Copyright 2016 James Marsh
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 in Montana 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 Mountains. At Livingston, it reaches the high
plains 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
Yellowstone River Fishing Guide:
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
|1. Email us (firstname.lastname@example.org)
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 (email@example.com)
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.
All orders are shipped free in the
U. S. Orders over $50 are shipped via
Fly Fishing On The Yellowstone River
Headlines: The river is a little high
right now but falling and will be back
to normal within a day or so.
Blue-winged olive hatches, in two
sizes, are taking place. There are
still some Mahagony duns and
October caddis hatches, depending
on the section. Brown trout are
either spawning or in the pre-spawn
stage, mostly pre-spawn. We
continue to get some good reports
from customers fishing for them.
Keep up with the latest by clicking
the link to our weekly updated
Map of Yellowstone River
10/20/15 October Caddis are hatching. Brown trout are spawning and some are being caught.
We recommend leaving them alone. The weather is great and so are the stream levels. Few
anglers are fishing. You couldn't ask for more. We base fly selection on samples of aquatic
insect larvae we have taken over the years, not trial and error.
10/20/15 Some very large brown trout are being caught on streamers like our Brown Sculpin.
They are in the pre-spawn stage and very territorial and aggressive. The weather is turning a
little cooler but not cold. There is a little rain forecast but the stream levels are fine. Conditions
are about as good as they get at this time of the year.
10/27/15 The river is at its normal level and flow rate for this time of the year. October caddis
are still hatching in some sections. Blue-winged Olives are hatching in two sizes, 16 and 20.
Keep track of the latest information on our Yellowstone River fishing report linked above. Our
Brown sculpin streamer is continuing to catch some big brown trout for one of our local
11/03/15 Finally, the weather is turning cold. The warm weather has been nice but here comes
the normal kind. There are winter storm warning out from today through Friday. Stream levels
are fine right now, but keep a close check on them. Blue-winged olives are hatching and they
will hatch even when it is snowing. Other than that, it is mostly midges. Brown sculpin streamers
are still catching some big browns.
11/10/15 Stream levels are fine and many areas can be safely waded. Smaller pontoon drift
boats as well as the big ones can also be used. The Brown trout are mostly in the post-spawn
stage and hungry. The Brown Sculpin streamer fly has been catching them on a regular basis.
Midges and Blue-winged olives are the only insects hatching. It is a good time to fish the river.
11/17/15 .The river level and flows just keeps on being good. It is that time of the year but it
seems it has been at a good level for a long time. It appears it will stay that way because the
only thing in the forecast is snow and melting snow don't affect it as much as rain. The Brown
Sculpin has been a killer fly for the past two months. It should continue to work good. Hatches
are down to BWOs and Midges.
11/24/15 The weather has finally turned cold in the beautiful Paradise Valley. Most anglers will
be favoring staying home and eating turkey for the next few days. There is some heavy snow
but it will clear on Friday. The high temperature isn't getting above freezing this coming week
so that will make it tough on those who are willing to give the river a try. MIdges will provide the
best opportunity .
12/02/15 All the foul weather is gone and it is just a little chilly as it normally is at this time of
the season. Great stream levels exist and should remain that way all week. Clear weather is
ahead also for the next week. Midges are the key insects you need to imitate. Don't forget the
Brown sculpin streamer. It has been a great fly to use for the last month.
12/08/15 The river is flowing along at a good level but there is some rain and snow in the
forecast. Notice that we added Winter stoneflies to the list because they have started hatching
in the upper section of the river. Of course, midges will continue to be the main insect you
should be imitating. Just don't forget the Brown and White Belly Sculpin. They have been
catching the larger trout.
12/15/15 The Yellowstone area is under a winter storm warning through tomorrow. The water is
cold but the last day melted much of the ice. You can expect more in the middle and upper
sections of the river. Fish the lowest section of the river below Livingston. Winter Stoneflies
and midges are the two most important insects to imitate.
12/22/15 In short, we don't guide and have no reason to promote false conditions like some.
