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Gallatin River, Yellowstone  at Cabela's

Gallatin River, Yellowstone

Author: Steve Cook

The Gallatin River section in Montana was the setting for the fishing scenes in A River Runs Through It, but you won't have to worry about swimming through rapids to land your big fish. The waters in Yellowstone National Park are much more tame than the whitewater found below.

Named for Albert Gallatin, the Secretary of the Treasury who helped plan and finance Lewis and Clark's Voyage of Discovery, the river begins at the outflow of Gallatin Lake at 8,600 feet. From this point, it descends 1,200 feet over the next 13 miles to US 191 at the Bighorn trailhead. From the trailhead downstream to the Yellowstone National Park boundary, there are 12 miles of beautiful meadow water easily accessible from the road. The Gallatin in Yellowstone National Park is simple, unpretentious water. It is normally kind to rookie fly fishers, and basic dry flies will usually do the trick. The waters of the Gallatin flow clear and cold most of the summer - much colder than nearby neighbors like the Madison and the Firehole. This quality makes the Gallatin a good choice during late July and August, when other streams suffer from summer doldrums. You can sleep in or linger over coffee, as this river fishes best when the sun is well up in the sky. Another benefit is that cold water stays well oxygenated, so when you hook one of this river's stocky rainbow trout, expect it to get airborne time and time again. This wadeable, small river produces fish that run about 13 to 14 inches with some up to 18. Yet stories of 20-inch browns still circulate wherever the Gallatin's faithful anglers congregate.

Special Regulations
This stretch of the Gallatin River falls under general park regulations. See page 345 for Yellowstone National Park fees and regulations.

The Gallatin is a simple stream under most conditions. If you find one of its larger aquatic insect species hatching when you arrive, just tie on a reasonable imitation and begin fishing your way upstream. In the absence of any significant hatch, select your favorite attractor. If fishing is a little slow with the big dry flies, try adding a small bead-head dropper.

The dry/dropper combination is most effective in the riffled water that is home to the Gallatin's scrappy rainbows. If you are looking for one of the river's large brown trout, cast your fly up against deep, undercut banks. Grasshoppers and other terrestrials are the best choice for fishing tight to the riverbank.

Fishing streamers can also be effective in this smaller water. Try stripping woolly buggers and zonkers. Sink-tip lines can be effective, but well-weighted flies work best by sinking quickly right at the river's edge. Remember that you are still in Yellowstone National Park and lead is not allowed.
Hatch Chart/Availability            
Blue-winged olives    
Pale morning duns                  
Green drakes                    
Golden stoneflies                  
InsectsSuggested Fly Patterns
MidgesGriffith's gnats (#16-20), grizzly midges (#16-20), Adams (#16-20), brassies (#16-20), serendipities (#18-20)
Blue-winged olivesparachute Adams (#16-20), thorax BWOs (#16-20), Quigley cripples, olive (#16-20), pheasant tails (#14-18), hare's ears (#14-18)>
Pale morning dunscomparaduns, cream (#14-18), thorax duns, cream (#14-18), cream parachutes (#14-18), sparkle duns, cream (#14-18), Quigley cripples, cream (#14-18), rusty spinners (#16-20), pheasant tails (#14-18), hare's ears (#14-18)
Green drakesgreen drake Wulffs (#10-12), olive paradrakes (#10-12), olive comparaduns (#10-12), Quigley cripples, olive (#10-12), soft-hackle emergers, olive (#8-12), hare's ears, olive (#10-14), zug bugs (#10-14)
Flavsgreen drake Wulffs (#14-16), olive parachutes (#14-16), olive comparaduns (#14-16), Quigley cripples, olive (#14-16), soft hackles, partridge and green (#14-16), CDC emergers, olive (#14-16), hare's ears, olive (#14-16)
Golden stonefliesyellow stimulators (#8-12), prince nymphs (#8-12), bead-head prince nymphs (#8-12), golden stonefly nymphs (#6-10), Bitch Creek nymphs (#6-10)
Salmonfliessofa pillows (#6-10), Mac Salmons (#6-10), orange stimulators (#6-10), rubber-legs, black (#6-10), Bitch Creek nymphs (#6-10) Brook's stone nymphs (#6-10)
Caddisflieselk-hair caddis, tan and black (#14-18), CDC elk-hair caddis (#14-18), parachute caddis, olive, tan and brown (#14-18), partridge caddis (#14-18), soft-hackle caddis pupae (#14-18)
TerrestrialsDave's hoppers (#8-12), parachute hoppers (#8-12), Dave's crickets (#10-12), fur ants, black (#16-20), CDC ants, black (#16-18), deer-hair beetles, black (#14-18), hi-vis foam beetles (#14-18)
Attractorsroyal Wulffs (#12-16), gray Wulffs (#12-16), Rio Grande trudes (#12-16), peacock trudes (#12-16), Chernobyl ants (# 6-10)
How to Get There
There is regular air service into Bozeman year-round and into West Yellowstone from June 1 to September. Most anglers who visit this water will make the Gallatin a side trip while based in West Yellowstone.

