southwest corner of the Park is characterized by spectacular geysers,
lakes, and waterfalls. Most access is by hiking trail rather than
by automobile, and in its remote reaches this area is lightly
visited. Bison, elk, bears, moose, deer, and numerous species
of birds may be your only companions.
Geysers line the banks of the Firehole
River and some of its tributaries. These mineral-rich waters make
for prolific mayfly and caddis hatches, which produce the most
consistent dry-fly fishing in Yellowstone. Anglers from all over
the world travel here to fish these hatches in the spring and
Lewis and Shoshone Lakes offer
anglers the best trophy-trout fishing in the Park. Large brown
and lake trout are taken, from ice-out in June to the season's
closure at the end of October. In late autumn, wading anglers
can take large, aggressive brown and lake trout from the Lewis
River Channel between the lakes.
The Cascade Corner of the Park,
home to the Bechler and Falls Rivers, offers good fishing and
fabulous scenery, including 21 of the Park's waterfalls. The features
in this corner of Yellowstone can only be reached by trail. You
have to want to be there to get there. That's why we go
Bechler River - Cutthroat-Rainbow
Most anglers don't think of the Bechler River as part of Yellowstone
Park. In fact, few anglers think of the Bechler at all! Its only
access is via Highway 47, which runs from Ashton, Idaho, to Cave
Falls in the southwest corner of the Park. Compared to other rivers
in Yellowstone, the journey to the Bechler is a commitment because
it's so far off the beaten path. The river does, however, see
a fair amount of traffic from local fishers.
The Bechler begins just north ofPitchstone
Plateau, on the Pacific side of the Continental Divide. Just over
the divide to the east is Shoshone Lake. The river flows south-west
through long, narrow Bechler Canyon, picking up water from small
tributaries and numerous hot mineral springs. Small cutthroats
live in the canyon, but this place is strictly for backpackers-too
far out of the way to make a fishing trip worthwhile.
The canyon ends about a mile below
two-part Colonnade Falls. The upper falls drops 35 feet; the lower,
67 feet. Bechler Meadows begins where Ouzel Creek spills over
230-foot Ouzel Falls to join the Bechler River. The river winds
back and forth constantly in this 4-mile-long meadow section,
and there are few trees to block visibility; its lined mostly
by small willows. The water is crystal clear, with deep pools,
undercuts, and overhanging grasses. Trout tend to hold in midstream,
totally exposed in the gin-clear water. Just raising your rod
tip can send them bolting for cover.
Fish range from 8-to 10-inch rainbows
and cutthroats to a few that are very large. The secret to catching
these fish is to spot them before they spot you. Once you locate
one, you'll need to crawl on your hands and knees before casting.
Usually, one cast is all you'll get, so be patient and don't hurry
your presentation. One good cast can make your whole day.
We've seined the river and found
a variety of insect life. This is the only water in Yellowstone
Park that gets all the big Drakes-Brown, Gray, and Green. The
Drakes bring up the big fish, and we make it a point to fish these
early-season hatches. On the downside, mosquitoes and biting flies
are merciless at this time. Long-sleeved shirts, head nets, and
plenty of bug dope are mandatory to deter these bloodthirsty marauders.
The swampy meadows, which don't dry until August, are another
of the obstacles that make reaching the stream a downright chore.
Therefore, most anglers choose to drum up trout with terrestrials
in mid-August, when the meadows are dry and the biting-bug populations
At the bottom of Bechler Meadows,
you have two choices. The Bechler Meadows Trail leaves the river
at this point, and the hike will take you back through the woods
to the ranger station. There's no fishing along this trail. If
you stay along the river, heading downstream, you'll come to the
confluence of Boundary Creek and the Bechler River. The water
is deep and cold, but it must be forded, as there's no bridge
(the only bridge is upstream on the Bechler Meadows Trail, a mile
out of the way). After crossing, you'll be on the Bechler River
Trail, which follows the Bechler River down to its confluence
with the Falls River, a distance of about 3 miles. There are some
large fish in this stretch, but they're extremely scattered, and
trying to find one is an all-day proposition. The river is mainly
shallow riffles with a few pockets that hold small trout. While
fishable, we can't recommend it.
