The Yellowstone River is held in extremely high regard by fly anglers because it provides some of the best cutthroat trout fishing in the United States. One of my first fishing trips to the western United States was focused around the portion of the Yellowstone River flowing through Yellowstone National Park. To this day, it’s still in my top three favorite trips. The sheer beauty and quality fishing are hard to beat.
The river flows through the entirety of Yellowstone National Park from the south to the north. It begins south of the park in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. To get to the headwaters, you have to hike over 30 miles one way. From here, it flows into Yellowstone Lake before it makes its way through the rest of the park. It’s a beautifully diverse river that provides excitement and challenges around every corner.
Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone can be found along the Northeast Entrance Road. This section of the river flows down to Roosevelt Junction. The best thing about this section of river is that it hasn’t been touched by the lake trout population from Yellowstone Lake. The resident Cutthroat fish are in good health and grow to a nice size.
Starting the first week of July, you’ll find the water accessible. Stoneflies, Salmonflies and Caddis and terrestrials are some of the favorites for anglers in this portion of the river. The water levels fluctuate, so keep that in mind. One week it could be full and bursting at the seams and the next it could be a couple feet deep flowing at a nice rate.
When the water gets shallow, the fish start to spread out and it becomes more of a strategy approach.
Many anglers access this section of the river from Tower Fall. From here, you can scramble your way up and downstream to get in the best position to catch fish.
Black Canyon Of the Yellowstone
The Black Canyon of the Yellowstone doesn’t need to be fished much differently than the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone. It starts at the Roosevelt Junction and flows all the way down to the boundary near Gardiner, Montana. Besides the Cutthroat trout, anglers will find nice populations for Brown and Rainbow trout.
Guide Pro Tip: If you’d like some tips and techniques for hooking into some trophy brown trout, check out this article 👉 How To Catch Brown Trout on a Fly (Complete Guide)
The Lamar River intersects with the Yellowstone right at Roosevelt Junction. On particularly rainy days, it’ll wash quite a bit of sediment into the water, so keep that in mind.
The Hellroaring Trailhead off of Grand Loop Road is a nice place to access the river. It’s a bit of a hike, but you’ll rarely run into anyone looking to fish! At this point, you’ll find nice pockets, pools and riffles. It’s a diverse body of water with all sorts of unique fishing opportunities.
Between Yellowstone Lake and the Upper Falls
The introduction of Lake Trout has made it difficult for fly anglers between the lake and the upper falls. However, this part of the river provides the best access. It’s a 13 mile stretch that flows along the road. The fishing opens on July 15 and is most productive for the first few weeks. Light tippet and long rods are the name of the game! The fish are spooky, but large. It’s a wide portion of the river, so take it slow and look for seams.
Park at the Fishing Bridge right along Grand Loop road and you’ll have a nice spot to begin.
If you’re looking for a remote area to fish far away from the crowds, the Thoroughfare Region is for you. Any portion of the river above Yellowstone Lake is fairly remote, so keep that in mind. The closer you are to the lake, the more you’ll notice that the cutthroat population is impacted by the Lake Trout. Move further south towards the headwaters, and you’ll find better fishing.
This is very remote, so it’s going to require hiking! Also, bear activity is almost always occurring, so make sure you’re equipped with bear spray. To access the river south of the lake, you’ll need to take a boat across the lake to the end of the Southeast Arm and begin your journey! It’s an absolute blast if you’re willing to backpack for a couple days.
Why the Yellowstone River is Perfect for Fly Fishing
Within the park, you won’t struggle to find fish. Besides the portion of the river between the lake and the Upper Falls of the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, you’ll find healthy cutthroat trout populations that are more than willing to eat dry flies.
Combine the quality fishing with the beautiful scenery and you can easily spend an entire week landing fish after fish. There is ample lodging, access and fun for the family within Yellowstone National Park.
What Kind of Fish Can You Catch on the Yellowstone River?
