Wyoming stars in the fantasies of freshwater fly fishermen around the world. More than 17,000 miles of navigable wild rivers and crystal-clear trout streams cut through this sparsely populated state, and trout lakes shine amid soaring peaks and high mountain meadows. Names such as the Snake, the North Platte and the Green River are legendary among fly fishermen for their big fish and beautiful scenery. In fact, some of the state’s best fisheries are located in the country’s most spectacular wilderness areas.
Yellowstone National Park has one of the highest concentrations of public lakes and streams on the planet, and Grand Teton National Park, the Wind River Range, and the Bighorn Mountains are home to rivers, streams, and lakes teeming with fish. More than 22 species of saltwater fish swim in Wyoming’s waters, but the state is best known for its trout, including cutthroat, brook, brown, lake and rainbow trout. Cutthroat is Wyoming’s only native species, and if you catch all four native subspecies, you can earn a Cutt-Slam certificate from the Wyoming Game and Fish Department.
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Before you embark on your fly fishing adventure, keep in mind that in Wyoming, fishermen on waters that pass through private lands must remain in their vessels. Shore fishing or wading is only permitted with the landowner’s permission. Also a word of caution: many of these fishing destinations are in primary bear habitat. Always pack bear spray and keep a safe and respectful distance from wildlife. Finally, for local conditions, fishing regulations, permits, guided trips and recommended fly patterns, check with local fly fishing shops in each region.
1 Yellowstone National Park
One of the world’s greatest wildlife areas, Yellowstone National Park is legendary for its fantastic fly fishing in a truly breathtaking setting of vast meadows, steep gorges and steaming geysers. Few places in the world offer such a high concentration of public lakes and streams. The park’s geothermal activity increases the alkalinity of the streams that feed healthy populations of trout and provides excellent fishing opportunities. You can cast seven different species of game fish in the park, including muzzleloading, brown, brook, rainbow and lake trout, as well as mountain wolffish and grayling. Only the last two species and murderous species are native to the park, but Yellowstone has not been recorded since the 1950s.
Seasonal fluctuations determine the best fishing spots. Anglers who like to fish in the spring should head to the Firehole River for nymph fishing because it is the first to be cleared of snowmelt – usually in May after Memorial Day weekend. In early June, the Madison and Gibbon Rivers and Yellowstone Lake are usually ready for fishing, and by July most park waters are clear and fishable. July and August are the main months, with mostly clear weather and frequent hatches. August is also the best time to fish the lakes ( Heart Lake is a favorite). In September and October, the Lamar River and Slough Creekare prime spots like the Firestone and Madison when their water temperatures drop. October is also great for catching large migrating fish in the Lewis River . Keep a close eye on bison, especially in the river meadows, as well as both grizzlies and black bear.
Official site: https://www.yellowstonenationalpark.com/flyfishing.htm
2 Editor’s Pick Jackson Hole
Jackson Hole offers access to the most diverse flying opportunities in the United States. True to its name, the Snake River slides through the valley providing fantastic fishing spots with populations of Snake River, well-spotted mulefish and small numbers of brown trout. Famous for its great dry fly fishing, the river is the heart of the watershed. It is ideal for fast float fishing but also offers access for wading. The best time to fish the Snake River is early spring before the runoff and mid-summer through October after the runoff. The Snake River also runs through Grand Teton National Park with plenty of productive water and incredible scenery.
In the National Elk Refuge , two miles north of the town of Jackson, Flat Creek is Wyoming’s premier fly fishery. This is a challenging creek to fish because of the clear, calm water, but it can produce big Snake River cutthroats. Casting is made easy by the absence of vegetation along the river. Sight fishing is excellent here, and the creek usually offers great dry fly action. This section of Flat Creek is from August 1st to October 31st. Easily accessible from Highway 191, the Hoback River is a great place to cast if you’re a beginner, with easy access to wading and a good population of receptive Snake River cutthroat. The Gros Ventre Riveris also a popular fishing source in the area, also due to its easy accessibility. Unlike the Hoback River, the Gros Ventre is further from the road and offers a more peaceful fishing experience. Other key areas near Jackson include the Buffalo River , Pacific Creek and beginner-friendly Granite Creek . Due to runoff from the snowmelt season, timing is an important element when planning a fly fishing trip to Jackson Hole. Depending on the area, runoff usually begins around mid-May and continues until early July.