The Bechler River ends at its junction
with the Falls River, but the trail continues for a little less
than a mile, ending at Cave Falls. Even though a trip to the Bechler
involves a long hike, the trail is relatively flat and easy. Be
sure to check trail conditions at the ranger station before making
Boundary Creek -
This tributary to the Bechler River is reached by following the
Boundary Creek Trail north for $ miles from the Bechler ranger
station. The Boundary Creek Trail and the Bechler Meadows Trail
are essentially the same trail for the first 1^4 miles. The creek's
lower section is better reached by sticking to the Bechler Meadows
Trail. Its best to fish this creek in August; the trail remains
muddy until then, and the mosquitoes are unbearable. Cutthroats,
rainbows, and their hybrids can go as large as 14 inches, but
the average size is under 10 inches. Terrestrial patterns are
a must for this stream.
Falls River - Brook-Cutthroat-Rainbow
This is the major river that drains the southwest, or Cascade
Corner, ofYellowstone Park. Follow the South Boundary Trail east
from Cave Falls to reach the lower river. To get to the upper
river, take the reclamation road west from Flagg Ranch, which
is located just south of the Parks South Entrance. The South Boundary
Trail doesn't follow the river closely, so carry a compass and
a topographic map if you decide to strike out on your own. Falls
River has good fishing for rainbow and cutthroat trout, and they
get larger the higher upstream you go. The long hike and off-trail
access minimize fishing pressure.
Because it's easy to reach, the
area near Cave Falls sees the most fishing. The trout average
10 inches in this stretch, and the action is good. To go upstream
above Cave Falls, ford the river to reach the South Boundary Trail,
about Vi mile south of Cave Falls. The stream leaves the
trail and only comes close to it again in two places along its
30-mile length. The first is the Falls River Cutoff Trail, 4 miles
east of Cave Falls. The second is where the Pitchstone Plateau
Trail crosses the river, 8 miles east of Cave Falls. You'll be
traveling through prime grizzly country; huckleberries and bears
are a combination to look out for.
Beginning in July you'll see stoneflies,
Pale Morning Duns, and Brown and Green Drakes. In September look
for Tricos, Gray Drakes, and Mahogany Duns. Otherwise, terrestrial
species dominate here.
Firehole River -
Charlie Brooks called the Firehole River the "strangest trout
stream on earth." Geysers, fumeroles, bubbling mud pots,
and other such curiosities make this river one of the most interesting
to fish. Arising from tiny, spring-fed Madison Lake as a small
mountain creek, the Firehole makes its way north to Old Faithful,
where it becomes a full-fledged trout stream. One-fifth of all
the worlds geysers are located within a mile of Old Faithful,
pouring their mineral-rich thermal waters into the river and creating
one of the worlds classic limestone trout streams.
The river is closed to fishing
in the vicinity of Old Faithful to protect the thermal features.
It opens to fishing at Biscuit Basin, about 2 miles downstream
of Old Faithful, where the road crosses the river. For the next
12 miles downstream to the Cascades of the Firehole, this is mostly
a meandering meadow stream, with a few riffles thrown in for good
measure. This stretch is Yellowstone's prime dry-fly water, with
fine emergences of mayflies and caddis.
The river's brown and rainbow trout
average 12 to 14 inches, with 16-inch fish not uncommon. Trout
of over 20 inches are possible if you have the patience and nerve
seek them out. These trout are
known to be spooky during the prolific emergences of Pale Morning
Duns and Baetis (Blue-Winged Olive) mayflies, as well as
several species of caddis. The larger trout prefer to take up
feeding lanes near the banks, shorelines, and weed beds, where
the flies are concentrated. A stealthy approach upstream with
long leaders and fine tippets comprises the recipe for success
on this spring creek.
