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The Eddy Line: Yellowstone fishing primer

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By Patrick Straub EBS Fishing Columnist

It’s been 100 years since the National Park Service was created and its duties include managing the first national park in Yellowstone National Park.

Despite the unfortunate recent events—including careless visitors leaving the boardwalk and walking in a sensitive hot springs area—the Park Service’s centennial goes on and we celebrate it as part of our national heritage.

In looking forward to an exciting centennial season, local anglers eagerly await the opening of the park’s fishing season on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend.

Many of us will venture to Yellowstone that day and fish the world’s highest concentration of trout-filled accessible waters. The idea to create Yellowstone National Park wasn’t driven by anglers, but it sure could have been given the angling wonders that exist within its boundaries.

Morning fog on the Madison River, near the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole rivers in Yellowstone National Park. PHOTO BY JOSEPH T. O’CONNOR

Morning fog on the Madison River, near the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole rivers in Yellowstone National Park. PHOTO BY JOSEPH T. O’CONNOR

Miles of accessible waters. Yellowstone National Park is just that—a park, with 2.2 million acres of public lands. Within those boundaries exist hundreds of bends, riffles, pools and undercut banks where four species of wild trout and Arctic grayling lie in wait to eat your well-presented fly.

A valid Yellowstone fishing permit is required and they can be obtained at most local fly shops. Armed with your fishing permit, some local knowledge and a good sense of adventure, the fishing opportunities in Yellowstone are potentially endless.

Clear water options to fish right now. Many of our freestone rivers are high and muddy as runoff peaks, but several fishing options exist in the park. The Firehole, Gibbon and Madison rivers typically run clear during late May and through the summer.

In addition to their clear waters, the Gibbon and Firehole flow through geyser basins. Every angler should experience casting your flies near the rising steam of a hot spring or erupting geyser. These rivers are also easily wadeable, making them user-friendly for all levels of wading ability.

Dry fly angler’s paradise. The Firehole River flows gently through bends and riffles over much of its course. Above Old Faithful geyser basin the river is small and characterized by downed timber and rock cliffs. Below the geyser basin the gradient slows and its currents create an idyllic setting for rising trout and long drifts. Home to abundant populations of mayflies and caddis, the Firehole River is the river to break in a new three-weight rod or work on your reach cast.

Despite a few meadow sections, the Gibbon River flows faster than the Firehole. It has plenty of pocket water and riffle corners, ideal for anglers who enjoy fishing attractor dry flies to opportunistic trout. The Madison River, created by the Gibbon and Firehole, mirrors its two source rivers with its respective angling opportunities.

Native Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Yellowstone Lake opens to fishing in early June and is home to the world’s largest population of native Yellowstone cutthroat trout. This species is only found in the Yellowstone River drainage and in the lake—they often cruise the shallows of the lake, making them catchable from shore.

As runoff subsides later in the summer, these fish can also be caught in the main stem of the Yellowstone River and its major tributaries, such as the Lamar River, Slough Creek and Soda Butte Creek. Known for their willingness to rise to a dry fly, these fish are as enjoyable to catch as they are unique.

Wild angling companions. While fishing on any water in Yellowstone, you’re likely to encounter the park’s varied wildlife. Bison are most commonly seen as they enjoy grazing on the lush riparian vegetation. Elk are often spotted near rivers as well as moose—but be wary of moose as their poor eyesight can cause them to mistake you for a predator. A moose charge is not to be taken lightly.

If you choose to fish in areas frequented by grizzly bears, fish with a companion and carry bear spray. If you do spot a grizzly, give the bear plenty of room and choose another place to fish for the day.

I’ve been fortunate to have fished in several exotic locations—for massive brown trout in Patagonia; tigerfish in southern Africa; bonefish, permit and tarpon in several Caribbean locations; and for steelhead and salmon in Alaska. They’ve all burned permanent memories in my angling psyche; however, the most vivid memories occurred two hours from my home in Yellowstone National Park.

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, he is co-director of the Montana Fishing Guide School, and co-owns a guide service on the Missouri River.

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