The Yellowstone River is most well-known for their native cutthroat trout. These are a protected species, so make sure you handle them with care. You’ll also find nice populations of brook, brown and rainbow trout spread throughout the river.
Favorite Flies for the Yellowstone River
Salmonfly- Size 8
The Salmonflies begin hatching at the end of June and the beginning of July, so be prepared to fish with these as soon as the season begins. The Yellowstone is a dry fly river, so take advantage.
Chubby Chernobyl- Size 10
Come late summer, you’ll need to start throwing your terrestrial patterns. Find wide sections of the river with grass along the banks!
Elk Hair Caddis- Size 18
Every morning and evening in the summer is going to provide an abundance of Elk Hair Caddis flies. Look for a rise and throw your caddis near it.
Hatch Chart for the Yellowstone River
|Fly Name||Size||Start Date||End Date|
|Midge||16-22||March 1||April 15|
|Blue Winged Olive||14-16||March 15||May 15|
|Western March Brown||12-14||April 15||May 15|
|Caddis||12-20||April 15||October 15|
|Pale Morning Dun||14-20||June 15||July 15|
|Salmonfly||4-8||June 15||July 15|
|Stonefly||4-12||June 15||August 1|
|Trico||18-22||July 15||September 15|
|Grasshoppers||8-14||July 15||October 1|
|Ants & Beetles||12-18||July 15||October 1|
Fly rod and Reel Setup for the Yellowstone River
In terms of a fly rod and reel, you won’t need anything larger than a 5-weight. Many anglers choose a 9’ or 9’6” fly rod to help them high stick their way through the clear waters. Make sure your reel matches the rod.
Bring along 3x or 4x leader with 4x or 5x tippet. The fish can be spooky!
The Perfect Fly Rod Combo for the Yellowstone River
Orvis originated in the fly fishing business. The Orvis Clearwater Combo is perfectly balanced and comes with everything except flies. It’s so easy to cobble together an outfit that just doesn’t cast right. No worries with that using the Clearwater Fly Rod Combo.
Guides and Fly Shops
- Arrick’s Fly Shop is a full-service guide shop that offers wading trips in Yellowstone National Park. They’re located in West Yellowstone and are a reputable company that will put you on fish.
- Yellowstone Fly Fishing Co. located in Gardiner, MT offers walk wade trips in Yellowstone National Park. They know the Yellowstone River better than most, so you’d be in great hands when fishing it!
- Jacklin’s Fly Shop in West Yellowstone is a “tradition” fly shop. When in the region, it’s a tradition to stop in and say hi. True fly fishing legends have guided out of this fly shop. Know for drifting the Madison river, they still call the big water of the Yellowstone River home.
The Yellowstone River within the boundaries of the park doesn’t get fish as often as you would think. Most visitors are there to see the sights and if they fish, it’s from the easy access points. With a little effort, you’ll find yourself in some of the best trout fishing in the entire country.
Are you looking for some great How To Fly Fish Articles? Checkout this list:
- How to Fly Fish for Bass with Poppers with 👈 Easy to catch and fun to fight, fly fishing for bass is amazing!
- How to Fly Fish for Bluegills 👈 These amazing fish are all over the USA. I like to call them the “Gateway Drug to Fly Fishing”
- How to Fly Fish for Brook Trout 👈 Find the cleanest, coldest, most beautiful streams and I’ll bet Brookes are present.
- How to Nymph Fish 👈 Step by Step details for setting up, presenting and catching trout with nymphs.
- How to Fly Fish for Salmon 👈 Image hooking into a +25 pound King Salmon in a river and your Fly Rod breaks! Seriously this happened to me on my first trip.
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Danny Mooers is a high school English teacher in Arizona with a love for fly fishing. Growing up in Minnesota gave him the opportunity to experience all types of fishing and grow his skills. After living out in the Western United States for several summers in college, his fly fishing obsession grew. Having the opportunity to share in his passion for fishing through writing is a dream come true. It’s a lifelong hobby and he strives to make it understandable for people of all skill levels