Welcome to West Yellowstone, Montana and the Federation of Fly Fishers Fly Fishing Fair, 2013. We in the local fly fishing business and the community of West Yellowstone welcome the Federation of Fly Fishers and our visiting fly fishers and guests to sample and enjoy our fall fishing. Here in the Yellowstone area our fall season is truly beautiful--even magical--with the aspen trees changing to a golden yellow, and with a slight cool breeze in the air that signals the beginning of fall and the brown trout spawning run up the Madison River. The weather is, for the most part, warm during the daytime and cool in the evenings. In Yellowstone country, always have a warm shirt and a light jacket. We could always have a day of rain or even a little light snow just to kick off the fall season and make things even more beautiful. West Yellowstone prides itself as a warm, friendly community, always willing to make your vacation, stay and fishing very pleasing and rewarding. Our dress is always casual and we do appreciate our visiting fly fishers.
Now let us look at some specific waters and just how to fish them:
The Madison River, as well as the other rivers and streams in our area, is a wild fishery, self-propagating with a good quantity and size to the trout. The Madison River in Yellowstone National Park has a very good stable population of rainbow and brown trout and Rocky Mountain whitefish in a mixture of sizes. This fishery is also supplemented by a natural spawning run of brown and rainbow trout and also our Rocky Mountain whitefish up the Madison River from Hebgen Lake every fall. This fall run has attracted many fly fishers year after year to sample and enjoy this wonderful and beautiful river. The fourteen-mile section of the Madison River in Yellowstone Park that runs from Madison Junction to West Yellowstone has been described as a large limestone stream. The Madison River has a very even flow with lots of pools, riffle water and long, smooth glides. During this fall run, you can expect to hook into a colorful wild brown trout with the average size about 17 or 18 inches, and it is quite common to catch a 21-inch or even larger trophy trout. Along with the fall run of brown trout, we also have a very good run of rainbow trout. This Madison strain of rainbows has developed over the many years, and they are also on a spawning run and are quite aggressive and will hit almost everything from the dry fly to the streamer. This fall run of rainbow trout coincides with the brown trout run up the Madison River from Hebgen Lake. Rainbow trout, as we all know, are spring spawners; however, this special Madison River strain of rainbows out of Hebgen Lake have adapted to this warmer, thermally heated Madison River water over many years and their spawning is governed by a biological timetable as well as water temperature. These rainbows spawn in their spring which is when the water temperature is at its coldest on the Madison during late December and January, not in the usual spring season like March, April or May. By the time spring rolls around and the general fishing season opens on the Madison River in Yellowstone Park, these spawning rainbows and browns are back in Hebgen Lake. Over many years, these spawning trout have supplemented and filled the Madison River with a good mixture of catchable size trout waiting for your fly.
The Madison River in Yellowstone Park from September through the fall season offers the fisherman a good variety of fishing opportunities. For the dry fly fisher, I would recommend a selection of small Blue Wing Olives in sizes 16, 18 and even some size 20. A hatch of BWO’s could happen anytime, so with an overcast or cloudy day, be ready. There is also some good Midge action during the fall season. I would also have several Grass Hopper Flies in sizes 8 and 10. On a warm and sunny day with a little wind to help, the Hopper Fly is my first choice to cover the water best. Fish along the steep cut banks, the shallow riffles and right on the grassy undercut banks. Remember, at this time of the year the larger trout are moving upstream and are often holding in shallow and fast moving riffles and along the banks of the stream. A Grass Hopper fly fished dead drift with a long leader and tippet can bring a good fish up in the middle of the day.
