Yellowstone river montana

Yellowstone River Montana Fly Fishing

The Yellowstone River is practically an ocean. For over 600 miles, it flows unabated until its union with the Missouri River in western North Dakota. Along its course, it is fueled by many of my favorite tributary fisheries like the Boulder and Stillwater Rivers, as well as a myriad smaller streams and seeps that keep the river cool enough to provide over 200 miles of quality fishing. The lion’s share of the 200 miles is accessible by boat.

The Yellowstone River is the pastoral view of western fishing. Big water, big flies, and big fish, of course. The lower reaches harbor strong populations of brown and rainbow trout, some specimens are nearer ocean creatures than river trout. The lower river provides huge views of nearby mountains and productive range land. Here the river can be over a hundred yards wide. Traveling south through Livingston, anglers are greeted by the awe-inspiring views of Paradise Valley.

The Valley provides some of the better early and late season fishing, and the best views in Montana. As you exit Paradise Valley you find Yankee Jim Canyon littered with rapids and steep rock banks. This is premier cutthroat country, and anglers can expect to catch native Yellowstone Cutthroat trout with a variety of tactics. The single dry is king here. Above Yankee Jim Canyon a small valley provides the last floatable water before the Roosevelt Arch signals Yellowstone Park and its unique regulations.

Yellowstone River Fly Fishing | River Description from Wet Net Outfitters

The Yellowstone provides some of the better early and late season fishing, and the best views in Montana. This is our home fishery & consistently land the biggest fish on these float trips.

When To Fish The Yellowstone River

Like the tributaries, March beckons the great awakening of the river’s inhabitants. Both the upper and lower river offer up angling activities with the requisite spring hatches of midges and BWOs. There are a few skwalas on the upper river, or at least the eager cutthroat trout seem to recognize the sellout of a well drifted skwala dry fly. Streamer tactics dominate the other fishing hours with trout in the lower river searching for juvenile and freshly molted crawfish to replenish their bodies following an inane winter. Where crawfish are less abundant on the upper reaches, scores of baitfish and juvenile whitefish entice fish of all sizes into eating. While many of our streamer tactics require active presentations, dead drifted imitations can be equally or more effective. The main event is the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch. If the timing is right anglers can witness one of the greatest insect emergences in the west. Literal islands of caddis buoy down the river where trout wait with mouths open.

May and much of June provide vitally, no angling opportunities on the Yellowstone River due to an enormous spring runoff. Once the torrent of water runs within the banks, it’s time to begin fishing the summer hatches. The Yellowstone is truly a riffle-run fishery with big gravel shelves and grassy banks. Most techniques have their day, however covering water in search of opportunistic fish is often the best course of action. With the higher flows in July, it’s not a stretch of the imagination to cover 15 or more miles of river in a day of fishing! While the river sees a good golden stonefly emergence, there is no better place to fish salmon flies than the confines of Yankee Jim Canyon. We see fish interested in hoppers throughout July with August providing the best hopper fishing.

In September we see the water temperatures drop, and the fish go on the feed. September is undoubtedly our favorite time to fish the Yellowstone River. Brown trout sport colors that bear closer similarity to the trees than their spring colors. Rainbows and cutthroats hang in the runs and chase down high value food like small baitfish and free-living caddis larva. The whole river has something to offer in September from late season terrestrial fishing, highly visual streamer fishing, and highly consistent nymph fishing.

Our Rivers

Read through detailed reports of the rivers we typically fish with our Wet Net Outfitter clients. Whether you’re looking for big river float trips, iconic spring creek wade trips, or secluded small creek trips, we can help facilitate your bucket list fly fishing adventure.