section contains four of the Park's most popular rivers: the Madison,
Gallatin, Gardner, and Gibbon. All are easily accessible by car and rated
blue-ribbon trout streams. The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service rates the
Madison the world's second best trout stream; the Yellowstone River is
In The Living River (Nick Lyons Books, New York, 1979), Charles Brooks described the Madison River as the world's largest chalkstream. He wrote that its waters are rich in calcium bicarbonate-the mineral most crucial to aquatic life and the base of the food chain that nourishes the wild trout for which this river is world famous.
The Shoshone called the Gallatin River Cut-tuh-o'-gwa, or "swift river." The Gallatin is this and much more. Its icy waters hold a diverse and abundant insect population, providing plenty of food for three species of trout, mountain whitefish, and the rare Montana grayling.
The Gardner River is often overlooked in favor of more publicized waters, and local anglers like to keep it under their hats. The river offers something for everyone-meadow water for the dry-fly angler, and rough-and-tumble stretches for the nymph fisher. Attractor flies and terrestrials provide fun fishing all summer long.
secrets to the Gibbon River are under lock, and only the patient
Good fishing is where you find it, and numerous small streams and lakes in the northwestern quadrant of the Park are available to those willing to explore the backcountry.
Blacktail Deer Creek
- Brook Trout
The Gallatin has a good population of rainbows, along with browns, cutthroats, grayling, and whitefish. This looks like classic rainbow water, and the average trout runs II to 12 inches. First-timers on the Gallatin are often surprised by browns twice that size, however. They're also surprised by where they hold. The browns are in the obvious deep runs, pockets, and undercuts, but they also turn up in water so shallow that their backs are out of the water. We relearn this lesson every year: Keep your eyes open for every inch of water. In the Gallatin, the big fish are often in small-fish water, and the small fish are where we think the big fish should be.
Because the Gallatin hosts an incredibly diverse insect population-more than 200 species of mayflies, caddis, and stoneflies-attractor flies are often more successful than match-the-hatch patterns. The notable exceptions are hatches of Pale Morning Duns, Flavs, and Green Drakes.
small brook trout. There's a picnic area at the lower end of the meadow, accessible via the Virginia Cascades Road. The entrance to this one-way drive is about 2 miles downstream from the meadow and follows the river back upstream to both the cascades and the picnic area. Below the cascades and for the 2 miles downstream to Norris Junction, the water is full of pockets, pools, and undercut banks that hold plenty of browns, brooks, rainbows, and the occasional grayling. Its best fished with a high-floating dry fly bounced over and through the scattered cover that lines the stream.
At Norris Junction, with the addition of water from Solfatara Creek, the river changes its character, becoming noticeably deeper and wider as it passes the campground and crosses the Norris-Gardiner Road. From here to Elk Park, a distance of about 2 miles, the river flows behind Norris Geyser Basin; the browns become larger, the brook trout fewer, and the rainbows far between. Geothermal features start to appear along the stream, adding both nutrients and water and preparing the habitat for increased insect life as the river turns the corner into Elk Park.
If you head south at Norris Junction, Elk Park will be the first meadow on your right and a great place to see elk. The river is like a spring creek here, with slow-moving water and tremendously undercut banks. The insect hatches also resemble those of a spring creek: Baetis (Blue-Winged Olives), Pale Morning Duns, Brown Drakes, and Green Drakes. Caddis include Oecetis and Lepidostoma. This is on-your-knees fishing to wary brown trout. Sharply honed stalking skills and a high degree of patience are required to land fish here. You must be able to focus and concentrate. The only time we recommend searching the water with a fly is during terrestrial season.
As you journey downstream from Elk Park the elevation drops radically, and there's a mile of unproductive, shallow rapids next to the road. The gradient then levels and the water slows at the Gibbon picnic area) upstream of Gibbon Meadows.
The scene here is much the same as at Elk Park, only this meadow is much larger. The depth is also more uniform, and the flow more even, in this stretch. There are fewer undercut banks and weed beds, and it isn't as obvious where [ trout hold. If you don't spot any surface feeding, look for fish holding in the shadows next to the bank. Like Elk Park, I Gibbon Meadows can be difficult fishing, but its a lot of fun for someone who enjoys mixing hunting with fishing.
Leaving Gibbon Meadows behind, the river becomes pocket water all the way down to Gibbon Falls, a distance of 5 miles. This is fun fishing for anyone who likes searching the water with attractor flies for 8- to 12-inch fish. Browns and rainbows predominate in this, the Gibbon River Canyon, along with the occasional grayling and small brook trout.
