100 Best: Firehole River
Location: Yellowstone National Park
Type of stream: Geothermal, Freestone
Angling methods: Fly
Species: Rainbows, Browns
Season: Late May—mid-November
Supporting Services: West Yellowstone
Short take: America’s most exotic trout stream
Handicapped Access: Possible to fish, but no formal access.
Closest TU Chapter: Jackson Hole
Come to the Firehole some late September afternoon, when the air temperature is dancing in the lower 50s, you’ll find me gearing up at the pull-off at the top of Midway Geyser Basin. Behind me stretches the most exotic trout water in America. The broad plain to the left is alive with little geysers. Mudpots burp and spit scents of Hades. In the distance a string of buffalo cross the stream. I’ll start with a #18 parachute ant, working a little side channel where I lost that rainbow whose tail was as broad as my palm.
Rising in miniscule Madison Lake, the Firehole is a very thin stream, not worth fishing above Old Faithful, and closed to fishing immediately below. At Biscuit Basin, the Little Firehole comes in cooling the main stem and itself providing a fishery for browns, rainbows and cutthroat. Below the basin, the Firehole opens into a broad meadow. In the Midway and Lower Geyser basins, waters are really too warm to fish from late July into late August. But like the Little Firehole, the tributaries of Sentinel, Fairy and Nez Perce creeks hold good, if hard to take fish that have moved in to escape the heat.
The gradient quickens below Nez Perce Creek. At the top of Firehole Cascades the river begins to froth around goodly sized rock, creating deep eddies that are hard to fish well, but pay dividends in browns and rainbows of 14 inches. A falls punctuates the river about a mile upstream from the junction with the Gibbon where the two waters give birth to the Madison.
The Firehole is extremely popular, and its fish, very well educated. Small dry flies Hendricksons, quill gordons, adams, pale morning duns, blue-winged olives and midges can be quite effective when presented with a drag free float. Occasionally terrestrials produce in the meadow stretches, and streamers do well in fall. If you reach Yellowstone in late July or August of a drought year, you may find the Firehole, upper Madison, and lower Gibbon closed to angling due to high water temperatures.