Yellowstone National Park offers some of the most famous fly fishing in the continental United States, but Yellowstone Lake allows anglers to help conserve native cutthroat trout.
You see, back around 1900 Yellowstone Lake was illegally stocked with non-native trout, forcing the local Yellowstone and Westslope Cutthroat trout to near-extinction.
To prevent the native trout from disappearing, the National Park Service (NPS) started to decimate non-native trout population in the 1990s aggressively.
The cutthroats have since made a comeback, but removing non-native trout is still vital to cutthroat conservation.
Do your part and reel in some lake, brown, or rainbow trout when you visit Yellowstone.
The lake itself is an immense body of water that feeds the Yellowstone River and encompassing over 130 square miles, making it the largest high-altitude lake in the continental United States. With depths of nearly 400 feet, the waters of the lake stay a cold 40 degrees even during high summer.
The lake trout here grow large, with reported catches more than 22-inches, and the resurgent cutthroat population often exceed 20-inches in length. Yellowstone Lake may not fish as it did before the introduction of non-native species, but any angler visiting the lake should land a trophy catch worthy of a good story.
The best part about fly fishing Yellowstone Lake isn't just the chance for a prized trophy catch, but the fact it is easy to reach every part of the lake without an extended hike or a long walk from a parking area.
There are crowds to deal with, but the good news is the lake has so much shoreline that you can easily find plenty space all to yourself where you can make the most of your Yellowstone fly fishing adventure. Be sure not to return any lake trout to the water though: they should be killed on capture per park fishing regulations.
Yellowstone Lake Map and Fishing Access Sites
Best Places to Fish Yellowstone Lake
The area of the lake with the highest fishing pressure is going to be around Gull Point Drive, which lies a little south of the Bridge Bay Marina. It owes its popularity to the fact that fishing at Gull Point lets fly anglers and bait fisherman cast into deep waters closest to the shoreline.
The trout here love the shelter of the drop-offs and shelves, and it's also got an abundant, stable food supply. Here you will find most of the Yellowstone cutthroat in the lake, but a little cruising the access roads along the shore may yield good results as well.
If you want to know how to find the best out-of-the-way fishing spots where there will be less traffic and almost as many trout, head out to Bridge Bay and West Thumb along the main roads. Look for shallows with overhanging trees and sheltered inlets along the lakeshore for best results, as this is where the water will be coldest at the edges.
If you want to help out with thinning the lake trout population, head out to Carrington Island. Not only can you easily fish from shore here, but it's also one of the primary spawning grounds where the big schools of lake trout congregate.
Best Time to Fish Yellowstone Lake
Fishing season opens June 15th at Yellowstone Lake, and if you are looking for a cutthroat trophy, you need to be there within two weeks of opening day. If you wait too long, the cutthroat tends to be wary of anglers and their artificial flies, especially in the high-pressure areas like Gull Point.
If you are on the hunt for all the lake trout you can catch, you need to visit in the August/September when the big fall hatches happen and the lake trout spawning season is in full swing.
Take out as many of the invasive lake trout as you can, and you will have the gratitude of both the National Park Service and the local cutthroat trout population.
Best Flies for Yellowstone Lake
As for flies, the local cutthroats are fond of streamers and baitfish patterns like Clouser Minnows and Wooly Buggers. The most popular colors for these are olive, black and white, but a little red seems to sweeten the deal a little.
Mayfly and caddis imitations are good patterns to try as well, switching to terrestrials as the summer wanes into fall.
As for landing lake trout, they tend to dwell a little deeper and not come nearer the surface to feed on flies like their native cousins until the fall. Streamers fished deep on a full sinking link can be effective for lake trout in the summer.
Ventures Fly Co. offers a great selection of dry flies, nymphs and streamers that will catch fish just about anywhere. Set includes 40 high quality, hand-tied flies (see list below) and waterproof fly box.
- Adams Dry Fly
- Elk Hair Caddis
- Blue Wing Olive
- Royal Wulff
- Griffith's Gnat White
- Stimulator, Organge
- Chernobyl Ant
- Rubber Leg Nymph, Brown
- BH Pheasant Tail Nymph
- BH Prince Nymph
- BH Hare's Ear Nymph
- Barr's Emerger Nymph
- Zebra Midge Nymph, Black
- Wooly Bugger, Black (Size #8x2)
- Wooly Bugger, Olive (Size #8x2)
Bring a 9-foot or a 10-foot, 6-weight rod and 8-10 lb tippet. The trout are big here, and you will need some heftier gear to reel them in. Waders are nice to have, but not necessary if you find the right stretch of lakeshore.
Yellowstone Lake opens with the general season.
The general season begins the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (usually the last weekend in May) and extends through the first Sunday in November.
Streams flowing into Yellowstone Lake, its tributaries, and areas within 100 yards (91 m) of each stream’s outlet open July 15. Access to many areas is restricted by Bear Management Area Closures, see the Yellowstone Backcountry Trip Planner for details.
Permanently Closed to Fishing along Yellowstone Lake
- The shoreline of Yellowstone Lake from West Thumb Geyser Basin to Little Thumb Creek is closed to protect fragile thermal resources.
- Bridge Bay Marina/Harbor and Grant Village Marina/Harbor and their channels to the lake.
- Pelican Creek from its mouth to a point two miles (3.2 km) upstream.
Fishing regulations in Yellowstone National Park are structured to strongly support native fish conservation goals. Cutthroat trout are the sole, native trout of the park and were the dominant fish species here prior to Euroamerican settlement. Do your part to help remove invasive Lake Trout from Yellowstone Lake.
Anglers 16 years of age or older must be in possession of a valid Yellowstone National Park fishing permit to fish in the park. State fishing licenses are not valid and aren't required.
The latest Yellowstone Lake fishing regulations are available on the Yellowstone National Park website.
Trip Planning Tips
The Bozeman airport is closest to Yellowstone Lake, and there are plenty of places to stay in nearby Big Sky, Gardiner, Cooke City-Silver Gate, and other outlying towns near the park entrances. If you don’t mind the drive from Bozeman, it has plenty of traditional accommodations closer to the airport, but you are looking at a 2+ hour drive to get to Yellowstone Lake.
A great strategy to save some money on your stay would be to rent a lodge or other in Big Sky, Montana during the summer, as it is their offseason and some places provide a discount for booking when the ski resorts are typically empty.
You can camp or stay at accommodations in the park too, but be prepared to compete for a reservation if you want to visit around opening day for fishing.
Looking for more places to fish? Check out our DIY Guide to Fly Fishing Yellowstone National Park