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The Eddy Line: Fall in Yellowstone National Park

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It’s worth the hype

By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist

For a short time in my early 20s, mid-September was my least favorite time of year. I was in a Midwest college, and homesick for the great fishing in Yellowstone National Park. Despite short-term amnesia brought on by Old Style and Leinenkugels, my heart remained with my boyhood angling wonders.

Yellowstone is a special place. For anglers from both near and far, the hype of fishing the park in fall rings true. Here’s why:

Accessibility. Every mile of every stream in Yellowstone is public. While fishing them all might take considerable effort, no other place in the world exists with this many miles of easily accessible, trout-filled water. It wasn’t created to be a fly-fishing wonderland, but it might as well be. Despite the park’s relative ruggedness, roads parallel many of its rivers making it easier for anglers to enjoy. That means those rivers get more pressure, which brings me to my next point.

The native Yellowstone cutthroat is the crown jewel of trout in the nation’s first national park. PHOTO COURTESY OF DL SMITH ROD COMPANY

The native Yellowstone cutthroat is the crown jewel of trout in the nation’s first national park. PHOTO COURTESY OF DL SMITH ROD COMPANY

Fewer people. Yellowstone sees far fewer visitors in fall than in summer. You won’t have the rivers to yourself, but your fishing plans are more likely to be thwarted by bison or moose than tourists taking selfies. And if you’re still not happy with seeing another angler or two, walk a mile from any trailhead or angling pullout and you’re likely to be alone – save for a bear or elk.

Hatches come first here. Because of the park’s high elevation, water temperatures cool early and hatches abound. Look for gray and green Drakes on Slough and Soda Butte creeks, as well as the Lamar River. Autumn Blue Winged Olives will hatch on the Madison, Gibbon, and Firehole rivers.

Large trout from Hebgen Lake. The trout of a lifetime lurks somewhere in Hebgen Lake. During the fall, these large, lake-dwelling fish travel out of Hebgen into the Madison and some smaller tributaries. Brown trout travel to spawn and rainbow trout follow to feed on their eggs. These fish movements are no secret – you’ll see other anglers if you choose to fish the Hebgen tributaries. However, knowing the waters and where these fish hold is crucial to getting your fly in front of feeding trout.

Target the tail-outs of deeper holes and runs. Be prepared to fish near to, or on the bottom, with weighted flies and weight on your leader. Egg patterns, streamers, fire-beads, and other large morsels will entice these trout. If you’re new to these tactics and targeting pre-spawn fish, consider hiring a local guide.

Streamer-fishing addicts delight. Since waters are low and clear, anglers willing to fish streamers will be successful. Unlike the large salmonflies and stoneflies of summer, fall bug hatches are smaller. But trout are still hungry in the cooler water temps, so prospect with small Woolly Buggers and streamers. Even the smaller creeks and headwater streams can be fished with streamers. Shorten your leader so you can put the fly where it needs to be, and can pop it off the bank when you overshoot a cast.

Slim down your fly selection. To mimic Drakes in the northeast region of the park, fish purple or copper Hazes in sizes 14 and 16. For fall BWOs on the west-side rivers and creeks, fish a size 16 Parachute Adams with a size 18 CDC RS2 emerger as the trailer fly. For streamers on smaller creeks, fish a size 8 or 10 black Sculpzilla on a stout leader like 1X, so you can turn it over easily and won’t break it on snags.

Sundays in college were always the worst, and it wasn’t entirely due to starting the day with a hangover – I should have been fly fishing in Yellowstone. I can now chase trout in the park anytime I want, though I wouldn’t mind one more night of college shenanigans.

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.” He and his wife own Gallatin River Guides in Big Sky and Pat operates the Montana Fishing Guide School and the Montana Women’s Fly Fishing School.

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