There are few places in the lower 48 states where you can still fly fish for arctic grayling.
Grebe Lake in Yellowstone National Park was one of those rare spots where arctic grayling thrived until just recently.
The upper Gibbon River drainage is in the central portion of Yellowstone National Park and includes streams that flow out of Grebe, Wolf, and Ice lakes.
The park service plans to reintroduce native fluvial Arctic Grayling and westslope cutthroat trout to the upper Gibbon River drainage beginning 2021. Please check with the park service on native fish restoration efforts prior to venturing to Grebe Lake.
Fly fishing Grebe Lake in Yellowstone National Park
Grebe Lake is located in the north central region of the park, a little way south of Observation Peak and Northwest from Canyon Village off the Grand Loop Road. You'll have to hike a fair way to get to the lake itself, but the 3.1-mile trek (6.2 miles round trip) is relatively easy for most hikers and anglers in decent physical condition.
Take your time and enjoy the scenery on the way there, as it is one of Yellowstone's most beautiful regions. There's also not as much fishing pressure as you might find on Yellowstone Lake or other favorite spots closer to the roads, so if they are crowded when you arrive Grebe may prove to be a good option.
If you prefer to make a multi-day trip, you can camp at one of the four campgrounds that surround Grebe Lake. Camping for a night or two allows you to take your time hiking in, fishing and enjoying the backcountry before hiking back down to Canyon Village.
All in all, Grebe provides excellent backcountry lake fishing that yields some outstanding catches and is less physically demanding than many other backcountry fishing spots in Yellowstone National Park.
Approach to Grebe Lake in Yellowstone National Park.
Getting to Grebe Lake is pretty easy via the Grebe Lake Trailhead. The trailhead is approximately 3.5 miles west of Canyon Junction on the Norris-Canyon Road as shown on the map below.
Click the map icons to get directions to fishing spots, boat ramps and real-time USGS stream flow data
There are plenty of places to fish for both arctic grayling and westslope cutthroat as you circle the lakeshore. Some anglers like to hike up to the lake and start at a campsite then follow the shore clockwise or counterclockwise.
Be on the lookout for shady sections where the fish prefer to spend their time in the mornings and evenings. In general, the best fishing locations are going to shift with the sun as the day waxes and wanes, so be prepared to start early and keep moving to follow the fish to the coldest waters of the lake.
Should you choose to wade along the shores of Grebe Lake, be sure to test the bottom carefully as you make your way into deeper water. Some sections of the lakeshore are muddy and treacherous, while others are firm and provide a stable place to cast from easily.
No matter where you roam around the lake though, the arctic grayling and cutthroat are always hungry and eager to please.
Late June and early July through August are the peak months of the year for fishing Grebe Lake. Don't visit too early in June, as the snow thaws later on the high altitude lakes, and so the trails to Grebe Lake may still be impassable until July.
The earlier you go, the better though, as the just awakened fish are hungry from the long winter months, and you stand your best chance of landing a big cutthroat or grayling when the waters are still warming up.
As the weather warms up later in the summer, the fish retreat to the colder depths, and coaxing them to the surface to feed on flies becomes far more challenging.
The cutthroat and grayling aren't too choosy here so that you can get away with general dry fly patterns like a Parachute Adams, Renegade, or Griffiths Gnat. Woolly Buggers, Hares Ear and Pheasant Tail nymphs are equally effective, with scuds proving to be effective in the early weeks of the season.
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing dry flies and small nymphs on Grebe Lake.
The Bozeman Airport will get you closest to Grebe Lake. There are plenty of places to stay in Bozeman but it's a 2-3 hour drive to reach Grebe Lake. Staying further south in Gardiner, Montana will shave off an hour and 20 minutes.
Another options is to stay in West Yellowstone, Montana and access the park via the West Entrance. West Yellowstone is a great town with plenty places to stay and some iconic fly shops.
Lastly, you can always book a stay at one of the lodges or cabins in Yellowstone (book early, they fill up fast), or you can plan on roughing it and camping out by Grebe Lake itself with a Park Service permit.
Feature image NPS/Robert G. Johnsson
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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