Introduction to Our Montana and Yellowstone Beginner Fly Fishing Trips

We are often asked “Do you take beginners?” Our answer: “Absolutely!” Probably 20% of our clients in a given season have never fly fished before. Montana and Yellowstone Park beginner fly fishing trips are a great introduction to the sport. This region hosts a wide variety of places to fish, from tiny creeks to huge rivers and lakes, so it’s easy to find something that’s right for beginners, whether they’re looking for a first step on a lifetime fly fishing journey or just want to try it once.

Note that previous experience fishing with conventional tackle does not really help when it comes to fly fishing, especially with casting and line management. As such, potential clients with previous experience with spinning (conventional) tackle do indeed count as beginners when it comes to fly fishing.

beginner fishing the Gibbon River on a Yellowstone beginner fly fishing trip

Beginner fishing the Gibbon River

While we’re happy to take beginners on any of our guided trips, certain options make for better Montana and Yellowstone beginner fly fishing trips. The best options vary by the time of year. Most of this page is intended to help rookies (or the parents/fishing partners of rookies) learn about which trips make sense at a specific time of year. Much of the information here is also found on other pages of this website. Here’s it’s just given in a beginner-friendly way.

How Much Do Montana or Yellowstone Beginner Fly Fishing Trips Cost?

Beginner trips generally cost the same amount as all other trips of the same type. These rates are given on the introduction to our guide service page as well as the specific trip pages linked to in the sidebar or below. For the most part, trips suitable for beginners run $415-$435 for half-day trips (which most beginners prefer) and $515-$535 for full-day trips, with one or two guests per guide. The rates just noted are valid the mid-May through October high season, which is when the most beginner trip options are available.

These rates do not include fishing licenses, Yellowstone Park access fees (if applicable), or private water access fees (if applicable).

There’s one exception to the above pricing. On our “Beginner Brookie” family fly fishing trips in Yellowstone Park, one guide is able to handle a maximum of five guests rather than a maximum of two guests. There is an additional charge of $100 per additional guest after the first two guests for these trips. Reduced cost is the main reason for booking only one guide on these trips. We encourage a ratio of 1-2 anglers per guide on all trips, even the beginner brookie family trips.

What’s Included? What Do We Need to Bring?

Answers to these questions are found on the guided trip FAQ page, on the guided trip introduction page, and on the packing list page. We also provide a detailed itinerary when we receive your deposit that includes suggested clothing, footwear, and other items you should plan to bring, as well as notes on what we provide.

beginners can catch large fish on private lake trips

Private lake trips offer good opportunities for beginners to catch larger fish.

What Will We Learn on a Montana or Yellowstone Beginner Fly Fishing Trip?

We pride ourselves on focusing on instruction with all clients, beginner to expert, rather than just using tactics that enable us to “put clients into fish” without teaching them anything. On all Montana and Yellowstone beginner fly fishing trips, expect to at least be introduced to the following:

  • The elements of tackle: rod, reel, line, leader, tippet, and flies
  • Rigging and the basics of caring for fly tackle
  • Introduction to fly fishing knots
  • Line and rod handling basics
  • The standard overhead or “back” cast
  • Basics of reading water: where fish are likely to live and why
  • Basics of approaching the water: how to sneak up on fish, where to stand, and how to wade to avoid spooking your quarry
  • Drift management basics: making your flies behave like real insects or baitfish
  • Recognizing the signs of a fish striking, often both with dry (surface) flies and with subsurface flies.
  • Setting the hook and playing fish
  • Basics of unhooking and releasing fish without doing additional harm
  • Extreme basics of aquatic insect entomology and fly selection based on conditions and season

Depending on how quickly members in the party pick up the above, trip duration, and trip type, we may also cover the following:

  • Line mending and other more advanced elements of drift management
  • More in-depth discussion of aquatic insect entomology, some discussion of baitfish behavior
  • Tactics to retrieve snagged flies
  • Introduction to roll casting (an additional cast) and possibly other advanced casts
  • Safe wading basics
  • Reviving exhausted fish before release
Yellowstone beginner fly fishing trip on a brook trout stream.

This is one of our favorite “beginner brookie” trip creeks.

What Else Will We Experience on a Montana or Yellowstone Beginner Fly Fishing Trip?

Most beginners are visiting the Montana and Yellowstone area as part of a general vacation and care just as much about the scenery, geology, animals, and so on as they do about the fishing. As such, with beginners we tend to focus on “the extras” as well as the fish. While our guides are not trained ranger-naturalists, we only use experienced guides who have lived and fished this area for at least several years and have some tricks up their sleeves.

