Yellowstone: A Bass Fisherman’s Journey by Will Mullis

Photo Essays, Photography — By on September 7, 2011 1:02 pm

As I write this, I’m cruising the friendly skies at over 30,000 feet with nothing better to do than reminisce about my first fly fishing trip to Yellowstone National Park over the past few days. Like all memorable trips, the weather was worse than expected. Like all memorable trips, I had to leave just as I was starting to settle in. And like all memorable trips, I’m not really too keen on going back to a cubicle and all the joys of 16 hour workdays. This was the kind of trip that makes you take a hard look at your life, and ask yourself how you can make all of the chaos go away, so you can just focus on what you truly love; instead of focusing on your task manager.


Sunset on the Firehole after our first afternoon in Yellowstone

Dad and I had the opportunity to enjoy some of the most beautiful water we may ever fish in our lifetimes, while at the same time being immersed in the some of the most breathtaking scenery and amazing wildlife either of us has ever seen. It may sound like a cliché, but while catching more fish certainly would have been welcome, I don’t know of anyone that would consider that paramount to just the experience of fly fishing Yellowstone.


With vistas like this it was hard, at times, to concentrate on catching fish

When I booked this trip in August, the local fly shops warned me that the weather in October is unpredictable at best. A buddy once told me that I should only consider making fly fishing a career if I actually preferred spending my days hearing and talking about other people’s adventures, instead of spending time on the water myself; so with the past several years of living out his prophecy, I was determined to not endure another Winter where I spent three months ramming my head through a wall, regretting not getting out more.


Snow squall on the Gibbon.

Fishing in sub freezing temps most of the day with snow and wind that could knock you over is certainly not what I would consider ideal fishing conditions, but it gave us solitude on some of Yellowstone’s most fabled waters that would have been asshole to elbow had the temps been more favorable. Most of our time was spent on the Firehole, Gibbon and Madison Rivers with only an occasional herd of elk and bison as company.


Freshly fallen snow on the Madison. I doubt you would find this much solitude on this famous river during the summer.

Despite the weather, we had ample opportunities, but only dad managed to seal the deal with a twenty-one inch rainbow and a very respectable brown. I hooked up with at least three fish over twenty inches that resulted in two break offs and one spit hook. I cursed the trout gods with their lust for 6X tippet and barbless hooks…. It was by far some of the harshest fishing conditions I have ever faced, but there were indeed opportunities to catch fish, and that just goes to show how special Yellowstone truly is.

The glassy gin clear water in meadow stretches of the Firehole is some of the most technical water I have ever seen. A few weeks prior I can imagine the terrestrial fishing in this stretch was on fire!

Amongst the anglers we did see were a few who knew their shit, and made us look like the foolish bass fisherman that we are. I have to tip my cap to the gentleman that was slaying the bows on a meadow section of the Firehole, casting size twenty two Beatis dries with forty plus mph winds. I gave that idea a feeble attempt and quickly realized that it was just not going to happen. There was also a guide with two clients who put on a nymphing clinic where the Gibbon and Firehole meet to form the Madison. We must have seen eight trout over twenty inches caught in the matter of hours.


The Madison Junction, where the Firehole and Gibbon meet to form the Madison River.

Even though I cursed the trout gods a few times, the experience was worth frost bite, wind burn and a severely bruised ego. It’s time to get started planning the trip for next year and plotting my revenge.


The Gibbon with National Park Mountain towering behind it.

Madison River
The Madison along with the Yellowstone is amongst the most fabled fly fishing rivers in the world. The trout are wary and well educated because of the angling pressure it receives. As we witnessed, if you have the skill and the flies they are looking for, the Madison can provide a bounty of bows and browns over twenty inches. Gibbon
Most of our time on the Gibbon was spent in the meadow within the last mile before it meets the Firehole to form the Madison. Most of this water is less than twenty feet across but is surprisingly deep. The outside edges of the bends are well over ten feet deep in some areas with undercut banks providing the trout with ample prime habitat. While the Gibbon is mostly known for its dry and terrestrial fishing, we found streamers to be quite productive. Firehole River
The Firehole River is a strange yet magical place and probably my favorite water we fished during our trip. The river is littered with geothermal features many of which are on the river’s edge and provide nutrient rich warm water making for perfect conditions when other rivers get cold. The Fish
A small sample of the fish that were caught. Not many were caught each day but the fish that we did hook and land were healthy, beautiful and full of piss and vinegar, which explains why a high percentage spit the hook, or broke us off.
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6 Comments

  1. Al Beatty says:
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    Hi Will,

    We loved the piece you did on YNP. It’s a great place and your article brings back fond memories for us both. Thanks for a good job on the piece and for sharing it with us all.

    Tight Lines – Gretchen & Al Beatty

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  2. Dennis Sullivan says:

    Nice Pics. It is congested during warmer weather for sure. Fished the Madison just outside the park, but have not had success. Nice just to sit back and take in the views.

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  3. Tony Mills says:
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    Very nice read. I can feel Yellowstone through your story. It is such an unforgetable place. Been there 5 times and want to go back every year. The pictures in October were fantastic. I usually go in September. There are still some crowds but also several runs where you are the only fisherman there.
    Tight lines and hope to see you there some time.
    Tony Mills, Abilene, Ks

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  4. Nicholas DelGrosso says:

    I enjoyed the article, I was in Yellowstone the first part of August this year. I fished the NezPierce, the Gibbeon and the Yellowstone. While the fishong was slow I did catch a few fish. Outside the Park I also fished Granite Creek and Flat creek. Flat Creek was fun, its located on the National Elk Preserve and the day after opening day I was there in the evening. They are attempting to reduce the amount of non-native fish in Flat Creek so there is a 16 fish limit on Brookies. I hooked into a nice Rainbow and caught a ton of Brookies. Enjoyed the article and loved the pictures.

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  5. Bruce Mahony says:

    Any fish would be the bonus. I haven’t had the pleasure of visiting the area. May do it some day. I enjoyed the experience.

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  6. Russ says:

    Very nice work, Will. We toured Yellowstone the past two summers and fished our way home. It is a beautiful place and your photos capture the park very well.
    Thanks.
    Russ Forney

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