Bucket List: Fly Fishing in the West

By John Brognard
This article was originally published in the June 2013 issue of Streamlines.
Fly fishing in Yellowstone. Image credit: National Park Service/Neal Herbert

Consider adding the West to the top of your bucket list. Over the years, Donna and I have spent time traveling in the Western States, particularly Montana, Wyoming, and up into Canada. Everyone knows about Yellowstone Park, but there is so much more to see and experience in and around the Park. Especially for fly fishers!

We hop in our car (already parked) at 4:00 am and head west. The first evening we spend the night in Blue Earth, Minnesota (1,000+ miles). Up again early next morning, quick breakfast and off across South Dakota and Wyoming. That evening we stay in Sheridan, Wyoming. Now we start our vacation, or as they say in the United Kingdom, we are on holiday. We start by crossing Wyoming’s Big Horn Mountains. Several roads provide stunning views, and the opportunity to see wildlife. When we reach the western side of the mountains, the view is of a vast arid valley, colored various shades of red, brown, and blue. It’s an awesome sight.

Driving across the valley, we arrive in Cody, Wyoming. Cody has some very interesting museums (most especially the Buffalo Bill Museum), and the road leading to the west entrance to Yellowstone Park. This is a beautiful ride with sightings of moose, deer, and elk — and the first view of Yellowstone Lake from this route is breath taking. On another trip we headed north on route 120, then northwest on the Chief Joseph Highway that follows the Clarks Fork of the Yellowstone River through one of the most beautiful valleys we have ever seen and into Cooke City.

Cooke City is at the north east entrance to Yellowstone Park. We like Cooke City because it is less crowded, while providing easy access to Lamar Valley, wonderful wildlife viewing and fishing in the Lamar and Yellowstone Rivers, Pebble Creek, Soda Butte Creek, and Trout Lake. After several days lodging at Cooke City, we head northwest over Beartooth Pass to Red Lodge, Montana. The road over the pass reaches almost 11,000 feet and provides opportunities to see rock marmots and various birds and animals that live here in this harsh environment. We stop to view the Bear Tooth, a jagged mountain that is visible in a pass between two other mountains.

The ride down into Red Lodge is a very beautiful switch-back road with a wonderful view of mountains and valleys. Staying in Red Lodge gives us the opportunity to fish the Stillwater River, Rock Creek, East and West Rosebud Creeks, and Mystic Lake. On another trip, we exited Yellowstone Park by the South Entrance, and fished the confluence of the Snake and Lewis Rivers. On this trip we parked our car in a picnic area behind the entrance buildings, walked along the Snake River to the confluence (good fishing), and we also fished upstream along the Lewis River. Heading south into Jackson Hole, Wyoming, we have a wonderful view of the Teton Mountains. We stopped at Jenny Lake, headed across to the other side on a tourist boat taking along our fly rods. At the far side of Jenny Lake, we have the option of hiking into the mountains or fishing for cutthroat trout in the lake. Later we stay in Jackson Hole and fish more in the Snake River. I recommend a float trip for some fun.

I’m just getting started with describing our western adventures and already I am running out of space. Montana and Wyoming offer wonderful fishing opportunities. One day near Ennis, Montana, we crossed a small stream. We stopped for a moment to look over the bridge into a hole literally filled with trout. An hour later we continued on our journey after both of us caught and released numerous cutthroat, rainbow, and cut bow trout.

It’s a fishers’ paradise out there in the West so consider adding a nice long holiday to your bucket list.