Fly fishing guide and expert Duke Brown casting in Yellowston National Park Montana

3 Tips for Fly Fishing Yellowstone River

The Yellowstone River, flowing from Yellowstone National Park for 692 miles across the United States, has some of the best fly fishing in the United States.

Yellowstone National Park fishing brings fishermen from all over the world. Whether you are looking to wade or float, Yellowstone is famous for its world-renowned trout fishing. Montana attracts experienced nature adventurers and we are lucky to have collected fly fishing tips to share with you.

In addition to being a partner at Stillwater Architecture, Bob Gilbert is a lifelong fly fisherman. He’s spent countless hours casting on Yellowstone River and knows exactly how to reel in a successful catch. Here are some of his best fly fishing tips:

Brown trout caught fly fishing on Missouri River in Yellowstone National Park Montana
Bob Gilbert catches a brown trout from the Missouri River
  1. Pick the right season and time

Selecting the peak season to fly fish is a great way to maximize your bites. Summer is, of course, the peak season for Yellowstone fishing, but all months are not created equal. July and August contain the longest days, with consistently great fishing. Most tours will run from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m., but dedicated anglers can get some catches in the early hours of the day and at dusk. 

Duke Brown fly fishing on Missouri River, Montana
Duke Brown fishing rainbow trout in Montana

Fly Fishing Season

May is another prime season to head out for some Montana fly fishing. That’s when the famous annual Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch begins, and it leads to the kinds of fishing opportunities where any skill level can have an epic day of Montana fishing.

Early summer—think June—is going to be a less fruitful fishing season. This is the period of time when the winter runoff is still clearing from the river, and often the Yellowstone River is the last to clear. REFER TO:  YELLOWSTONE RIVER MAP FISHING ACCESS, MONTANA. Luckily, there are lots of nearby rivers that you can fish instead. Try heading over to Boulder, Stillwater, Gallatin, or Madison River. 

Fall can be prime time for fishing for the Yellowstone River. There’s still good trout and other fish to be caught well into September. Your time window for fishing will shrink between 1 p.m. until 4 p.m during autumn weather. 

Rainbow trout from Missouri River Yellowstone National Park
Rainbow Trout - Yellowstone National Park, Montana

2. Have a basic understanding of marine biology and entomology

Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you go get your Ph.D. studying bugs or trout (although that would be extremely helpful). However, if you can do a little research before you hop in your boat or pull on your waders, you can give yourself an edge on where the fish are biting. 

For instance, you want to keep an eye out for adult grasshoppers wherever you’re wading or floating down the river. They fly over the water and lure fish to the surface. And since adult grasshoppers are fairly large, they entice larger trout.  

Clear-Winged Grasshopper Copyright Matthew Priebe
Montana Grasshopper

Yellowstone grasshoppers typically molt from their nymph stage into the adult stage in August; this is when they are going to bring the most fish up to the surface. 

If you are out early mornings in August and disappointed by a lack of hopper and fish, wait until the afternoon to call it quits: Often, breezy afternoons will help stir up the grasshoppers and get some trout biting.

3. Do not bring Michael Donohue, NCARB. 


Do not. Do not even think about bringing him. You might think, “What?! Of course I want to bring Michael Donohue, he’s a nice guy, he does a lot of outdoorsy sports, he would be an incredible addition to my fishing group,” but you would be very wrong. You wouldn’t be the first person to think Donohue might be a harmless add to the fishing crew.

Michael Donohue, NCARB and son skiing in Vail Colorado
Michael Donohue and son snap a picture at the top of Vail Mountain during annual "Chasing Powder" Ski Trip.

Years ago, Bob invited Michael on what should’ve been a foolproof trip. They went with their mutual friend and Bob’s longtime fishing guide, Duke Brown. Duke wasn’t just any old fishing guide. At the time, he was competing on ESPN, ranked one of the top three fly fishermen in the West. He’d been touring Yellowstone anglers for 20+ years. With his dogs Whiskey and Max riding with him, Duke could float to a stretch of river where no one else was catching, and still catch loads and loads of fish. Bob had learned all his best fly fishing tips from Duke’s longtime expert guidance.

So when Michael warned the group that he was horrible at fishing, they brushed him off. Duke assured him he would catch more fish than he had ever caught in his whole life. After all, Duke and Bob had been fishing together for decades and had not caught fish. 

But as the morning dragged on and turned into afternoon everyone’s lines stayed empty. Not just Donohue—the whole boat. Finally, Duke vowed to never take Michael Donohue fishing again, and they left the river with heavy hearts and empty rods.

The next day, Duke and Bob returned to the exact same stretch of river with the exact same conditions and had the best day of fishing they had had the entire summer.

Duke Brown holds rainbow trout from Missouri River Yellowstone National Park
Max quality checks Duke's catch of day, rainbow trout

There is no explanation for why Michael Donohue is a curse to fishermen. Nevertheless, his powers extend far beyond even being in the boat. Bob has found that even just telling Michael that he’s going out on a fly fishing trip has resulted in an absolute dearth of catches on that trip. If you’re fishing within a 500-foot radius of Michael, we hate to break it to you, but it’s going to be a rough day. There is no amount of fishing tips that can save you from the Donohue effect. No matter how perfectly you pick your season and no matter how many grasshoppers molt, you simply won’t catch a thing.

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