Sometimes, we need to travel off the beaten path in search of a unique fishing challenge. Fall River in the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park is just the right amount of challenge without demanding that we travel too far off the trails to reach it.
Due to its remote location on the Wyoming side of the park, the best fishing on Fall River requires a short trek along the banks to access its large population of cutthroats, rainbows, and rainbow-cutthroat hybrids (commonly called "cutbows").
If you are willing to make the trip, you will find yourself making your way alone through the most secluded beautiful scenery in Yellowstone. With luck, you’ll have some trophies and some good stories to tell.
The Fall River begins on the Madison and Pitchstone Plateau in the southwest corner of Yellowstone National Park. From there, the river flows 64 miles to its confluence with the Henry’s Fork of the Snake River near Warm River, Idaho.
Fall River is one of those fishing streams in Yellowstone National Park that is criminally underrated for fly fishing. Historically, this river never held a large trout population, but cutthroat and rainbow were introduced to the waters of Fall River in the early years of the 20th century.
The ensuing decades of interbreeding led to the growth of the hybrid cutbow, which has become a popular game fish despite the fact these hybrids are an uncomfortable reminder of past mismanagement: introducing non-native fish to the region. Aggressive removal and elimination of non-native rainbows have helped diminish non-native species and hybridization, but repopulating the river after decades of improper stocking has been a slow process.
The main stem of the Fall River flows out of Beula Lake, with the local terrain a mixture of meadow and canyon until the river reaches the cascades of Terrace Falls and Rainbow Falls. While you are visiting, you can also visit the Cave Falls while you are hiking the river banks.
The Fall River is a great place to land some larger rainbow, cutthroat, or cutbow trout, but don't plan on just parking your car and casting off a few minutes hike down the trail. Like all good fly fishing in Yellowstone, you must earn this is experience.
Anglers seeking to land large cutthroats should stay close to the headwaters of Fall River near Beula Lake. For rainbows, cutthroats, and cutbows you need to follow the river below the cascades and into the meadows. The meadows are where the big trout like to lurk, and where the most significant challenge presents itself to anglers.
Due to the slow moving current and the angle of the banks, the fish can easily get a close look at your fly, unlike faster pocket water. You are going to have to apply a stealthy approach and angling skills to land the big fish in the meadows.
Reaching the meadows below Beula Lake is no easy task as there are no trails. You'll need to bushwack a mile or so west off the Beula Lake Trail.
Terraced Falls on Falls River in Yellowstone National Park
A much easier approach to the meadows is further downstream below Terraced Falls and Rainbow Falls. Take Reclamation Road from nearby Ashton, Idaho for 30 miles, then follow Fish Lake Road to Fish Lake. From Fish Lake, you will be within a mile of the Yellowstone National Park southwest border, and it's just a short hike to the meadows from here. Parking is available at the Winegar Hole Wilderness Area barricade (see map).
If you follow the trail from Fish Lake west, you will be close to the confluence of Fall River and Mountain Ash Creek. There are six miles of lava rock streambed meadowland here that has some outstanding conditions for landing cutthroat, cutbows, and the occasional rainbow. The meadows are by far the best stretch of Fall River to try your luck, as the visibility and speed of the water are much more conducive to hooking hungry trout.
Below the meadow reaches Falls River continues on another 3 miles through a combination of cascades, riffles, runs and over a few more waterfalls before converging with Bechler River.
Flow in the Fall River is affected by irrigation releases from Grassy Lake Reservoir. Be sure to check river conditions before heading out to fish. The USGS stream gauge near Squirrel, ID provides a good indication of current conditions.
The graph below shows the stream flow (discharge) for the past 7-days. If flows are considerably above or below historical norms (yellow triangles on the chart) then fishing conditions maybe not be ideal.
Hatches on the Fall River run all season long (June-November), but the best time to visit is the July and September hatches. Arriving too early in the year makes the water far too muddy to fish comfortably. BWOs show up first in smaller numbers, with a much bigger hatch in late August and early September. Green Sedge caddisflies are the best hatch of the year, and usually make their appearance during the first week of August in the faster moving waters. If you are fishing the meadows, you can use terrestrials regardless of the season after spring runoff, as these are both plentiful and near irresistible to the local cutthroats.
As for flies, stick to PMDs shortly after the runoff in June, followed by Spotted Sedges and Little Sisters in July and August. Gray, Brown, and Green drakes start showing up in early July and last all through the month until about August.
You can also find Salmon flies are active along fast water sections in July, but the real winner is terrestrials in the meadows from June to November. There is something about good sized hopper or ant fly that makes them Kryptonite for the rainbows and cutthroats on Fall River.
A 9-foot 6-wt fly rod with floating line is recommended for fishing dry flies, nymphs and streamers on Fall River. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 5X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
You can wade some sections of the river, but the part near Mountain Ash Creek is treacherously slick and challenging to wade.
There are a number of area fly shops and on-line retailers that can provide a Fall River fly fishing report. A few to check out are listed below.
You'll need a Yellowstone National Park fishing permit to fish Fall River inside the park. Fishing regulations are available on the Yellowstone NPS website.
Taking a flight into Jackson Hole Airport in Wyoming is the best bet for a reasonable price.
Ashton, Idaho has the closest accommodations to the Fall River, and there is a decent mix of standard hotel and motel stays to be had in the area. Jackson Hole offers more of the same, but both areas provide cabin and private rentals that may give a better deal.
Whatever you decide to do, makes sure you book early since the fishing season is limited to the June-November tourist season.
Feature Image by NPS
Looking for more places to fish? Visit our DIY Guide to the Best Fly Fishing in Yellowstone National Park.
Ken is an avid fisherman of 40+ years who loves to explore and find new places to fish. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help you do the same.
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