Conditions are not good. The water barely exceed freezing in the majority of the water in the
river. If you do fish, fish the lowest section of the river. Midges and Winter stonefly nymphs is
the best choice of flies. Be careful if you do fish. Carry an extra set of dry clothes. There is a
lot of ice around the banks.
12/29/15 It is the end of another year and as it should, turned cold. The Yellowstone River is a
freestone and that means its water temperature is strictly controlled by the air temperature.
There is a lot of ice along the banks and anywhere the water is calm. The water temperature
ranges from freezing to about 35 degrees. That makes in tough, very tough to catch trout. Try
the mouth of the spring creeks where they enter the river.
01/05/16 It is warming up just a little to kick off the new year on the big river. You will find the
warmest water in the lowest part of the stream below Livingston or at the mouth of the spring
creeks that enter the Yellowstone. We recommend midges and the Winter stonefly nymphs.
You might see some hatch this week, if so fish the dry fly when they start laying eggs.
01/12/16 The conditions are not that bad at all on the Yellowstone. The water is cold and you
need to use midge larva and pupa in tandem in the slack water or out of the faster current in
he slower water in pockets, holes in the bottom, etc. The trout won't hold in fast current at the
current water temperature. Stream levels are in very good shape right now.
01/19/16 The river is in very good shape for mid January. The water has some ice along the
banks, but the water is mostly clear of it. Some places have water temps as high as 38
degrees. You want to fish midge larva and pupa, in tandem, in the slow current seams out of
the faster water. Holes in the bottom and along the banks is also good holding locations for
trout at this time of the year.
01/26/16 The stream levels are in good shape and the water clear. The weather is maybe a
little warmer but that just brings on some more snow. Fish near the confluence of the two
spring creeks. The water is a little warmer there. Also, the further downstream you fish, the
warmer the water wil be, although slight.
02/02/16 The weather has lost its warm spell from last week and its back to its normal cold
Montana winter weather. There is snow forecast every day for the next week with air
temperatures not exceeding freezing. It is possible to catch trout and if you are intent on doing
so, fish near the confluence of the spring creeks.
02/09/16 The stream levels are in fine shape. The middle and upper sections of the river have
ice along the banks and some slush ice in the water. Fish near the mouths of the spring creeks
and/or at the very lowest elevation that trout exist. The water in the best sections ranges from
34 to 37 degrees. Midges and winter stoneflies are the main insects to imitate.
02/16/16 The river is in as good of shape as it could be for mid February. The water
temperature is still cold, but on the way up slightly. Midges, winter stoneflies, brown sculpin
streamers and little Blue-winged olive nymphs are the flies you need to be using. Fish near the
confluence of the spring creeks or the lowest section of the river that holds trout.
02/23/16 There is a little stain to most of the river due to runoff from melting ice and snow
within the watershed. This is keeping the water temperature just above freezing even though
the air is warmer. The mouths of the two spring creeks is warmer and otherwise, the lowest
elevation of the river. Midges, winter stonefly nymphs and sculpin are the main foods to imitate.
03/01/16 The river is in very good shape for the first of March. It is still cold but there's no
slush ice in the middle or lower sections. The weather is going to be okay most of the coming
week. It's a good time to get out on the water. We recommend the mouths of the spring creeks
near their confluence with the river, or the very lowest section of it that holds trout.
03/08/16 It is always a touchy situation when the weather first starts turning warm. It melts
some snow along the banks and stain the water and that helps keep the water cold. It will be a
long time before there's a real runoff and the weather always rocks back and forth with the
warm and cold fronts. Winter stoneflies and midges are hatching and stream levels in good
03/15/16 The river is in very good shape for this time of the year. Recent warm weather melted
a lot of snow along the banks but it is clear now. The weather is returning to a more normal
pattern for this time of the year. There is snow forecast for the next two days and then clearing.
Midges, both red and cream, are hatching. They are still the most important insect to imitate.
03/22/16 The big river is in very good shape for the first of Spring. The stream level is normal
and the water clear and cold. Fish the lowest section of the river that hold trout or near the
confluence of the spring creeks in the valley. Midges is the key insect to imitate and at times,
they even provide some surface action.