For the wet fly and nymph fisher, fishing down and dirty can produce when all else fails. The term “down and dirty” simply means, in fly fishing lingo, adding additional weight and even a weighted fly to get the fly down and keep the fly on the bottom in the feeding zone through some of the deeper runs and pools. Some of the most popular flies for our fall fishing on the Madison would be my Giant Black Stone Fly Nymph or Mark's Brown Rubber Legs weighted in various sizes like 4, 6, and 8. The Prince and the Hare's Ear Nymph on sizes 12, 14 and 16 are two of the go-to flies that have accounted for many nice trout over the years. Many of the fly fishers use two flies with a larger nymph bouncing along the bottom and a smaller fly as the dropper. For the wet fly fisher who likes to fish just below the surface, the Soft Hackled Fly is just the ticket. It is fished down and across the stream or fished up stream and dead drifted down through the pool or a shallow riffle where a migrating trout might just be lurking. I like the Bead Head Soft Hackled Fly with a Green, Orange or Pheasant Tail body in sizes 12 and 14 and even 16. The standard Bead Head Pheasant Tail Nymph in sizes 14 and 16 is also a great choice. Keep in mind that even though fly pattern is important, fishing with a fly you have confidence in and making a good presentation will in many cases lead to a nice fish on your line.
If you enjoy fishing with the streamer fly as I do or would like to try fishing streamers, you picked the right time of the year to fish. These migrating trout are moving all of the time and replacing each other in the good lies as they move up the Madison. Spawning will take place in very late October and November and will continue through November long after the fishing season is over in Yellowstone Park. Remember, too, trout on a spawning run are very territorial and aggressive; they will attack another smaller fish or streamer fly that has invaded their lie. The most important thing about fly choice is that you have confidence in your streamer fly. Most any streamer fly will work if you make it look like it is trying to get away. Trout species are very much predator as well as prey. Fish the fly by quartering the fly down and across stream and stripping the fly up stream through that fast riffle or the tail-out of a long slick pool or glide. The most important thing to remember in streamer fishing is to cover lots of water. Using a floating line is not recommended. I favor using an intermediate sinking line or a sinking tip line. Try to make several good casts to a promising place and then move on. If the water you have just fished still looks good to you, give it a rest and go through again. Many times you will take a good fish on the second or third pass through the pool or the person who fishes the pool next will take a fish from the run you just left. Two very good places to fish with streamer flies are located just three miles north of town. First, the Madison River as it runs through the Baker's Hole Campground. You will need a Yellowstone Park fishing license as well as a Montana fishing license to fish this area. The other area is just down-stream from Baker's Hole where the Madison River crosses Highway 191 on its way to Hebgen Lake. The second location is one of my personal favorite fall places to fish. You will need a Montana Fishing License to fish this area.
My favorite streamer flies for the fall are the Platte River Special, the Light and Dark Spruce, the Muddler Minnow, the Woolly Bugger in several colors and, of course, the old Mickey Finn Bucktail in sizes 2, 4, and 6.
The Firehole River is medium-size stream with short riffle sections connecting long, slick glides with rising trout all over the place. The average water depth is a foot or two with shallow riffles and some deeper pools. This is a dry fly fisher’s river. The temperature of the river is almost too warm for trout as it is constantly being refreshed by thousands of hot spring and thermal features. Along with these hot springs are many cold springs which adds cool water and makes it the fishery we all love. The fall of the year is Blue Wing Olive time and the hatches are short, but very dependable. The general sizes of the rainbow and brown trout are on the small side; however, the good news is lots of fish. The Firehole is chuck full catchable size trout that love to rise to the dry fly. The long, smooth glides with trout surfacing all over the place are very inviting but not so easy to fish. You need to fish down-stream with the day fly and feed the fly into the trout’s window. For the beginner, and even for myself, when I’m guiding, I pick out some fast riffle water and work the dry fly with a long 5X tippet and a size 16 or smaller Blue Wing Olive Dry. Make a quiet approach and fish the fast water just in front of you with short cast and Lookout!
