3 Tips for Fly Fishing Yellowstone River


Yellowstone River fishing attracts fishermen from all over the world to Yellowstone National Park. So, whether you prefer to wade or float, if you haven’t experienced fly fishing in Yellowstone, you’re missing out on this world-renowned trout fishing spot. It comes highly recommended by Bob Gilbert, partner at Stillwater Architecture and lifelong fly fisherman.

Brown trout caught fly fishing on Missouri River in Yellowstone National Park Montana
Bob Gilbert catches a brown trout from the Missouri River

What Is Fly Fishing?

In fly fishing, a light-weight lure, called an artificial fly, is quickly cast and withdrawn from the water’s surface, imitating the insects that are a fish’s natural prey. This casting technique is significantly different from other forms of casting, luring fish to the surface vs. baiting them from underwater. A fly fisherman uses a fly rod, reel and specialized weighted line, and though some prefer to fish from a boat, many fly fish by wading into the water.

Since Bob has spent countless hours casting on Yellowstone River, he knows exactly how to fly fish. Lucky for you, he’s willing to share a few fly fishing tips.

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

3 Tips for Fly Fishing Yellowstone River

  1. Pick the best time to fly fish

    No matter where you go, planning your fishing trip during the peak fly fishing season is a great way to maximize your bites. While summer is, of course, the peak season, not all months are created equal. The best time of year to fly fish in Montana is July and August. They contain the longest days, with consistently great fishing. Most fly fishing tours during this time 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 as well. For some great fly fishing earlier in the year, May offers 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 fishing on the Yellowstone River. For inquiring minds, a caddisfly is a small insect with aquatic larvae that, as they hatch, make an irresistible meal for trout. Fall can also be a prime time for fly fishing on the Yellowstone River. There’s still good trout and other fish to be caught well into September. However, while you may like the cooler temperatures of fall, your fly fishing time window is shortened to between just 1 – 4 p.m. each day. Early summer—think June—is a less fruitful time for fly fishing on the Yellowstone River because it is often the last river to clear its winter runoff. Luckily, there are lots of nearby rivers that you can fish instead. Try fly fishing on the Boulder, Stillwater, Gallatin, or Madison River instead. For a list of river access points, refer to Yellowstone River Map Fishing Access, Montana.
  2. Understand the Basics of Marine Biology and Entomology

    Don’t worry, we’re not suggesting you get a Ph.D. studying bugs or trout (although that would be extremely helpful). However, doing a little research before you hop in your boat or pull on your waders, can give you an edge on where the fish are biting.
    Clear-Winged Grasshopper Copyright Matthew Priebe
    Montana Grasshopper
    For instance, a good fly fisherman knows to keep an eye out for adult grasshoppers. Yellowstone grasshoppers typically molt from their nymph stage into the adult stage in August. As they fly over the water, they lure fish to the surface and make them much more likely to take your bait. And, since adult grasshoppers are fairly large, they entice larger trout. Bonus fly fishing tip: If you’ve had a disappointing morning fly fishing in August, wait until the afternoon to call it quits. Often, breezy afternoons will help stir up the grasshoppers and get the trout biting.

    Do not. Do not even think about bringing him. You might think, “What?! Why not?! Of course I want to bring Michael Donohue fly fishing. He’s a nice guy. He does a lot of outdoorsy sports. He would be an incredible addition to my fishing group.” Though you wouldn’t be the first person to think Donohue might be a harmless add to your fishing crew, it doesn’t change the fact that you would be very wrong. In fact, he can even bring a pro down; and this aint no tall fishing tale.

    The Donohue Effect

    Years ago, Bob invited Michael on what should’ve been a foolproof fly fishing 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 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 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 very 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’d had the entire summer.
Duke Brown holds rainbow trout from Missouri River Yellowstone National Park
Rainbow trout from Missouri River Yellowstone National Park

There is no explanation for why Michael Donohue is a curse to fishermen. Nevertheless, his powers extend far beyond 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. No amount of experience and no fancy fly fishing techniques 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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