Therefore some combination of the following are also included on our Montana and Yellowstone beginner fly fishing trips, depending on what time of year it is, where we fish, and (in the case of the animals) pure dumb luck:

  • Wildlife watching and photography
  • Hiking, both on and off-trail
  • Waterfall viewing, including of falls not visible to most visitors
  • Geyser or hot spring viewing, including of lesser-known springs and vents
  • Discussion of area history and archaeology, including the potential in a few areas of viewing Native American sites
  • Berry-picking in season
  • Animal antler and bone, and interesting rock and petrified wood collection (outside YNP) or viewing (inside YNP, where collection is banned)
  • Beautiful mountain, canyon, and prairie scenery
  • Whitewater thrills

Top Montana and Yellowstone Beginner Fly Fishing Trips

The remainder of this page gives some details about the top trip options for beginners, in particular the types of trips that are best for certain clients at certain times of year. The time period in which they’re available or make the most sense for beginners is given in the heading for each trip type. The trips are listed in their overall popularity with beginners.

At the bottom of each section, click or tap the link button if you’d like more information above each specific trip type mentioned to jump to the relevant page on our site.

If you’d rather just skip the rigamarole and talk to us about the best options for you at the time of year when you’re going to be here, give us a call.

“Beginner Brookies” Half-Day Family Trips (Mid-Late June through Late August)

Our most popular Yellowstone beginner fly fishing trips are our “beginner brookies” half-day trips in Yellowstone Park. On these trips, we take a short hike to a small stream or the headwaters of a couple area rivers to fish for small, numerous, enthusiastic (easy) brook trout.

These trips (and fish) are ideal for families with kids, groups of three or more who all want to fish together rather than splitting into several parties with multiple guides, those who would like a low-stress introduction to fly fishing, those who would like a short but pretty hike in Yellowstone Park, those who will be moving on to a more-challenging trip soon and want something easy to start with, and those who are just looking to check fly fishing off their bucket lists in a pretty environment.

Yellowstone beginner fly fishing trip on a small slough.

Typical beginner brookie trip client with a typical brook trout.

  • When? Beginner Brookie trips are typically available mid-June through about August 20-25, though in years with a heavy spring melt they may not be available until late June and in drought years things get challenging after August 10-15.
  • Where? Small streams across the northern part of Yellowstone Park. These streams generally require a hike of 1-2 miles each way, though these hikes need not be strenuous save for groups interested in waterfall viewing as well as fishing.
  • Why? The fishing is easy, fast, and furious, the fish are arguably the prettiest in the area, and the surroundings are usually gorgeous.
  • Why Not? The fish range between small and tiny, and they’re so aggressive and hungry that they sometimes reward anglers for doing things wrong rather than right. As such, there are better options for beginners who want to focus on learning proper technique rather than just catching fish.

Back in the late 1800s, early Yellowstone Park administrators wandered about the park interior stocking various species of trout, especially in waters that had been isolated by waterfalls and were therefore originally fishless. Many of these were small, often slow-moving streams on the park’s central plateau that were stocked with brook trout. This original stocking created massive populations of small, wild brook trout in many small streams and headwaters of several rivers.

Today, there are several dozen waters absolutely stuffed with these fish, “brookies.” These populations might be most beginner-friendly fish to be found anywhere on Earth.

 

Yellowstone beginner fly fishing trips often target small brook trout.

Brook trout are small but very pretty.

All beginner brookie trips are half-day hike & wade trips in Yellowstone Park. They generally involve hikes in the 1-2 mile range each way to access unpressured water and easy fishing, usually traversing gentle terrain with good footing, though if you are up for a more aggressive hike, even more fisheries and some lovely waterfall viewing become possible. These hikes give us access to a wide range of small waters where the fishing is easy, the casts are short, and the wildflowers are pretty.

On beginner brookie trips, most clients get between ten and fifty bites apiece on an average day. Some beginners catch thirty or more fish, and just about everybody catches at least a few. These fish are always small, however.

Beginner brookie trips run as half-days (though we sometimes fish for brook trout in the first half of a full-day trip, too). The fishing is generally better in the morning on these trips, with less competition from other anglers, so we will probably meet between 7:00 and 9:00AM depending on our meeting place and how far we’ll be traveling from the meeting point.

Montana Walk & Wade and Yellowstone Hike & Wade Trips (Almost Year-Round)

Public rivers, streams, and lakes in the northern part of Yellowstone Park and near Livingston, Montana provide a wide range of fishing opportunities, scenery, and experiences suitable for half-day or full-day Montana or Yellowstone beginner fly fishing trips. Unlike “beginner brookie” trips, options are available for standard walk & wade trips year-round except during the May-June spring runoff.