Matching the hatch is the most
successful way to fool the larger trout in the smooth-water sections.
During mayfly activity the fish will feed on all stages: nymphs,
emergers, cripples, duns, and spinners. The same holds true for
caddis periods: pupae, emergers, cripples, adults, and egg layers
all draw the trout's attention.
Its hard to believe anyone could
love this river more than we do. We live to fish the Firehole
both spring and fall, exploring other streams in the Park during
July and August,
when the Firehole's waters may
climb into the 80s and force trout to seek relief in the cooler
waters of its tributaries. No matter how much time we spend or
experience we gain, though, we feel we're still learning to understand
the complex moods of the Firehole.
About 1/2 mile downstream of the
Firehole picnic area, the broad, smooth water changes pace. As
the elevation drops and water speed increases, the river percolates
over boulders and a rhyolite lava bottom, creating the Cascades
of the Firehole. After I Vi miles the river leaves the
road, heading west toward the 40-foot drop of Firehole Falls and
the canyon. To get to this stretch, travel another mile north;
a one-way road takes you back upstream through the canyon to Firehole
Falls. This 1-mile stretch of water is a favorite of nymph and
wet-fly fishers during the June salmonfly hatch and fall spawning
run. This is your chance for a big, wild, Firehole River trout. Below the canyon, the Firehole comes
to an end at the junction pool where it merges with the Gibbon
to create the Madison River.
The Firehole is unique. On no other
river in the world will you experience this mix of superb fishing,
geysers, and hot pots, with a chance to fish alongside elk, bison,
Lewis Channel -
This 4-mile river channel, which connects Lewis and Shoshone Lakes,
is considered the beginning of the Lewis River. The Lewis Channel
Trailhead is located 7 miles south of West Thumb, on the West
Thumb-South Entrance Highway. It's 3 miles to the point where
the channel enters Lewis Lake, then another 4 miles to where the
channel leaves Shoshone Lake, a total of 7 miles. Rather than
hike the distance, many anglers prefer to take a motorboat across
Lewis Lake to the channel and then hike to their favorite fishing
spots. There's not much happening
in most of the Lewis Channel during the summer, except for canoe
traffic paddling to Shoshone Lake. An exception comes in mid-June,
when there's some lake-trout fishing where the channel enters
The prime fishing here is in October,
specifically the last two weeks of the month. Brown trout and
lake trout migrate into the channel and provide spectacular streamer
fishing for truly large fish. We can still remember the snowy
October days of 1983 when we accompanied Charlie Brooks and Dan
Callaghan to the channel for their research on .Fishing
Yellowstone Waters (Lyons &: Burford, New York, 1984). It
was the last time Charlie was able to make the trip. We'll never
forget his nonstop ear-to-ear grin as Dans motor-drive camera
burned more than 30 rolls of film, photographing the colorful
spawning brown and lake trout that Charlie landed.
Little Firehole River - Cutthroat-Brook-Brown-Rainbow
This small tributary to the Firehole River enters from the west,
immediately south of Biscuit Basin, IVi miles north of
Old Faithful, near the Madison-Old Faithful Highway. Both the
Little Firehole and Iron Spring Creeks enter the Firehole River
in the same place. As you face west, the Little Firehole River
is to your right, closer to Biscuit Basin; Iron Spring Creek is
the one to the left. There are small resident brook, brown, rainbow,
and cutthroat trout in the river. During the summer, larger fish
from the Firehole move into the Little Firehole's cooler waters.
Downed timber along the stream adds to the challenge of catching
Nez Perce Creek -
A major tributary to the Firehole River, Nez Perce Creek enters
the river at the Nez Perce picnic area, 5Vi miles south
of Madison Junction, on the Madison-Old Faithful Highway. Get
to the best fishing by parking at the Mary Mountain Trailhead
and hiking 2 miles to the bridge; this gets you above the geothermal
features in Culex Basin. From the bridge upstream for 4Vi miles to Spruce Creek, the fishing is good, mostly for brown trout,
with an occasional rainbow or brook trout. This classic meadow
creek is most productive during midsummer with terrestrials such
as small grasshoppers and beetles. It's often closed due to bear
and bison activity.
