recommended Fly Selection

During the late summer season you’ll need to go big and tiny. Terrestrials like hoppers , chernobyl and crickets are a main stay, especially when the wind kicks up. These flies are perfect for dry droppers as well.

Grasshopper Fly Pattern
Grasshopper Fly Pattern
Chubby Chernobyl Terrestrial Fly Pattern
Chubby Chernobyl Terrestrial Fly Pattern

Also carry midge, ants and trico in tiny size 16 to 24 (I’d lean toward size 20 and 22). I carry nymph and dry versions.

Griffiths Gnat Fly Pattern for Midge
Griffiths Gnat Fly Pattern for Midge
Zebra Midge Fly Pattern
Zebra Midge Fly Pattern
Flying Ant Fly Pattern
Flying Ant Fly Pattern

West Yellowstone Area Hatch Chart

Having a fly shop that you can get some local “intel” is always good. In addition, if you’ve planned a 2 week trip, a day into town visiting Bob Jacklin’s or Blue Ribbon Fly shops is a great diversion.

I want you to notice something in the hatch chart, late summer is prime time in this area.

Fly NameSizeStart DateEnd Date
Salmon Fly4June 20July 10
Yellow Sally Stone14July 5August 5
Elk Hair Caddis16April 20August 15
Blue Wing Olives18April 1August 15
Trico20July 20September 20
Midge (Griffiths Gnat)20March 1November 20
Grasshoppers10July 15September 20
Black and Red Ants16May 15September 15
Mice (Night fishing)6July 1September 30

Fly Fishing Techniques for West Yellowstone

Hatches are obvious on rivers like the Madison and Henry’s Fork. If nothing is rising you can, confidently tie on a nymph. I’ve said it before, I’m not a great caster. So if the wind kicks up, I shy away from long multi-fly setups. (I will spend most of my fishing time untangling wind knots)

Dry Fly Fishing Setup

Go with a traditional 9 foot 5X leader and a section of 6X tippet. These fish see a lot of people and the flies we toss, but the need to eat. Concentrate on reading the likely holding water and making the first cast count.

Dry Fly Setup
Dry Fly Setup

Nymphing Setup

Start out with a dry dropper setup. A bushy elk hair caddis or hopper pattern as the dry is good and then tie on 2 to 3 foot tippet. Be sure to use a beadhead nymph to get the fly down. With this setup, you need to make long drifts with big mends to get allow the dropper to get down into the “fishy” zone.

Nymphing with Indicators Setting Up a Fly Rod
Nymphing with Indicators Setting Up a Fly Rod
indicators for fly fishing
indicators for fly fishing

Tie on an indicator setup, if the dry/dropper setup isn’t working or the river is deeper than the first 2 feet of water. The idea is to weight your flies heavy enough to get them into the zone. Often this is going to mean a heavy “Point” fly like a Beadhead Mop and a tiny midge connected by 16 inches of fluorocarbon tippet tied to the bend of the point fly.

The trailing nymph (midge) is going the be the fly catching the most fish. The mop or point fly (stone fly nymphs are good) picks up an occasional fish but primary pulls the midge down.

With this setup you might need a 3/4 to 1 inch indicator, to carry the load. I always have a variety of indicator sizes and types with me.

Last Cast but Wishing for More in the West Yellowstone Area

West Yellowstone, MT is a fly fisherman’s paradise, with a variety of rivers and streams to choose from, including the Madison, Henry’s Fork, Gallatin, and Firehole. Each river offers unique opportunities to reel in large rainbow and brown trout, making it the ultimate destination for an unforgettable fly fishing adventure.

Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:

Hi David Humphries Owner of Guide Recommended. I love everything to do with fly fishing. Casting, Tying, YouTube, writing about it and even teaching. I’ve got a FREE video workshop teaching how to dry fly fish at this link How to Fly Fish

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