May 05

10 Tips for Planning Your Yellowstone Fishing Trip

Yellowstone is a fly-fishing paradise. Nowhere in the world are there so many public rivers, lakes and streams found in such a small area. If you’ve never taken in the beauty of Yellowstone from the edge of a river, stream or lake, this might be the summer to start. Here are 10 tips for planning your fishing trip to Yellowstone National Park!

Sunset fishing on Yellowstone Lake. NPS/Neal Herbert.

1. Check the time and date.
Yellowstone National Park has a fishing season, meaning that outside of the season fishing is not allowed. The season begins the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (usually the last weekend in May) and extends through the first Sunday in November. There are exceptions noted in regional regulations. Fishing is allowed daily from sunrise to sunset. Fishing with an artificial light is prohibited.

2. Get a permit.
A Yellowstone National Park fishing permit is required for all in-park fishing. A state-issued permit (i.e. Montana, Wyoming or Idaho) is not a substitute for a Yellowstone National Park permit. Permits are $40 for 3 days, $55 for 7 days, and $75 for a whole season. You can purchase a permit in advance online or at a participating local vendor.

A fisherman on the Madison River at sunrise. NPS/Jacob Frank

3. Know your fish.
Yellowstone is home to seven game fish: brook, brown, cutthroat, lake and rainbow trout, along with grayling and whitefish. Before fishing you should be able to identify each species, as regulations vary for each. The park’s fishing regulations guide provides images to help you identify. All native fish, including the cutthroat trout, are catch-and-release only. If you catch an invasive Lake Trout in Yellowstone Lake, it must be killed. Knowing which fish live in which bodies of water will help you identify quickly when you reach that exciting “fish-on” moment!

4. Come prepared.
Never fish in Yellowstone without bear spray, rain gear, sun block, sunglasses, insect repellent, and a hat. Know how to use your bear spray, and brush up on bear safety guidelines before you head out.

Fishing in Yellowstone Lake from motorboat. NPS/Diane Renkin

5. Get involved in conservation.
Anglers have a unique role to play in the conservation of native fish species in Yellowstone National Park. Not only can anglers help reduce the invasive lake trout population in Yellowstone Lake through fishing, but they can help spread the word about the Native Fish Conservation Program. Read up on the work Yellowstone National Park is doing to conserve the native cutthroat trout.

6. Trust a guide.
If you’re looking to fish for the first time, or even if you consider yourself experienced, a lesson or guide can help you get the most of your time on the waters. Each summer the Yellowstone Forever Institute offers fly-fishing programs for those looking for in-depth instruction (2023 dates TBD). Or check out this list of approved guides.

Casting for the big ones at Lewis Lake. NPS/Neal Herbert.

7. Pick your water.
Whether fly-fishing or boat fishing, there are plenty of options to choose from. Craig Mathews, owner of Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, Montana, says if you’re headed out in May or June, the first river to clear from snowmelt is the Firehole River, which is often the only river in fishable condition at the start of the season. Later in June offers expanded possibilities, when the best places to fish include the Gibbon and Madison Rivers. Small streams such as Straight, Glen, Indian and others offer fine angling for beginners. The second week of June sees the Gibbon and Madison Rivers clear of snowmelt, and the ice comes off lakes like Yellowstone, Grebe and Trout. August is the best time for fishing lakes in Yellowstone—particularly backcountry lakes, as the biting flies have thinned out. All rivers will fish well in August, except the Madison and Firehole Rivers, which may warm up too much due to a combined effect of warm daytime temperatures and thermal activity on the Firehole.

8. Plan ahead if you are taking kids.
Children under 16 do not need a permit if they are under the direct supervision of an adult with a permit. Or if children under 16 want to fish without adult supervision, they can get a free permit signed by a responsible adult. Plan to take younger children to areas where waters are calm. Recommendations include the Gibbon River at Virginia Meadows or other meadows; Solfatara Creek near Norris campground. Aster Creek near Lewis Falls; the Lewis Lake shoreline; and Yellowstone Lake along Gull Point Drive or at Sand Point, or the Yellowstone Lake shoreline near Grant Marina.

9. Get a permit if you’re boating.
Boating season operates during the same season as fishing. All vessels, including float tubes popular with river anglers, require a permit. Every boat must have a life vest for each passenger, along with an emergency sound device like a whistle or horn. All boats must be checked by National Park Service inspectors to ensure that they are free of aquatic invasive species before entering park waters.