The next stop on this year’s road trip is fly fishing the Yellowstone River in July 2023. We left the Madison River Valley after spending two weeks fishing for and catching beautiful Brown and Rainbow Trout. I’ll provide links to both posts at the bottom in case you missed them.

Fly Fishing the Yellowstone River | www.johnkreft.com

I went back to my fly fishing road trips page to see how many times we’ve fished this section of the Yellowstone River. I scrolled all the way to the bottom and found my entries for Yellowstone National Park. Turns out, it’s our fifth year.

We skipped going into Yellowstone National Park last year for two reasons, the recent flooding and numbers of tourists. The northeast corner of the Park had a 500 year flood which affected many of the roads, causing sections of the Park to close. As I recall, the Park itself closed for awhile before limited opening. We chose to stay away.

Why do I like fishing this section of water? Well, here is what I wrote back in 2017 – Fly Fishing the Madison and Yellowstone Rivers:

I was in Blue Ribbon Flies in West Yellowstone, MT culling through the Sparkle Dun deer hair bin and my wife was roaming around the fly shop listening to the banter. I was missing a conversation about a Green Drake mayfly hatch on the Yellowstone River, but not my wife. She began asking questions about more specifics, like location, time of day, size of the mayfly. OK, I started to listen…

“Plan B” hatched as we drove back to Slide Inn because the Madison River was being a little stingy and not allowing us to see, hook, and catch fish.

If you’ve been to Yellowstone Park, you know the traffic can be really bad. So we decided to hit the road around 6:30 am the next morning and entered through West Yellowstone, turned left at Madison Junction, right at Norris Junction, and right at Canyon Village. At 8:00 am we arrived at the Canyon Village visitor center and talked with Ranger “Rick”, asking him where Buffalo Ford was. Well, he pulled out a “tear off” map and couldn’t find it. I told him that was fine, so we just drove upstream trying to remember where we might have pulled off to fish. 

We never found a “Buffalo Ford” sign, but I’m sure we found a spot or two where we probably stopped…because it was full of these.

Bison in Yellowstone Park | www.johnkreft.com

The bison won out because they were all over this valley so we continued to drive all the way to Yellowstone Lake and walked across the Fishing Bridge. I hadn’t been there in years. After our short visit, we headed back downstream in search of rising trout and hopeful to find Green Drakes hatching.

After finding a parking turn-out below LeHardy Rapids, we got our gear together and began walking the banks in this section.

Yellowstone River Below LeHardy Rapids | www.johnkreft.com

That’s how we began fishing this section of water. My wife had been listening to John Juracek at Blue Ribbon Flies. By the way, later we found Buffalo Ford had been renamed to Nez Perce Ford.

If you are a regular, you know how we like to fish a Green Drake hatch. So we return to this section of the Yellowstone River when we can at the same time of year, hoping to find drakes.

This is an interesting piece of water for us to fish. We’re used to fishing around structure in rivers as we walk the bank and occasionally wade. But this section is one long glide with little structure. The water is shallow on the edge and slowly deepens.

This view looks upstream to the section just below LeHardy Rapids.

Yellowstone River Looking Upstream | www.johnkreft.com

And a downstream view…

Yellowstone River Looking Downstream | www.johnkreft.com

Our experience has been this is a quality, not quantity fishery. If you are expecting to hook and land multiple trout, this isn’t the place to go. We have spent hours on the water watching for signs of rising trout.

Like previous years, upon arrival at the water, I wade out to see what insects I can find floating in the current. I was happy to see numerous insects floating down the river, but no fish rising to them. Here are a few images of the insects I found. I’ll begin with two floating on the water.

I used my paint strainer placed over my net to capture these four insects.

You’ll note all of these are Mayflies. I know the Yellowstone has a great Salmonfly and Golden Stone hatch as well. Here is evidence we missed the main hatch.

Yellowstone River Stacked Stonefly Nymphal Shucks | www.johnkreft.com

And further evidence…

Yellowstone River - Hundreds of Empty Stonefly Shucks | www.johnkreft.com

Yes, those are HUNDREDS of empty shucks! I have NEVER seen that many.

I may have to rethink when to arrive at the river in future years!

We observed several adult Salmonflies and Golden Stones along the shore and depositing eggs on the water’s surface. I found this Salmonfly swimming to shore.

Salmonfly Swimming to Shore - Yellowstone River | www.johnkreft.com

Here is a Golden Stone from the Yellowstone River. I noted their overall color is darker than those I see on my home waters in Oregon.

I donned my waders, pack, net, strung my fly rod and hit the river to blind cast hoping to find a willing trout. Honestly, based upon my earlier experience, I didn’t have high hopes. I observed a plethora of insects floating down the river. Most of them were Mayfly spinners of different colors and size…and not a trout eating them.

I thought if I were in the water, I could have a better view IF a fish decided to rise. At least I would have a target.

I cast to areas I’d seen fish in previous years. Nothing. For the next hour or so, I would cast, stop and watch the water, and repeat.

It took awhile, but my strategy finally paid off. I saw a fish rise.

I was using one of my RiverKeeper Beta Spinner patterns with a light green body and this fish rose to my fly.

Yellowstone Cutthroat | www.johnkreft.com

Yes, this is an odd shaped fish. Looking back at other images of Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout we’ve landed in previous years, a characteristic I’ve seen is a large head. But this body was very slender and I’m guessing it recently spawned and needed lots of food to regain a normal body shape.

But it was between 19 and 20 inches in length, so yes, a really nice fish.

After releasing the fish, I hooked another within the next 10 minutes after seeing it rise. I played the fish, getting it close and almost ready to pull out my net and it came unhooked. It was a little smaller, but a fuller looking body.

One more rose to a fly, but didn’t hook up and fishing was over for the day. At least I had a couple hookups!

Our plan was to return the next day and if we could find more rising fish.

We arrived at the water early, hoping to find more Green Drake spinners. I found more spinners in the water and eventually observed quite a few spinners flying over the water. I hoped our timing was right and we’d find more rising fish on the second day.

And I waited…and waited.

I decided to blind cast and see if I could coax a fish to eat my fly. I eventually gave up, headed to shore and decided to watch and wait.

I walked the bank watching for a head or slight dimple, reflecting a trout eating on the surface.

I finally observed a head completely out of the water. I walked back to the van to retrieve my fly rod and returned to the river and actually saw the trout in the water. I cast to the fish and it rose to the fly, turning away at the last minute.

I changed flies to a Green Drake Sparkle Dun and recast. It rose again to my fly…twice, but didn’t eat it.

By then, Dancingtrout was at the water’s edge spotting an occasional fish rising. These fish might rise once or twice and then stop. But we could see them rise in the water column to eat an insect.

To my surprise, I observed fish were holding in knee deep water, much shallower than I expected.

The fish gods must have been looking out for me as I finally hooked another Yellowstone Cutthroat. It was around 21 inches and had a much more robust body.

Yellowstone River Cutthroat Trout | www.johnkreft.com

And as quickly as we found rising fish, it ended again. Not much to show for several hours over two days on the river.

But these fish are special and were worth every minute.

Mainly for my reference as I plan future fishing trips, I looked at the river level and share it below.

Yellowstone River Guage - July 2023 | www.johnkreft.com

In case you missed my earlier posts, here are the links to this year’s fly fishing road trip posts:

Enjoy…go fish!

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2 Comments

  1. Glad you had a good visit to the Yellowstone. Fishing and casting, what a great way to spend time. It’s not always the catching being so important. Being able to hold a couple of Cutthroat was worth the efforts.

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