Considered, the most beautiful area of the Park,
the northeast quadrant contains three of the most popular streams-the
Lamar and Yellowstone Rivers, and Slough Creek-all home to the native
Yellowstone cutthroat trout.
The Lamar River is a late bloomer, usually
the last river in the Park to clear of snowmelt. But when it comes on,
it comes on strong, with good fishing using grasshoppers and other terrestrials
in late July. This situation reverses that on most other rivers in the
Park-where hatches come early in the season and terrestrials follow.
Tributaries of the Lamar, Slough Creek, and Soda Butte Creek are also
popular with anglers, who make it a yearly ritual to fish each stream.
Yellowstone River is the world's finest trout stream. Through far-sighted
fisheries management, its cutthroats are more numerous and larger than
they were 30 years ago. Downstream from Yellowstone Lake and above the
falls, the Yellowstone is an insect factory. We've counted hatches of
at least II major mayflies, six caddis, and two stoneflies that are
important to the trout diet. At times, the number of different species
of flies on the water can be overwhelming. Native cutthroats have the
reputation of being easy to catch, but on this part of the Yellowstone
the cutthroats can be more selective than a spring-creek brown.
From its Grand Canyon downstream to the
town of Gardiner, Montana, the Yellowstone and its tributaries are a
long way from the road. The trout here see less pressure and are more
cooperative. Bring your pack, camera, and bear bells, and have a good
Broad Creek - Cutthroat
This fair-sized tributary of the Yellowstone River holds cutthroat trout
that average 12 inches and is seldom fished. It drains a large part
of Mirror Plateau, east of Yellowstone Rivers Grand Canyon. The lower
creek, and its tributaries Shallow and Wrong Creeks, all flow through
steep, narrow, remote canyons, and thus are seldom visited. Access is
via a 14-mile hike on the Wapiti Lake Trail, which starts at Artist
Point, an overlook to the lower falls of the Yellowstone River south
of Canyon Junction. You'll want to fish the upper reaches of Broad Creek
downstream to Joseph Coat Springs, a distance of $ miles. Below the
springs the stream enters a narrow, steep canyon, and both fishing and
access become more difficult. The same is true of its tributaries, Shallow
and Wrong Creeks, which enter Broad Creek from the east. This area is
home to many of the Park's grizzly bears.
Cache Creek - Cutthroat-Rainbow
A major tributary to the Lamar River, Cache Creek is accessible by hiking
the Lamar River Trail, found near Soda Butte, 14 miles south of the
Northeast Entrance on the Northeast Entrance Highway. Follow the Lamar
River Trail south for about 3 miles and you'll reach the lower end of
Cache Creek itself. If you wish to hike upstream via the trail rather
than up the creek, take the Cache Creek Trail (it's marked), about ¥4 mile before you reach the creek.
Cache Creek contains a fine population
of both cutthroat and rainbow trout of up to 13 inches. This is one
of the few small streams in Yellowstone Park with reliable hatches.
Green Drakes, Pale Morning Duns, and Heptagenia mayflies, along
with several caddis species, provide the hiking angler with good dry-fly
fishing during July and August. Come September, look for good ant, beetle,
and grasshopper fishing.
Cottonwood Creek - Cutthroat
This fine cutthroat stream is located in the Black Canyon of the Yellowstone
River, halfway between the Hellroaring Creek Trail and the Blacktail
Deer Creek Trail. The Hellroaring Creek Trailhead is 4 miles west of
Tower Junction, on the Mammoth-Tower Highway. Follow this trail north
until it connects with the Yellowstone River Trail, then take a left
and head west for about 3 miles, cross . over Little Cottonwood Creek,
and walk another mile to I Cottonwood Creek. You can also reach the
creek by taking I the Blacktail Deer Creek Trail, located 7 miles east
of Mammoth on the Mammoth-Tower Highway. It's 4 miles down the trail
to the Yellowstone River, then another 3 miles east on the Yellowstone
River Trail to Cottonwood Creek. This creek has good fishing for cutthroat
trout averaging 12 inches, with larger cutts possible. It receives little
I angling pressure due to the long hike and the grizzly bears, I We've
been treed by a grizzly near this stream
Hellroaring Creek - Cutthroat-Rainbow
This medium-sized tributary to the Yellowstone River is accessible via
the Hellroaring Creek Trail, found y/2 miles west of Tower Junction
on the Mammoth-Tower Highway, After hiking downhill I Vi miles,
you'll cross the suspension bridge over the Yellowstone River. Continue
for another Vi mile and you'll connect with the Yellowstone River
Trail, which takes you west the final Vi mile to Hellroaring
Creek. The fishing is mainly for 10-inch cutthroat and rainbow trout,
although larger cutts migrating up from the Yellowstone can be found
in the lower creek. Fishing the Yellowstone River at its confluence
with Hellroaring Creek, we've taken cutthroat, brook, brown, and rainbow
trout along with the occasional mountain whitefish. This is a pleasant
day trip that offers a nice blend of scenery, feisty trout, and solitude.