While beginners seldom catch as many fish on standard trips as they do on brookie trips, these fish are almost always larger and more challenging. This fact makes these trips better for beginners who want to focus on learning proper techniques rather than just catching as many fish as possible. All in all, a standard walk-wade is a better option for small groups of teens and adults who want to “dive right in” to fly fishing and expect they’ll continue in the sport, and for anyone save young kids who is visiting the area when beginner brook trout trips aren’t available.

Yellowstone beginner fly fishing trips can sometimes produce large trout like this one.

Larger fish are possible for beginners on standard walk-wade and hike-wade trips than on beginner brookie trips.

  • When? Public water walk & wade trips are available year-round except during the May-June spring snowmelt, though the best times for total beginners are April and from mid-June through September.
  • Where? From late fall through late May, all trips take place in Montana, usually on the Yellowstone River though occasionally on other nearby rivers. From late May through early October, both hike & wade trips in Yellowstone Park and walk & wade trips in Montana make sense. Yellowstone Park trips will generally involve at least a short hike and will generally involve fishing a fast-flowing and rocky medium-sized stream or a river, while trips on the Yellowstone or other streams and rivers outside the park may be near the road, but often in areas where the footing is tough.
  • Why? These trips provide the best opportunities for learning proper techniques out of any trip suitable for beginners, generally produce larger fish (and often much larger fish) than beginner brookie trips, and provide the only opportunities suitable for beginners from late October through March.
  • Why Not? While we generally try to aim for “medium-difficulty, medium-size” fish with beginners on standard walk-wade trips, this is not always possible, and the fish might be tight-lipped. As such, these are not a good choice for beginners who want to be sure of catching a lot of fish. In addition, few areas are suitable for a group of more than two anglers at a time, so these are not good choices for large groups who wish to fish together. In fact, Yellowstone regulations do not allow groups larger than six in any one spot, comprised of two guides and four clients.

All of our public water walk & wade and hike & wade trips include plenty of time for instruction, so if the small fish and easy fishing of Beginner Brookie trips sound like they might not hold your interest, you should consider a standard walk & wade trip. Both full-day and half-day options make sense during the core season, while from late fall through early spring, shorter “winter special” rates are available for trips including a couple hours on the water.

These trips usually take place on rough and tumble mountain creeks or rivers in Yellowstone Park, during the park’s open season, or on the Yellowstone River outside the park from late autumn through spring, though many destinations are possible depending on client interests, where clients are staying, and what’s fishing well.

Destinations for our standard walk & wade trips suitable for eager beginners range from tiny creeks to alpine lakes, as do the types of tactics we might use, the fish we might catch, and the scenery and animal-viewing options available. This makes standard walk & wade trips our most flexible trip option for beginners. While the rough, boulder-bottomed streams fish best, we can fish gentler water if members of your party can’t handle rough stream banks.

beginner and Yellowstone River cutthroat

Not bad for her first trout!

Meeting times for these trips will range from 6:00AM to 9:30AM on full-day bookings, depending on the time of year and where we’re meeting, and between 6:00 and 11:00 for half-days.

River Float Trips (April-Early October)

Fly fishing float trips on local rivers are our most popular trips overall. They provide the most fishing time relative to travel time, the potential for both a lot of fish and larger fish, and great scenery along with the potential for whitewater thrills. As such, they’re pretty popular for Montana and Yellowstone beginner fly fishing trips as well as for experienced anglers.

That said, they offer less opportunities for beginner anglers to learn a wide range of techniques and are much faster-paced than other trips. They can also be overwhelming for kids due to the large and heavy nature of the tackle and large water that requires longer casts.

New fly fishers who don’t want to walk and want to focus primarily on catching fish – including potentially some big ones – with one major technique rather than learning lots of nitty-gritty details might like a float more than other options.

beginner angler and large brown trout

Believe it or not, this large brown was her first trout.

  • When? River floats are available from March through early November. The best period for beginners is from late July through early October.
  • Where? In April, the best float river for beginners is the Yellowstone. In May and June, action shifts to the Lower Madison. After the water drops and things get less intense in late June or early July, the Yellowstone is again the top bet through early fall. The Madison is also a reasonable option. The other rivers we guide generally prove tough for beginners throughout the year.
  • Why? River floats are more relaxing and require less physical effort on the part of clients, provide attractive scenery and water, and typically produce a large average size of fish.
  • Why Not? The technique most suitable to beginners often produces far more whitefish than trout, particularly on the Yellowstone. This technique is all in all less interesting than many other techniques, and can be boring when the fishing is slow. Beginner clients generally learn less on float trips than walk trips, even though they typically catch plenty of fish.

