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Yellowstone River

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Fishing the Yellowstone River in Montana
A Professional Guide's Perspective

The Yellowstone. A scenic beauty, majestic, stirring and rich in history.

Starting in Wyoming, the Yellowstone River winds through the Paradise Valley in Southwestern Montana with the Absaroka Mountains as your backdrop. The Yellowstone River is one of Montana's largest rivers.

Fly Fishing the Yellowstone River:
Exploring Paradise Valley to Big Timber

Unlocking Angler's Paradise

Nestled amidst the rugged landscapes of Montana lies a river that beckons anglers from far and wide: the legendary Yellowstone River. Flowing through the picturesque Paradise Valley to the quaint town of Big Timber, the Yellowstone offers an angling experience like no other. From its diverse trout species to the thrill of navigating its pristine waters in a drift boat, fishing the Yellowstone is an adventure that promises excitement at every turn.

Diverse Trout Species: A Fly Fisher's Dream

One of the most captivating aspects of fly fishing the Yellowstone River is the sheer diversity of trout species that call its waters home. From the feisty rainbow trout to the elusive brown trout and the native Yellowstone cutthroat trout, anglers have the opportunity to target a variety of prized gamefish. Each species presents its own unique challenge, keeping anglers on their toes and ensuring that every day on the river is filled with anticipation and excitement.

Navigating the River: The Thrill of Using a Drift Boat

Exploring the Yellowstone River from Paradise Valley to Big Timber is best done from the bow of a drift boat, where anglers can fully immerse themselves in the beauty of their surroundings. Drifting down the river's meandering currents, surrounded by towering cliffs and streambanks lined with cottonwood trees, is an experience that few will soon forget. With an experienced guide at the helm, anglers can focus their attention on the water, casting their flies into likely holding spots and eagerly awaiting the telltale tug of a trout on the line. 

The Yellowstone River passes through private land on both sides and it best accessed with a drift boat to cover  the best areas of the river. 

Seasons of Fishing: From Spring Runoff to Fall Splendor

The fishing season on the Yellowstone River is as varied as the landscape through which it flows. In the spring, eager anglers flock to the river to take advantage of the prolific hatches that accompany the runoff from melting snow. As the water levels recede and the summer months arrive, dry fly fishing reaches its peak, with trout eagerly rising to slurp down mayflies, caddisflies, and terrestrials. Come fall, the river takes on a new enchantment, as the foliage bursts into vibrant hues and the trout prepare for the colder months ahead. Whether you're casting size 20 midges in the dead of winter or drifting hopper patterns on a warm summer evening, there's never a dull moment on the Yellowstone River.

 An Angler's Paradise Awaits

In conclusion, fly fishing the Yellowstone River from Paradise Valley to Big Timber is a journey into angler's paradise. With its diverse trout species, exhilarating drift boat adventures, and seasons of fishing that offer something for everyone, the Yellowstone promises an experience that will leave you hooked for life. So pack your gear, grab your rod, and prepare for an adventure you won't soon forget on the storied waters of the Yellowstone River.

Geographical Location

Nestled in the heart of the American West, the Yellowstone River flows through southwestern Montana, offering unparalleled fly fishing opportunities. This majestic river, known for its crystal-clear waters, winds through a diverse landscape of rolling hills, expansive valleys, and towering mountain ranges, making it a prime location for both brown and rainbow trout fishing. As a premier fly fishing guide in this region, we have the local knowledge and expertise to lead you through some of the most productive stretches of water this river has to offer.

River Characteristics

The Yellowstone River is celebrated for its dynamic character, offering a mix of serene, slow-moving sections and challenging rapids, making it suitable for both wading and floating. Its free-flowing nature, without any dams along its course, ensures a natural river environment that is both healthy and vibrant. The river's diverse habitats, from riffles and deep pools to undercut banks and foam lines, provide ideal conditions for trout to thrive and for anglers to experience the thrill of fly fishing in an unspoiled setting.

