I first visited Yellowstone National Park in the summer of 2019 and promptly fell in love. It’s a country full of awe and wonder, untouched by towers of concrete and the hustle and stressors of everyday life. Bison roam free, wolves return to bring balance to the ecosystem, grizzlies, black bears, otters, elk, and native cutthroat all call it home.
I only had a few days to fish the park and it seemed as if every outing provided large native and wild Yellowstone cutthroat on nothing but dry flies. Everything came together that trip, forming a love affair that I’m confidant will last to the end of my days. Following that trip, I made a promise to myself that I would attempt to make it an annual experience. So in the late summer of 2020, following a world-wide pandemic, my good friend and I returned.
Once we entered into Wyoming we felt we had to fish a bit along the way. The first day outside of the park provided a few stunning trout during a high 90s scorcher.
Lighting up a fire for the night.
A couple of portraits after a long and wet day, several storms blew out the river on our third day outside of the park.
Alas, we’re into the park, a quick campsite setup and we hit the boulder lined shores of Yellowstone Lake. Seems like we had just missed the surface actions but caddis were still in the air with a few callibaetis lingering. Karl makes a fly change.
Heavy Umpqua nylon, larger dry flies, a 10ft 6wt and a smooth Ross were the tools of the trade for lake fishing this trip.
Most tourists take photos of the wildlife, this constitutes as wildlife right?
We had a spectacular moon-rise over the lake almost every night.
A few left over golden stoneflies meant one thing to me, tie on a chubby Chernobyl.
And the first fish in the park came on a chubby, one doesn’t need droppers out here.
Day three in the park called for an early morning drive across Hayden Valley, one of the more popular parts in the park for wildlife viewing. Herds of bison are known to cause traffic jams and drive the non-tourist tourists like ourselves crazy.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone was like nothing I had ever experienced before.
A bison skull marked our first hole of the day. Water that our friend Wesley described as “Jiggly titty water”
Elk sheds and entire skull and antler finds littered the area. It felt as if we were deep in the wilds of the park, immersed in her beauty and vulnerable to its might.
Wesley (@wesleywhitepro) holds up a streamer eater. Wes guides in the park and chose to fish streamers to have a bit of fun.
For Karl and I, it was nothing but dry flies, and it turned out that I need only one fly all day.
A before and after on the Umpqua Thunder Thighs Hopper, that fly saw over 50 cutthroat eats on the day.
I broke my rod early in the day and figured I was done, Wesley had some surgical tape and it gave it a fix. Lasted for about 40 more fish.
Day four was spent outside of the park in Montana, just outside of West Yellowstone. We were lucky to have Umpqua Signature Tyer and fly fishing legend Craig Mathews show us around.
We caught some stunning cutthroat amongst majestic mountains and endless signs of grizzlies.
Watching Craig fish was a true honor.
Small water, large wild Cutthroat, and good company couldn’t ask for much more.
After fishing for cutthroat in the morning Craig and his wife Jackie graciously hosted us at their home for some Elk burgers. We finished up the day on the Madison. Karl rigs while Craig listens to what the river is telling him.
Craig Mathews (@craigmathewsyellowstone) is a modern day western hero, a former law-man, fly tyer, angler, hunter, father, husband, and a selfless conservationist. He donates all of his royalties he receives from his Umpqua patterns to conservation groups. With his good friend Yvon Chouinard (founder of Patagonia) they founded 1% for the planet, an organization whose members contribute at least one percent of their annual sales to environmental causes.
Day five was a relaxing day on the beach of Yellowstone Lake. We caught the tail end of the callibaetis hatch and caddis in the afternoon. This is perhaps my favorite place to fish on this blue planet of ours. Walking the pebble ridden shore barefoot while casting 40 to 60 ft to gulping cutthroat. We had a black bear roam the treeline behind us, tourists pestering him while we pestered the fish.
Of course I had to tie on a chubby for a few eats…
Karl hooked up.
A few of the finer things in life.
The Yellowstone Cutthroat. Yellowstone Lake is home to the largest population of these fish in the world. Their numbers have been on the decline however thanks to the introduction of invasive, non-native Lake Trout. Yellowstone biologists have implemented various methods of eradicating these fish to ensure wild and native cutthroat populations remain healthy and thrive in the ecosystem.
Fly organization back at the campground.
Slough Creek, one of the more popular destinations to fish in the park.
Another Chubby eater on the southern border of the park.
The Snake, a 13 mile trek for the day.
A quick snap on this one, mosquitos were relentless on our way back to the truck.
Our last day fishing on the trip was spent in West Yellowstone, MT again. This time we met up with Umpqua Signature Tyer and Guide Patrick Daigle (@silvertroutphotography). He took us out on the boat for a day fishing to gulpers.
Karl hooks up to a thick trico eating rainbow.
A couple of releases.
The callibaetis were thick.
It was a treat finishing up the trip with Patrick.
Thanks for coming along and letting me share my adventures in Yellowstone Country. I already long for my 3rd annual trip back to the area. I highly recommend every flyfisherman take a trip out there at some point, just don’t forget the bear spray. And maybe pack an extra rod or two…
Photo essay from Jake Burleson a talented photographer based in Denver, Colorado. Follow along with his adventures at @jakobbur.