Eye of the Guide


Tom Travis - Aug 26, 2013

Sysadmin Note
Part 10 can be found here


Yellowstone Lake looking at Lake Hotel

Over the years I have had some great adventures fishing the waters of Yellowstone Lake; as a matter of fact 50% of the total angler use in the Park is centered on Yellowstone Lake.

Yellowstone Lake is the largest lake in North America sits at 7,732 feet above sea level and covers 136 square miles with 110 miles of shoreline of which 30 miles is accessible by motor vehicle. The lake is normally frozen over by December and normally thaws during late May to early June, and during the winter the ice cover can be as deep as three feet except in the areas of the hot springs. The deepest place in the lake is 390 feet with an average depth of 139 feet.

Yellowstone Lake was also know Eustis Lake and Sublette's Lake, however John Colter of the Lewis and Clark expedition later returned to the area as a fur trapper and may have been the first white man to see the lake some time during the 1820's and he referred to the lake as Yellow Stone as did Osborne Russell who visited the lake in 1834. Russell's work was later published as Journals of a Trapper in 1921 and by 1839 Yellowstone Lake appeared on maps of the Oregon Territory by the U.S. Army.

The lake opens for fishing on the 15th of June and closes on the first Sunday in November each year, however I strongly urge you to check the regulations as there has been changes over the years.

Most National Parks do not require a fishing permit, but you must have one in Yellowstone. The money for the fishing permit stays in the Park and is used to enhance and protect the fisheries of this great park! Currently the fishing permit is $45.00 per season, $25.00 for seven days and $18.00 for three days. [2013 costs] For those who would like additional information may go on line to www.nps.gov/yell/index.htm  or www.yellowstonenationalpark.com  you may also go Wikipedia and search angling in Yellowstone National Park.

West Thumb is a very active geothermal area with geysers, fumaroles and hot springs alongside the lake and even in the shallows of the lake. I mention this because on a cold fall day I always head to West Thumb and after gauging the wind and wave action I will position myself to fish in the water that is being warmed by the geothermal activity and enjoy much better fishing than I would in other sections of the lake.

Sometimes I wade and fish the shoreline but most of the time I use a float tube, but before you follow my lead and show up with a float tube you will need a boat or floating craft permit which is available at the Back Country Office in Mammoth. Make sure that you have an approved PFD. Don't forget, the fine for not having a PFD is $100.00.

You can rent watercraft at Bridge Bay and West Thumb Marinas or you can bring your own, but just remember to get your watercraft permit that is good for the season. When you fish Yellowstone Lake please take the time to do so safely, check the weather and be aware of the weather change while on the lake. This is a big lake and the winds can create dangerous situations and if you end up in the water remember is water is cold and hypothermia is a very real danger. If you are using a float tube dress appropriately and periodically go to shore and warm up. Fishing is supposed to be fun and not a thrilling danger sport.

You can also fish the lake by wading the shoreline. Just proceed slowly and carefully or you may find yourself observing the trout in their world. Generally that means a bruised and battered ego, but regardless a dip in the lake will give you pause.

The big question with a lake of this size is where are the trout going to be? The cutthroat trout are fairly evenly concentrated around the shoreline of the lake and the reason is that's where the major portion of the trout's food is located.

The major weedbed are comprised of Richardson's pondweed and are located in 2½ to 25 feet of water. In the early season the shallow water will warm up a little quicker than the bulk of the deep water in the lake. Even with the reduced cutthroat numbers you can still find plenty of trout along the shoreline. The lake has heavy populations of Daphnia and the trout feed heavily on these tiny crustaceans.

Many years ago I guided a couple of English clients on the lake and as soon as the stomach samples showed the mass of Daphnia they produced patterns to imitate a cloud of these tiny creatures and the trout were after them with the first cast. It was the first time that I have seen patterns of this type.

The lake also has good scud populations of Gammarus lacustris and Hyallela Azteca, also there are good Midge and Aquatic Worms populations.

There is also damsel and dragon Flies in the lake, and caddis and mayfly hatches, but these hatches are not lake wide and they are confined to certain locations therefore the angler needs to be observant and prepared. The single largest mayfly hatch on the lake is the Speckled Dun [Callibaetis nigritus].

Also the lake has several minnows and cutthroat trout will feed on these minnows; They are Longnosed Suckers [Catostumus catostumus], Long Nose Dace [Rhinichthys cataractae], Red Side Shiners [Richardsonius balteatus hydrophlox], Lake Trout Minnows [Salvelinus namaycush] and of course Cutthroat Trout Minnows. I have had some simply outstanding fishing on Yellowstone Lake with streamers.

There many great places in Yellowstone Lake that are good to fish and like everyone I have some favorite places and these places have serve me well since 1976, they are Gull Point, Mary's Bay and West Thumb.

There are lake trout in the lake and all lake trout caught by anglers must be KILLED under the current regulations; and I will relate my favorite places and times for lake trout in another column.

When I fish Yellowstone Lake I like to go prepared and therefore I always go with weight forward floating line, sink tip type III or IV and a type III uniform sink line. These lines will allow several different options in the manner in which I present the selected imitations. As for a recommendation fly rod I strongly suggest a six weight. Yes there are times and hatches when a four or five weight would be fine, however many times heavier flies, sinking lines and wind must be taken into account and therefore that is why I suggest a six weight fly rod of 8½ to 9 foot length.

In the early season the water temperature is still very cold and this means figuring out where the trout are and at what depth are they holding and then presenting your imitation at the proper angle and depth. Then manipulate your imitation slowly since nothing in the cold waters of the early season moves quickly!

Remember the trout in the lake are constantly moving  and not holding in a prime lie or feeding station as trout in a river. Therefore when I go to fish the lake I go early, often leaving my home in Livingston long before the sunrise, since normally the mornings on the lake are calm which makes spotting the trout much easier.

That is one of the reasons that I like Gull Point or Mary's Bay. Both have high ground which with the aid of a pair of binoculars allows me to spot trout and spend more time fishing where the fish are, rather than wasting time on where the trout are not.

Generally later in the day the breezes will arise putting a chop on the water and this makes spotting trout more difficult. In that situation I will look for an area that offers some protection from the wind.

As the season progresses and more insects become active in the lake the angler can use attractor or searching dry flies or wet/dry combinations to locate trout. During the time period of mid July to early September I have had excellent fishing with ant and beetle imitations during the windblown afternoons. Also a size 12 Chernobyl in black or tan is a very effective searching pattern on the lake.

I have much more information to impart and adventures to share with you but I will leave something for another time. But I will leave you with this thought; Yellowstone Lake is still worth fishing and there are still plenty of cutthroat trout for the observant and thoughtful angler to catch.

As I have stated earlier I generally fish the lake using a float tube, however I know that many are not comfortable in float tubes and would not care to bring a float tube with them on a trip that involves flying. I do know that several area fly shop rent float tubes and many times I have simply waded the shoreline of the lake and enjoy some very good fishing.

Enjoy & Good Fishin'

Sysadmin Note
Part 12 can be found here


Comment on this article

Archive of the Eye of the guide

[ HOME ]

[ Search ] [ Contact FAOL ] [ Media Kit ]

FlyAnglersOnline.com © Notice