Montana Fly Fishing
Fly Fishing the Yellowstone River

Yellowstone River

Fly Fishing the Yellowstone River

Yellowstone River : Livingston to Big Timber

Yellostone River downstream from Livingston, MT
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Below Livingston, fishing pressure is less than further upstream. As the Yellowstone River flows through this section, it is no longer in a scenic valley. Instead, it runs through true "high plains" country, with the Absaroka Mountains now to the south and a number of other mountain ranges always visible off in the distance. The landscape is basically devoid of trees east of Livingston, except for right along the river where cottonwood trees line the bank. The prairie that is found away from the Yellowstone River, though, is hardly flat. Instead, it is a series of rolling hills, some of which are quite large. Thus, don't let the "prairie" setting scare you away from fishing this section of the Yellowstone River.

Although the Yellowstone River is now in the high plains and would seem to offer reduced fly fishing opportunities, an angler should not pass up the opportunity to fly fish somewhere along this section. The Yellowstone River, between its fast current and mountainous origin, tends to run cool all year long, allowing healthy trout populations to exist in places where many anglers would dismiss at first sight. Healthy populations of rainbow and brown trout are found along this stretch.

Additionally, the fish in this section of the Yellowstone River tend to be larger than further upstream. The larger fish, combined with reduced fishing pressure (the further downstream you go from Livingston, the less fishing pressure exists), can make for some wonderful fly fishing possibilities.

Yellowstone River near Columbus, Montana
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The Yellowstone River in this section is quite broad and deep. Additionally, for most of its length in this section the Yellowstone River has a moderate current (faster nearer Livingston and slower further downstream), so except during very low water years, wading can pose problems for the angler seeking out the best fishing spots.

When fly fishing along this stretch of the Yellowstone, an angler has a number of strategies they can use, depending on the season. During the early season, excellent caddis hatches occur. Unfortunately, spring run-off frequently turns the river into a muddy mess, limiting top water fishing. When the river is clear, though, an angler should make sure that they have caddis flies for all occasions (nymphs, emergers and top water), using the appropriate fly to match the hatch. Successful fishing during this hatch requires using the right type of caddis fly to match what the trout are feeding on. Thus, if you are fly fishing an Elk Hair Caddis on top with no luck, don't hesitate to try an emerger caddis pattern such as a X-Caddis or a nymph caddis pattern such as a Prince Nymph.

Yellowstone River upstream from Big Timber
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A second strategy along this section of the Yellowstone River is to fish for the large trout that are found in the many deep holes. While dainty dry flies will occasionally work, the best bet to hook these large fish is to use large weighted streamers on sink-tip fly lines, with heavy leaders, fishing them down deep in the holes. For the angler looking to pull up a large brown or rainbow trout, this is perhaps the best method.

A look around the country the Yellowstone River flows through, with endless vistas of hay and grass, should offer a solid clue to the third strategy, used later in summer. Fish hoppers right along the banks, focusing on any obstructions lying in the river or where any undercut banks happen to be found.

A fourth strategy, also for later in summer, is to match the various small hatches that occur along this stretch. Both caddis and mayfly hatches occur along this stretch. While the hatches don't match those of some Montana rivers, they none-the-less can provide solid fishing. While a fisherman is unlikely to take a very large fish this way, it does provide the top water fisherman an excellent opportunity to land decent sized rainbows with smaller flies on top.

Yellowstone River : Big Timber to Billings

This section of the Yellowstone River is the least heavily used. Floaters and wade fisherman who are willing to walk away from the access sites are quite likely to have this stretch of the Yellowstone River to themselves. The Yellowstone is wide and fairly slow through this section, with many deep pools. The Absaroka Mountains still line the south sky line, but slowly fade into the distance as the river approaches Billings.

Yellowstone River downstream from Big Timber, MT
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The best fly fishing on this stretch is on the upper half. Quality trout fishing drops the closer to Billings one gets, although trout, particularly brown trout, can still be found in decent numbers and large sizes.

Fishing this stretch is not much different than the stretch between Livingston and Big Timber. Use streamers and large nymphs to catch the larger fish that are found in the deep holes. And use the ever-popular hopper right along the banks.

Next Page : Floating the Yellowstone River

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