Shoshone Lake is distinctive among Yellowstone National Park for two reasons: 1) it’s the second largest roadless lake in the contiguous United States and 2) it had no native species of fish before the late 19th century. The waters of Shoshone were stocked with lakers from back east, along with browns and brookies.
The trout thrived in the cold, pristine lake water, and it became a place for anglers to bring in large trophy catches. Of course, you also have to brave the backcountry trek or paddle your way up the Lewis River, but the wilderness rewards persistence.
If you can hack it, Shoshone Lake offers some of the best brown and lake trout fishing in the American West.
Prior to 1890, Shoshone Lake was barren of fish as Lewis Falls on the Lewis River was a barrier to upstream migration. In 1890, fisheries personnel planted Lake and Brown trout and created a popular fishery, especially for large Brown trout in the fall. Brook Trout were planted in several tributary streams and are occasionally found in the lake.
It is difficult to describe the robust nature of the Shoshone Lake trout population. The restaurants in the nearby lodges at Old Faithful used to have a commercial fishing business bringing in lakers and browns to serve as table fare for visiting tourists, and the number of fish didn’t start to see a significant reduction until the mid 20th century. Since the halt of commercial fishing, the population has once again increased dramatically. Shoshone Lake continues to fish extremely well even with regular visits by tourists hiking in to try their luck from the shore or out on the water.
As this is a backcountry lake, you need to observe all safety regulations regarding food storage while you are fishing if you plan to bring your lunch along. Keep a weather eye out for the local bear population too.
Shoshone Lake is a favorite foraging place for all kinds of wildlife and serves as a watering hole to many. Be aware of your surroundings, and make sure you do everything you can to minimize the chances of an incident between you and any of the parks wild residents.
Click map icons to get directions to fishing spots, boat ramps and USGS stream flow data
The lake is accessible by water via Lewis Lake and the Lewis River channel. Several trails provide access to the western, northern and eastern shoreline of the lake.
The DeLacy Creek trail provides access to the northern and eastern shoreline via the Grand Loop Road near Craig Pass.
The Dogshead trail and Lewis River Channel trail provide access from the south entrance road near Lewis Lake. There are 20 backcountry campsites on Shoshone Lake.
The eastern end of the lake is home to the larger populations of lake and brown trout due to its sizeable aquatic weed beds. Within these water-bound forests, juvenile lake trout, brown trout, and the occasional brook trout roam between the fronds to find food like leeches, scuds, and minnows.
You can’t reach these weed beds from shore since they are over 100 yards out, but if you pack in a float tube, you will be in for a lot of action.
You can fish the shaded inlets and water with trees close to the shoreline, but most anglers find that shore fishing all day yields far fewer fish than inflating a float tube and paddling out toward the middle waters of the lake to fish among the weed beds.
If you do opt to use a belly boat, make sure you have an unpowered boating permit from the Park Service and display it prominently. Additionally, you can wade out a short way into the lake in many places, but make sure you pack insulated waders and extra layers since the water is frigid all season long.
Fishing season begins the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (usually the last weekend in May) and extends through the first Sunday in November, but the lake is accessible from Old Faithful/West Thumb from about June 20 until October 20.
Those who visit before those dates often find the snow still blocking the trails and those who visit too late may find the waters and wind at Shoshone Lake more than they can handle.
The best part about fishing this high altitude secluded lake though is it doesn’t get crowded. Less fishing pressure means hungry wild trout for you to enjoy, and more space to apply your best techniques.
Pack a 9-foot rod with a 5- or 6-weight full-sinking line to get your flies down deep. A 9-foot 2X leader and matching tippet material is all you usually need. The fish in Shoshone Lake are not leader shy!
You should also pack rain gear in case the weather shifts rapidly (as it does at high altitude), and layers whether you plan to wade or float: the chilling effects of high mountain lake water should not be underestimated.
Make sure you have insulated waders if you go as well. Standing still in the cold water for extended periods of time can drain all the warmth out of you.
As for fly patterns, scuds, leeches, and minnow patterns all work well. The fish in Shoshone Lake are not too picky.
Angling is restricted to fly fishing or artificial lures. Boating on Shoshone Lake is restricted to hand-powered craft only, which means float tubes, kayaks or canoes.
Shoshone Lake fishing regulations are available on the Yellowstone National Park website.
The closest airport is in Bozeman, MT, and there are plenty of hotels and motels surrounding the city to suit every need and taste. You can also check into the ski lodges in Big Sky, as they are often empty in the summer, and Big Sky is half as far from Shoshone Lake as Bozeman. West Yellowstone, Montana located near the West Entrance to the park is also a great option and provides easy access into the park.
No matter where you decide to stay, definitely do your due diligence and check out local listings as well. You never know when a surprise bargain is going to turn up.
Feature image from National Park Service Archives
Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing 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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