Intro to Yellowstone Park Hike & Wade Trips
Yellowstone Park fishing trips offer the widest range of fishing experiences the region has to offer. Over the space of a single day of guided fly fishing in Yellowstone, we might catch as many as four trout species, plus Arctic grayling and whitefish, and visit raging canyon rivers as well as tiny creeks that look like they could come from your garden hose.
So long as you’re interested in and able to hike, and here during the Yellowstone Park season, our Yellowstone Park fishing guides can plan a trip that will interest you.
Our hike & wade fly fishing trips in Yellowstone Park and Montana are ideal for beginners, clients of any skill level who want to focus on learning or improving their fly fishing tactics, those who prefer a slower-paced day, eager hikers, and those eager to enjoy the scenery, the wildlife, and the geologic wonders Yellowstone Park has to offer as much (or almost as much) as the fishing.
Trips are available through the entire Yellowstone Park season: from the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend through the first Sunday in November.
Why Do We Call Yellowstone Trips Hike & Wades?
We want to emphasize that almost all of our fishing trips in Yellowstone Park involve at least a short hike, often in rugged terrain with fast water once we get to our destination. Burning some boot leather with a hike of half a mile to five miles each way sheds the crowds and typically produces more fish that are in better condition than those near the road – and it enables our Yellowstone fishing guides to show our guests “the real Yellowstone.”
Trips that don’t require a hike are generally to steep and rugged small rivers and streams that are physically difficult to traverse, which accomplishes the same goal.
Don’t let this scare you. We routinely take children aged 10-12 as well as folks over age 70 who might be getting a bit creaky on short hikes that put us on water where we don’t see any other anglers all day. For teens and adults eager to do some exploring who are okay with having their legs get tired as well as their casting arms, there’s an infinite number of options, from tiny mountain creeks on up to the raging Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone River.
Roadside waters in Yellowstone that aren’t protected by steep banks, boulders, and fast water get fished extremely hard. Hard enough that in our opinion it detracts from the experience of fishing the park. While we’re happy to provide advice on roadside waters, we do not consider it professional to guide on them except when client interests or physical fitness mean hiking is not an option.
For this reason, beginning with the 2021 Yellowstone Park season, it is our policy to avoid easy-access fisheries between June 20 and October 1 unless clients explicitly ask to fish them.
Beginner Fishing in Yellowstone
Looking to learn how to fly fish? Yellowstone Park is a FANTASTIC place to learn. The wealth of fishing opportunities mentioned above is a big reason for this. Beginners can try out many different techniques on a wide variety of waters in just a day or two of fishing.
Yellowstone is a wonderful family fly fishing destination in particular, due to a wide range of small streams holding small, abundant, aggressive brook trout. Unlike most of our fishing trips, our Yellowstone Park fishing guides can handle up to five anglers at a time when we’re chasing these small-stream brook trout, which makes these “beginner brookie” family trips the most cost-effective way of learning how to fly fish in the area.
We’re happy to take beginners fly fishing on any of our Yellowstone trips (as well as any of our Montana fly fishing trips), but the beginner brookie option is only available when the proper creeks are in prime condition, usually mid-late June through mid-August. At this time, you don’t even need wading shoes as long as you’ve got tennis shoes you don’t mind getting wet.
Yellowstone Park Fishing Trip Rates and Notes
Rates for Yellowstone trips run $20 higher than most of our other trips because these trips involve more travel time (both driving and hiking) and therefore longer days for our Yellowstone Park fishing guides. A half-day trip to the Gibbon River in June might eat up 8 hours of the guide’s time, for example. The extra fee all goes to the guide.
Also note that clients will need to bring or be ready to purchase their own Yellowstone Park entrance pass if we meet outside the park, in addition to YNP fishing licenses. Our commercial access permits do not cover our passengers.
If you’re staying inside Yellowstone National Park or in Gardiner, Cooke City, or West Yellowstone, we’ll usually meet you near our fishing destination or the trailhead we intend to use. For most trips, clients will need to have lightweight day packs (school bag size) to carry their water and spare clothing. We provide water bottles if you don’t have your own or need more. If you don’t have a pack, let us know and we can probably bring a spare or two. Clients may or may not need hiking boots. For hikes less than 1.5-2 miles each way, it’s usually easier just to walk in wading gear.
