21 October, 2023 - Yellowstone River and Livingston Area Fly Fishing Report

It still feels like the tail end of summer here in Livingston, Montana as we approach the twilight of autumn. This fall so far has been remarkably mild, and we don’t mind that one bit. Even as we have our first hints of snowfall here in town forecast for next week, there is warmer weather behind that. 

What does that mean for the fishing? The bright and beautiful weather sure is nice to be out in, but it’s not the best for fall fishing. Most of the fall hatches are at their best on cloudy, drizzly days. The fish have had a long summer of pressure, and they’re less likely to look up and engage with dry flies on these bright days. Even nymphing and streamer presentations are considerably slower on bright and sunny days. 

Your best bet across the state is to wait for the cloudy, drizzly fall days that are coming up fast. However… A day on the water with temps in the 60s+ is pretty hard to beat this time of year!

Yellowstone River 

One constant on the Yellowstone River this time of, especially on the nicer days, is the breeze. It’s going to be windy and you need to have that mindset no matter what. These last few weeks have seen some incredibly nice days out on the water, even if the fishing has been a bit slow. 

If you get a cloudy day you can expect to find BWOs midday and scattered midges all around. We’ve still got a few solid weeks left of excellent hatches and if you can find a protected spot out of the wind the BWO action can be quite good. The days of solid dry fly fishing are quickly running out, so enjoy it while you can. Swinging a couple of emergers down to feeding fish at the start of the hatch can be highly effective. 

The streamer bite in October on the Yellowstone is some of the best in the region. As mentioned above, it’s best on cloudy days but don’t be afraid to reach for the streamer stick when the sun is out too. Remember the adage “dark day, dark fly. Bright day, bright fly” and you should be fine. Have a selection of colors, profiles, materials (they all move differently) and sizes at hand. Keep cycling through until you find something that the fish are eating. 

Madison River 

Both the Upper and Lower Madison Rivers are fishing very well. Large browns are hitting streamers aggressively, you can find good hatches of BWOs and some midges starting to show up, and it’s just beautiful out there. As on the Yellowstone (and across much of the state this time of year) wind can be an issue, so plan accordingly. 

On the Upper Madison, the popular floats mid valley are a lot less crowded now than during peak summer. The walk/wade stretches below Quake Lake and around Valley Garden are seeing quite a bit of traffic, so be willing to walk a ways to get some solitude. As you’re walking and moving around these areas, be really mindful of redds and spawning fish. Just leave them alone. 

One area of the Madison River that gets a lot of attention this time of year is above Hebgen Lake. Large browns will move out of the lake to spawn, and this is the time of year the true monsters can be found in the river. If you’re pursuing these fish, Don’t be that guy who’s fishing redds and bothering spawning fish. Just leave them be to do their thing. 

The Lower Madison is a great, close to town option that is perfect for a half day outing. Walking up Bear Trap Canyon and fishing the rock gardens can yield some spectacular days of dry fly fishing, and Warm to Blacks is a great half day float option. Be ready for the wind, be kind to others out there, and you’ll have a good day. 

Gallatin River 

The Gallatin River is still fishing well as we move into fall. While the Canyon stretches are still a great choice, the lower river is a ton of fun this time of year. For most of the summer this lower part is too warm or too low to bother with, but now it’s game on. You can find some great spots for BWO hatches, and streamers fished in the juicy runs can find some surprisingly large fish for the Gallatin. 

If you are fishing the Lower river, be ready to walk a ways from the fishing accesses. There aren’t many of them, and be respectful of private property. Stay below the high water mark and stay legal. 

Yellowstone National Park 

There are just a few days left of the fishing season in Yellowstone National Park, and if you want to experience the park in the fall now is the time. The entire park is fishing well, with some of the best BWO dry fly fishing in the entire country right now. The Firehole River is renowned for how it fishes in the fall. 

The NE corner waters of Slough Creek, the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek, not to mention the countless smaller creeks and streams, are such an incredible place to fish this time of year. Watch the wildlife, soak in the leaves, hear the elk bugling in the crisp air, and take it all in. The fishing is great, but it’s secondary to everything else. 

It’s been a great year in Yellowstone Park. We’re already looking forward to next year! 

Livingston and the Shop 

This has been such a mild fall here in Livingston. It’s not often we get a season of leaves like we’ve had, which is a real treat. With colder temps and some snow in the forecast we know winter isn’t far now so enjoy fall while it lasts! 

The shop is still slowly moving toward winter, and our sales floor is filled with apparel and gear to help you stay warm, dry, and comfortable no matter what you’re up to. Don’t miss our upcoming Pray for Snow Celebration - formerly the Backcountry Film Festival. We’ve got the ski movies on the night of November 16th, followed by the annual party and benefit for Loaves & Fishes on November 17th. It’s going to be a great time! 

Tight lines this week!