100 Best: Slough Creek
Location: Northwestern Wyoming—Yellowstone National Park
Type of stream: Freestone river
Angling methods: Fly and spinning
Species: Cutthroat and rainbow
Access: Easy to moderate
Season: Saturday of Memorial Day weekend through first Sunday in Nov. Supporting Services: Silver Gate, Montana
Short take: Famed for big cutthroat. Upper meadows require healthy hike, which is why fishing is excellent.
Handicapped Access: No
Closest TU Chapter: East Yellowstone
Let me tell you a secret, known only to a few thousand other fly fishers who visit Yellowstone National Park annually. In high summer when the Firehole, Gibbon up to the falls, and the upper Madison are too warm to fish, fishermen make tracks for Slough Creek (pronounced “Slew”) and its neighbors, Pebble Creek, Soda Butte Creek, and the Lamar River. All are excellent, and fish well, even where US 212, also known as the NE Entrance Road, runs right alongside.
Slough Creek rises in the Absaroka Mountains deep in Montana and flows generally southwestward entering Yellowstone National Park 16 miles from its confluence with the Lamar. Above the junction the creek flows through a canyon that has a reputation for holding mostly small fish and, thus, doesn’t see much fishing pressure, though it’s less than a mile across the flats from the highway. The canyon heads up in a low meadow carved with meander channels that fill with snowmelt in early summer. Above the meadow, the valley tnarrows as it reaches the campground. The campground sits at the foot of a canyon which becomes incredibly steep and was once thought to be enough of a barrier to keep invasive rainbows from migrating into Yellowstone Cutthroat water above.
Not so. Marcia Woolman, longtime friend and recipient of TU’s premier Mortensen Award for volunteer service, summers in Silver Gate just outside the park’s northeast entrance. For nearly two decades she and her husband Hank have fished Slough Creek. Marcia was among the first to alert Yellowstone biologists to the presence of rainbows in the upper meadow runs for which Slough Creek is so justly famed. If you are sure you can tell the difference between a cutthroat and a rainbow, release the cutt and keep the ‘bow. Marcia will tell you how she smokes hers.
A 45-minute hike up a woods road on which vehicles are not allowed brings anglers to the first meadow. Only a mile long, the meadow contains about three miles of gentle water. Gravel bars define the inside of bends where the stream undercuts opposing banks. Pools are rare. At the head of this meadow, the valley tightens and becomes forested. The only real rapids in this section are found on its upper end, just as the trees give way to the second meadow. Because the second meadow is a healthy two to three hour hike from the campground, most of the anglers who make it thus far set up camp. Beyond this meadow lies a third. Combined, the upper meadows contain about 10 miles of superlative angling for cutthroat, a few rainbows, and cuttbows in the 14 to 18-inch class.