Many beginners don’t want to hike for their fish (or physically can’t) and don’t much want to fish lakes. Some others would rather just try for a few bigger fish, even if it means generally using one basic tactic all day. For these anglers, river floats are the best option.

The technique most-suited to beginners, called “indicator nymphing” involves fishing a strike indicator (glorified bobber) with either a pair of aquatic insect larva imitations or a small baitfish imitation and an aquatic insect larva. Because these flies typically produce the largest trout on all rivers, and the most trout overall over the course of a season, this is probably the single most effective fly fishing technique in general. Out of a moving boat, it’s also the easiest technique, since the guide can often maneuver the boat so that clients don’t have to cast as often or as accurately as with other techniques. They need only manipulate the line to make the flies move in a lifelike fashion and cast from time to time.

young angler and trout

If memory serves, this boy caught about ten fish for the day.

On the other hand, float-fishing with indicators is often considered the most boring method of fly fishing (until you hook a big fish), and since the guide does much of the work in getting the flies into position with this technique, clients don’t learn as much as they do on walk-wade trips. In addition, the casting involved with this technique tires many beginners quickly, especially kids who haven’t hit a growth spurt yet, since the flies, strike indicators, weight, and even the rods used on floats themselves are much heavier than those used on most beginner walk trips.

Most beginner floats run as half-day trips, though full-days make sense too. Just make sure to tell your guide if your arm is getting tired and we’ll let you know when to reel in and just enjoy the scenery for a while. On float trips we drift over both good areas and bad ones, and we’d rather you fish the good spots. Depending on the time of year and whether we’re running a full-day or half-day, we’ll want to be on the water between 8AM and 2PM.

Private Lake Trips (Mid-April through June and October)

Float trips on private lakes offer large fish in peaceful surroundings, consistently fish well with techniques that beginners can pick up with relative ease, and offer good opportunities for instruction since the guide is not as busy handling the boat as on river float trips. They also sometimes offer an opportunity to fish on foot as well as from the boat, adding variety to the experience.

On the other hand, they cost a lot due to the additional access fees payable to the landowner, seldom produce high numbers of fish, and do not provide as exciting or varied an experience as fishing streams. In addition, if it’s windy, fishing can be very challenging.

young angler and big trout

Lakes are the best options near Yellowstone Park for beginners to consistently catch larger trout.

  • When? Private lake trips are best for beginners from ice-out sometime in April through late June and are okay until sometime in July. After that, the water is too warm until at least Labor Day, with the best fall fishing taking place in October.
  • Where? We primarily guide three lakes on two private ranch properties in the Yellowstone River valley. Another lake suffered a fish kill in 2017 and another in 2018 and is off the radar for now. We are working to add additional private lake destinations a bit further afield.
  • Why? These trips typically produce the largest trout for beginners of any of the trips we offer within easy driving range of Yellowstone Park (only our more-distant jet boat trips offer bigger fish), offer better opportunities for the guide to offer hands-on instruction than other boat trips, and are the most relaxing trips we offer.
  • Why Not? Unless the fishing is spectacular, these trips are seldom exciting from either a fishing or an adventure sense except when you’re actually fighting a big fish. The lakes seldom produce large numbers of fish, with most anglers finishing the day in the single digits even on a very good day. They also cost more than most trips, since landowner access fees of $80 to $100 per angler per day apply (though licenses are not required).

Three of the biggest problems with floating rivers as a beginner are that the guide is too busy rowing the boat to offer hands-on instruction, the casts usually need to be accurate, and there are no second chances: once you’ve floated past a good spot, there’s no casting back to it, even if you missed it the first time.

On private lake float trips, all of these problems disappear. When fishing the lakes we usually anchor the boats (and even get out to fish from shore from time to time), so the guide can put the oars down to offer hands-on instruction, the casts usually need not be particularly accurate, and since the boat is not zipping downstream, you can always cast back to a good spot if you miss it the first time you cast to it.

Private lakes are good choices for beginners in spring, early summer, and late in the fall. All lakes I fish are good from April through June, and are typically the most consistent nearby fisheries overall in May. One lake, Burns, which has a larger spring water component than the others, fishes well until sometime in mid-late July. Later in the summer, all lakes are too warm to fish well for anyone, while in early autumn the aquatic weeds are heavy enough to frustrate beginners. The fishing turns back on again for beginners in late September and is very good in October.

private lake rainbow

Typical private lake rainbow trout: fat, large, and healthy.