YNP Hike & Wade Trips: Season by Season
The places we fish and experiences available change radically during the course of the Yellowstone season, which runs from the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend through the first Sunday in November. Click the bold-face links at the head of each section below for more details on where and how we fish at different times of year, as well as plenty more photos. The links noted towards the end of each section are other good walk-wade trip choices for a given time of year.
Late Spring Yellowstone Fly Fishing Trips: Yellowstone National Park’s fishing season opens the Saturday of Memorial Day Weekend. For the first two to four weeks of the season, most waters in the park are in the midst of the spring melt, and the weather can be frightful. It’s not uncommon for it to snow anytime until mid-June. Yellowstone Park has two secret weapons, though: rivers that drain geyser basins and several excellent hike-in lakes. The geothermal rivers fish better in late spring than any other time, while the lakes become fishable sometime in the first ten days of the season, providing excellent fishing for some of the rarest fish in the area: Arctic grayling. Late spring Yellowstone Park fishing trips offer another advantage. The park has the region’s best wade-fishing opportunities at this time.
Early Summer Yellowstone Fly Fishing Trips: Waters across the northern part of Yellowstone Park drop out of runoff between mid-June and early July. For the next month to six weeks, these rivers and streams produce excellent fishing for anglers of all skill levels and interests. A wealth of Yellowstone fishing trip options are available at this time, from tiny trickles you could step across that hold surprisingly large (but still hand-size) cutthroat trout, on up to the raging Yellowstone River in its Grand and Black Canyons. The park’s top insect hatches occur at this time and the trout are fat and sassy, which is why early summer is the most popular time for visitors to fish the park. This is also a great time for walk-wades on the Paradise Valley spring creeks, as well as our walk-float combo trips.
Late Summer Yellowstone Fly Fishing Trips: Rivers and streams get low and clear in late summer and insect hatches decline, but they’re replaced by terrestrial bugs like grasshoppers and ants. With slower water comes slower, more deliberate fishing in many places, along with much easier wading, though the Yellowstone River and several other fast-flowing areas continue to fish well on large flies for aggressive anglers who like to rock-hop. As the nights grow longer and cooler in late August, the first hints of fall appear. Not cold weather during the day, usually, but fall-run brown trout starting their runs. We often see our largest pre-spawn browns when the calendar (and the daytime weather) still says it’s summer. This remains a good time for walk-float combo trips, and many good options also exist for Montana walk-wade trips.
Early Fall Yellowstone Fly Fishing Trips: Sometime in early September frost starts appearing most mornings and cold rains or snow flurries might greet us if the weather turns ugly. When the weather turns, the number of prime fisheries across the northern part of Yellowstone Park starts to decline. Those that remain (mostly bigger rivers) often produce their best fishing of the year, however. Fall hatches intensify, and the trout can now be tough and spooky, challenging anglers to a battle of wits. In the meantime, fall-run brown trout numbers continuously increase, while angler crowds continuously decline. This is the best time of year for experienced anglers to consider one of our walk-float combo trips, since big fish are most likely early in the morning on foot and numbers of fish are most likely in early afternoon from the boat. Have your big fish and your numbers, too.
Late Fall Yellowstone Fly Fishing Trips: Late fall begins in early October, when more mornings than not are well below freezing and heavy snows are possible. Options narrow at this time to rivers that receive fall-run brown trout, geyser-warmed rivers, and the mighty Yellowstone. We get big fish on the brain in late fall on Yellowstone Park hike & wade trips just like we do on other trips, so fall-run browns consume most of our attention through the remainder of the park season, which closes at sunset on the first Sunday in November. Here’s a sneaky fact, though: the closer to the end of the season we get, the more chunky and healthy rainbow and cutthroat trout we catch in addition to the browns. These fish follow the browns gobbling their eggs (as well as BWO mayflies), and far less anglers target these fish compared to the migratory browns.