Yellowstone River Fly Fishing

Wyoming’s Yellowstone River, a world class trout stream.


The Yellowstone River begins in the Absaroka Mountains just outside of Yellowstone Park. From it’s beginning at about 12,000 feet, the river flows North and eventually dumps into Yellowstone Lake. It then heads North, flowing through the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone, and exits the Park at the town of Gardiner, Montana.

Above Yellowstone Lake in Yellowstone National Park (Wyoming), the Yellowstone River starts its journey and flows for hundreds of miles through breath taking scenery across Montana until it meets the Missouri River in North Dakota. This natural flowing river is one that brings anglers and visitors from all over the country to its banks each year.

Upper Yellowstone

In the park, the Yellowstone River is restricted to sightseeing and fishing. The river holds good numbers of Yellowstone Cutthroat. Anglers wanting excellent fly fishing in beautiful surroundings should take a close look at the Yellowstone River.

The upper Yellowstone River flows for approximately thirty miles before entering the Southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake. The upper reaches of the river are small, very remote and nearly impossible to access without a horse or canoe. The River above Yellowstone Lake is followed by Thorofare trail which will give access to those people who choose to horseback. Cutthroats are the only trout found in this part of the river.

Below the Lake

The upper Yellowstone flows for approximately thirty miles before entering the Southeast arm of Yellowstone Lake. The 25 mile section above Yellowstone Lake runs through a wide valley and holds large numbers of cutthroat that can grow to 20 inches.

Below the lake, the Yellowstone River flows through a beautiful canyon before reaching Gardiner which lies just on the outskirts of the park. The upper seven miles of this section to Sulphur Cauldron are the most popular. The first mile is closed to fishing because it is spawning habitat for the cutthroats. Below Sulphur Cauldron, the river flows over two sets of falls. One measuring over a hundred feet and the other over three hundred. The area around the falls is closed to fishing but is a spectacular area to visit.

This section of the river doesn’t get much pressure and offers excellent fishing. This section produces lots of hatches and the trout are hungry and aggressive.

Below the Falls

Below the falls the river flows though the Grand Canyon of Yellowstone. Access in the canyon is not easy. You need to be ready to hike down 1500 feet from the rim to the river. Then you need to keep in mind that after a day of fly fishing you still have to climb back out of the canyon. This is not easy fly fishing but if you crave wild trout and solitude, you’ll find both here.

Other stretches along the river from Yellowstone Lake to Gardiner and other areas are also Closed to fishing & Special Regulations do apply. Below the falls, the Yellowstone flows through a large canyon and access can be somewhat difficult in areas. Access points in this area can be found by using include Tower Falls, Black Canyon, Hellroaring Creek Trail, Canyon Village, and by Gardiner. Access to this area of the river is done by using Grand Loop Road and hiking trails. The river can be dangerous and swift in many areas and you must be careful.

There are some areas in the section between the lake and the falls that are closed to fly fishing because of spawning beds. The river then flows over two sets of falls. One over a hundred feet and the other drops over three hundred feet.


Below the lake, the Yellowstone River flows through a beautiful canyon before reaching Gardiner which lies just on the outskirts of the park. The upper seven miles of this section are the most popular and can get pretty crowded.
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 fifty miles of water. The first part of this stretch from Gardiner to Corwin Springs is very productive for cutthroats which are in tremendous numbers here. 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.

Below Yankee Jim Canyon

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.

When to Fish

Because the Yellowstone is a true freestone river, it gets full and muddy in the run off. The best time to fly fish this part of the river is mid July through the fall. The very upper reaches of the river are remote and will require a horse and or a good pair of hiking boots to reach.

If the crowds don’t bother you,this section of river offers great fishing especially in the early part of the season. The season opens on July 15th.


Hatches on the Yellowstone include Blue-winged Olive, caddis(tan and black), Pale Morning Duns, stoneflies (including the large Salmon Flies), 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 Yellowstone River, Upper, WY

InsectSizeBegin DateEnd DateBest Time
Caddis14-161-Jul15-Sepafternoon and evening
Terrestrials14-1815-Jul30-Sepmorning and afternoon
PMD14-1814-1815-Sepmorning and evening
Little Yellow Stone10-1415-Jul30-Augafternoon and evening
Green Drake10-1215-Jul15-Augafternoon
Golden Stone6-1015-Jul15-Augafternoon
Gray Drake10-1220-Jul15-Augafternoon and evening
Baetis16-1815-Aug15-Octafternoon and evening

Getting There

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.

The Yellowstone River and it’s native cutthroat trout deserve the honor of being called one of Wyoming fly fishing’s blue ribbon waters.


Yellowstone River map

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