The main draw of private lake fishing for beginners is the chance at trout averaging 14 to 20 inches and occasionally reaching five or six pounds, trout which are otherwise unlikely for total rookies most places. The private lakes offer the largest average fish of any of our fisheries save the Missouri River, and because many of the techniques that work well for them are not too demanding, even beginners can tie into these fish.

These are not numbers fisheries, however. Beginners should expect to catch somewhere between one and five fish per person on an average day (though more are certainly possible).

We want to be on the water for private water trips by about 9:00-9:30AM, so expect to meet between 7:00 and 8:00.

Jet Boat Trips (Late March through June)

Our power boat trips on the Missouri River are the top Montana and Yellowstone Beginner Fly Fishing Trips we offer for large trout, and are particularly good options from mid-May through late June when other river boat trip opportunities are limited by the spring snowmelt. The techniques on these trips are similar to those mentioned for beginner float trips on the Yellowstone River and typically produce the largest trout (on average) of any of our fisheries, bar none.

The downsides of these trips are their distance from our home base in Livingston, which argues for staying overnight in Helena, Montana, the heaviest crowds of other anglers of any of our trips (particularly in April and early May), and the simple fact that the “Land of the Giants” fishery on the Missouri River where these trips take place is very different from those most new anglers will encounter elsewhere, so there’s not a lot of carryover from what you’ll learn on these trips to other fisheries.

large pretty rainbow trout

Beginner anglers can get rather spoiled on jet boat trips…

  • When? Jet boat trips on the Missouri River are available from mid-March through November, but the best fishing for beginners is from late March through June. The lowest crowds combined with good beginner fishing occurs from mid-May through June.
  • Where? These trips launch from the Gates of the Mountains Marina on Upper Holter Lake north of Helena, Montana. This area is 3+ hours from Yellowstone Park and 2hr 15min from our base in Livingston, and therefore doesn’t make much sense unless you can stay in or near Helena for a night or two.
  • Why? These trips typically produce the largest trout of any trips we offer and beginner-friendly tactics usually work well. The best fishing takes place during the spring runoff season when many other beginner-friendly river and stream options are unavailable or inconsistent. This trip also takes place in a beautiful canyon section of river.
  • Why Not? This water is typically very crowded, especially on weekends in April and early May, and since all guides and most private parties use motorboats to access this area, there’s a fair amount of noise, too. In addition, the tactics beginners can expect to use here and the means of accessing and fishing this water are very different from most fly fishing opportunities in the United States and beyond, so there is less carryover of what you’ll learn on these trips to other fly fishing destinations than we would prefer.

For beginners eager to catch lots of large trout in pretty surroundings who are willing to put up with potentially heavy crowds, our jet boat trips are good choices in late spring and early summer.

These trips take place on a short dam-release (aka “tailwater”) section of the Missouri River which is spectacularly fertile and holds vast numbers of trout. Unlike other river fisheries in Montana, this one must be accessed by motorboat (or crowded and steep hiking trails). Both facts combine to make this a unique fishery in terms of access, tactics, and the combination of both lots of fish and large fish available.

Most fishing here resembles the indicator nymphing described above in the entry for river float trips. If anything, the Missouri River is even friendlier to this technique than other area rivers, which means beginners can often have fish hooked all day using this technique. Because we use motorboats here, we also float through good sections numerous times rather than just once, which gives beginners plenty of second chances in case they botch things the first time through.

beginner angler on a jet boat trip

Beginners generally catch more trout on jet boat trips than on any others.

The major downsides of this water in general are heavy crowds and the distance of this fishery from the rest of our operations area.

Crowds are heaviest in April and early May when the rainbow trout are spawning. These crowds are the biggest reason we are ambivalent about guiding here at this time, even though the fishing during this period is quite easy. While other fisheries get more crowded as May and June progress and more visitors come to Montana, this water actually gets less crowded.

The drive time is probably an even bigger issue. If we meet near our home base in Livingston, visitors should expect a drive of at least 2hr 15min each way, and that’s without more than one bathroom break. We strongly encourage potential clients interested in our jet boat trips to book lodgings in Helena, Wolf Creek, or Craig, Montana for at least the night before a trip here. Doing so will cut windshield time to no more than half an hour.

A potential issue for beginners in particular is how unusual this fishery is. While casting and line management techniques will carry over from this fishery to others, the means of accessing the river, the very large and non-spooky fish, and the way we can run the boat in circles to hit the best spots over and over are completely unlike fishing opportunities elsewhere. As such, fishing this water will not give first-timers a very solid foundation on which to start getting into fly fishing.

There’s a more absurd issue, too: the large trout beginners catch here might give them unrealistic expectations about the numbers and size of the fish they’ll catch elsewhere.