Copyright 2014 James Marsh
Fly Fishing The Yellowstone River
The Yellowstone River starts in Wyoming on the south
side of Yellowstone National Park as a small stream. It is
joined by several tributaries on its thirty mile venture to
Yellowstone Lake in the park. From the lake it flows
north through the park, making its way through both the
Yellowstone and Black Canyons. This covers fly fishing
the Yellowstone River outside the park.
When the Yellowstone River leaves Yellowstone Park at
Gardiner, it flows through Jim Yankee Canyon and then
through Paradise Valley where it is flanked by the
Absaroka Maintains. At Livingston it reaches the high
plans and turns east towards Billings. It is the longest
river in Montana. Fly fishing the Yellowstone River ranks
at the top of most angler's list.
Although there are plenty of areas where you can wade
along its route, some of the river is too deep and strong
to wade. Floating the river is the preferred method of
fishing. There are numerous access points along the
river where you can launch boats and fish the river from
the banks. Fly fishing the Yellowstone River by wading it
is also possible in many areas.
Spring runoff usually starts in mid-May and the river
becomes a roaring, muddy mess. Depending on the
snow pack, it is usually some time in early July before
the river completely clears up.
The Salmonfly and Golden Stonefly hatches occur
during this time and trout can be taken at times even
when the river is off color using large nymphs and
streamers. The river clears in July and when it does,
caddisflies and terrestrials become the main source of
food for the trout.
The river flows from Gardner through large pools and
fast water sections and then drops into Jim Yankee
Canyon with some white water sections. Below the
canyon, the river gradually slows down until it reaches
the Paradise Vally Access area. There it gains some
speed as it begins to curve its way through the valley on
its way to Livingston. From Livingston to Big Timber, the
terrain changes to open plains and the river runs slower.
Many anglers allow the sheer size of the Yellowstone
River to intimidate them. Some even think you have to
have a drift boat to fish it. Others think you must have a
guide to be able to catch trout in the river. None of the
above is true. You can fish the river by wading at
several locations. You can do well without a guide. You
can drift most of the river fairly safely in your own boat
or pontoon, of course, all depending on the flows.
Yellowstone River, Montana
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Recommended Tackle & Gear
5 or 6 weight
Dry fly: 9 & 12 ft., 5 or 6X, Nymphing:
71/2 ft., 3 or 4X, Streamers 0-2X
Dry fly: 5 or 6X, Nymphing: 3 or 4X,
Best Fly Rods:
Perfect Fly Superb Five or Ultimate Six
For 5/6 fly line
Fly Floatants and Misc Items:
Floatants, KISS Strike Indicators
Tools & Accessories:
Nippers, forceps, retractors, etc.
The season is open year-round and
fish can be caught during most of the
Fly fishing the Yellowstone River can
be very good prior to the runoff.
Fishing is always great as soon as the
This is a big, long river and the first decision
you must make is which part of it to fish. From
Gardiner to Livingston is just over fifty miles.
Route 89 follows the river closely most of the
way. Starting just below Gardner, the river is
normally moving fast with large, long pools
broken up with short sections of rapids. There
are a few places the river can be fished from
the bank but wading is impossible in most
places. The section from Gardiner to Cowin
Springs is best fished from a drift boat. There
is a good population of rainbows and
cutthroats in this section.
Below Cowin Springs, the river drops into Jim
Yankee Canyon. Just below Cowin Springs,
the river slows down some and is easier to fish
than the section above Cowin Springs. The
canyon section is best fished by wading. It has
some large, deep pools that hold nice sized
brown trout. It can be fished from a drift boat
but should first be done with an experienced
person because it has some sections that are
very difficult to navigate. Most outfitters avoid
this section. There are some major sections of
Below Jim Yankee Canyon from the Carbella
Access downstream to the Point of Rocks
area, the river consist mostly of pocket water.
Below Point of Rocks, the river slows down
and the pools become much longer and larger
downstream to Emigrant. The Gray Owl
Access below Emigrant is a popular put in
location for drift boats. This section down to
Mallard's Rest has some large browns and
rainbows. It is mostly moderate flowing water
with large pools.
The section from Mallard's Rest all the way
down to Carter's Bridge, is the most popular
section to fish from a drift boat. It also has
some excellent bank and wade fishing
areas. This is in the heart of Paradise
Valley and the scenery is the most beautiful
of all of the Yellowstone outside the park in
our opinion. Armstrong's Spring Creek,
DePuy's and Nelson's Spring Creeks flow
into the river in this section. The trout are
mostly rainbows but there are still plenty of
From Carter's Bridge downstream through
Livingston, the river consist mostly of faster
water with mixture of pools, runs and riffles.
The trout are mostly rainbows. Access is
fairly good in this area and wading is
popular. Drift boats provide better access to
more great areas along this part of the river.
