Intro to MT and Yellowstone Park Walk & Wade Trips

Walk and wade fishing trips in Yellowstone Park offer a wide range of experiences for anglers of any skill level. 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.

Wade fishing trips in Montana aren’t quite so varied, but they offer excellent chances at large fish in early spring and late fall, by far the best fishing opportunities in the dead of winter, and lower crowds of anglers and tourists than float fishing trips on famous rivers and roadside waters in Yellowstone Park.

Yellowstone cutthroat trout are a primary quarry on our Yellowstone Park fishing trips.

Fat and healthy Yellowstone cutthroat like this one are a primary quarry on our Yellowstone Park fishing trips. This one was caught in the upper Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River.

Our walk & 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 the region has to offer as much (or almost as much) as the fishing. Because our river rocks are slippery, the banks often steep, and the walks into our fishing areas sometimes long, they aren’t ideal for anglers in poor physical condition or those who don’t wish to hike.

Walk and wade fly fishing in Montana is available year-round except from mid-April through early July, our spring snowmelt season when waters are too high. The best guided wade-fishing in Montana takes place outside of prime tourist season: from February through mid-April and in October and November. There’s great wade-fishing to be done in Montana during the summer, but from a guiding perspective there aren’t as many options then.

Walk and wade trips are available in Yellowstone National Park during the park’s entire open season: Memorial Day Weekend in late May through October 31. Good options are available during this entire period, but the widest variety of good fishing is available from early July through September, exactly when guided wade trips in Montana aren’t as good.

Walk and Wade Fishing Trips or Hike and Wade Trips?

Roadside waters in Yellowstone see extreme fishing pressure. In our opinion, there’s enough pressure it hurts the experiences we can provide our clients. For this reason, most of our wade fishing trips in Yellowstone Park involve a hike of half a mile to four miles one-way, often in rugged terrain with fast water once we get to our destination. Burning some boot leather 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.”

Illustration of Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River, client, and cutthroat trout on Yellowstone Park guided fishing trip.

The Black Canyon of the Yellowstone River is one of our key hike-in destinations. This area is a couple miles from the road and has rugged banks, and therefore modest angling pressure. It primarily holds cutthroat trout.

Don’t let this scare you. We routinely take children aged 10-12 as well as folks over age 70 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 trips in Yellowstone are available, but we encourage other options during peak tourist season between early July and the end of September.

yellowstone park fishing guide small stream

This small mountain meadow stream is the other end of the spectrum for our Yellowstone park fishing trip destinations. It also holds cutthroat trout.

2023 Walk and Wade Fishing Trip Rates and Notes

Walk & Wade trips are available as full-day, half-day, and winter quarter-day trips. For practical purposes, most walk trips in Montana are half-days or shorter, while most in Yellowstone Park are full-days.

If we’re fishing inside Yellowstone Park, guests will need to pay Yellowstone Park entrance fees as well as to have Yellowstone Park fishing licenses. Our commercial entrance permits do not cover our passengers. If you’re staying inside Yellowstone National Park or in Cooke City or West Yellowstone, your guide will usually just meet you near our fishing destination or the trailhead we expect to use.

In Montana, we’ll meet in Livingston or near our fishing destination, whichever makes more sense considering your lodgings.

Montana and Yellowstone Park Walk & Wade Trips: Season by Season

The places we fish and experiences available change radically during the course of the year. 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.

huge early spring troutLate Winter and Early Spring Montana Wade Fishing Trips: Excellent wade-fishing for rainbow and rainbow-cutthroat hybrid trout occurs on the Yellowstone River outside the park between February and mid-April when flows start to rise. Our winter special trips are specifically intended for this fishing and are the only wade trips we run at this time. This fishing isn’t beginner-friendly, but it is often very good. In February, we’re looking for numbers of trout feeding on midges, and hatches can be excellent. By March, larger fish become active. The largest rainbows and cutt-bows of the season are caught in March and April. Our owner Walter Wiese caught the fish in the photo and its twin within half an hour of one another in late March a few years ago. By mid-April the Boulder and Stillwater Rivers join the party.

Angler fishing the Gibbon River in JuneLate Spring Yellowstone Fly Fishing TripsYellowstone 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. The park has by far the region’s best wade-fishing opportunities in late May and June. As such, it’s the only place we run wade trips at this time.

Angler with Yellowstone River cutthroat troutEarly Summer Montana and Yellowstone Fly Fishing TripsWaters 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. Wade-fishing on public waters in Montana is much more demanding due to high water, but there are good options for fit anglers who don’t want to fight the park’s crowds.

Angler fishing the Grand Canyon of the YellowstoneLate Summer Montana and Yellowstone Fly Fishing TripsRivers and streams in Yellowstone Park 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 and fall-run browns begin their spawning migrations. We often see our largest pre-spawn browns when the calendar (and the daytime weather) still says it’s summer. Because of the lower flows that make wading easier and limit boat traffic on some smaller rivers, late summer is a better time for wade-fishing in Montana than earlier in the summer.

Angler with September brown troutEarly Fall Montana and Yellowstone Fly Fishing TripsSometime 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. Walk-wade opportunities are pretty limited in Montana at this time, but float-wade opportunities are fantastic.

late fall yellowstone park brown troutLate Fall Yellowstone Fly Fishing Trips: Late fall begins in early October, when most nights are below freezing and heavy snows are possible. Options inside Yellowstone Park narrow at this time to rivers that receive fall-run brown trout, geyser-warmed rivers, and the mighty Yellowstone. Fall-run browns consume most of our attention through the remainder of the park season, which closes at sunset on Halloween. 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. These same fish are available on Montana walk & wade trips, and low flows in the big rivers as well as low crowds means that wading even large, famous rivers in Montana suddenly makes sense again, since there isn’t a parade of drift boats to run you over. Good wade-fishing in Montana can continue until Thanksgiving if November is warmer than usual.

winter brings ice to area riversDead of Winter Montana Wade Fishing: Should you come to Montana to fish between Thanksgiving and February? NO WAY! That said, if you’re coming to ski or tour Yellowstone Park, there’s some fishing to be done. Our best options are warm sections of larger rivers, such as the Yellowstone River through the town of Gardiner or the Lower Madison River near Hot Springs Creek. Winter Special trips are the only options that make sense after Thanksgiving. The Paradise Valley spring creeks are also good bets at this time, especially for anglers who want to fish longer hours.