After leaving the park, the Yellowstone becomes a part of Montana. Below Gardiner the river fishes well all the way to Laurel. The most popular and productive stretch in Montana is from Gardiner to Livingston which is a little over 125 miles of water.
The Yellowstone River outside of the park is a true gem. With so many miles of productive water, it can be tough to know where to go. This is a big river, best fished from and drift boat or raft. I try to break the water down into those recognizable features like riffles, bubble lines and edge currents.
1. Queen of the Waters
The first part of this stretch from Gardiner to Corwin Springs is very productive for cutthroats which are in tremendous numbers here. A couple great spots with good access are Queen of the Waters. Which is right by the Gardiner Airport.
Guide Tip: If you’re looking for a true “Montana” fly fishing experience, check out Montana Angling Co. Max and the team can help planning a perfect trophy fish trip. Great guides, helpful information on where to stay and “insider” knowledge of the Yellowstone river and more. Short cut link – Montana Angling Company
2. Slip and Slide Access
Below Corwin Springs the river enters Yankee Jim Canyon where large browns inhabit this stretch in some of the deeper, faster moving pools. Most anglers choose to wade fish this area. If you decide to drift, it is very difficult water to navigate, and should be done by only the experienced.
A great access spot is the section from Slip and Slide Creek past Joe Brown Creek to a small picnic area. You can wade along the shoreline, but drifting with a raft or boat is the best way to cover this area.
Another great refence map can be found at the Montana Fish, Wildlife and Parks – HERE https://fwp.mt.gov/fish
3. Point of Rocks
Just up river from where Highway 89 crosses the Yellowstone on the west side is a small boat launch. But what most folks aren’t aware of is that up river for the next quarter mile is State land open for folks to hike and fish. This is deep water, but with care you can wade out enough to cast.
Look for structure and drift nymphs deep along this big bend.
Downstream from Yankee Jim Canyon, the river flows past the towns of Miner, Emigrant, Pray, Pine Creek, and Brisbin before entering Livingston. The stretch from just below Pray to Livingston is a wonderful and famous stretch. Rainbows and browns with quality hatches of insects and beautiful scenery make this an excellent piece of water. Floating is the first choice of most anglers although wade fishing is available in some parts. The section from Gardiner to Livingston is followed by Route 89.
Below Livingston the river has good numbers of brown trout and a few rainbows. This area usually receives less pressure and holds some impressive size fish. Fishing can be good all the way to Laurel, although many anglers limit their float to the upper half of this area. Route 90 follows the river from Livingston to Laurel.
4. Sheep Mountain Access
During low water Sheep Mountain Access is great for late summer hopper fishing. The open area with grasslands and some mountain wind gives a hopper a chance to swim. I’d call this spot a little know secret.
Search out the tree lined banks along the north side in the deeper runs for a chance at so good size brown trout.
Favorite Flies for the Yellowstone River
Hatches on the Yellowstone include Blue-winged Olives, caddis (tan and black), Pale Morning Duns, stoneflies (including the large Salmonflies), Tricos, and a few others. Terrestrials (especially hoppers) also work well during the late summer months.
Streamers and nymphs make up much of the fishing on the Yellowstone River and produce some of the largest fish.
Hatch Chart for the Yellowstone River
You can always get some local intel from the many fly shops in the area, but some foundational flies and always great to have in the box.
|Fly Name||Size||Start Date||End Date|
|Salmonflies||4||June 20||July 15|
|Little Yellow Sally||16||June 15||July 20|
|March Brown||14||April 15||May 20|
|Pale Morning Dun (PMD)||18||June 1||July 15|
|Little Brown Caddis||16||July 15||August 20|
|Elk Hair Caddis||16||June 20||August 20|
|Grasshoppers||10||July 15||October 1|
|Ants (red and black)||18||July 15||October 1|
|Midge||20||September 15||May 10|
|Streamers (baitfish)||6||June 20||May 10|
Why is the Yellowstone Perfect for Fly Fishing?
If you are planning a trip to the Yellowstone the closest commercial airport is in Bozeman. Billings has an airport which is also close enough to fit the plans for a trip here. This is a scenic area and the Yellowstone River makes it even better.
Beautiful rivers, canyons, waterfalls, geysers and mountains are some of the attractions to this area making it one of the most spectacular portions of the United States.
When is the Best Time to Fish the Yellowstone River?
Usually by mid-June the snowpack melt is nearing its completion. The best plan is to seriously look at late June and into August. If water levels are low and the day time temperature raises the water temps high enough you can get afternoon closures.
After August rains and slightly cooler temperatures can turn the fishing back on. So don’t rule out fall on the Yellowstone.
Fly Rod, Reel and Setup for the Yellowstone River
What becomes apparent as soon as you see this river is that you have a lot of water. Especially when floating you need to anticipate the best water before you are on it. Look ahead as your floating and position yourself to make an accurate cast to the best water.
I like using a 6-weight medium fast action fly rod. 9 foot is a perfect length, longer would be good as well. With a 6 weight you still have the ability to present a smaller dry fly with some delicacy and still drift nymphs deep if needed.
Guide Recommendation: If you need to get a rod for your trip, I’d recommend the Sage Foundation Outfit. Rod, Reel and Fly Line balanced perfectly. If you’d like to check prices and reviews here’s a shortcut link to Amazon – SAGE Foundation Outfit
Yellowstone River Guides and Fly Shops
The Livingston area is going to be your “hub” for finding guides, fly shops and lodging. The town caters to the fly fisher with more drift boats and rafts parked behind pickups than most places I’ve ever seen.
- Montana Angling Co, can provide a full package of services including guides and lodging. Think of it as a Fly Fishing Travel Planner. Max Yzarguirre will connect you with everything needed to have a successful Montana Fly Fishing Trip. Check out this link to Montana Angling Co
- Sweetwater Fly Shop, a full-service fly shop with guides, gear and insiders’ knowledge about the Yellowstone and surrounding creeks. escribe and link to a guide and fly shop with a short paragraph for each. Sweetwater Fly Shop
When folks talk about fly fishing out west, rivers like the Madison, Missouri and Yellowstone are mentioned. For good reason, these waters grow trophy trout, the scenery is incredible and as an angler you’ll find yourself completely relaxing in the moment.
If you’re looking for more water in Montana, I’ve got a complete guide. Read -> The Best Fly Fishing Waters in Montana
- A huge thanks to Max Yzarguirre for the use of the pictures in this article. Thanks Montana Angling Co you guys treat fellow fly flingers right!
- Thanks to my friends at UMPQUA, leaders in the fly fishing industry since 1972. Truly – The Worlds Best Flies
- Photo credit to a good friend David Knapp of Trout Zone Anglers