From Livingston to Big Timber, the river still
consist mostly of pools and riffles but they
are larger and farther apart. The fishing
pressure is not as heavy. The fish may not
be as plentiful but it is still considered very
good by most anglers. The scenery is still
beautiful but quite different. The mountains
are in the distance and the river is lined with
cottonwood trees. The river follows
Interstate 90 headed East. The area has
good access with several points it can be
fished by wading or by boat.
Yellowstone River Hatches and Flies:
Our information on aquatic insects is based
on our stream samples of larvae and
nymphs, not guess work. We base fly
suggestions on imitating the most plentiful
and most available insects and other foods
at the particular time you are fishing. Unlike
the generic fly shop trout flies, we have
specific imitations of all the insects in the
Yellowstone River and in all stages of life
that are applicable to fishing. If you want to
fish better, more realistic trout flies, have a
much higher degree of success, give us a
call. We not only will help you with
selections, you will learn why, after trying
Perfect Flies, 92% of the thousands of our
customers will use nothing else.
As with most other trout streams, one of the
most important aquatic insects on the
Yellowstone River is the Blue-winged Olive.
These little mayflies start hatching around
the first of March and last until the middle of
May. They are bi-brooded, or hatch twice a
year, and show up again about the first of
August. This second go round can last
Probably the next important mayfly on the
Yellowstone River is the Pale Morning Dun.
They too hatch over a long period of time,
starting about the middle of July and lasting
until as late as the middle of September.
Another mayfly that hatches in some
sections of the river is the Gray Drake. It
starts hatching about the middle of July and
can last until the middle of September,
depending on the location.
There's also some Flavs, or Small Western
Green Drakes, that can be found in some
areas of the river. They too start hatching
about the middle of July. This hatch is
usually over by mid-August.
Caddisflies are often the most important
insects. One of the first to hatch are the
Brachycentrus species, or Little Black
Caddis. This hatch is called the "Mothers
Day Hatch". It starts about the first of May
and last for only a couple of weeks. There
are other hatches of Little Black Caddis that
occur from about the middle of July through
the month of August.
The Spotted Sedges are the most plentiful
caddisfly species. These caddisflies start
hatching around the middle of June and
last until the end of July. Little Sister
Caddisflies start about the middle of July
and last through the month of August.
Little Brown caddisflies start hatching
around the middle of July. This hatch
usually last for about a month, depending
on the location
.About the middle of June you will find two
important species of stoneflies hatching.
The Salmonflies start hatching then and
last until the near the end of July,
depending on the location. The Golden
Stonefly starts about the same time and
last until the end of July, again, depending
on the exact location. Both of these
hatches can be affected by the spring
You should always have a good selection
of streamer flies. The river has plenty of
baitfish species and sculpin. Streamers
work great early and late in the day and
water is stained from heavy rains. They
are also effective when the water is off
color from the runoff, after the really bad
water passes through.
Terrestrials become very important during
the months of July, August and September.
Imitations of ants, beetles, and
grasshoppers work great at times.
Grasshopper are especially important
because of all the hay fields around the
Yellowstone River. When the wind blows
and the farmers are cutting hay, a lot of
these insects get into the water.
Use our "Perfect Fly" hatch chart and
select your flies for the time you will be
fishing. Please give our flies a chance to
work for you if you haven't done so
already. We are confident that you will be
by glad you did.
This can be the best time to fish the
Fishing is generally tough, but fish can be
caught in certain areas.
Thumbnails: Click to enlarge
Thumbnails: Click to enlarge
Fishing Report Updated 05/21/14
(Bottom Of Page)
Yellowstone River Fishing Report - 05/21/14
The river is currently flowing high and will probably stay that way for a few days.
Stream Conditions at 05/21/14:
7 Day Weather Forecast: There is a chance of rain every day for the next week..Highs will
range from 70 to 77 degrees and lows from 38 to 40 degrees.
Recommended Trout Flies:
Midges: Blood (Red), sizes 20/22, larva, pupa and adults
Midges: Cream, size 20/22, larva, pupa and adults
Blue-winged Olives, size 16/20, nymphs, emegers, duns and spinners
Brown and White Belly Sculpin, size 6
Strategies, Techniques and Tips:
The Brown and White Belly Sculpin Streamers are good flies to use for the larger trout.
Crawl in on the bottom in the deepest water.
Blue-winged Olives should start hatching if not already. It is a good idea to fish the small
BWO swimming nymphs anytime.
We still think a good strategy is fishing a tandem Midge rig under a small strike indicator
with the midge lava as the bottom fly and the midge pupa as the top fly. Fish the adult
midge only when you observe trout feeding on the surface.
|Options For Selecting Flies:
1. Email us (email@example.com)
with the dates you will be fishing this
stream and we will send you a list of our
fly suggestions. Please allow up to 24
hours for a response.
2. Call us 800-594-4726 and we will help
you decide which flies you need.
3. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
with a budget for flies and we will select
them to match the budget and get them to
you in time for your fly fishing trip.
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