Fishing Mecca of the West — Livingston, Montana

Fly fishing on the Yellowstone riverWhen one thinks of Livingston, Montana, the first thing that usually comes to mind is fly-fishing. Long renowned as a Mecca for fly-fishermen from around the globe, Livingston serves as the quintessential launching point for a variety of fly-fishing adventures. Something about a town with a river running through it adds life to the entire community. Perhaps this explains the vibrant nature of this trout fishing paradise.

Because Livingston is home to the Yellowstone River — the longest free flowing river in the lower 48 — one can literally pursue world class fly-fishing within the city limits. But for those with adventure on the brain, endless angling possibilities can easily fill a week’s worth of fishing without ever hitting the same section of river twice — or even, for that matter, the same body of water. The plethora of waters coursing throughout the region include the countless rivers and streams in Yellowstone National Park, the legendary Paradise Valley spring creeks, the lesser known but exciting Yellowstone River tributaries, and several productive private lakes.

Fishing the Yellowstone River Hatches:

But for most anglers, the Yellowstone River, often referred to as the “Yankee Stadium of trout fishing,” is the primary focus of their Livingston-based fly-fishing adventure. Typically beginning around the 4th of July, the chocolate-colored, turbulent waters, swollen from snowmelt, begin to ease, and the greening of the Yellowstone begins.  It’s time to wet a line!

The first major bug episode each year is the epic Salmon fly hatch, which usually occurs between the 1st and 10th of July.  Part of the lure, and reason for celebration, is the sheer size of the hatch. To observe a swarm of Salmon flies migrating upstream (with the exception of the Firehole River in the park, all Salmon fly hatches in this area move upstream — with anglers in close pursuit) is to witness one of the great marvels of our western rivers.

While short-lived and unpredictable, due to its proximity to spring-runoff, the arrival of the Salmon fly signals the beginning of four solid months (July-October) of unmatched fly-fishing opportunities across the region.

The next major hatch on the Yellowstone River — the Salmon fly’s little cousin, the Golden stonefly – occurs in late July. The Golden stonefly often produces even more thrilling days on the water. Its hatch coincides with the beginning of prolific caddis and mayfly hatches, which abound throughout most of July and August. But come mid-August, as the aquatic hatches begin to fade, the real magic begins when the profusion of terrestrials (hoppers, crickets, ants and beetles) emerge from the river banks and allow for some of the most spectacular and explosive dry fly fishing in the West.

Fly fishing the Yellowstone River in MontanaLivingston to Gardiner on the Yellowstone:

Over 670 miles in length, the Yellowstone River offers numerous opportunities to wet a line inside Yellowstone National Park; however, the vast majority of the fishing on the Yellowstone occurs outside of the park, beginning in the quaint and welcoming gateway town of Gardiner, Montana. From Gardiner (50 miles south of Livingston) to Big Timber (30 miles east of Livingston), a great variety and abundance of water awaits you.

For most anglers traveling to the area, a few days in a drift boat with an experienced guide is a must. Though the Yellowstone provides ample opportunities for the serious wade angler, the sheer size of the river makes a day in a McKenzie River style drift boat a fishing experience one won’t forget. While the waters east of Livingston, extending as far as Reed Point, Montana, are best left to the serious and experienced anglers searching for massive brown trout, the 50 miles of water between Livingston and Gardiner provide unmatched scenery, varied water types and an abundance of trout.

Whether floating with a guide or heading out on your own, you will want to get out early, both to maximize your time on the water and to simply experience a drive through the Paradise Valley on a crisp summer morning. With a quick stop at a Livingston fly-shop, you can pick up a detailed Yellowstone River map that shows you all of the fishing access sites throughout the valley.

Three of our favorite fly fishing access points:


  1. McConnell-Joe Brown
  2. Gray Owl-Mallards (known as the “bird float”)
  3. Carter’s Bridge to 89 (running right through Livingston)

Wade Fishing:

  1. Numerous points between McConnell and Corwin Springs (beginning 5-8 miles north of Gardiner)
  2. Emigrant Bridge vicinity
  3. Mayors Landing in Livingston

Selecting a Fly-Fishing Guide:

The numerous fly shops and outfitters in Livingston, Emigrant and Gardiner can make picking a guide an overwhelming process. Shop around. With typical full day rates nearing $500, you want to make sure you will be happy spending 8+ hours with your guide. Be clear what you are looking for when booking your trip.  The guide will pick you up and provide transportation to and from the river. Any quality guide will also provide a nice shore lunch and drinks, so regardless of how the river fishes on any particular day, you should be left with solid memories of fishing under the Big Sky.


We highly recommend our friends at Angler’s West Fly Shop in Emigrant, Montana.

End of the Day:

After a long day pursuing trout under a hot sun, many options to unwind and relive your day on the water await you. In Gardiner, the Town Loft will provide you with a hearty Montana meal and authentic Gardiner atmosphere. 120 East Park Street | Gardiner, Montana | 406-848-7322

If you are in the valley, you would be remiss if you did not soak your tired bones and achy muscles in the therapeutic hot springs at the Chico Hot Springs Resort, which also offers one of the finest dining experiences in the region. #1 Old Chico Road, Paradise Valley | 800-468-9232 |

In Livingston, check out the Rib and Chop House (a local guide hangout,) where you are likely to see many raccoon-eyed anglers tearing into a slab of ribs or the cedar plank salmon. 305 East Park Street | Livingston, Montana | 406-222-9200 |

About the author: Michael Leach is a Montana fly-fishing guide, writer and founder of a grassroots nonprofit organization called Yellowstone Country Guardians.  You can learn more about YCG at: or visit him at:

Yellowstone River Fishing Access Map:

View Yellowstone River Fishing Access, Montana in a larger map