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When the greater Yellowstone area comes to mind most people conjure up images of busy roads, crowded streams, even traffic jams. And it is no wonder such things come to mind because some 2.5 to 3 million people visit the park and its environs each year. Trying to find relative solitude in this area must be difficult…right?
The answer is no because, visitor statistics aside, most of Yellowstone and its environs is still pristine wilderness where few people go. Obviously, I’m not talking about the area’s fabled waters, such as the Firehole, Gallatin, Henry’s Fork, Madison, Slough Creek and Yellowstone. During most of the good fishing months, you’ll indeed find crowds galore on these hot spots.
Basically, there are two major ways you can get away from the crowds. The first is by booking a horseback trip into the backcountry. And the second is by focusing your attention on waters the crowds don’t know about. Let me help you explore these two options by suggesting a few itineraries. Any one of them can be easily tacked on to a family oriented visit to the main park itself and/or a visit to some of the park’s famous waters.
Itinerary 1 Horseback Trip To The Upper Lamar River: This trip starts with a call to H.A. Moore of Rendezvous Outfitters in Gardiner, Montana (*). You fly into Bozeman, Montana, rent a car and drive about 75 miles to Gardiner. This small town lies along the northern boundary of the park and is full of a variety of accommodations including hotels, lodges, resorts and campgrounds. For more information on places to stay contact the Gardiner Chamber of Commerce (*).
After a good night’s rest you meet Moore to make final preparations for your trip to the upper Lamar River. Of course, you will have already contacted Moore weeks in advance to make reservations as he and other outfitters in the area book up well in advance. The backcountry part of the trip starts at the Lamar River trailhead where the mules are loaded with all the necessary provisions and you mount a trail worthy horse.
After a few hours of riding, you arrive at your campsite, have a bite to eat and prepare your rods. As the outfitter sets up camp, you head for the river and spend the rest of the day tossing humpies and wulffs into the upper Lamar’s many pockets and runs. The fish are not selective here and cutthroats from 14 to 18 inches continually pierce the water’s surface with their snouts to slurp your fly. After experiencing some of the finest dry fly fishing of your life, you return to camp to dine on a fine meal of steaks and relax as the conversation around the campfire is filled with tales of the day’s events. After a while the day begins to catch up with you and you retire to a clean, comfortable tent.
The next morning you awake refreshed, sip freshly brewed coffee and eat a hearty breakfast that includes pancakes, bacon, eggs and hash browns. After breakfast you ride a few miles to Miller Creek. This creek is half the size of the Lamar and is even more stacked with cutthroats than the Lamar.
During your stay, Moore and his wranglers cook the meals, clean the dishes, take care of the horses and do the camp chores while you fish and otherwise enjoy yourself. The cost of a trip to the upper Lamar and Miller Creek with Moore runs about $200 per person per day, if you bring your own gear and don’t need the services of a personal guide.
Itinerary 2 On Your Own Fishing In Rock Creek: You start this outing by flying into Billings, Montana, renting a car and driving south on Highway 212 to the town of Red Lodge. The attraction here is Rock Creek, a beautiful, clear, rough and tumble, pocket water stream inhabited with rainbows, browns, cutthroats and brookies up to 18 inches. It’s not so far out of town and it’s paralleled for miles by an improved road. Locals will tell you how to find it. The flies to use here include hoppers and attractors, or you may want to match assorted caddis, mayfly and stonefly hatches.
The town of Red Lodge, like most Yellowstone communities, thrives off tourism and therefore has plenty of places to stay. The folks at Yellowstone Country Montana (*) will provide you a list.
Itinerary 3 On Your Own Lake Fishing On The Beartooth Plateau: This itinerary can be tacked on to the one above. All you do is head south on Highway 212 over the Beartooth Pass. Several miles out of town, the road climbs out of the Rock Creek drainage, winding, twisting and switchbacking its way to the summit of the pass. On top of the pass you can see for many miles in each direction. It’s a desolate world up here, dominated by alpine tundra, granite, snowfields and cold, oligotrophic streams and lakes. This is some of the most unique and spectacular scenery you’ll ever see.
The really exciting thing is, there are around a thousand lakes up here on the plateau. Some are barren of fish, while others contain grayling, rainbow, cutthroat, cutbow, golden, goldbow, brook, brown or lake trout. While the growing season is short, trout in some lakes grow very large. You could spend a lifetime exploring the lakes and country of the Beartooth Plateau. If you want to dip into them on your own, be sure to pick up a topo map or two covering the area you plan to explore. Some of these maps also indicate which species inhabit which lakes and can be found in nearby towns at a variety of stores. You can also order maps by mail or phone from Rocky Mountain Surveys (*). The company will send you an index to their maps free.
A guide service that can help you enjoy this area is Ronnie Wright’s Beartooth Plateau Outfitters (*). Wright runs horseback pack in trips to the plateau. The nearest accommodations are back in Red Lodge (see above) or further along in Cooke City (see below).
Itinerary 4 On Your Own Fishing In The Upper Clarks Fork: Again, this itinerary can be tacked on to the one above. All you do is continue along on Highway 212 until you drop off the plateau and descend into the Clarks Fork drainage. Driving west along the river, keep your eyes open for an auspicious stretch and simply pull over and fish. Pilot and Index peaks tower above the valley to the west while the river works its way eastwardly to the high plains and deserts of Wyoming and Montana.
As you fish the upper Clarks Fork with attractors trailed with a bead head nymph, prod each deep pool, classic run, riffle and pocket behind each rock. You can expect rainbows, browns, cutthroats and brookies to swoop from the fast current and inhale your dry fly. Occasionally they’ll take the bead head instead.
Don’t be surprised if a moose emerges from the streamside evergreens to drink and cool himself in the medium sized river, while marmots chirp and frolic upon the streamside boulders. The trout are smallish here, but you probably won’t mind as you catch one after another and absorb the wonderful scenery. As the sun sets, plan to return to your vehicle and make a short drive to Cooke City. The Alpine Motel (*) and High Country Motel (*) are good places to stay. Just be sure you make reservations well in advance. A good guide service in this area is Greater Yellowstone Flyfishers (*).
Itinerary 5 On Your Own Fishing In Soda Butte And Pebble Creeks: This final leg of your trip begins where the one above leaves off. Simply check out of your motel in Cooke City and keep driving west on Highway 212. Your route will take you into the park a short ways and give you roadside access to Soda Butte Creek. Pebble Creek is also reachable from the highway. To fish much of it, however, you’ll need to stop at the Pebble Creek Trailhead and walk in a ways. Both these streams are small but they have abundant cutthroat populations. They flow through glacial valleys and are flanked by towering snow capped peaks with names such as Abiathar, Cutoff, Hornaday and The Thunderer. The fish average about 12 inches but trout as large as 18 to 20 inches are taken from Soda Butte each year.
After sampling the waters around Cooke City, you may want to move on to the town of Gardiner. From here you can fish the nearby Gardner River (the two are spelled differently and are unconnected in history, named after two different people). The Gardner River has its headwaters in the park on Electric Peak. The upper Gardner in Gardner’s Hole is chock full of small brookies which tend to be easy to catch. Below Osprey Falls downstream to its confluence with the Yellowstone River the Gardner is a fast flowing, pocket water stream full of browns, rainbows, cutthroats, cutbows, brookies and whitefish. Hoppers, attractors and caddis, stonefly and mayfly hatches provide ample dry fly opportunities and standard nymph patterns almost always produce. Just don’t expect large trout, although fish over 16 inches can be caught here from time to time. Chad Olsen.