At the foot of the beautiful Wind River Mountains, the small farming town of Pinedale offers access to some of the state’s most sacred fishing grounds, including the Green River and the New Fork . Both rivers offer excellent drift boat fishing and wading, and you can also cast from the bank. The Green River, with riffles, runs, pockets and pools, is by far the larger of the two rivers. It begins its journey in the northern Wind River Range, and its headwaters are in the Bridger-Teton National Forest. Outside of this area, much of the river flows through private property, so it is important to check public access. You’ll find eight miles of public access just upstream from Warren Bridge on Highway 187, north of Daniel. The New Fork flows from New Fork Lakes to the Green River and is great for more experienced anglers. Fish species found in the Pinedale area include the native Colorado stamen and mountain whitefish, as well as brown, golden, rainbow, brook and lake trout. Fishing season on the green usually starts around mid-June. Trips to the west side of the rugged and beautiful Wind River Range also depart from Pinedale.
4 The Wind River Range
With countless high elevation lakes, beautiful streams and wild rivers, Western Wyoming’s Wind River Range offers a rewarding fly fishing adventure in a setting of timeless beauty. Soaring 13,000-foot peaks and abundant wildlife add an edge to fishing in this remote location, and it’s a great destination to explore on a backpacking or guided horseback tour. Fish species found here include cutthroat trout, brook, rainbow and infamously large trout. Wyoming’s record 11-pound golden trout were hooked here on Cook Lake in 1948. Although this species of fish has not been stocked here since the 1990s, they still thrive in certain lakes – especially on the west side of the range. The eastern side of the area, from Dubois south to Lander, is less frequently fished and more difficult to access because of the Wind River Indian Reservation, which borders it. You must purchase a tribal license and hire a tribal guide to access trailheads within the reservation. However, you can be well rewarded for the effort if theFitzpatrick Wilderness Area , best accessed via the reservation, has some of the best lakes with the largest golden mountains. Spring and fall are the best times to fish in this region, although the weather is not reliable at this time of year. Snow can make some lakes inaccessible until August.
5 Miracle Mile and the Gray Reef, North Platte River
Names like the Miracle Mile and the Gray Reef on the North Platte River are legendary among fly fishermen. The North Platte River is a seabed fishery, so fishing is possible at any time of year, although fish spawn here, so take care not to disturb the eggs when wading these waters. Rainbow trout spawn during the spring, and brown trout spawn during the fall. In remote Central Wyoming, about 60 miles from Casper, the easily accessible Miracle Mile section of the North Platte actually stretches for five to eight miles and is famous for its fighting trophy trout. Fish thrive in these waters because of the abundant food, cold water and relatively low fishing pressure, and the dominant species are rainbow trout, brown trout and cutthroat. Miracle Mile is primarily a nymph fishery, but large streamer patterns are a good choice for attracting larger fish. Dry fly fishing produces success on the right days. Features of the river include pocket water, riffles, runs and large boulders. River currents can vary greatly here, so be sure to check conditions before heading out.
Near the town of Alcova, the Gray Reef is a section of the tail of the North Platte River famous for its huge rainbows, browns and gristle. Fish from eight to twelve pounds are often hooked here. Nymph fishing, dry fly fishing and streamer fishing all yield success. Access can be difficult here due to private land ownership, so floating the river in a drift boat is the best way to fish these waters.
6 Grand Teton National Park
Crowned by the jagged peaks of the Teton Mountain Range, Grand Teton National Park, about 10 minutes from the town of Jackson, offers one of the most spectacular fly fishing locations in the country. The Snake River flows through the park, offering plenty of bends and banks for shore fishing and a breathtaking drift boat experience. Also within the park, Jenny Lake offers easy access for anglers and more beautiful scenery. You can fish from the shores on the walking trail that surrounds the lake, or launch a boat from the ramp at the south end of the lake. The best time to fish this lake is after the ice has melted, which usually occurs around mid-May.
