Yellowstone River, Montana and Wyoming

Yellowstone Country
Publishers Note:
The Yellowstone River and its Angling is not one of the River Journal series. We've included it here for those who are traveling to the region, or who have an interest in rivers. The book consists of a very detailed historical survey, including the geology of this facinating region. There are delightful stories of Dave Hughes and his wife Masako's travel and fishing exploits on the Yellowstone, Yellowstone Lake, the Spring Creeks of Paradise Valley and other regional streams. For the angler as well, there is plenty of information for your trip planning!

Masako and nice Buffalo Ford Cutt When I went to the Yellowstone River to research this book I had already fished it many times over the years. Like most folks, I'd fished the Buffalo Ford area in the Park, drawn some trout to flies in Paradise Valley, seen the edges of Yellowstone Lake, and thought I knew the river. I'd just need to spend a summer seeing some of the missing pieces, and I'd turn the puzzle into a picture.

The missing pieces, I discovered, were the picture: they were the river. Many are seldom seen, never by the casual visitor. To see each part of the river requires a special trip, and extra effort, and time. Some parts take lots of time.

Black Canyon

The upper river, for example, meanders through the remnant part of the Park above the lake, far from any road. The source itself lies outside the Park, tucked away even more remotely inside the Bridger-Teton Wilderness of Wyoming. You can get to the upper river by boat up the lake, by horseback, or by a long backpack trip. But you'll never see it if you have to drive to it.

The canyons, both the Grand and Black, are difficult to get into, more difficult to move along. Most access is at points along trails, where you can fish a few pools or runs, then have to climb back up, hike to the next access point, descent to fish again.

Headwaters above the Lake

Atlantic Creek, Yellowstone Headwaters

Most trout in the upper river, and its tributaries like Thorofare, are not resident. They live on the lake [Yellowstone Lake] and move up to spawn as soon as the water begins to drop after snowmelt torrents tear through. At this elevation - nearly 8,000 feet- spring comes late. Runoff typically last until early July. Trout finish spawning and back down from the tributaries soon after that. They hang out for weeks in the bemeadowed upper river, furnish it with fish out of proportion to its meager carrying capacity.

Buffalo Ford three-pound cutt

Yellowstone Falls, Yellowstone Canyon

These lake fish are far larger than you would expect from the size of the stream. They average sixteen inches. The largest weighed over three pounds. [These spawning fish are cutthroat]. . . Heed a couple of cautions about the upper river. First, the silty bottom can get stirred up by a storm. It also comes back into shape quickly. If you go there, give yourself a few fishing days so you'll be sure to have some time when the water is clear. Second, mosquitoes are fierce in the marsh that is the old lakebed. We went to the area in late August, after the sun had a chance to bake the meadows dry. In July, when you can first fish the river, they might carry off your camp.

The best timing for a trip into the upper river has to hit a fairly narrow window: after the runoff ends in July, before the trout back down in September. I would advise the last two weeks of August. You'll see slightly fewer fish, but still catch plenty. You won't get devoured by mosquitoes. In September the weather becomes risky [snow], and the numbers of trout dwindle.

Author's wife on Yellowstone Lake

Yellowstone Lake

Next in line is the lake. The upper river flows into it. I wanted to see the spot where that happens. I wanted to fish there. But it took quite a while to get there. And I didn't fish when I did.

Yellowstone Country

I went to the lake first in early June, when the road to it had opened but the roads beyond it were still buried beneath snow. The lake itself was a vast sheet of ice covered with snow: white, glaring in the sun. A small bay of open water worked its way up from the river, where the water gathered speed and moved too fast to freeze at June night temperatures. The rest was locked in, though by then there likely were openings out beyond sight where hot springs bubbled up from the bottom.

Nice Lake Cutt

In early July, friends and I went to nibble at the lake's edge. If fishing can be compared to a piece of cake, and catching lots of fish can be compared to eating the frosting, I discovered quickly that the edge of Yellowstone Lake is the best place to bite.

Buffalo crossing the Lamar River

River south of Livingston

Paradise Valley

Paradise extends from the boundary of the Park, at Gardiner, nearly sixty miles north to Livingston. The valley is the basin at the foot of the faults that rise up to form the Beartooths and Absarokas. The riverbottom is broad and flat. The mountains tower abruptly above it to the east, in a long uplifted line that allows little entry into some of the most forbidding country in the world. When you fish the river in Paradise Valley those looming mountains are a constant presence, always hanging over your shoulder. In May they're still white with snow. . . Author and Spring Creek Rainbow We wound up so sated by day's end that we floated along in the raft and watched rising trout without even casting to them. We'd taken three species, cutts, browns and rainbows, plus more whitefish than you'd care to count. Most of our fishing was on dries, but Skip, who's an expert with nymphs fished the indicator and shot method for awhile, and alarmed so many trout that we became alarmed ourselves. ~ Dave Hughes

Dependable Spring Creek Hatches

For a MAP of the Yellowstone River, click here.
For the FLIES for the Yellowstone River, click here.
To ORDER Yellowstone River direct from the publisher, click HERE.

Credits: From The Yellowstone River and its Angling,, published by Frank Amato Publications. We greatly appreciate use permission.

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