Fishing Quality

Fly fishing the Yellowstone River is a world-class experience, known for both its high-quality fishing and breathtaking scenery. The river's abundant insect life, including mayflies, caddisflies, and stoneflies, creates a rich food source for trout, resulting in vigorous and healthy fish populations. Whether you're a seasoned angler or new to the sport, our guiding services offer personalized adventures, ensuring you have the best chances of landing the trophy brown or rainbow trout of your dreams.

Fish Population

The Yellowstone River boasts a robust population of brown and rainbow trout, with opportunities to catch trophy-sized fish being remarkably high. The river's pristine waters and abundant aquatic habitats support a thriving ecosystem, where trout can grow to impressive sizes. Our experienced guides are skilled in the latest fly fishing techniques and local knowledge, ensuring that every trip to the river is both productive and memorable.

Scenic Beauty

Fly fishing on the Yellowstone River is as much about the scenery as it is about the catch. The river flows through some of Montana's most stunning landscapes, offering anglers the chance to fish against the backdrop of the Absaroka and Gallatin mountain ranges. The area's natural beauty is breathtaking, with wildlife sightings, including bald eagles, elk, and deer, being a common addition to the fly fishing experience.

Recreational Activities

Beyond fly fishing, the Yellowstone River area offers a plethora of recreational activities. From hiking and wildlife photography to camping and river rafting, there's something for everyone in this outdoor paradise. Our guiding service can help you combine a fly fishing adventure with other outdoor pursuits, making your trip to southwestern Montana an unforgettable experience.

Fly Fishing Yellowston River Montana Brown Rainbow Trout

Map of the Yellowstone River, Montana

The Yellowstone. A scenic beauty, majestic, stirring and rich in history. The Yellowstone River, one of the principal tributaries of the Missouri River, is steeped in U.S. history, embodying both the natural beauty and the pioneering spirit of the American West. Its name is derived from the Minnetaree Indian name "Mi tsi a-da-zi," translated by French trappers as "Roche Jaune," which means "Yellow Rock." The name was later anglicized to "Yellowstone." This nomenclature is believed to have been inspired by the river's passage through the yellow sandstone cliffs of the Yellowstone Plateau in what is now Yellowstone National Park, the first national park in the U.S. and the world, established in 1872. The Yellowstone River spans approximately 692 miles, making it the longest undammed river in the contiguous United States. Its journey from the rugged wilderness of Wyoming, through the fertile valleys of Montana, and into the Missouri River near the Montana-North Dakota border, marks it as a vital, historic, and scenic waterway in the American landscape.

Fly Fishing Yellowston River Montana Brown Rainbow Trout

The Yellowstone River is the longest un-dammed river in the lower 48. Flowing for 680 miles, we concentrate on the fly fishing the first 100 miles from the Yellowstone National Park boundary to the town of Columbus, MT. You cannot find a river more diverse in the immediate area. The Yellowstone River is divided up into many different sections that have their own characteristics and emotions. It is difficult at times to keep your eyes on the water without being distracted with the surrounding scenery and unique Yellowstone country wildlife.

Fly Fishing Yellowston River Montana Brown Rainbow Trout
The upper Yellowstone River has an abundance of cutthroat trout, generally ranging in size up to 16 inches. Eager to take a dry fly and bolt away from the boat, this area is ideal for plenty of action.

Fly Fishing Yellowston River Montana Brown Rainbow Trout

As you get closer to the town of Livingston, MT, the average fish size increases, and you tend to catch more rainbows and browns in the faster water. Below the town of Livingston, the river seems to broaden out even more and slows down again. Here lie the "pigs." The numbers on this section of the Yellowstone River are not there in mass, but some of the biggest fish of summer get their photo taken in the lower section, with big streamers or hoppers protruding from their mouths. 

