Destinations: West Coast/Yellowstone Area:

Yellowstone Area:

In my humble (and somewhat biased...over 100 trips to the area) opinion, the area within a 50 mile radius of West Yellowstone Montana (the West entrance to Yellowstone Park) has the best fly fishing waters in the contiguous US and maybe the world. Just for starters, you have the Henry's Fork and the Madison. I love the Henry's Fork like I love my kids! The Madison and dozens more other places in this circle are also very special. As I said earlier, I have fished at least a hundred different trout streams in the West and the Yellowstone area has no equal in my mind. Certainly, there are other rivers, lakes, etc. that are more famous or have bigger fish. I do not think there is another area this size anywhere that holds as many great fly fishing opportunities in terms of beauty and species. One thing that is especially important to me is that the fish I chase are wild fish. I would rather catch a single 14" wild trout than a dozen fish twice that size that have been planted. If a fish is not "wild", I am generally not interested. I sometimes use the term "native" and "wild" interchangeably and that is not correct. A "wild" wish is one that was spawned in those same waters typically over many does not necessarily mean "native" in the true sense of the word. In the Yellowstone area, you have the true native Yellowstone Cutthroat and a few other native cutthroat subspecies, wild rainbows, browns and brook trout. In Yellowstone Lake you have a big population of Lake Trout (actually char) that were introduced (evidently by a stupid but probably well intentioned unknown individual(s)) and now the Park is trying to get rid of them. In Henry's Lake just inside Idaho, there are very large "hybrids"...a cross between rainbow and cutthroat. I believe there are still a few out of the way places that have grayling and there are some kokanee salmon in a few places. I am probably leaving a few out but this is a list that could keep you busy for a lifetime.

The Madison River - The Madison River headwaters are in Yellowstone Park at the confluence of the Gibbon and Firehole Rivers and it ends near Three Forks, Montana where it joins with the Jefferson and Gallatin to form the headwaters of the Missouri River. It is 183 miles long and offers great fly fishing along its entire course. The Madison is known for both Rainbows and Browns. In the park, the wading is fairly easy. Once you get below Hebgen and Quake Lakes, the wading is considerably more difficult...a good friend describes it as "wading on greased bowling balls". Fishing the banks and shallow edges is fine but really covering the river really requires a high sided boat or raft.

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Madison River

The Madison below Quake Lake


The Henry's Fork - The Henry's Fork's technical source is the small outflow from Henry's Lake but the truly significant source is from Big Springs. Big Springs contributes over 120 million gallons of 52 deg. crystal clear spring water to the Henry's Fork daily. The leads some to call the Henry's Fork the "world's largest spring creek". To describe the Henry's Fork as you would most rivers is simply impossible. There are the smooth tranquil waters of the Harriman Park section (aka Railroad Ranch), there are sections of significant rapids and pocket water (Riverside Campground to Upper Mesa Falls) any virtually everything in between. Also known as the North Fork of the Snake River is a major tributary to the majestic Snake River.

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Henry's Fork.jpg

The Henry's Fork, looking up from  "Millionaire's Pool 

credit: Mike Lawson, Henry's Fork Anglers

The Firehole River - This is one of the truly unique fly fishing rivers in the world. It flows through several large and active thermal basins and you may have to walk around "mud pots" and hot springs as you walk the banks.There is usually a lot of wildlife in this area. there are plentiful numbers of rainbows and browns but most are in the 12-14 inch range but fish up to 18" have been caught. It is an early and late season river due to the thermal activity. It fishes well from the opener on Memorial Day weekend into June. It does not really become fishable again until September when the cold weather starts to show up.

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The Firehole


The Gallatin Riveris a tributary of the Missouri River, approximately 120 mi long in Wyoming and Montana. It is one of three rivers, along with the Jefferson and Madison, that converge near Three Forks, Montana, to form the Missouri. It originates in the northwest corner of Yellowstone National Park.It flows northwest through Gallatin National Forest, past Big Sky, Montana, and joins the Jefferson and Madison approximately 30 mi. northwest of Bozeman. The Gallatin, through its entire length is not known for large fish but is the home to plentiful rainbows, browns,cutthroat, brook trout and a few grayling. As Western rivers go, it is relatively small. There is very little fishable water in Yellowstone Park

Gallatin River - by Big Sky

DIY Guide to Fly Fishing the Gallatin River in Montana - by DIY Fly Fishing

Gallatin River - by Montana Angler

Fly Fishing the Gallatin River near Bozeman - by Fins and Feathers

Gallatin River Fly Fishing | Montana - by The New Fly Fisher

Fly Fishing The Gallatin River (Yellowstone Park) - by Fly Fishing Yellowstone National Park

image credit: Big Sky

Other Yellowstone Rivers of note...please click here...