Montana and Yellowstone Park Fishing Report

Montana and Yellowstone Park Fishing Report

This report is valid from October 21 through the close of the Yellowstone Park season at sunset on November 7.

The brown trout are spawning in earnest on all rivers and streams that hold them, while many waters are now too low and cold to fish well. These two extremes put a bit of a constriction on the fishing for the next few weeks (which gets worse the colder it gets). In between the two extremes fishing can be very good.

On waters holding brown trout, avoid areas of ankle to thigh-deep gravel and small cobble with consistent walking-speed current. These are spawning areas and it is unethical to target fish in these areas. In addition, walking through them can kill hundreds or thousands of eggs. “Catch and release” doesn’t do much good when you destroy the next generation. Learn about redds at this link, courtesy Gink & Gasoline. There are still plenty of pre-spawn browns in areas of deep, slow water as well as faster boulder-bottomed water, and that says nothing about the resident trout and even run-up rainbows that follow the browns to eat their eggs.

In general, fishing will be better in the afternoon and evening than first thing in the morning, unless you’re throwing streamers on sunny days for those pre-spawn browns. Hatches will concentrate on calm and especially calm and cloudy days provided it isn’t too cold. Except maybe in the Firehole River, dry fly fishing is starting to get very shaky as water temps drop. We’re basically fishing subsurface now, and unless you see risers we suggest you do, too.

Overall, fishing quality is at a 0-9 out of 10, with quality depending on being on the right water when the weather is both tolerable and not too bright. The following are top fisheries right now.


The Yellowstone River downstream of Gardiner is primarily a streamer, stonefly nymph, BWO nymph, and egg game now unless you see rising trout. Any hatches will be BWO and midges. It’s a good idea now to dead-drift a small streamer under an indicator with a BWO nymph dropper until you see hatches, or float a 5-mile section and get out to wade-fish good runs by swinging streamers. Mornings will be slow for numbers but may produce large fish. Afternoons will give the best shot at numbers.

Depuy, Armstrong, and Nelson Spring Creek are seeing BWO hatches intensify, while fall browns are starting to nose in and will eat streamers and eggs. Rates are now $40 per angler per day, the lowest of the year.

Other nearby fisheries are honestly poor choices now. If you drive over to the Madison, Gallatin, or Missouri Rivers, that’s a different story.


The Firehole River is your best bet for hatches. Look for BWO (tiny, #20 or smaller) on gray days. A few White Miller caddis may still be around on warm, sunny days near hot springs, but not many. Match the hatch precisely or fish our smallest copper and purple Hazy Cripples as attractors when the BWO are out. Match the hatch or swing soft hackles if you are seeing splashy caddis rises. If you find it uncrowded, the nymphing downstream of Firehole Falls can also be good now.

The Madison River is fall-run brown central and will be the most crowded water in the region because of it. Fish the obvious, crowded runs. Join the conga line of anglers working downstream through a pool, then stepping out and heading back to the top again. If you catch a fish, step out and start over. DO NOT wade in downstream of other anglers, or expect a tongue-lashing. This is like steelhead or Atlantic salmon fishing in terms of etiquette, not that everyone follows the etiquette (even new guides are culprits). Fish stonefly nymphs and eggs for numbers, or swing large soft hackles and steelhead-style streamers if you want to be much snazzier. You can also look for trout rising to BWO near Madison Junction.

The Lower Gibbon River may have fish rising to BWO, particularly in the meadows, but nymph and streamer fishing below Gibbon Falls is a better bet. This will be less crowded than the Madison, but not un-crowded.

The Gardner River will fish well in the pocket water downstream of Boiling River using stonefly and attractor nymphs and eggs for mostly resident and run-up rainbow trout. You can also fish jig-style streamers in place of a larger nymph. You seldom need to put your fly line in the water here, and Euro-nymphing is the best tactic. The deeper pools will still have some pre-spawn brown trout, but most of the browns in the Gardner are already spawning. WATCH OUT FOR REDDS!

There is some chance for BWO hatches in the Yellowstone River between Tower Junction and Gardiner, but the cold will make this water much less consistent. We would probably fish streamers in the lower Black Canyon within a couple miles of Gardner if we wanted to shed crowds, with any rising trout a bonus. This is probably the least consistent option mentioned on this report, but there won’t be any other anglers.

The Lewis River is now a good bet. Fish streamers or nymph the upper end of the Lewis Meadow up to the base of Lewis Falls for both larger brown trout and lake trout that screwed up big time and got stuck below the falls. Between Lewis & Shoshone Lake expect crowded conditions and lots of “redd-raiding.” At first light, nymphing the deeper areas can produce bigger browns (you probably need to be camping in the backcountry to do this). Lewis Lake to Lewis Falls is similar but much more accessible.

The Lamar System (Lamar, Soda Butte, Slough), small creeks, and all other waters not named above are now generally too cold to fish well.