Lamar River - Cutthroat-Rainbow
The Lamar River begins its long journey out of Hoodoo Basin high up
in the rugged Absarokas, on the east edge of Yellowstone Park. The river
carves its way through 30 miles of canyon, dropping nearly 100 feet
per mile. A number of small tributaries enter the Lamar from both sides
of the canyon, transforming this small, tumbling, mountain stream into
a blue-ribbon meadow river by the time it joins Soda Butte Creek, at
the head of Lamar Valley.
This long upper stretch of the Lamar
is home to small cutthroats, as the sharp drop in elevation makes the
habitat unsuitable for larger trout. The better habitat lies downstream
of the canyon. The river is always the last one in the Park to clear
from snowmelt, and it usually isn't fishable until late July or early
August. Even then, frequent summer thunderstorms in the Absarokas will
turn the river muddy for two or three days. If you're fortunate enough
to be here the day it clears, the fish will make you beg for mercy.
The canyon ends and the meadow section
begins at the Junction Pool, where the Lamar River joins with Soda Butte
Creek. For the next 6 miles, the river flows through one of the most
beautiful valley meadows you'll ever see; it's paralleled by the Cooke
City Highway. Bison and prong-horns are easily found grazing along the
rivers banks, but the cutthroat, rainbow, and cuttbow hybrid inhabitants
are not so easily found. They have a reputation for migrating- here
today, gone tomorrow. A run that was productive one week will seem fishless
the next. While this may be abnormal on most streams, it's normal on
the Lamar, and when it happens you must start covering water to find
the fish. Once you find the trout, you may not have to move again for
The average trout in the meadow section
is 11 inches long and readily takes dry flies and nymphs. The Lamar
is known primarily as an attractor-fly and terrestrial stream, but you
may encounter a few hatches. Of these, the only one you can count on
is the Green Drake hatch of late summer. These are often confused with
Brown or Gray Drakes, because this Green Drake isn't really green. It's
a member of the Green Drake family, but it varies in color from tan
to gray. The trout don't seem to care; they gobble up virtually every
one that floats downstream. Hatches of this Green Drake are fragmented
and seldom heavy, but they're consistent. All it takes is a little effort
to patrol the river for this emergence.
The big draw on the Lamar is always its
late-summer terrestrial fishing. We say "big" because the
insects are big. The grassy meadows along the banks of the river
produce some enormous grasshoppers, beetles, and-especially- Mormon
Crickets. Were sometimes embarrassed when people look into our fly boxes
and shudder at the size of the flies we use. Crickets and grasshoppers
2 to 3 inches long and beetles the size of a nickel are crammed into
fly boxes set aside only for this river.
At the end of the meadow, the river enters
the lower Lamar Canyon, a 6-mile piece of water that finally merges
with the Yellowstone River at Black Canyon. The lower canyon is split
into two sections by the Lamar River Bridge on the Cooke City Highway.
Above the bridge the river is easily accessible from the main road.
This narrow canyon produces some nice cutthroats, rainbows, and hybrids
if you get deep with big Golden Stonefly nymphs or sculpin patterns.
This method will produce the best fish) but the dry-fly fisher can also
do well with large attractors and terrestrials worked among the big
Below the Lamar River Bridge the river
curves away from the road on its way to the Yellowstone River; it can
only be reached by hiking. While this section of the canyon is scenic,
the fishing isn't particularly noteworthy. Poor habitat and small fish
are scattered throughout this otherwise lovely canyon. We view this
as hiking and not really fishing.
The meadow section of the Lamar was called
Paradise Valley by fur trapper Osborne Russell in his 1830s diary, Journal
of a Trapper (University of Nebraska Press, Lincoln, NE, 1965).
Fly fishers would agree with this even today, which is why the Lamar
River is one of the most popular streams in Yellowstone Park.