Jackson Lake also offers decent fly fishing for lake trout and mackinaw after the ice melts in the spring, before the water warms and the fish move deeper. Shore fishing can be a success at this time as the fish swim in shallow waters looking for baitfish. A state record 50 pound mackinaw was caught here. Beginning in mid-September, when water temperatures begin to drop, lake trout begin to spawn and the lake is closed in October to protect the breeding Mackinaws. Fly fishing for cutthroat and lake trout Leigh Lakeis best from a canoe as the lake has no shore access. You can paddle from String Lake to the portage point and carry the canoe a short distance from Leigh Lake. The ice here usually melts around mid-May. Anglers will also find a few productive streams to fish within the park’s boundaries.
Official site: https://www.nps.gov/grte/planyourvisit/fish.htm
7 Tongue River, Bighorn Mountains
High in the Bighorn Mountains of northern Wyoming, the Tongue River is a tributary of the Yellowstone River. Steeped in Native American history, it is often overlooked by anglers but provides fantastic fishing for all levels in a beautiful setting. The river begins in the Bighorn National Forest , west of Sheridan, and was named for a distinctive rock formation that the Crow Indians thought resembled a bison’s tongue. You have access to most fishing spots on the Bighorn Scenic Byway . In the Southern Tongue, fish species are usually small rainbows, brown and hatchery trout, and the latter can be saved for the frying pan. The clear waters here have freeways, runs and pools, and they are a great spot for less experienced fishermen. The fertile Northern Tonguewater produces much larger fish, including rodents up to 20 inches, brown rainbows and brook trout, but they are more difficult to hook. Above the mouth of Bull Creek, all but brook trout are strictly catch-and-release. Accessible only on foot along rugged boulder-strewn paths, the section of river that cuts through the steep rock gorge offers beautiful scenery and supports healthy populations of rainbow trout, brown trout and gnarled robbers. Hiking deep into the gorge leads to some rarely-fished nooks in peaceful surroundings. The best time to fish the Tongue River is after the runoff ends, usually in early July, but also in early fall.
8 The Big Laramie and the Little Laramie
In southeastern Wyoming, the Big Laramie River is known for its excellent fishing for wild brown trout, but portions of the river are also stocked with rainbow trout. The most beautiful section of the Big Laramie River that is open to the public is the Jelm Access, 30 miles west of Laramie on Wyoming State Highway 230, then south on Wyoming State Highway 10 (near Woods Landing). This part of the river runs through a relatively small gorge with faster water, overhanging banks and pocket water. Wading is the best way to fish these waters, and the best time is from mid-May to early July and into the fall. The Little Laramie River can produce trophy trout, but they are much more challenging to catch. Stalking the fish is often necessary along this route. Access can also be a little more difficult due to the surrounding areas of private land. Be sure to ask permission from landowners or hire a private guide.
9 Flaming Gorge Reservoir
Extending south of the town of Green River and cutting through the Wyoming-Utah border, Flaming Gorge Reservoir is home to a variety of species and is known for its large fish. The Green River feeds these waters, which flow through a steep red-walled gorge and are home to species such as Mackinaw trout, rainbow trout, tiger trout, channel catfish, Kokanee salmon, carp, burbot and smallmouth bass. World record German brown trout was caught here in the 1970s and 1980s, as well as state record trout, brown trout and rainbow trout. Today, trout over 50 pounds are still hooked. Early spring is the best time to fish for trout and salmon, while bass are more active in summer when the water is warmer. You can usually cast carp into shallow water from June onwards.
10 Two Ocean Creek, Teton Wilderness
Bordering the southern end of Yellowstone National Park , Teton Wilderness encompasses more than half a million acres and is home to a fascinating phenomenon found nowhere else on the continent. Along the Continental Divide here, the famous Two Ocean Creek forks and flows to two different oceans: the Atlantic Ocean and the Pacific Ocean. The first creek, appropriately named Atlantic Creek , flows into the Yellowstone River and on to the Atlantic Ocean, while Pacific Creekflows into the Snake River and eventually enters the Pacific Ocean. More than 450 kilometers of trails lead to fantastic fishing areas and a beautiful countryside with lodgepole forests and vast meadows. This is the first country with the murderous throat. In early summer they migrate from Yellowstone Lake up the Yellowstone River to spawn in the Teton Wilderness. Thorofare Creek is especially good for cutthroat fishing, but you can also catch a line in some tributaries. Keep an eye out for grizzly bears in this area and always carry bear spray.