Fly Fishing Yellowston River Montana Brown Rainbow Trout
Diverse and ever changing, the Yellowstone as you move below Big Timber, Montana is filled with channels and tributaries to increase the river flow. As we float it is not uncommon to park our boat alongside a channel that holds large, slumbering Bows and Browns eager to take our well presented fly.

Fly Fishing Seasons Of The Yellowstone River, Montana


The Yellowstone river is at its lowest point during the winter months. During this time period it is the most conducive to wading. Accessing the Yellowstone river from one of the many state owned access will give you plenty opportunities to fish. Winter fishing on the Yellowstone river consists of primarily nymphing with stoneflies and basic attractor nymphs. On the warmer afternoons you will find fish rising to midges in the Yellowstone river's back eddies and soft currents. You would be well advised as to check the weather report during the winter as Paradise valley is well known for extreme windy conditions throughout the winter.


Once the water temperatures start to warm up, the Yellowstone river's action heats up. Starting in early April the Baetis or blue winged olives emerge. The trout feast upon this first major hatch of the spring trying to regain loss energy supplies. The Yellowstone river also experiences many great caddis hatches, such as the "Mother's Day Caddis hatch" which occurs in the month of May. This blizzard hatch of caddis can make the Yellowstone's trout rise from bank to bank. Spring is a great time to fish the Yellowstone river as the trout are extremely hungry coming out of the cold Montana winter and the fishing continues to get better and better each day until run off starts.


The Yellowstone river is one of the last rivers to drop and clear up from spring runoff in our area. Generally by the end of June the river is safe enough to float and fish. Like the Madison the Yellowstone River has a great Salmonfly hatch. These gigantic stoneflies crawl up the banks, split their nymphal husks and emerge as huge, clumsy fliers. The trout crave these giant meals and they will move many feet to eat your dry fly. Once the salmonfly hatch is over on the Yellowstone river then the typical mayfly, stonefly and caddis hatches are predominant. Late in the summer the terrestrial fishing starts and is some of the best grasshopper fishing in the area.


Once fall sets in and the cottonwoods along the Yellowstone river start to lose their leaves it is time to break out the big guns. A majority of the trophy trout are caught during this time period. Fishing with a 7 or 8 weight rod and a sink tip line or floating line it is time to pound the banks and pull big streamers in front of the noses of trophy brown trout. The brown trout turn up their aggression in the fall as they begin to spawn. Covering as much water as possible and keeping your streamer in the "zone" is the key. Fishing 4-6 inch streamers is not uncommon. Fall on the Yellowstone river is your time to catch that trout of a lifetime.

Fly Fishing Flies Royal Trude $3 Dip Nymph Girdle Bug

Fly Resources

There are many appropriate flys to choose from on the Yellowstone River. These three flies are focused around a springtime hatch.

The Royal Trude

Our first pattern has been around for a long time. The Royal Trude is a great attractor fly for most of the season. I like to fish it for this Mother's Day Caddis Hatch specifically because of how it stands out from the naturals. When the water is covered with caddis one of the biggest problems is finding your fly on the water. This pattern gives off the perfect silhouette but yet is easy to see among the crowd. It also provides enough buoyancy to float a dropper fly beneath it. The Royal Trude doesn't imitate any specific hatch but can be used for many down wing patterns such as Yellow Sallies, Caddis and Spruce Moths.

$3 Dip

The next fly is the $3 dip. Much like its cousin, the serendipity, this fly can be tied in various colors to imitate various caddis. It is an easy fly to tie and rusty brown and olive colored thread are my favorites. With or without a beadhead this fly is a great pattern when you expect a caddis hatch. It's easy to tie and being durable makes it a winner in my book and earning space in my box.