Pelican Creek - Cutthroat
This major tributary enters Yellowstone Lake on its north shore. The
first 2 miles upstream from the lake are closed to fishing to protect
spawning habitat, so plan to hike the Pelican Creek Trail to get to
fishable water. The trailhead is found 3 miles east of Fishing Bridge,
across from Indian Pond, V) mile down the access road that leaves
the Fishing Bridge-East Entrance Highway; it's on the north side of
the road. Take the Pelican Creek Trail northeast until the Pelican Valley
opens up before you, a distance of about 2 miles. From this point you
can fish either upstream or down for cutthroats that average 13 inches.
This meandering meadow stream lies in treeless Pelican Valley, and it's
prime grizzly bear country. Groups of four or more hikers are required
for this trip.
Pelican Creek is primarily a spawning
stream, but the fishing is good when the creek opens on July 15. By
late August the majority of trout have returned to the lake, though,
and the fishing becomes quite difficult under the late summer sun. Gray
Drakes and PMDs provide fishable hatches on this stream, but we've always
found that the fish rise to terrestrial patterns better than to any
Pebble Creek -
Originally named "White Pebble Creek" because of the chalky
white sedimentary pebbles found at its headwaters, this fine tributary
to Soda Butte Creek enters the stream at Round Prairie, 10 miles south
of the Northeast Entrance, on the Northeast Entrance Highway. The Pebble
Creek campground is next to the creek, and upstream for Vi mile
from the campground, fishing is productive of cutthroat and the occasional
rainbow trout, which average 9 inches. Beyond this point the creek winds
its way upstream through a steep, trailless canyon that's difficult
to hike. The Pebble Creek Trail parallels the creek, but it sits atop
a high ridge that makes it useless for stream access.
Anglers wanting to fish the upper meadows
should take the Pebble Creek Trail from its north trailhead, 1^ miles
south of the Northeast Entrance, on the Northeast Entrance Highway.
Follow the trail northwest for about 2 miles and you'll come to the
upper meadows of Pebble Creek. Fishing can be good here for cutthroats
that run 10 to 14 inches.
This small tributary enters Slough Creek
from the south in its second meadow. For all practical purposes this
stream is fishless.
Creek - Cutthroat-Rainbow
Slough Creek is a tributary to the Lamar River located just north of
the Lamar River Bridge on the Cooke City Highway, in the northeast corner
of Yellowstone Park. Slough (pronounced "sloo") Creek rises
in the Beartooth Mountains of Montana and enters the Park at its
north boundary, 11 miles upstream of the Slough Creek camp-ground. The
only access to the creek is via the campground road. If you wish to
fish either up- or downstream of the campground, you'll have to hike.
To reach the upstream waters, don't hike
the stream up from the campground; it travels through a nasty gorge
better suited to rock climbers. Instead, start from the trailhead found
about U mile before the campground. Look for the outhouse and trail
marker; this is the parking area and trail-head for the upper meadows.
There are usually cars parked here, because this is also the access
to the private Silver Tip Ranch, located just outside the Park's north
boundary. The ranch is permitted to use horse-drawn wagons to carry
passengers and supplies because it was in existence before the Park
was, and this is the wagons' only access. These wagons are used for
ranch purposes only; they do not provide trail rides, so please
respect their privacy and don't ask.
The area above the campground is divided
into three meadows. Plan on a comfortable one-hour hike to the first
meadow, two hours to the second, and three hours to the third meadow.
The meadows are separated by obvious landmarks. The first meadow features
patrol cabins on its south hill; the stream is on your left when going
upstream. You can't miss the second meadow; the trees on your left give
way to a meadow that opens before your eyes as you walk down the hill.
The third meadow begins at the patrol cabin on Elk Tongue Creek, which
crosses the trail.
The three meadows contain cutthroat and
a sparse population of rainbow trout. All the meadows hold roughly the
same numbers and sizes offish, the difference being that the farther
you hike, the fewer people you'll see. You won't need to pack in waders
here; the only reason to enter the water is to cross the stream. The
fish are less sophisticated in the second and third meadows, so matching
the hatch isn't critical, but you'd better be prepared to match hatches
in the first meadow. The fish will rise to your fly provided you concentrate,
exercise patience, and use a fly pattern that matches the natural that
they're taking. They aren't necessarily difficult in the first meadow,
but they do want things their way. The fun here is catering to their
At the bottom of the first meadow, the
river quickly tapers into a gorge, changing from a calm meadow stream
to a raging cascade. Take our advice and stay on the trail, for it's
the shortest way to the campground. For a few hundred yards below the
Slough Creek campground there's a nice piece of rough-and-tumble water,
ideal stonefly habitat. During July, stonefly nymphs and dries fished
through the heavy water often yield surprising results. After these
riffles, the stream regains its meadow character for the last 3 miles
before it enters the Lamar River. Although this water looks similar
to that in the upper meadows, there are some big differences. The stream
is much larger and deeper here than it is above. Insect life is much
more abundant, varied, and consistent, and the trout take advantage
of this increased food supply. Even the fish are different, while cutthroats
have the edge in numbers, rainbows and cuttbow hybrids dominate in size.
