The 2022 fishing season was a wild ride in Yellowstone National Park! Severe flooding in mid-June produced unprecedented damage, and left many fisheries unreachable for much or all of the season. The hardest hit watersheds were located in the northern reaches of the park, and include perennial favorites like the Gardner, Lamar, Slough, and Soda Butte. The 500 year flood event washed away roads, swallowed up bridges, and altered the course of legendary fisheries.
This Spring’s floods were preceded by weeks of rain, and nearly three months of heavy snowfall making the opening weekend of fishing in Yellowstone a struggle. Opening week provided a few opportunities to find fishable water, mainly on the upper reaches of the Firehole, and moments of great fishing, but high, muddy water prevailed through the third week of June.
In response to the flooding and subsequent infrastructure damage, the Park Service closed Yellowstone for nearly a week. Some roads and entrances, including the West Entrance, reopened on June 22 allowing us to once again access the Firehole, Madison, and Gibbon Rivers for a short period of good fishing before water temps became elevated in early July.
Fortunately, by the time Summer rolled around in the high country, the healing hand of time was already hard at work, and the resilience of Mother Nature was proudly on display throughout the Park. On July 2 the entire Northern Loop was reopened, thanks in large part to the resourcefulness of the Park Service, and park visitors could once again access nearly 93% of the Park. Sadly, that didn’t include the Northeast entrance road which would remain closed for the majority of the season.
July found us enjoying good water conditions and great hatches on the Gallatin and Yellowstone Rivers in the Park. Flows remained higher than normal for longer than normal, but that only seemed to prolong some of our favorite hatches like Salmonflies and Green Drakes, producing some great fishing for large fish well into August.
In August we saw the first signs of reopening in the Northeast corner with limited access to Slough Creek on a permit basis. The first anglers to fish Slough in the lowest meadow sections by the road found a stream that had been ravaged by the floods, but still retained elements of its classic meandering character, prolific hatches, and picky cutthroat trout. Later in the month we had the opportunity to head further into the backcountry and fish the upper meadows of Slough where the damage from incising flows was more severe. As you might expect, the further upstream, and higher in elevation, the more concentrated, and unfortunately, more destructive the flood waters were. During massive floods like these, strong currents overtake all of the meandering oxbows that we love to fish, forming one straight channel raging downstream into the next meadow. The after effects of this were most evident in the third, and furthest upstream meadow, where the course of the stream straightened significantly, abandoning many of the meanders and oxbows. Further downstream in the broader second meadow, the stream retained more of its original course, as was the case in the first meadow. With a healthy snowpack already in the high country of Yellowstone we hope to see a healthy runoff, and expect the river to work back into meanders as it has done since the last ice age.
Other Northeast corner favorites like the Lamar River and Soda Butte Creek experienced massive changes in stream course, but were in remarkably good shape and fished well by the time the first anglers were able to access near the end of the season. We will be anxious to visit these phenomenal cutthroat trout fisheries next season.
Patrick Johnson penned the YNP fishing report for much of the 2022 season. We enjoyed his voice, and eloquent descriptions of his fishing experiences. In the September 15 report Patrick shared…
“As of right now, I haven’t yet seen the sun today; this morning I needed not only my flannel, but also my insulated jacket; without even realizing it – almost on instinct – I had consumed two full mugs of coffee compared to my usual single. Like a bull elk shaking the rust off with those first few bugles, or a quaking aspen showing just the slightest hint of yellow in the leaves, these changes can only mean one thing: the beginning of fall fishing is here.”
And just like that, the fall season was underway in Big Sky Country. September ushered in the annual fall migration of browns and rainbows from Hebgen Reservoir into the Madison River system in the park. There seemed to be a good push of fish into the system in early September before water temps fully dropped to acceptable levels for full day excursions. By the middle of the month, we experienced our first fall storm and a healthy shot of scuzzy weather exciting migratory fish and fishermen alike.
As the season entered its final month in October, Big Sky Country became entrenched in a long period of beautiful Indian Summer weather. These were not ideal conditions for streamer junkies or fall hatch aficionados, but prolonged warm weather kept terrestrials active in the high country well into October, and that boded especially well for the much anticipated reopening of the Northeast entrance road, and access to the Lamar Valley on October 15. Here’s Patrick’s report from October 20…
“The biggest news out of the Park this last week was the opening of the NE Entrance Road on October 15th. Anglers and regular ol’ tourists alike can now drive the entire length of the Lamar Valley clear through to the gateway communities of Silvergate and Cooke City. Early reports have all come back more-or-less the same: the Lamar and Soda Butte Creek look radically different in some stretches, with their contours and bottoms forever changed from the springtime floods. Mother Nature’s makeover aside, both rivers have been fishing lights-out — those Yellowstone Cutthroat haven’t seen a fly all summer, and have been readily inhaling small hoppers and ants throughout the day.”
New for this year, the fishing season closed on the last day of October, rather than the first Sunday in November giving us one fewer week in the world’s first national park to chase trout. By the final week fall weather was firmly in place, and conditions were ideal for streamer fishing on the Madison River, and Baetis hatches on the Firehole.
The 2022 fishing season in Yellowstone Park was not without its challenges by any stroke of the imagination, but in the end we are thankful to have tremendous access to such a diversity of fisheries spanning more than three thousand square miles of wilderness. As the snow piles high throughout the park this winter we look forward to exploring this vast playground once again next year.