Beula Lake - Cutthroat
This 107-acre cutthroat lake is near the south boundary of the
Park, west of the South Entrance. You'll find the 2^/2-mile trail
to the lake by driving west on the reclamation road from Flagg
Ranch, 2 miles south of the entrance. It's a 9-mile drive west
to the trailhead at Grassy Lake on this primitive road. Drive
slowly and carefully. At Grassy Lake you'll see a small parking
area on the north side of the road. An orange trail marker is
posted on a tree.
Beula Lake is the headwater of
the Falls River, and it has good fishing for cutthroats in the
12-inch range. You can fish the lake from shore, but a float tube
makes things a little easier. A few inlets and springs enter the
lakes south end, making this area marshy and difficult to navigate.
One of these streams is the outlet from nearby Hering Lake. Callibaetis mayflies, caddis, and midges provide surface action in the summer.
Otherwise, we recommend damselfly, dragonfly, and leech patterns
for subsurface fishing.
Lewis Lake -
A popular brown trout and lake-trout fishery, this 2,716-^-^~
acre lake is found 12 miles north of the South Entrance, on the
West Thumb-South Entrance Highway. Campground and boat-launching
facilities are located on the southeast side of the lake; this
is the only lake besides Yellowstone Lake that allows motorized
This is also the only lake we know
of where you can catch brook trout, browns, cutthroats, and lake
trout on a dry fly. Most of the angling pressure is from spin
fishers, but a few local fly anglers make the lake a regular stop,
fishing the drop-off along the southwest shore with sinking lines
and leech imitations. The entrance to the lake's outlet is also
a good place to land big trout on big dry flies, such as a size-8
Royal Wuiff. Fishing from a tube or a boat is more reliable than
wade fishing the outlet.
The best times to fish Lewis Lake
are at ice-out in mid-June, warm summer evenings, and late October,
when the spawning brown trout become aggressive. Stick with streamers
and leeches in the early and late season, and look for caddis
on warm summer evenings.
Shoshone Lake - Brook-Cutthroat-Brown-Lake
At 8,050 acres, Shoshone is the second largest lake in the Park
and the largest lake in the continental United States that can't
be reached by road. There are three practical routes for
hiking in. The first two routes start at the Lewis ^ljl^ft^ Channel Trailhead, located 7 miles south of West Thumb on the
West Thumb-South Entrance Highway. The Lewis Channel Trail is
a 7-mile hike from the trailhead to the lake and is the most scenic
route. The other trail is the Dogshead Trail to Shoshone lake,
a shorter hike of 4Vi miles that passes through Lodgepole
Forest. The third choice is the DeLacy Creek Trail, located 9
miles west of West Thumb on the Old Faithful-West Thumb Highway.
This 3-mile hike will take you to the north shore of Shoshone
Canoeing is allowed on Shoshone
Lake. Its quite the saga to canoe and portage up the channel between
Shoshone and Lewis Lakes, but it's well worth it once you arrive.
Because of its remoteness and difficult access, Shoshone Lake
receives little angling pressure. Brook trout from Moose Creek
and cutthroats from nearby Pocket Lake are found here, but large
brown and lake trout predominate.
Fishing begins here in mid-June,
right after ice-out. Midges and Callibaetis can provide
some good dry-fly action, while scud and leech imitations work
well when there's no surface activity. Fishing slows in July and
August, as the trout move to deeper) cooler water. Then you'll
have to switch to sinking lines and big leech or baitfish imitations.
Most anglers prefer to fish elsewhere in the Park at this time,
returning to Shoshone Lake when the weather cools in September.
In late September, brown trout
and lake trout migrate into the Lewis Channel to spawn. If you
like to fish streamers, this is the time to land some truly big