Girdle Bug

The last fly is the girdle bug. The girdle bug, also known as rubberlegs, is a staple all year long in most of area rivers. Tied in various sizes and colors, all of our freestone rivers and streams have an ample supply of stonefly nymphs. During high water the fish will be pushed up on the banks and that coincides with salmonfly and Golden Stone hatch. Stoneflies vary from 1-3 inches long, crawl to the rivers bank where they then climb out of the river to split their nymphal husk and become huge winged adults. Trout will gorge on these nymphs and their dark color will stand out even in stained water.

Fly Fishing on the Yellowstone River

How do you fish the Yellowstone River?

Fly fishing on the Yellowstone River is a unique experience. We recommend using a 9-foot 5 or 6-weight fly rod for versatility, as it can handle various techniques. Popular methods include nymphing, dry fly fishing, and streamer fishing. The river offers a mix of pocket water, riffles, and deep pools, so adapt your approach based on the conditions and season. Because the Yellowstone flows through private land, using a drift boat is the most effective way to fly fish the Yellowstone River. This allows access to the river throughout the Paradise Valley and lower stretches. 

What are the specific hatches of the Yellowstone River?

The Yellowstone River is a big, wide freestone river. It has many of the insect characteristics of other Montana freestone streams. You can find Salmonflies, Golden Stones, Nocturnal Stoneflies, Yellow Sallies many different Mayflies and Caddis flies throughout the season. 

The trout also enjoy eating terrestials on the Yellowstone River. During the summer, big foam hoppers, ants and beetles are a delicacy for the trout. We often thow these patterns into the banks and around large natural stuctures where the trout are ready to pounce on them. 

What is the Yellowstone River known for?

The Yellowstone River is known for several distinctive characteristics that make it a beloved destination for anglers and nature enthusiasts alike:

  1. Scenic Beauty: Flowing through some of the most breathtaking landscapes in Montana, the Yellowstone River is renowned for its stunning scenery. From the rugged cliffs of Paradise Valley to the rolling hills near Big Timber, the river offers unparalleled views of the Rocky Mountains and the pristine wilderness that surrounds it.

  2. Abundant Trout Populations: The Yellowstone River is home to healthy populations of various trout species, including rainbow trout, brown trout, Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and native mountain whitefish. Anglers flock to its waters year-round in pursuit of these prized gamefish, drawn by the challenge and excitement of hooking into a Yellowstone River trout.

  3. Diverse Fly Fishing Opportunities: With its diverse habitats, ranging from riffles and runs to deep pools and undercut banks, the Yellowstone River provides anglers with a wide range of fly fishing opportunities. Whether you prefer to fish dry flies, nymphs, or streamers, there's something for every angler on the Yellowstone.

  4. Drift Boat Adventures: Drifting down the Yellowstone River in a drift boat is a quintessential Montana experience. Guided drift boat trips offer anglers the chance to explore remote stretches of the river that are inaccessible by foot, providing an immersive and exhilarating angling adventure.

  5. Seasonal Variability: The Yellowstone River offers excellent fishing opportunities year-round, with each season bringing its own unique charm. From the prolific hatches of spring and summer to the solitude of winter fishing, there's always something to look forward to on the Yellowstone.

Overall, the Yellowstone River is known for its scenic beauty, abundant trout populations, diverse fly fishing opportunities, thrilling drift boat adventures, and seasonal variability, making it a cherished destination for anglers and outdoor enthusiasts from around the world.

Is the Yellowstone River stocked?

No, the Yellowstone River is not stocked. Its exceptional fish populations are the result of natural reproduction and the river's excellent habitat. This means that you can enjoy an authentic and sustainable fly fishing experience in the Yellowstone River, with the opportunity to catch wild and native trout species including Yellowstone Cutthroat, rainbow and brown trout.

Stay in touch

We publish a monthly newsletter for interesting and informative information focused on Fly Fishing in Southwestern Montana. If you would like to receive our newsletter, please subscribe. Look for the "Join Our Mailing List" form located on most pages of our website. If you have a question regarding Montana fly fishing or would like to schedule a trip, please use the Contact page or give us a call at 406-580-6050.

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