As America’s first national park, Yellowstone is home to some of the wildest, most beautiful terrain in the lower 48. Along with bubbling hotpots, blasting geysers and massive waterfalls, YNP delivers some of the most exciting and serene fishing in the Rocky Mountains. Whether you want to pack in for a multi-day trip or just wet a line right off the road, this fishing paradise has exactly what you need for a lifetime of adventure.
To start, you’ll need to get in. A weeklong pass runs $25—but if you plan on coming back, check out the “America the Beautiful” national parks pass for $80, which gets you into every park in the country for a year. Seniors over 62 years old qualify for a $10 lifetime pass.
Next, you’ll need a fishing license. A Wyoming or Montana license won’t cut it, so pick from an $18 three-day permit, a $25 seven-day permit or a $40 season-long permit, all available at any ranger station, visitor center and the Yellowstone Park General Store. Now that you’re legal, it’s time to hit the water.
Firehole River – West Entrance
When the season kicks off in late May, the Firehole is often the only game in town. Its banks feature beautiful open meadows and water warmed by the Park’s prolific geothermal activity. Since the river sees so much traffic, the fish get smart quick—you’ll need a nearly perfect cast and a great riffle if you want to find something on your hook. Nymphing will give you the best luck, but keep track of the caddis hatches that happen throughout June and later into the summer. Just enter at West Yellowstone and head south onto the Grand Loop, turning right where the Firehole meets the Madison. There are pull-offs for fishing access all the way down to Old Faithful.
When people dream of a picturesque fly fishing river, they’re probably imagining the Gibbon. Before it becomes the Madison, this river offers great meadow fishing as well as tighter mountain-style fishing further up the road. Take a day to find out which type is your favorite. Caddis patterns as well as hoppers tend to receive a great response. Head east from the West Yellowstone entrance and don’t stop until you find your perfect spot.
Lamar River – Northeast Entrance
The Lamar is a perfect choice for later in the season, when its waters clear around later July. There’s plenty of water to choose from, thanks to easy access and a great trail system. A ton of different hatches take place over the summer months and hoppers always seem to do the trick, no matter what the bug du jour might be. You can get there by heading southeast from Gardiner or southwest from Cooke City.
Madison River – West Entrance
The world-famous Madison is born within the Park’s borders, and offers great fishing when the season opens. Following the road, this stretch has gorgeous grassy meadows known for some of the best wildlife viewing around. Alongside rainbows and browns, get ready to hook up with plenty of whitefish. Ask the local shops in West Yellowstone what’s hatching, then head east into the Park.
Yellowstone Lake – West Entrance
Is you want big fish, you’ve gotta head to big water—some of the most impressive cutthroat in the Park have come out of this lake. Woolly Buggers are a great choice for this water, as well as leeches. It can get windy here, so pack more layers than you think you’ll need. And if you feed your fly-fishing addiction via boat, take every safety precaution you can, since wind and waves can be dangerous. To get there, head southeast once you enter the Park at West Yellowstone.
Hooks must be barbless or debarbed. This might make landing them a little trickier, but the fish will appreciate it.
Tips and Tricks
Fishing season in the Park runs from the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through the first Sunday of November.
It might sound counterintuitive, but you can’t fish at the Fishing Bridge near the east entrance. Declining numbers of trout caused Park officials to close the bridge to protect the spawning fish. You can look at the fish all you want, though.
All native fish (such as cutthroat, mountain whitefish or grayling) are catch-and-release only. Non-native fish, on the other hand, must be killed every time you hook up with one. But remember: This is grizzly country. Dispose of non-native fish in deep and/or fast-moving water. Tossing them on the riverbank can attract predators.
Bears and other wildlife may appear in areas frequented by people—even on trails, boardwalks and along roads. Never approach wildlife and remain at least 100 yards away from bears and wolves. Stay 25 yards away from all other wildlife like moose or bison.
- Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
- Don’t fish alone. Try to stay in a group of three or more.
- DON’T RUN if you encounter a bear.
Some of the world’s best fishing tucked away in the nation’s first national park—what more could you want? Just don’t forget to put the rod down every once and a while and soak in the beautiful wildlife, scenery and geysers.