These fish can be as hard to fool as any spring-creek trout.
The nature of this lower water breeds
selective trout. It's slow and clear, with multiple currents that lead
immediate drag. These fish have every opportunity inspect their prey
prior to feeding, and they pass up many naturals as they do imitations.
The trout tend w cruise, patrolling the cross-currents, whirlpools,
and slack water along the edges, searching for food. Insects collect
in the deadwater of back eddies, mixing with foam and other debris.
Fish move into the eddies, gulping insects from the foam and scum lines.
Its not unusual to locate feeding trout strictly by the sounds of their
gulping. Quite often you'll find these gulpers in 6 inches of water.
The entire stream holds excellent populations
of Baetis, PMDs, and Gray and Green Drakes. Caddis include Brachycentrus, Lepidostoma, and Helicopsyche. Stoneflies present are the
Salmonfly, Golden Stonefly, and Little Yellow Stone, Midges are very
important here. Trout thought to be taking the obvious small mayfly
duns or spinners may be sipping midge pupae just under the surface.
Grasshoppers, beetles, ants, and crickets all have their moment in the
sun. Of special note are the flying ant swarms in August, which trigger
a feeding frenzy. What appears to be barren water suddenly changes to
feeding time at the hatchery. We've actually seen trout bobbing vertically
for ants, their heads popping out of the water in unison. Unfortunately,
few anglers are ever prepared for this unusual event. Nestled
at the foot of the Beartooths, where mountains snag the clouds. Slough
Creek purls its way-through four meadows and some of the most spectacular
scenery in Yellowstone Park. As good as the fishing is, its only half
Soda Butte - Cutthroat-Rainbow
This large tributary to the Lamar River parallels the Northeast Entrance
Highway, from the Northeast Entrance to the stream's confluence with
the Lamar, a distance of 15 road miles. Soda Butte Creek is a mountain
stream in its upper reaches, containing 10-inch rainbows and cutthroats,
but it changes character downstream from Icebox Canyon. The tree line
now gives way to meadows, and the fish range from 121014 inches. In
this stretch, hatches of Green Drakes, Baetis, and PMDs produce
fine rises of trout nearly every day during July, August, and September.
Terrestrial patterns such as crickets, grasshoppers, and beetles are
"must-haves" during late summer and early fall.
Yellowstone River -
The Yellowstone River is the showcase of American trout streams-the
world's premier cutthroat trout fishery and the longest undammed river
in the United States, it has the most prolific insect hatches of any
place we know and is the most popular river in the Park for angling
and fish watching.
The Yellowstone River begins its long
journey to the Missouri River as two small branches in Wyoming's Shoshone
Mountain Range, flowing north from 12,000-foot Yount Peak and crossing
the south boundary of Yellowstone Park, where it enters the Park's Thorofare
region. For the next 14 miles to Yellowstone Lake, the river meanders
through the wildest and most primitive country in the lower 48 states.
Its surrounded by marshes, bogs, and sloughs, making travel difficult
until late summer. Biting flies and mosquitoes can make life uncomfortable
in these parts until things dry out. The grizzly bears remain, however.
A trip to the Thorofare demands respect.
At best it's two days in, two days out, and you've yet to wet a line.
Plan on a minimum 7-day trip; 10 days is best. Hire an experienced outfitter
who'll take care of the camping, food, and bears while you tend to more
important things, like fishing. This area is untouched, a place of exceptional
beauty no different today than when the first fur trapper passed through
in the 1700s. The cutthroats here are highly migratory, as the river
is primarily a spawning stream for Yellowstone Lake cutts. The trout
average 15 to 16 inches and are no more plentiful here than anywhere
else on the river. The reason to make this trip is for the scenery and
solitude, not necessarily the fishing.
