If you’ve ever thought that casting a dry fly in one of Yellowstone National Park’s pristine rivers was a magical experience, you’re not alone.
Yellowstone tops the list of best national parks for fishing, according to a recent announcement by a leading online trip booking service.
“The serene beauty and variety of fish in national parks makes fishing in them at the top of most anglers’ bucket lists,” said Alison Arthurs, public relations manager at FishingBooker. “As many as 50,000 anglers visit Yellowstone National Park each season. Anglers can expect to catch anything from cutthroat trout, brown and rainbow trout, to lake trout and Arctic grayling.”
Local guide service and tackle shop, Henry’s Fork Anglers, says it’s more than just the trout that make the Yellowstone experience special.
“The park is an absolutely magical place to fish,” says Todd Lanning, assistant manager at Henry’s Fork Anglers in Island Park. “There’s a lot of places you can go fish, but where else on the planet can you go fish and see buffalo and see grizzly bears and elk — it’s magical.”
Henry’s Fork Anglers is one of dozens of outfitters authorized to guide in the park. The shop sells between 500 to 1,000 Yellowstone fishing licenses each summer. Lanning recommends a few favorite places to toss a fly.
“You’re definitely going to want to stop and fish the Yellowstone River,” he said. “Honestly, you can go over there and catch the cutthroat of a lifetime. It’s not unheard of to catch a 24-inch cutthroat trout over there.”
Other areas he likes include the Madison River, Firehole River, Slough Creek and Grebe Lake.
“You can spend an entire summer in the park and not cover all the water you needed to fish,” Lanning said.
Yellowstone Park posts a “Current Conditions” on its fishing website that lists USGS links to stream flows. You’ll also find fishing regulations, a guide service listing and information on permits and restrictions. Some tackle is specific to protect the environment and allow for easier catch-and-release. For the most part, park fishing opens Memorial Day weekend and closes the first Sunday in November. Some rivers have later opening dates.
“Fishing has been a popular recreation activity for visitors here for more than 100 years, and many people come to Yellowstone just to fish,” the park’s fishing site says.
The park uses the help of fishermen to preserve native species and maintain natural conditions. With the introduction of nonnative species into the park years ago, native fish, such as cutthroat, mountain whitefish and Arctic grayling, have been under attack. Nonnative fish compete for food and habitat and prey on native fish. Anglers are required to release all native fish and keep and kill nonnative in most situations.
Yellowstone’s fishing in the recent past hasn’t always been the best. A near ecological disaster occurred after lake trout were discovered in Yellowstone Lake. Lake trout were decimating the native cutthroat trout population and altering the park’s ecosystem.
“Now, you’re still not getting those 50-fish days like in the 1980s, but you’re going to go there and catch a dozen fish if you know what you’re doing and work at it a little bit,” Lanning said. “They’re going to range anywhere from 15 to 24 to 26 inches. There’s some pigs over there. I don’t know how to give those guys that are working so hard on that Yellowstone Lake enough credit. Man, they have done some amazing work.”
FishingBooker also lists four other national parks — Great Smoky Mountains National Park, Glacier National Park, Everglades National Park and Acadia National Park — as top fishing parks. The list was created based on a number of factors such as user reviews, variety of species and overall experience.
“For some people it’s a once in a lifetime thing,” Lanning said of fishing in Yellowstone. “And people do, they come from all over the planet to fish all of our local water. But the park has got a special place in my heart anyway.”