Yellowstone National Park opens to fishing for the 2021 season this Saturday. Most years, the rivers and streams that flow out of the Beartooth and Absaroka mountains on the east and northeast side of Yellowstone are high and off-color from snowmelt, or blown out and unfishable for the most part when fishing begins in the Park.
Inside Yellowstone, the average elevation is 7,250 feet. The snow is virtually gone at that elevation inside the Yellowstone Caldera and most certainly so on the Old Faithful side of the Park. This means the rivers and streams are usually in fishable condition by Memorial Day weekend, the historical and official beginning to the fishing season there. While the snow might be gone, that doesn’t mean all the rivers will be low and slow, it just means they will be fishable on rivers like the fabled and much written-about Firehole, Gibbon and Madison rivers.
Due to geothermal activity and its influence on the aforementioned rivers, water temperatures are prime (45-60 degrees F) for some major insect hatches to be encountered on opening weekend inside Yellowstone. Blue wing olives, pale morning duns, caddis and smaller golden stoneflies will be present. The wild rainbow, brown and brook trout living in these rivers will be eagerly feasting on them. Anglers can expect to cast to rising trout with dry flies that match the adult stages of the insects listed, or they can most definitely have bent rods using the larval or nymphal stages of these insects, as well as casting emergent or drowned imitations.
Other rivers and streams that can fish well opening day if runoff is over, or a cold front has slowed down the high-country snowmelt, can be found in the northern part of the Park. The Yellowstone River will be high, but it can be fished by wading anglers that access the river above or below the bridge on the Lamar Valley section of the upper loop road that leads to Roosevelt or Cooke City. Creeks like Obsidian and Panther that feed into the Gardner River are good bets for smaller brook trout and brown trout near where the creeks form to begin the river.
Slough, Pebble and Soda Butte creeks will be high from snowmelt, but most are very fishable in the early hours of the day on opening weekend. Don’t expect lots of hatches that would generate some surface feeding by trout, but do expect to do quite well fishing large to small bead-headed nymphs, soft-hackled flies and also streamers in these streams, especially in the lower stretches of the flow into the Lamar River. Active insects will be March brown and blue wing olive mayflies, small, dark-bodied caddis and some medium-sized golden stoneflies.
The Lamar River flows through the Lamar Valley to its confluence with the lower Yellowstone River not far from the bridge mentioned earlier. The Lamar has the better fishing conditions in late May above Soda Butte Creek’s confluence with the river. In the Lamar Valley, grizzly and black bears are numerous due to the large buffalo and elk herds that have newborn calves that can easily be captured for a meal by bears. On the Lamar downstream from Soda Butte, expect higher flows, less ease of movement and also dirtier water conditions.
The upper Yellowstone River is closed to fishing until July 15 in the Fishing Bridge to Mud Volcano area to protect spawning native Yellowstone cutthroat trout. Yellowstone Lake has some strange regulations due to spawning cutthroat trout in the many tributaries that enter the lake from Cody to Yellowstone Highway all the way around to the West Thumb area of Yellowstone Lake. It is advisable anglers read the fishing regulations for Yellowstone National Park before wetting a line.
As already posted in an Enterprise news release, fishing license costs have gone up significantly. Hopefully, these licenses are available to purchase in Cody prior to the opening weekend. If not, Bridge Bay, the Northeast Entrance, West Yellowstone or Gardiner will be the only places to procure a license for the 2021 season in the short term.
Enjoy exploring the miles of water open and fishing well this weekend inside Yellowstone. It is always good to prepare for winter fishing when in the Park at this time of year. It can snow, rain, sleet, hail, or all of the above at any given time. One can also expect ample sunshine. So, pack along a long-lasting waterproof 30-plus SPF sunscreen, mosquito repellent and, of course, bear spray. Take a camera, too. Should the trout be bashful about a picture, the wildlife seen traveling the roads to the fabled trout waters in Yellowstone always provides some great photo opportunities and great memories to bring back home.