by Matthew Long - Long Outfitting
As fishing has grown in popularity, so has the desire to fish in the northern gateway to Yellowstone Park, Paradise Valley. The majestic mountains seem to have an overpowering effect to draw anglers from around the globe to its abundance of blue ribbon trout fisheries. The valley, 50 miles in length, offers dozens of opportunities to fish for trout of various species and sizes, in a variety of waters from the mighty Yellowstone River to remote alpine lakes. A bit of exploration by an angler, or a day of fishing with one of the area’s professional guides can make for a successful and pleasant outing. The following brief descriptions of some of the area’s most popular fisheries are designed to lead you in the proper direction in relation to the type of water you desire to fish, the species and size of trout you would like to catch, and the amount of money you would like to spend.
The Yellowstone River
By far, the most popular of all the angling activities is a float trip down the Yellowstone river. This wild and scenic river provides anglers with over 60 miles of floatable, fishable water in Paradise Valley. Some of the sections throughout the valley support up to 1,000 fish per mile. Do not overlook the sections upstream in Yellowstone Park and downstream towards Big Timber, though. These areas hold excellent populations of larger trout. The types of water, as well as the speciation of the trout change rapidly throughout the rivers length.
Depending on the time of the year, trout will feed on various orders of insects. Spring and fall provide excellent mayfly and midge hatches, while the hot, dry summer days make for excellent terrestrial and caddis action.
Take a comfortable drift boat down the river, or use one of the public access areas to gain access for wade fishing. Remember that once you have legally gained access to the river, everything below the high-water mark is public property. The most effective way to fish this large river is to hire a guide and cover a lot of water in a drift boat. Look for the pods of trout in back eddies containing foam lines and on deeper shelves off of cut banks and current seams. Yellowstone River trout usually average between 10 and 18 inches.
The Spring Creeks
For the discriminating fly fisherman, the spring creeks are among the most famous in the world. Located in the northern end of Paradise Valley and minutes from Livingston, Montana, Armstrongs, Depuys, and Nelsons spring creeks are a convenient and popular destination. Gin clear water, prolific, complex hatches, and tricky currents all combine to make for a challenging, yet hopefully rewarding day. Breathtaking views of the lush weed beds, dimpling trout, and white-tailed deer combined with the backdrop of the Absaroka-Beartooth Wilderness to the east and the Gallatin Mountains to the west offer picturesque moments.
Catching trout here is anything but easy. Reading the feeding trout, matching the hatch, floating perfect drifts, and presenting accurate casts all can increase your odds of taking these selective trout. Brown, rainbow, and cutthroat trout can all be found in the privately-owned spring creeks.
All the streams are managed as fee fishing areas and have limited access to insure a quality experience for all of the anglers. Rod dates book early and it is wise to call in advance. Approximate cost per fisherman is $75.00 per day. Some local fly shops reserve extra rods for client’s use, so don’t be afraid to stop in and ask questions. Despite all the rumors about the damage done by the floods of 1996 and 1997, the creeks fish just as well now as before.
Another option that fly fishermen often take advantage of, especially during the snow-melt run-off, are the numerous private lakes located in Paradise Valley. Fishing these still waters often produces large trout in the 14-25 inch range. Some of these lakes can be fished effectively from shore, while others are large enough to require the use of a drift boat or float tube. Some lakes require fishermen to be accompanied by a guide, while others just require a daily access rate.
Often times, fish can be caught on a variety of fly patterns from tiny midge to large leeches. The famous damsel hatch in mid-July is a wonderful time to fish dry flies. Just to give you an example of the quality of some of these fisheries, Merrell Lake, located in Tom Miner Basin, has been rated by Fly Fisherman Magazine as one of the top six privately owned lakes in North America. This is a pretty impressive status for a 90-acre trout lake in the heart of Paradise Valley.
Other local lakes can produce some great fishing for very large rainbow, cutthroat, and brown trout. Check with a Livingston fly shop on access and price information. Prices range from $50 per angler, while others are free when fishing with a guide.
Alpine Lakes and Small Tributaries
For the fisherman who likes to get away to a “less traveled to” location, many small tributaries to the Yellowstone River and the high-altitude lakes of the Absaroka and Gallatin ranges can provide solitude, serenity and excellent fishing. Many of the fish are small, but are eager to feed on flies and are certainly some of the feistier fish you will ever encounter.
A topographic map can help you locate some destinations including Mill Creek, Big Creek, Rock Creek, Tom Miner Creek, Bear Creek, Emerald Lake, Thompson Lake, Shelf Lake, and Ramshorn Lake. There are too many of these small streams and lakes to even begin to list them all. Take your hiking shoes and some bear spray, and check your fishing regulation book before going on your trek. Some of these lakes are in Yellowstone Park and some are located in forest service and wilderness areas.
It is easy to see how Paradise Valley has received its name. For anglers, it is truly an angling paradise. For non-anglers, it is a geological and wildlife paradise. Come see for yourself the impressive scenery and the awesome fishing south of Livingston. Fond memories and feeding trout await your arrival.
For more information on fishing Paradise Valley call: