Tucked away in the northeastern corner of Yellowstone National Park lies a tiny 12-acre lake with some monster trout.
Fed by a small tributary of Soda Butte Creek, Trout Lake is ensconced by a small bowl of land not far from pastoral alpine meadow.
The lake takes its name from its original use within the park, which was a trout hatchery for the other lakes, rivers, and streams of Yellowstone in the early 1900s.
Rainbows were introduced to the lake around that time, but it is the Yellowstone Cutthroat that rules supreme on Trout Lake.
This is an easy to reach fishing hole for anyone looking to land a trophy cutthroat, though this diminutive lake does offers some serious challenges to even the most experienced angler.
Fly Fishing Yellowstone's Trout Lake with the Flying Pig Adventure Company
If you can get to Trout Lake in mid-June at the start of the fishing season, the cutthroat and rainbow spawning runs on the inlet stream are an awe-inspiring sight.
Don’t harass the spawning trout though, as stiff fines and penalties can be levied against anyone caught fishing on the inlet or cove.
There are multiple signs demarcating this no-fishing zone, so make sure you aren’t anywhere near them with a rod and reel.
The local otters and coyotes aren’t bound by these rules though, and you will often see them taking a quick meal from the teeming masses of trout during spawning run from late June to early July.
The good news for anglers is once the fish have finished spawning they return to the cooler waters of Trout Lake. They’ve got feeding on their mind, and they are looking to gorge themselves before the winter freeze arrives.
Due to the ideal breeding conditions and plentiful food sources, the cutthroats in Trout Lake tend to grow as large as 22-inches, and the far more rare rainbow trout have been caught and recorded there measuring 30-inches.
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Jack from Hike734 tells us how to get to Trout Lake in Yellowstone National Park
Trout Lake is much more pond-sized than it is lake sized, but getting there is a hike of less than a mile over 200 feet of elevation.
There is limited parking at the trailhead, so you will have to use your best judgment about when and where you can park.
Some anglers like to park a few miles down the road at the Soda Butte Trailhead, then hike the 3 miles along NE Entrance Road to the Trout Lake Trailhead.
From the trailhead it’s only 0.9 miles to the lake itself, and the elevation is only a gradual 200 foot rise.
As for where to fish, you can try your luck anywhere along the shoreline except the cove and inlet where the spawning runs occur. Everywhere else is fair game, and some sportsman like to float out into the middle of the lake for some subsurface fly fishing.
Remember the fishing pressure is going to be high on Trout Lake since it’s so easy to reach from the nearest road. Plan to share the lake with other angers, and be prepared for some picky fish if you visit later in the season.
The late June and early July spawning season is going to be your best window of time to visit Trout Lake. The cutthroats and rainbows who have finished spawning are going to be hungry, and this is the time of year they are least picky about what they eat.
After spawning season, the lake warms up significantly, and the trout feed on the plentiful food sources found in the depths of Trout Lake. You may have a hard time coaxing any to the surface even fooling fish with subsurface flies is difficult, but it’s worth a shot.
As for what flies to use, you need to be precise in your selection. Damselfly nymphs, scuds, pheasant tails, and similar in size #18 or smaller are your best bet for attracting the attention of hungry cutthroats on Trout Lake. Some anglers also find that woolly buggers or leech patterns also work fairly well.
Sight fishing for cruising cutthroat trout is a popular and effective method to fish Trout Lake. You can either hunker down in one spot and wait for fish to swim by in the shallows of the Lake, or cautiously prowl the shore line looking for fish on the move.
You'll need to be accurate with your casts upon spotting a fish and hit'em right on the nose or lead them slightly with your fly.
A 9-foot 5-wt fly rod with floating line is perfect for fishing small nymphs and streamers on Trout Lake. A tapered 9-foot leader, with tippet size 3X to 6X to match the flies you are throwing, is pretty standard.
Wading in Trout Lake is not recommended as the lake bed is muddy and treacherous, and venturing beyond the shores without a float can be dangerous.
Fishing permits are required at Yellowstone Park and can be purchased at all park ranger stations, visitor centers, or Yellowstone Park General Stores. All adults and kids 16 and up are required to purchase a permit.
Check the Yellowstone National Park fishing regulations for the latest information.
Bozeman, Montana is the closest airport, and you can stay in the city and drive down to Yellowstone fairly easily. Enter the park via the Northeast Entrance and follow the main road to get to the Trout Lake Trailhead (see map above).
Cooke City, Montana also has places to stay that will suit just about any taste or budget and it's only 20 minutes from Trout Lake (barring any traffic jams).
There are also plenty of places to camp, park an RV, or rent cabins/rooms in and around Yellowstone National Park. Lastly, don't forget to check for cheap vacation rental homes as well, as may offer discounts or specials for visitors to Yellowstone.
Feature image by Mike Cline
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. He created DIY Fly Fishing to help encourage and assist the average angler to get out and find new places to fish.
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