To reach the Gallatin from West Yellowstone, head north on US 191 along Grayling Creek. You will pass Divide Lake just before you reach the river near the Bighorn trailhead, about 21 miles north of West Yellowstone.

From Bozeman, drive 60 miles south on US 191 to reach the Gallatin at the national park boundary.

The Gallatin meets US 191 near the Bighorn trailhead. If you are looking for a backcountry experience, head up the Bighorn Pass Trail to the upper stretches of the river. You can hike a loop over Fawn Pass and connect with the Fan Creek Trail. From the Bighorn trailhead downstream, the Gallatin follows US 191 all the way to the park boundary. There are several turnouts and parking areas at major trailheads, making it simple for anglers to gain access to the river.

If you want to get a little farther away from the road, hike downstream from Fawn Pass trailhead (near mile marker 22), or fish the river between mile marker 26 and 27 (includes the confluence with Specimen Creek).

The river is moderately swift and powerful when the water is high. The bottom is composed of cobble rock and gravel, making wading difficult in places. This river is cold enough to justify waders through much of the summer.

The thick willows along the bank can impede an angler's progress, as well as hide the valley's stoic moose. Be careful of North America's largest ungulate - they may seem peaceful and immobile, but they can charge quickly if anglers encroach too close or spook them out of their resting spot. One would be wise to be careful of all wildlife in this wild area - take your time, make some noise and always maintain a safe distance.

Check river flows on the web

When To Go
Although the Gallatin opens on Memorial Day weekend, it does not normally fish well until spring run-off recedes. This may occur in late June of low water years, but July is a safer bet for planning a trip. July fishing can include salmonflies and green drakes, making for some memorable days when things go your way.

As the dog days of summer stretch into August, hopper fishing really picks up and provides some of the best fishing most years. Indian summer days of September are beautiful in this high country, and terrestrial fishing usually holds up through the end of the month. If you visit the Gallatin in October, dress warm and look for aggressive brown trout willing to chase streamers.

West Yellowstone is an ideal base to fish the Gallatin. Lodging, restaurants and shops are plentiful. If you prefer to stay in the park, go to Yellowstone National Park


Gallatin National Forest For more information, contact the Hebgen Lake Ranger District at (406) 823-6961.
  • Bakers Hole


    Big Sky
    Big Sky Ski & Summer Resort
    One Lone Mountain Trail
    Big Sky, MT 59716
    Phone number/s: (406) 995-5000

    Comfort Inn Of Big Sky
    47214 Gallatin Road
    Big Sky, MT 59716
    Phone number/s: (406) 995-2333

    Gallatin Gateway
    Corral Bar Café & Motel
    42895 Gallatin Road
    Gallatin Gateway, MT 58730
    Phone number/s: (406) 995-4249

    West Yellowstone
    Pine Shadows Motel
    530 Gibbon Ave.
    West Yellowstone, MT 59758
    Phone number/s: (406) 646-7541

    Taken from Rocky Mountain Fly-Fishing by Steve Cook
    Steve Cook's new guidebook is filled with practical information about how to fish the blue ribbon waters of the American West. Complete with maps and hatch charts, the book focuses on the best of the best - the classic waters around Yellowstone and the quality waters throughout Idaho, Montana, Wyoming, Colorado, Arizona and Utah. The author is a professional guide who has spent years helping people learn to catch fish on these very rivers and lakes.

    — Your complete source for more Cabela's News, and updated hunting and fishing articles.