The South Fork of the Madison River is a meadow stream and spring creek rolled into one. It crosses Highway 20 just four miles west of town. From the highway bridge upstream the river is closed as the river flows through the private and historic Madison Fork Ranch. Down-stream from the highway bridge, the river is open to public fishing as it runs through National Forest Land for about four miles and empties into Hebgen Lake. The South Fork has a small run of browns and rainbows and a good whitefish population. It is best to fish with the wet fly or nymph fished through some of the deeper pools and along the many bends and undercut banks of this small meadow stream. Late morning could bring a small hatch of Blue Wing Olives and even some of the larger Slate Wing Olive flies. This is a fun little river to fish and the rewards can be good, but don’t expect lots of action.
The Lamar River and its two major tributaries Slough Creek and the Soda Butte Creek are located in the Northeast section of Yellowstone Park, about a two-hour drive from West Yellowstone. All three streams have good midday hatches of Blue Wing Olives and fair hatches of the Slate Wing Olives which can bring these nice native Black Spotted Cutthroat trout to the top. The Lamar River runs through the Lamar Valley and parallels the highway. This open valley floor allows good accesses to some great water. On a nice warm and windy day, the Hopper Fly is a good searching pattern along with the Royal Wulff fished along the many high cut banks, riffles and long, smooth runs.
The Slough Creek is the most challenging of the three rivers in the valley because the creek has the typical water structure of riffle, pool and riffle, pool, and the creek is very accessible as it flows right along the Slough Creek Campground Road and does get fished very heavily all season long. This great stream also has a wonderful back country fishery which can easily be accessed by hiking a mile or two along the Slough Creek Trail to reach some great fall dry fly fishing.
The Soda Butte Creek is the easier of the three rivers to fish because of its smaller size, and it has well-defined pools and has a good quantity of fish looking for and feeding on those Blue Wing Olives. This creek also parallels the highway in the upper Lamar Valley. Fishing with the dry fly to the rise is the most fun; however, fishing downstream with the soft hackle fly or fishing with a small nymph down through the pools will produce when the fish are not rising.
The Upper Yellowstone River as it flows north out of Yellowstone Lake offers some fall fishing. Fishing the river around the Nez Perce Picnic Area would be a good place to start. There will not be lots of action due to the reduced numbers of cutthroat trout in Yellowstone Lake and this upper section of the Yellowstone River caused by the predation over a good number of years of the Mackinaw Lake Trout. The good news is that this upper section the Yellowstone River does offers the fly fisher a chance to catch a large cutthroat trout in the three- to four-pound range which is a real nice catch for anyone. Using an intermediate sinking or sinking tip line and covering lots of water with a weighted Woolly Bugger Fly is my choice of action. I like to use a Black or Olive Woolly Bugger fly in sizes 6 and 8. If you fish hard and cover lots of water, you do have a good chance of hooking into one of these very nice and colorful Yellowstone Black Spotted Cutthroat trout.
Let us recap the fall fishing in our Yellowstone area. Remember, fall fishing our Yellowstone waters is both challenging and rewarding. Our river and streams are loaded with wild, catchable trout and whitefish. Pick a good looking section of the river or stream and go to work. Take your time and approach the water carefully and quietly. You could fish the famous Barns Pools located on the Madison River just inside the West Gate of Yellowstone Park about one mile from town. These Barns Pools are a good place to start fishing; however, these pools are heavily fished in the fall. When I fish and guide on the Madison, I drive along the Madison River and pick a spot where no one else is and then read the water and start with a plan of action. You might want to start by fishing the faster riffle water with a streamer fly and then move on to a deeper section or cut bank using a nymph or wet fly. What is the weather like and fish accordingly. Do I fish with a hopper fly along the undercut banks or do I cover lots of water with the streamer or work a deeper run with the wet fly or nymph?
Take a few moments, be very observant and always make that first cast count. Stop in one of our local fly shops and inquire about the fishing conditions and don’t hesitate to ask where to fish and what to use. The fly shops in West Yellowstone are all very helpful and want you to have a great time and catch some nice fish and we want you to comeback and fish with us again. We extend a very warm and personal invitation from the fly fishing community of West Yellowstone to fish our waters and attend and enjoy this year’s Federation of Fly Fishers Fly Fishing Fair.
All of my best to you!