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Fishing in Yellowstone will be a little different this year

Fishing the Firehole River in Yellowstone National Park.
An angler casts to brown trout in Yellowstone National Park.
Photo by Chris Hunt.

Opening day for angling in Yellowstone National Park is traditionally the Saturday before Memorial Day (this year, it falls on May 23), and that’s not changing in the face of the coronavirus outbreak.

But, according to Linda Veress of the park’s public affairs office, only rivers and streams in the park’s southern half will be open to angling to start the season off. That’s because park entrances situated in Montana (the west entrance at West Yellowstone, the north entrance at Gardiner, and the northeast entrance at Cooke City) remain closed, and Montana is maintaining restrictions on out-of-state travel.

So what does that leave for anglers? Well, opportunities exist, but they’ll be a bit limited.

Any river or stream that can be accessed by entering the park through either the east gate outside of Cody, Wyo., or the south entrance just north of Grand Teton National Park will be open to fishing starting May 23, with a few notable exceptions. Any tributary that flows into Yellowstone Lake is closed until July 15 to protect spawning Yellowstone Cutthroat trout. The Yellowstone River, both above and below Yellowstone Lake, is also closed until July 15. For detailed information on what waters will be open and when, as well as what kind of fishing gear is allowed, consult the park’s fishing regulations.

Yellowstone National Park is opening in phases this year, in light of the COVID-19 outbreak.

This means that the upper reaches of the Snake River are open to angling, and that the Lewis River (as well as Lewis Lake and Shoshone Lake) is open, too. It’s important to note that, early in the year, both of these rivers carry a lot of runoff and may not be fishable. That still leaves anglers with a few good choices, though. The Firehole and Gibbon rivers will both be open to angling, as will the Little Firehole River and other tributaries. Both the Gibbon and the Firehole can run high early in the season, but, generally speaking, both can be fishable — and fishing for brown trout and rainbow trout in both rivers can be good.

However, because the west entrance is closed, the Madison River will be closed to fishing when opening day rolls around — the National Park Service and the state of Montana have yet to announced when travel into the park will be reestablished, and Veress notes that anglers will not be allowed to park on roads where Yellowstone is open and walk into areas where the park is closed. Other notable rivers closed to fishing until a yet-to-be-announced date include the Gardner River, the Lamar River and the Yellowstone River and its tributaries below Canyon.

Under guidance from the Centers for Disease Control, the park is opening to visitors in phases, starting May 18. Remember, though, that access is only allowed through the south and east entrances, and that angling isn’t allowed until May 23. Also, Veress notes, anglers will need to buy their Yellowstone National Park fishing licenses outside the park because license vendors in the park won’t be open until a later phase in the reopening process.