The Lamar River
THE LAMAR RIVER drains the western side of the Absaroka Mountains and flows to the Yellowstone River. The Lamar is joined by Soda Butte and Slough Creeks before it enters the Yellowstone below Tower Junction. The Lamar River is best fished after the runoff season, which normally ends in early July.
The Lamar runs through a long, wide valley during its journey north and westward. Known for its excellent dry fly fishing, the Lamar hosts good-sized Yellowstone cutthroat above the falls and a mix of cutthroats, cuttbows and rainbows below the falls. Wind can be a factor for the light-lined enthusiasts, but this same wind also blows great numbers of beetles, ants and hoppers for the trout during the summer and fall season making the use of hopper imitations and other large attractors a given. ( TIP -Try trailing a beetle or ant pattern behind a Dave's hopper, yellow stimulator, or Madam X and see if the action doesn't pick up considerably!)
Fishing the upper Lamar requires a great deal of movement by anglers as they fish up or downstream from run to run. Pack a water pump, light-weight high energy snacks, bear spray and several fly boxes full of assorted dries and smaller nymphs and enjoy the wide open Lamar. The upper stretch has a few riffle sections and some pocket water, but expect mostly long runs.
The upper river also has several feeder creeks which provide superb fly fishing and fewer anglers. The easiest creek to reach by hiking is Cache Creek. The trailhead begins at a turn out a mile or so above the confluence of Soda Butte Creek and is easily determined as one drives the road from the northeast entrance to Yellowstone, or up the road from Tower. Again, bring water, water pump, bear spray, insect repellent, snacks and a rain jacket before heading up the trail for 5 miles before encountering Cache Creek.
Most anglers concentrate on the stretch of the Lamar where Soda Butte Creek joins the river. The mile or two above and below Soda Buttes confluence can be heavily trafficked at times. Even so, the cutthroats are accommodating most of the time - if you can read the water.
The Lamar has a short canyon section of approximately 2 miles. The upper canyon can be waded safely during August and September. It can be very dangerous in July, or after heavy rain activity during the summer months. In the canyon, the topography requires some adaptability by anglers. Switching from dries to nymphs or streamer patterns is not unusual for anglers wanting to stay with the trout. There are smaller fish in the upper canyon, but there are plenty of 18 inchers to keep you on the tips of your wading boots.
Below the canyon of the Lamar, the river once again widens and slows, but there are more sections of fast water, pools, pocket water and runs. Wading requires some prudence when choosing where to wade. Lots of cutts, bows and cuttbows here and they are typically above 16in. Access to the lower Lamar begins at the first bridge crossing. A convenient turnout is located on the south side of the bridge. This bridge is also the marker for those looking for the entrance to the road leading to Slough Creek. Access, after crossing the bridge, requires a hike of several hundred yards through sagebrush, and the occasional buffalo herd, to up to a mile or more of cross country effort before reaching the river. The Lamar remains a valley river until Slough Creek meets it. After that, the foothills crowd the river into a swift, brawling piece of water all the way to the Yellowstone River. Be prepared with water, food, bear spray, rain jacket and whatever else keeps you fishing.
After Slough Creek spills into the Lamar, wading back and forth can be difficult to impossible. There are places to cross, but knowledge of the lower river is required. Caution is always advised due to the flow and deeper water. When the large pterynarcys californicus stonefly is on the water in early through late July, this section of the Lamar can be unbelievable dry fly fishing! Excellent caddis, pale morning duns and green drake activity is also found on this portion of the Lamar at the appropriate emergent times. The hatches of these insects extends upriver to the first bridge. It would take an angler weeks before fishing the complete Lamar system.
Soda Butte Creek
SODA BUTTE CREEK is a tributary of the Lamar River and headwaters near Cooke City, MT, outside the northeast gate to Yellowstone National Park. For most of its length, Soda Butte Creek follows the road and has plenty of turnouts for an angler to sample different stretches as they drive to the Lamar, Slough Creek, or to the Yellowstone River.
Soda Butte Creek is not large. At the upper end, it flows downhill at a rapid, but pleasant pace and can be fished easily by wading anglers during the summer season. As with the Lamar and Slough Creek, the best fishing is found after July 1. An abundant snowpack in the mountains keeps the water off-color until that time. Native, Yellowstone cutthroat trout, and some brookies in the upper end, are found in Soda Butte Creek inside Yellowstone Park.
Hatches are prolific, but there are days when the cutthroat are very shy, requiring unorthodox methods to bring them to a fly. Nymphs and dries are best, although a small woolly bugger can save the day at times.
During its run through the northeast corner of Yellowstone, Soda Butte varies from meadow stream to canyon sections to meadow stream, until the confluence of Pebble Creek. After that, Soda Butte is mostly a meadow stream, with deep, undercut banks and lots of side channels that holds cutthroat up to 18in. Most of the cutthroat range in size from 8-14in throughout most of the watershed. Still, lots of fun and definitely worth fishing. Getting away from other anglers can be difficult, but a hike across some of the wider meadows will decrease angler contact and give a better wilderness experience.
Soda Butte Creek has plenty of insect activity. Caddis, mayflies, golden stoneflies and terrestrials are abundant in the peak of the summer months. Golden stones, green drakes and gray drakes bring the bigger cutthroat out from under log jams and the undercut banks. Micro-caddis hatches in the early evening can be very effective from late July through late August.
Note for float tubers!! A mile or so below Pebble Creek campground, there is a turnout (small and easily missed!) on the road that leads to Trout Lake. This lake is hidden but has big cutthroats. The hike is is uphill and steep but not long enough to stop a determined angler. A float tube is recommended in order to get past the weed beds.
