Fly fishing for trout in Yellowstone National Park - part I

Updated: Aug 25

In pursuit of the Yellowstone Cutthroat


a Cascade Lake cutthroat trout

I first visited Yellowstone National Park in September 2017 and found it to be a magical place. We visited all the iconic sites within the Tetons and Yellowstone and were subjected to pretty much all four seasons over the course of two weeks, including an 8” snowfall that threatened to strand us in the park. Three days prior, I had a float trip down the Beaverhead River in Dillon, MT in 80-degree temperatures!


Fly fishing at Cascade Lake


Cascade Lake is best fished when the water is calm

Five years later and I am back with a group of anglers that fish the various waters of Yellowstone every year. The expedition begins with a hike in to Cascade Lake for cutthroat trout and arctic grayling – the latter species being previously native but overtaken by non-native fish species in the early 1900s. The grayling is now increasingly being introduced to Wyoming and Montana waters.


an arctic grayling at Cascade Lake (photo credit Lars Hudnall)

The trailhead for the 2-mile trek to Cascade originates at Canyon-Tower Road (4K5) to the north of Canyon Village and is a moderate hike, mostly through meadow. We packed our waders and boots in backpacks to change into on arrival – while wet wading is an option, anglers should beware of leeches, which are plentiful in the waters of Cascade Lake.


We arrived early to a promising sight of rising trout all over the lake. Fish were taking #14-16 dries, such as Elk Hair Caddis, Adams and Royal Wulff patterns. The action was more pronounced on the eastern and southern banks, with several early hook ups on cutthroat trout in the 8 to 12-inch range. For as long as the water was calm, the rises were frequent, but as the wind picked up, creating surface disturbance, the fish became inactive, and we had to switch tactic. It was more challenging fishing wet flies, but a few of us had success drifting a PMX / Zirdle bug combo and / or stripping a Golden Retriever.


Fly fishing at the Yellowstone River


an angler retrieves a streamer through a current seam on the Yellowstone River

Based on stories we heard from other anglers at Cascade, we decided to head to the Yellowstone River the next morning to try our luck for large trout that were feeding on salmon flies. The spots that were recommended included the Nez Perce Ford, the Caldrons and LeHardy Rapids. We chose the former because of the ample parking and vast picnic area, as well as the wadable water and interesting riffles and runs. But that is about as interesting as it got that morning and we left at lunch time without anything in the net.


Fly fishing at Gibbon Meadows


the Gibbon River is a very technical water with fish that are easily spooked

We chose Gibbon Meadows for the afternoon fish, as it was close to our Campground in Madison. The stretch of the Gibbon that traverses the meadows is easily accessible from several lay-bys along the road from Norris to Madison – but may also represent the more challenging stretch as it gets a bit of pressure, and the fish are easily spooked. The reason I know this is that I saw plenty of fish and they high tailed it pretty quickly despite my attempts at a stealthy approach. That afternoon was eventful for the frustrations I experienced from numerous moments of extreme ineptitude in casting and presentation.


I am lucky my fly rod did not get snapped over my knee in a glorious meltdown that afternoon! But the upside is that I had good practice for a more challenging water we would fish the next two days – Slough Creek in the Yellowstone Backcountry.


Note: A separate fishing license is required when fishing within Yellowstone National Park. There are also specific regulations prohibiting felt-soled footgear, barb-free hooks and lead-free tackle.

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