After leaving the Thorofare region, the
river enters Yellowstone Lake's southeast arm and exits at Fishing Bridge
on the lakes north shore. By now enriched with the waters of many fine
cutthroat streams, the Yellowstone becomes one of the largest and best
trout streams in the world.
From H mile upstream (south) to I mile
downstream (north) of Fishing Bridge, the river is permanently closed
to fishing. But this is a great place for fish watching, which is currently
more popular than fishing on the river. For the next 6 miles, as you
journey downstream to Sulphur Caldron, the river is open to catch-and-release
fishing for Yellowstone cutthroats. (The only exception is the ^-mile-long
study area at LeHardy Rapids, which is halfway between Fishing Bridge
and Sulphur Caldron; this is closed to fishing.) At first glance the
river here seems slow moving and easy wading, but looks can be deceiving.
This current is powerful, and you can easily be swept off your feet
if you get careless.
The Yellowstone cutthroat is the only
trout in the river from Yellowstone Lake downstream to the Upper Falls,
a 13-mile section paralleled by the Lake-Canyon Road. Access is as easy
as the drive; there are plenty of turnouts and three picnic areas. The
Buffalo Ford picnic area is one of the most popular spots for catching
trout that average 16 to 17 inches-and for watching other people catch
them. There's no other place in Yellowstone Park so accessible to anglers,
including those with physical disabilities.
The water in the river runs cold all
year long, and most insect hatches don't begin until 10 A.M., truly
gentlemen's hours. We often drive along the road looking for rising
trout before deciding on a place to fish, because studies have shown
that the cutthroats not only move around in the river, but also move
in and out of Yellowstone Lake. Some fish, tracked via radio collar,
moved up to 8 miles in 24 hours!
The Yellowstone River is a virtual insect
factory. The list of important insects is nearly as long as the river
itself. The three most important are Pale Morning Duns, Green
Drakes, and Gray Drakes. Other major
mayfly hatches include Baetis, Rhithrogena, Flavs, Pink
Ladies, Attenella margarita, Sermtella tibialis, and Heptagenia solitaria. Major caddis emergences include Hydro-psyche, Hesperophylax
desig-natus, Micrasema bactro, Lepidostomapluviale, Brachycentrus americanus, and Rhyacophila bifila. There are Salmonflies and Golden
Stoneflies, there are several species of midges that emerge all season
long, and the river is loaded with scuds. The banks virtually crawl
with grasshoppers, ants,crickets, and-specially-beetles.
Don't be intimidated by this long list;
it's one of the reasons the Yellowstone is the Park's most popular river.
One or more insects are usually emerging daily, with staggering numbers
of trout rising to them; and while these trout have the reputation of
being easy the first two weeks of the season, they soon become very
selective. Avoid flock shooting. Pick out a single fish, determine what
insect it's eating, and match that with an imitation. To avoid drag,
fish the shortest possible line.
Downstream from Buffalo Ford, just below
Sulphur Caldron, the river is reserved as a wildlife-study area and
is closed to fishing for the 6 miles down to Alum Creek. From Alum Creek
downstream to the Chittenden Bridge, the river grows less productive
as it picks up speed, heading to the Upper Falls. Be careful wading
here; you're close to the falls and the current is deceptively strong.
Below the falls and all the way to the
town of Gardiner, Montana, a distance of about 45 miles, the river cuts
through two canyons. Directly below the falls is the Grand Canyon of
the Yellowstone, and access to this stretch is very difficult.
The least-difficult spot is Seven Mile
Hole, a mere 1,500-foot drop down the canyon wall. The hike down isn't
too bad, but climbing the wall at the end of the day might make you
reconsider. There are cutthroat, brown, brook, and rainbow trout here,
along with some huge whiteFish, but the fish are neither larger nor
more plentiful than in the section below the lake, and the only hatch
you're liable to hit may be the Salmonflies in July.
The Grand Canyon ends and the Black Canyon
of the Yellowstone begins at the Cooke City Bridge. For the next 20
miles en route to Gardiner, Montana, the river is remote, brawling canyon
water, never closer than a mile to the road. Access to the canyon isn't
difficult, but maneuvering around the canyon walls is. There are few
trails once you're in the canyon. This is prime grizzly country; take
precautions to prevent an encounter. If you like solitude, you'll like
it here, but we don't recommend this for a fishing trip.
The Yellowstone River strides across
the entire length of Yellowstone Park, with unmatched scenery, solitude,
and fishing. The best fishing and the best hatches are found from Yellowstone
Lake to Sulphur Caldron. The fun begins on July 15. We'll see you there!