03/29/16 Midges and sculpin streamers are the flies you need to use but midge fishing in the
high wind is tough to do with much success. The streamers has been the best choice most of
the time. There is lots of rain and snow yet to come this week. We still think the best option is
fishing near the mouth of the spring creeks in Paradise Valley. The water is a little warmer.
04/05/16 Stream levels are in good shape and the water clear. It is still cold and midges are
the only thing consistently hatching, but little Blue-winged olives should start showing up more
frequently. Few anglers are fishing, but those that are, are catching plenty of trout. Sculpin
streamers work good early and late in the day. The lower end of the river is slightly warmer.
04/12/16 For the first time in a long time, the Yellowstone River is high and stained. There is
rain or snow in the forecast for the next several days, so this is unlikely to change. Midges and
little Blue-winged olives are hatching good, but it will be a few days before you can take
advantage of it. At first, the Sculpin streamers will provide the best odds for you.
04/19/16 The Yellowstone is in good shape for the middle of April. The stream level is back
down near normal and the water mostly clear. It is still cold due to melting snow, in the mid
forties at most places. The weather is going to be very warm this coming week. Midges and
Blue-winged olives are hatching good.
04/26/16 Put your bathing suits back up, it is still early spring in Yellowstone River country. The
water level is a little high and the color highly stained in most places. This will improve each
day. The water temperature is still in the high thirties to mid forties depending on where you
fish. Midges and little BWO's are still the only insects hatching.
05/03/16 The next big deal on the Yellowstone River will be the Mother's day caddisfly hatch.
That is the Little Black Caddis, size 18, or American Grannoms. It may have started on the
lower end of the river as it moves upstream as the water warms. Blue-winged olives are
hatching good along with the midges.
05/10/16 The stream levels are way up and the water stained. It is a little cooler and rain is in
the forecast every day for the next week. The Mother's day hatch will stall in the lower river
until the warming trend continues. Right now there is little to no fly fishing opportunity of the
05/17/16 Remember, the Yellowstone river drains from Yellowstone Lake in the park, which is
iced over and just breaking up. Of course that is many miles away but it is one of the last rivers
from the park that clears and warms up. It is flowing high today and there's rain in the forecast
every day for the next week. Blue winged olives and midges are hatching and little Black
05/24/16 It is runoff time in Yellowstone River country. The stream is high and badly stained
from melting snow and ice and there is rain in the forecast every day for the next week to make
it a little worse. You may want to consider fishing the local spring creeks in the valley. It is likely
to continue for a while, so just keep checking back.
05/31/16 The flows are still high. Yes, it could be fished from a drift boat but I wouldn't want to
do it unless I just wanted to experiment. The levels will be increasing all this week due to the
warmer weather in the forecast. It is runoff time. The levels are usually very high during at least
most of the month of June. We will continue to keep you updated.
06/07/16 The stream is very high due to rain and melting snow from runoff. There isn't any
opportunity to fly fish at this time and it is doubtful there will be any this coming week.
Salmonflies are starting to hatch but they often do so during periods of high water levels. You
will just have to keep checking the levels.
06/14/16 The river is down a lot and can be fished from a drift boat. The water is still dingy.
The runoff isn't over yet, although it appears to be. We think it will be back up. There is more
rain in the forecast this week and the weather is going to be much cooler. Salmonflies are
hatching in the lower end of the river.
06/20/16 The river is getting into very good shape. More insects are starting to hatch. We had
a good report from a customer this past week. Sculpin streamers have been working good with
the higher water levels. Golden Stoneflies are staring to hatch on the lower section of the river.
The flows are still strong and the water still has some stain to it, but it is improving fast.
06/28/16 The stream levels are way down and in good shape. There are Salmonflies hatching
in the upper river, Golden stoneflies are hatching in most areas of the river and Pale Morning
duns are starting to hatch in the middle and lower sections. Caddis egg laying activity is
bringing trout to the surface late in the day. Both Spotted Sedges and Green sedges, both
caddisflies, are hatching.
07/05/16 The Yellowstone is in good shape throughout it length. This is actually a little earlier
than it normally gets down and clear from runoff. The levels are below normal for this time and
some sections can even be waded. Our customers sent in some good reports the last couple
of days. Some trout were caught on top. There are a big number of insects hatching but it
varies with the section of the river.
