Wild brown, rainbow, brook, and native Yellowstone cutthroat trout live in the wildest places. These are places where the grizzly bear rules supreme and the deer, elk, buffalo, moose, and the antelope play, while eagles soar in the skies above.
Imagine yourself fishing these free-flowing rivers and streams with few other anglers, great insect hatches, and plenty of solitude. Talk about being able to maintain one’s social distancing! This is Northwest Wyoming – where angling dreams really do come true.
The Cody side of Yellowstone National Park is blessed with an abundance of lakes, rivers, and streams containing a mix of native and non-native trout, plus the ubiquitous Rocky Mountain Whitefish, the salvation of many anglers whose skill levels might be challenged by the larger rivers and streams found in the Northwest corner of Wyoming. Trout, lake trout, and grayling can also be caught in places like Buffalo Bill Reservoir and the numerous high country lakes found in the Beartooth Mountains.
About The Fisheries
Before you run out and cast a fly or lure in the West, there are some things to know about the local fisheries. Aside from some lakes and reservoirs, most of our trout are as wild and free-spawning as they were in the ‘good old days’ before the West was settled by Europeans.
That means the trout in the rivers and streams have not been stocked, but have been spawned and born in the wild Wyoming watersheds. This also means rivers and streams are not meant to be used as ‘trout parks’ where fish are stocked for the catching every day or week of the fishing season. This is why regulations are in place – to protect the wild trout fisheries from angler depredation and continue the belief Wyoming wild trout are worth catching and releasing so other anglers can also enjoy the same quality fishing experience all year long.
As a long time fishing guide and outfitter in Cody, Wyoming, and a lifetime member of Trout Unlimited and Federation of Fly Fishers International, I have long advocated that wild trout are special and reserve more respect than ending up in a skillet. Lee Wulff, a world-renowned fly fisherman, and conservationist once said, “A trout is too valuable to be caught only once.” It is hoped those reading this get that message, then pass it along to other anglers.
This way, in the 21st century there are still places like Wyoming and other western states where wild trout reign supreme. It is hoped this legacy continues well into the future for anglers who have not yet been born but want to experience what we are fortunate to have at the present time.
The Yellowstone cutthroat is the trout treasured by most wild fish advocates on the eastern slopes of the Absaroka and Beartooth Mountains west and northwest from Cody. While not yet on the Endangered Species List, Yellowstone cutthroat habitat has diminished over the years.
Where Do I Start?
Several large river drainages are found near Cody and also inside Yellowstone Park. A few near Cody are the Shoshone River and Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone (Wyoming’s first designated Wild and Scenic River). In Yellowstone, just 50 miles from Cody, anglers can also fish Yellowstone Lake, the Yellowstone River, Lamar River, and two of its popular tributaries, Slough and Pebble Creeks. There are also many, many miles of streams and small creeks that drain into the Shoshone, Clarks Fork, and Yellowstone Rivers.
Summer and fall is the best time to fish the many miles of water available to anglers. Rivers outside of Yellowstone National Park can be floated or waded. Free-flowing rivers and streams inside the Park are for wading only, no watercraft allowed except on lakes.
Recommended Gear and Tackle
Anglers should plan on using five weight fly rods that are 8 ½ to 10 feet in length. This weight fly rod will easily land those 20-
inch trout and buck the Wyoming breezes when using larger flies like a grasshopper, stonefly, and the larger mayfly fly patterns so necessary during the summer and early fall.
Floating fly lines are all that is needed to fish flies in most rivers. Lakes might call for a sinking line, but seldom are sinking lines used for everyday fly fishing. If one is not fishing the larger rivers, but smaller streams, 3 and 4 weight fly rods will help hide one’s cast and presentation to the trout. Slough Creek is one of those locations where a stealthy approach and lighter fly rods and fly lines are recommended.
There is no way to cover every fishing situation one will encounter on the wild waters in the Cody area or inside Yellowstone Park. You know what fly rods to bring and fly lines to use. Now, leaders and tippets need to be discussed. Leaders should be 7 ½ to 9 feet. Tippet sizes that are best are 3X down to 6X but one will find heavier tippets – 3X and 4X – will land trout quickly and fly lost to the large trout that swim these waters will be minimized.
Breathable waders with rubber-soled wading boots are advised for the colder water temperatures found in the northern Rockies. Wet wading can comfortably be done on smaller tributaries on the hottest of summer days. Be advised wading can be dangerous in some areas. If you are unsteady on your feet, a wading staff is not a bad idea and neither are studded wading boots.
A discussion about flies is too long and complicated to discuss in this article. It is better to get local knowledge from a fly shop in Cody than to rely on your fly shop back home. With the purchase of a half dozen to a dozen dry, wet (nymphs) or streamer fly patterns, the visiting angler can expect to have an enjoyable experience on the rivers and streams in the Cody/Yellowstone area.
Dreams do come true, especially when those dreams lead you to Cody and Yellowstone National Park’s wonderfully wild and native trout fisheries. Enjoy your time ‘distancing’. We know you will return to re-live the experience time and time again.
About The Author:
Tim Wade started North Fork Anglers in 1984. Since then, he’s been guiding some of West’s best wild trout fisheries in the northwest corner of Wyoming. You can find out more about his guide services at northforkanglers.com. Feel free to stop by the fly shop on Sheridan Avenue in Cody, Wyoming next time you’re in those parts for a great fly selection and the low down on good fishing nearby.