Yellowstone National Park trout fishing at Hopper Time.

September 6, 2013 at 12:45 pm

Long on my wish list, fishing for trout in Yellowstone National Park, became a reality, when on a whistle stop tour of the tourist hot spots and springs, through Montana and Wyoming last week. Based in the old pioneer town of West Yellowstone, a place that has more fly shops, than places to eat, I was able to sample a mix of mountain free stone streams like the upper Gallatin River, the Madison, through to the massive Snake River, tumbling between the green hills of Wyoming towards the wide plains of Idaho.

August is Hopper Time on these crystal clear waters and a walk through the riverside vegetation creates showers of escaping grass hoppers, some three inches long, that inevitably are borne by the strong winds onto the river surfaces. To an English fly fisherman like myself, the foam grass hopper imitations, with their striped rubber legs, were a curiosity, bought to be shown with a smile to my fly fishing friends back home, but coupled as a Hopper and Gold Head Pheasant Tail combo, they proved deadly on these powerful river trout.

As on any river, being able to read the water, goes a long way to aiding success on these wild torrents, a good strong flow indicating deeper water below seemingly unfishable rapids. Brown, rainbow and cutthroat trout are invisible, even when hooked, as they battle the current, the bright sunlight reflecting flashes of colour from the stone strewn riverbeds, while cloaking the identities of these battling torpedoes, until they are finally in the landing net.

 Without the restrictions that apply to my local Hampshire chalk stream, which is single fly, or nymph fished upstream only, it was interesting to sit and watch the “locals” fly fishing, many styles and ranges of tackle being used to to one end, catching trout. Wading and drifting a big buoyant fly downstream, with the option of a weighted dropper fly was common, as was the use of streamer flies fished below the surface. Spinning rods with bubble floats were also in use by a family strung out across the upper Snake River, who were having a great time, the kids in competition with mom and dad, catching several small browns and rainbows on grass hoppers and wooly buggers, drifted down among the rocks.

During a three day stay, I caught trout on all of the above, fished singly, or as combos, up and downstream, losing more fish than I netted due to the barbless hook rule, while complying with the Park’s catch and release policy. In the Lamar River range on the north eastern side of Yellowstone, anglers are asked to kill all rainbow and brook trout caught, to encourage the native cutthroat trout to re-establish, while non native lake trout have also become a problem, predating cutthroats over their spawning grounds, so once again must be killed in Yellowstone Lake, whatever their size.

A three day non resident fishing license cost $18 USD, allowing access to over a thousand miles of the best fishing you will find anywhere, in some of the most stunning landscapes ever. If you can get to a river, you can fish and if prepared to trek a few miles upstream away from other anglers, then it could turn into a red letter day. I was only able to fish within half a mile of the road, due to a wife, who has a good respect for bears, but still caught plenty of trout. The bears are there, a mother black bear and two cubs passed within a 100 yards, crossing the path we were on a few minutes before. Yellowstone Park is managed for the benefit of the animals and birds, a healthy fish population is looked on as a food provider for bears and ospreys, anglers being the people willing to pay for it. Herds of bison block the roads and osprey take trout back to their riverside nests, reminding urban visitors, that life carries on regardless in the Park, when we return to our air conditioned homes.

Hot springs and geysers are everywhere throughout Yellowstone, Old Faithful erupting every 92 minutes, while waterfalls and canyons remind the visitor, that they are in a special place.