07/12/16 The stream levels are still in good shape and the water mostly all clear. There are
numbers insects hatching but they vary from the lower section of the river to the National Park
line. Throughout the length, there are a little of about everything. Lots of Golden stoneflies and
little Yellow stoneflies on the lower end. Western Green drakes are hatching in about half the
river's length. Caddisflies are everywhere.
07/19/16 The river is down and lots of anglers are on the water in all sections. There are a
huge number of insects hatching depending on the section of the river you are fishing.
Conditions are good from the lowest section that holds trout all the way up to the national park
line in Gardner. We expect conditions to continue to be good with the good weather forecast
for the coming week.
07/26/16 The stream is getting a little on the low side but it still has plenty of water. You can
wade some places that you normally couldn't and some think that is an advantage. There is
still enough water for drift boats. There is a chance of rain about every day so this is likely to
change. Fish the last three hours of the day for the best results. Early morning streamer
fishing is also paying off for some.
08/02/16 The river is flowing a little below normal levels. We received two good reports this
past week from customers. They were fishing very late in the day and wading. Caddisflies and
little Yellow Stoneflies are depositing eggs the last two hours of daylight, bringing trout to the
surface to feed. Pale Morning duns are still hatching in good numbers.
08/09/16 The river is a little low but in good shape in the middle and upper sections. The river
is under Hoot Owl restrictions from Highway 563 Bridge (Old Stage Road Bridge) to the
confluence with the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone east of Laurel. Fish streamers like our
Brown sculpin in the early mornings. Nymphs until something begins to hatch mid afternoon.
Lots of caddisflies are hatching.
08/16/16 Fish the upper most sections of the river. The water is cooler. There are still a lot of
caddisflies hatching. These take place in the early afternoons but the egg laying takes place
the last two hours of the day. Fish as late as you can. Early morning streamer fishing is also
good. The river is under Hoot Owl restrictions from Highway 563 Bridge (Old Stage Road
Bridge) to the confluence with the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone east of Laurel.
08/30/16 Conditions remain the same. There is an EMERGENCY CLOSURE OF A PORTION
OF THE YELLOWSTONE RIVER and all of its associated tributaries starting 8/19/2016. Closed
from the northern boundary of Yellowstone National Park in Gardiner, MT, to the Highway 212
Bridge in Laurel, MT.
09/06/13 Great news! As of today, the Yellowstone River is reopened from the National Park
line downstream to the to the Highway 212 Bridge in Laurel. In other words, you are able to fish
most all sections of the river that holds trout. The weather is much cooler and the water
temperatures are down as well. There are still a lot of insects hatching and terrestrial imitations
are working as well.
09/13/16 The weather is much cooler and there is more rain in the forecast. The stream levels
are fine and conditions are good all the way around in the middle and upper sections of the
river all the way up to Gardiner. Sculpin streamers continue to catch trout, especially with the
cloud cover present. There are still plenty of caddisflies hatching as well as some Baetis Blue-
winged olives. They will continue to hatch for the next two months or longer.
09/20/16 The river is in good shape. There is a chance of rain everyday though Saturday. It
may not affect the levels all that much but it will provide some good cloud cover. Our Brown
sculpins should continue to get some of the larger trout. Mahogany duns and baetis Blue-
winged olives are hatching along with lots of caddisflies. We recommend the middle and upper
sections of the river.
10/04/16 The Yellowstone is in good shape throughout the sections that hold trout. The
weather is turning much cooler and there is some rain and snow through Friday of this week.
Our customers are catching some very big brown trout as they are in the pre-spawn stage and
taking streamers very well. Mahogany duns, lots of Blue-winged olives, October Caddis and
other insects are hatching.
10/11/16 It is a very good time to fish the Yellowstone River. Brown trout are in the pre-spawn
stage and taking brown and white belly sculpin. There are some very good Blue-winged olive
and Mahogany dun hatches taking place and trout are being taken from the surface as well. In
some sections, October Caddis are hatching good. The stream levels are normal. There is
some rain in the forecast, so watch the levels.