100 Best: Yellowstone River, Lower
Location: Southcentral Montana
Type of stream: Freestone
Angling methods: Fly, Spin
Species: Cutthroat, Browns, Rainbows
Supporting Services: Gardiner, Livingston
Short take: Everybody’s paradise, literally
Handicapped Access: Best from drift boats
Closest TU Chapter: Joe Brooks
For more than 200 miles, from Yellowstone National Park’s northern border east of Gardiner to Billings, the Yellowstone River is considered trout water. With the exception of a couple low-head diversion dams and the dam at the outflow of Yellowstone Lake in the park this is one of the longest free flowing trout streams in the nation.
The 20 mile run from the park boundary through Yankee Jim Canyon drops 800 feet in elevation. From mouth of the canyon approximately 50 miles down to Livingston, the gradient falls to about 10 feet per mile. The river maintains that slope for 130 miles or from Livingston to Billings where it becomes too warm to sustain trout.
Most anglers, who think of traveling to fish the Yellowstone in Montana, focus on the upper two sections. Distinctly different, they are. The upper most cuts down thorough beds of volcanic ash and tongues of the Absoroka Mountains to the east. Here the Yellowstone is too deep for wading other than along the edges or in channels around islands. With the exception of the short five mile run through Yankee Jim Canyon and the 10 mile stretch from Gardiner up to where it exists the park, the river is easily floated in pontoon boats.
Downstream from the canyon, the river bursts forth into Paradise Valley. Resembling the South Fork of the Snake below Palisades Dam, the Yellowstone runs between banks lined with cottonwoods. It braids around islands and broadens in wide riffles. Side channels provide excellent small-stream like fishing for rainbows and browns.
Floating is the best way to fish the river. From a boat, you’ll be able to access those little backwaters and seams where rainbows and cutthroats, and further down, browns are rising. If a certain run is particularly appealing, beach the boat and wade. Angler access ramps are found every few miles. And countless outfitters and leisure rafting vendors offer shuttle services.