SLOUGH CREEK is another great body of water in the Northeast corner of Yellowstone. The road into Slough Creek is found at the bridge which crosses the Lamar River. A sign designates the turnoff. The dirt road leads to a campground 3 miles after leaving the pavement. Here, campers fill the spaces. Most are there for the length of their vacation time, which translates into few available campgrounds until mid-late September. Before coming to the campground, an obvious parking lot is seen. This marks the spot for those anglers wanting to hike up the trail to the upper meadows. Bring water, snacks, rain jacket, insect repellent and patience before hiking. If you enjoy company and don't mind waiting for your turn to fish through the runs, do the upper meadows.
Because more anglers fish the upper meadows, the lower section seems to be ignored. The trout here are large and ultra selective, but fun to work. Small emergers and dries work best, but when the larger caddis and mayflies are out, the fish can be "stupid".
The Yellowstone River
The YELLOWSTONE RIVER used to be the crown jewel of Yellowstone National Park. Unfortunately, the upper part of the Yellowstone River and Lake system (where it drains Yellowstone Lake at Fishing Bridge, has taken a serious environmental beating since the 2000s. The native Yellowstone cutthroat that were so plentiful and what magazines wrote enticing articles about are not gone, but scarce. Still, the mighty Yellowstone is a great river to tie on a fly and see if you can hook some of the remaining few fish. Our hope is the Yellowstone rebounds from its tribulations into a great fishery again. The main section of the Yellowstone that receives most anglers' attention traveling to the park is that section just above LeHardy Rapids downstream to the Mud Volcano area. Between these two boundary markers, the most popular section of the Yellowstone is found at Nez Perce ford. It is here that anglers find a braided river channel where wading can be done safely after the river opens July 15. Native Yellowstone cutthroats can be found in this section of the river. Dries, small nymphs, emergers and spinner patterns take the native cutts regularly. Most of the trout found in this part of the Yellowstone drainage average 16 inches. Due to lack of competition from other fish now, many are larger than that.
Even though the Yellowstone is easily accessible from the LeHardy to the Mud Volcano area, an angler can find places to stake out a space and cast over rising trout. The cutts get to see a lot of flies over the course of the short season - July 15 through the end of October - but, the persistent angler paying attention to hatches and rise forms should expect a sore arm at the end of the day.
The Yellowstone can be divided into many sections from its beginning south of the national park to its exit from the park near Mammoth. Where the river drains Yellowstone Lake is what we call the upper Yellowstone River. This section is truly a huge spring creek, where the water temps remain constant and the insect hatches are prolific. Check our fishing report page for constant updates to hatches and flies necessary to keep your rod bent.
The Yellowstone is closed to fishing in the Hayden Valley stretch. This begins just below the Mud Volcanos and trout fishing doesn't begin again until the angler drives to Otter Creek.
Anglers preferring an isolation experience on the Yellowstone need to know that grizzly bears range the Yellowstone and its tributaries regularly. Bear spray easily accessed on one's person is advised. Also, any overnight backpacking requires a seminar, and permit, for back country travelers at the Park headquarters in Mammoth. There are several areas anglers can access the middle section of the Yellowstone, though, that requires little more than a half hour hike to the river. This can be found at Tower and again at the bridge northeast of Roosevelt (road to Slough Creek, Soda Butte and the Lamar).
The cutthroats in these sections are more easily enticed with larger attractors, such as Madame X's, Sofa Pillows, hopper patterns and woolly buggers. The hatches still occur and one can match the hatch if so desired. The Yellowstone has added several tributaries, increased in volume and is traveling north at a tremendous speed. Fish the pockets and tailouts for the best results.
The Yellowstone can also be accessed on the Hell Roaring Creek, Blacktail Creek, or Gardner River trails. The same fishing techniques used in the middle sections of the Yellowstone work well. In the lower stretches of the Yellowstone, expect rainbows, browns, cutt-bows, and even a few brook trout to hit your fly, as well as the native Yellowstone cutthroat.
A huge body of water, YELLOWSTONE LAKE, was once filled with native Yellowstone cutthroats. At some point in time, lake trout were introduced, then, whirling disease and other environmental changes occurred that lowered the cutthroat population. YNP officials want the lake trout killed, no question asked. When fishing the lake, please help the Parks official in this regard. Several methods of fishing the lake are available to fly fishermen.
For one, anglers can walk the shoreline of the lake and sight-cast to cruising cutts. Dry flies, emergers and streamers will entice these hungry trout to take the fly. Another method is to use some version of float tube. Since the cutthroat trout do not go deeper than 20 feet during the summer usually, trout are within casting radius of the tubers casting range. Again, dries, nymphs and streamers, especially woolly buggers, will keep your rod bent. For the ultimate angling experience, book a trip on one of the park's concessionaires 22' Grady Whites. The large boats easily accommodate 2-4 fly fisher persons. Cruising the back bays and shorelines of the southern edges of Yellowstone Lake is an awesome experience. One tip, two anglers is better than four, especially if you are selfish and do not want to rotate through other anglers. The fishing can be that good!
Tim Wade did this for one of the "Trout Unlimited" ESPN segments summers back, and raved about the fishing. If you watched the show, you will agree that the fish were big and that almost every cast had a cutthroat taking the fly. The large boats easily accommodate 2-4 flyfisherpersons. Cruising the back bays and shorelines of the southern edges of Yellowstone Lake is an awesome experience.