By Patrick Straub Explore Big Sky Fishing Columnist
If you throw a dart, blindfolded, at a map of Yellowstone Park and draw a circle in a ten-mile radius from wherever it landed, you’ll find a number of places to wet a line. Extend that radius ten more miles and there is arguably a lifetime of fishable waters.
The Firehole, Slough Creek, Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone, and plenty of smaller creeks and lakes are the target of anglers venturing into the park to fish.
For those of us who live in or near Yellowstone, we’re able to fish these waters regularly, and fish them when they’re at their best. For visiting anglers, the abundance of water and easy access may boggle the mind.
Sometimes it’s nice to have a little nudge in the right direction, so here’s some help. Even longtime Yellowstone Park anglers might learn something.
Right place at the right time. The Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison Rivers have all been fishing well for a month. The waters in the Yellowstone River drainage – the Lamar, Slough Creek, Soda Butte, and the Yellowstone itself have a long runoff and will finally come into form around the first week of July. Don’t expect to fish dry flies on the Lamar the last week of June. Instead, venture to the Firehole and target risers with size 18 Parachute Adams.
Like to hike. If you’re willing to invest a little sweat equity and hoof it, you’re fishing action will be rewarded. My rookie year of guiding was spent in Yellowstone Park and whenever I had clients willing to hike, the day was full of smiles and good-sized trout. Two favorite treks of mine: second meadow of Slough Creek and the Seven Mile Hole in the Grand Canyon. Bring plenty of water, bear spray, a spool of 4X and lots of big-ass dry flies.
Lakes are always good. Most fly fishers prefer moving water, but Yellowstone is dotted with many quality lakes. The most obvious is Yellowstone Lake, and thanks to the efforts of many, the population of Yellowstone cutthroat trout is increasing from a downturn after predatory, invasive lake trout were illegally introduced. Shoreline fishing can be good on Yellowstone Lake, but the best lake options require a hike. Grebe Lake near Canyon Village is an easy day trip. The trail is flat and fishing is often on the surface. It’s also one of the best places in the area to catch a grayling on a fly. Trout Lake near the northeast entrance is popular, full of fat cutthroat trout that cruise the shorelines, and armed with a good cast and small flies you might entice a few.
Backcountry Black Canyon trout. If strapping on an overnight pack, sleeping under the stars, and cooking your meals by camp stove sound appealing, consider fishing the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone. Beginning near Tower Junction, this rugged section of the Yellowstone River is best accessed beginning in mid-July. A trail provides access to the river and several backcountry campsites offer a good base for fishing-centric overnights. My favorite trip is to hike into the canyon at the Blacktail Deer Creek Trailhead, spend two nights, then hike out to the town of Gardiner. Sturdy hiking shoes and strong ankles are key as the bankside boulders make ideal perches on which to fish, but are also slippery.
Part of the food chain. The adventure of fishing in Yellowstone is always heightened the moment you step off the road. Sure there are geysers and changing weather and river conditions, but it’s the wild, free-roaming animals that heighten awareness, including grizzly bears, bison and moose. Yet this is an enjoyable wonder of fishing in the park: Was that noise in the bushes a curious bear or just the wind? Carrying bear spray and inquire locally about bear activity. And stay well clear of bison and moose.
Fishing is a great venue for creating memories. One of my most vivid occurred more than 20 years ago when I was fishing the Yellowstone River near Tower Falls. Fat cutthroat were hanging themselves on my size 6 Yellow Stimulator. I rounded a bend and across the big water of the Yellowstone, a grizzly was feeding on a fresh carcass. It was me, my flies, the trout, and one damned big bear. I made one last cast, caught a trout, turned around and called it a day.
Pat Straub is the author of six books, including The Frugal Fly Fisher, Montana On The Fly, and Everything You Always Wanted to Know About Fly Fishing. Along with his wife, owns Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky and with a partner operates a guide service on the Missouri River.