Fly Fishing The Yellowstone from YNP to Yankee Jim Canyon
The Yellowstone River has a great reputation as being one of the best rivers to float in the world. Sometimes it feels like almost everything a person reads about fishing the Yellowstone River involves a boat or a guided float trip. Many of us love the Yellowstone but think we have to rely on a good friend who doesn’t mind rowing for the majority of the day. For most sections of the river, that can be true. One exception is the section from the Yellowstone Park boundary through Yankee Jim Canyon.
The Yellowstone comes out of the Black Canyon and is joined by the Gardiner River near the Yellowstone National Park boundary. The banks are nice here with a few back-eddies scattered throughout. The river is kind of narrow and fast here. White water dudes love it. As you look at the river in Gardiner, it’s a big riffle with some beautiful seams all along the banks. The first three or four miles below Gardiner pretty much looks like that, certainly better rafting or bank fishing than float fishing. This is a great place to scramble down the hill and walk the bank fishing Attractor Dries or nymphing with a Stonefly combo. There is very little angling pressure in this area and it is packed with easily fooled 12” Cutthroat year round. This area can be accessed on both sides of the river, either from the highway or the old Yellowstone Highway on the opposite side of the river.
The next four or five miles, to just below Corwin Springs, the Yellowstone starts to get a little flatter and deeper in places giving it a riffle, run, pool look, and feel. The holes and back eddies become super deep and well defined and the places to fish are just as obvious as the places not to fish. With plenty of FAS sites, access is easy from both sides of the river. This is the portion of the Yellowstone River where drift boats start to become applicable. People start launching drift boats at McConnell Landing, 3 miles downstream from Gardiner. There is a mix of users in this section from white water rafters, kayakers, float fishermen, and bank fishermen. Not a ton of guides use this section because it takes a special permit to guide this area. Although some days it gets a little busy, there always seems to be plenty of willing Trout and Whitefish to play pranks on. This portion of The Yellowstone has several small thermal features scattered about, providing warm water to enhance the winter angling opportunities. All of this water gets prolific Slamonfly hatches early in the summer in addition to Caddis, Mayflies, and Midges.
Below Corwin Springs, the Yellowstone widens a little, shallows up some, and the big runs turn to long riffles, the deep back eddies and holes turn to long dry fly flats with some deeper cut banks here and there. This section can fish well either from the bank or by boat. The Highway side seems to have the best access in this section. The best angling opportunities for me here is typically hope for a hatch and use a spot and stock approach. All Trout species are present and the chance for some real nice fish on Dry Flies is always in the cards. If you happen to be floating this section be sure not to miss the Joe Brown take out. It’ll be a bad day if you do.
I touched a little on the bugs but in general, this portion of the Yellowstone River from YNP to Yankee Jim Canyon is a bug factory. About every major western insect hatch can be expected at various times of the year. The Hopper and Terrestrial fishing can be outrageous in the middle of Summer as well. I think I fished the same Parachute Hopper and Parachute Ant for three or four days straight once and caught a ton of fish every day. This section also has the highest number of Cutthroat Trout in the Yellowstone outside the Park. This makes it pleasant for the beginner or even the expert who’s just looking for a little fun in a beautiful surrounding.
If you need a good map of that area or some pretty good advice, come in and see us at our Bozeman Fly Shop . We offer guided Montana fly fishing trips throughout the Yellowstone River, including the upper river sections through Yankee Jim Canyon.