At Gibbon Falls the water drops 88 feet, forming a barrier to migrating trout. The river here is a succession of riffles, runs, and pools, custom made for the wet-fly and nymph angler. Its good fishing during Junes Golden Stonefly emergence and a favorite with many locals during grasshopper time. However, this section is especially noted for its fine fall fishing.
In October, from Gibbon Falls 5 miles downstream to the rivers confluence with the Firehole at Madison Junction, large brown and rainbow trout head into the river to spawn. These fall-run fish, moving upstream from Montana's Hebgen Lake, attract fishers from around the world.
This creek follows Highway 191 north of West Yellowstone, from Mile Marker 11 upstream to Mile Marker 17. Most of the fishing takes place along this stretch, because Graylings headwater contains small fish and is located in trailless backcountry that's often closed to human travel due to high grizzly bear activity.
Grayling Creek - Brown-Cutthroat-Rainbow
Grayling Creek is a medium-sized mountain stream that offers excellent fishing during hatches. Green Drakes and Pale Morning Duns (including PMD spinner falls), caddis, and Little Yellow and Golden Stoneflies will bring the trout to the surface. Brown, cutthroat, and rainbow trout average 11 inches, but those anglers willing to hunt will find an occasional lunker.
From Elk Meadow downstream to Big Bend, then past Mount Haynes and Nine-Mile Hole to Riverside Drive, the river is a succession of deep runs with undercut banks. The bottom is randomly carpeted with lush weeds that reach the surface, creating a complex mix of crosscurrents. Controlling drag is paramount to fishing this stretch successfully. We advise long leaders and tippets to help achieve drag-free floats.
This 9-mile chalkstream section is home to several important trout stream insects. Mayflies include Baetis (BWOs), Pale Morning Duns, Gray Drakes, and Tricos. While several caddis are available to the trout, we've found only Brachycentrus adults present in sufficient number to entertain rising fish. Salmonflies are the predominant stone-fly and therefore the stonefly of choice. This early-June hatch is extremely variable, confined to short sections of riffle water where the habitat is ideal for the nymphs.
From July through September, terrestrials form an increasing portion of the trout diet. Good places to fish imitations are the meadow stretches of Elk Meadow to Big Bend, then downstream to the bottom reaches of this section, most notably Grasshopper Bank. At Riverside Drive, just below Grasshopper Bank, the river loses its chalkstream character and becomes freestone-riffle water.
The next 5 miles of river, from Riverside Drive to the Barns' Pools, lacks holding water and is mostly unproductive. With the exception of a few very short runs such as Shakey Beiley's, the river in this section is not worth your time. Its just too shallow.
A half mile inside Yellowstones West Entrance is a dirt road on the north side of the main road that takes you down to the Barns Pools, named for the stables that used to house the Park's horses and stagecoaches. When you reach the end of the road, you'll be at Hole #2. Around the corner upstream is Cable Car Run, and around the corner downstream are two more holes, locally named, with great imagination, Hole #1 and Hole #3. For the next 3 miles downstream, the river winds northwest in a series of oxbows to the Parks boundary. This portion of the river is only accessible by hiking downstream from the Barns' Pools or upstream from the Bakers Hole campground and the Montana state line.
Many refer to this part of the river as Beaver Meadows, because of thenumerous beaver holes along the banks. This area is a haven for moose and bears, which like the security of the willows and bogs and nearby thick stands of lodge-pole pines. As the river meanders through this meadow, deep pools and enormous undercut banks provide great holding water and security for trout and whitefish. This stretch is primarily a fall fishery, hosting great numbers of migrating trout that move upstream from Montana's Hebgen Lake to spawn. A resident population of trout is virtually nonexistent.
Late September through October is the time to fish the fall spawners in the Madison. Short days, cold weather, and snow squalls signal both the fish and a hearty breed of fishers that its time to return to the Madison. Heavy rods, large tippets, and big flies are required to land these lake fish moving in to spawn. Fish of up to 4 pounds are not uncommon.
For gear we recommend a 7-weight rod, IX-2X tippets, and a good selection of big nymphs and streamers in various colors. This type of fishing is not unlike steelhead and salmon fishing. These fish are territorial, protecting their turf rather than actively feeding. We believe in using big, bright flies to take advantage of this aggressiveness.
Although we look forward to the fall fishing each year, it marks the beginning of the end. November means big snows, bitter cold, and the close of the season.
Straight Creek -