Yellowstone - Fly Fishing Paradise
Fly Fisher/Guide/Fly Tier/Writer
Craig Mathews has fished Yellowstone National Park for over 30 years. Learn from Craig where, when and how to fish this incredibly beautiful and diverse fly fishing destination.
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"There is nowhere else in the world where you can find more wild trout rivers, lakes, and streams that are open to the public than within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park". This is according to Craig Matthews, a multi-awarded protector of Yellowstone National Park.
NBC has described Craig as a "master fly-fisher" and that his "knowledge of Yellowstone is matchless." Craig has authored dozens of articles for major fly fishing publications on Yellowstone fly fishing, fishing bonefish and permit and fly patterns, and more. He produced Telly Award winning DVDs such as Fishing Yellowstone Hatches, Tying Yellowstone Fly Patterns, Bonefishing the Flats, and Fly Fishing the Madison.
Craig has also served as a board of director for the Montana Nature Conservancy, The Montana Trout Federation, The Madison-Gallatin Wild Trout Foundation, 1% for the Planet, The Yellowstone Park Foundation, and Trout Unlimited’s Stewardship Directors Council. Craig and his Blue Ribbon flies have been awarded many conservation and environmental awards. In 1997, they were presented the most prestigious award given by national parks: The Protector of Yellowstone National Park Award. This seldom given honor was presented by Yellowstone National Park in recognition of their work to "preserve and protect Yellowstone for all future generations".
The Yellowstone National Park is where the states of Montana, Wyoming, and Idaho come together. Each state has a portion of Yellowstone located within its boundaries. Its vast area is approximately 2.3 million acres.
The fishery in Yellowstone is mostly managed for native fish including Westslope cutthroats, Yellowstone cutthroats, and mountain white fish. The trout are not planted.
Generally, they have a management mix, meaning, some of the waters are open to the harvest because fisheries managers with the Aquatic Resource Center in Yellowstone desire to return some of the headwater streams back to native species. Those species are permanently Yellowstone cutthroats and Westslope cutthroat so they allow you to harvest the fish, nonnative species such as browns, rainbows and brook trout in those waters.
According to Craig, Yellowstone is exactly the way it was when it was founded in 1800 – you can fish beside bison and grizzly bear and elk, and have geysers going off around you. And when you walk 100 yards off the road, you’re totally alone.
"Yellowstone remains a real Mecca. It’s as wild a country as it gets in the lower 48. It’s just a wonderful place to experience not only wild trout but also all the wildlife and natural features."
Yellowstone has probably the most prolific insect hatches and for the dry fly angler. They have a dozen species of caddis and over a dozen species of mayflies, midges, terrestrials available throughout the season. "Yellowstone truly is a fly fisher’s paradise and you can experience it just exactly as it was hundreds and hundreds of years ago."
The Yellowstone Park is a well-protected resource. The fly fishing season in Yellowstone opens the Saturday of the Memorial Day weekend through the first Sunday in November – a whole five- month season. However, access to the rivers is very difficult during the winter time. Spawning fish are protected both in the spring and in the fall. Roads don’t open all throughout the winter until the first of May. Consequently, the fish get real rest for seven months out of the year.
Rivers such as the Firehole, Madison and Gibbon in Yellowstone Park are fishable. They are usually free of runoff during the fishing season. According to Craig, they have tremendous emergences of two species of caddis, Brachycentrus and Hydropsyche. They also have very good pale morning duns and baetis mayflies.
Fishing permits are required in Yellowstone National Park. You can have three-day, seven-day, or season. A three-day license costs $15, a seven-day costs $20, and an entire season costs $35. The money will stay right in the fisheries program in Yellowstone National Park.
A lot of rivers in Montana are open year-round. Montana’s general season, for all waters to open, is always the third Saturday in May and runs through the end of November. You can pick a two, four, six, eight, 10-day, or season license. In Idaho, you can have daily, week-long, and season licenses.
Regarding equipment, Craig usually brings an 8-1/2 or 9-foot, four or five weight rod, reels the likes of Hardy LRH, Lamson Litespeed, or Ross Evolution where you can put a little bit of backing, and a weight forward line. He also advises to bring a net, a good pair of waders, and felt soles.
Craig’s top places to fish in Yellowstone include Firehole, Madison, Slough Creek, Lamar River, Yellowstone River, and Gardner River because they offer a tremendous diversity of insect emergences. "You’ve got caddis, two-stone flies, the giant stone and the golden stone, midges, a lot of species of mayflies, and baetis all the way to green drakes."
If you’re planning to go to Yellowstone, Craig recommends to take a guide trip into the park with a knowledgeable guide – someone that’s familiar with the park, who loves the park, and one who can impart his knowledge to you as well as his enthusiasm for fishing in that park. And since there are bears in the park, he also recommends always bringing a bear spray.
Listen to our full interview with Craig Matthews and know more about the Yellowstone fly fishing paradise.