Fishing in Yellowstone

Yellowstone National Park is managed as a natural area to protect plants, wildlife, geology, and scenery. Angling has been a major visitor activity for over a century. Present regulations reflect the park’s primary purposes of resource protection and visitor use. The objectives of the fishing program are to
  1. Manage aquatic resources as an important part of the ecosystem.
  2. Preserve and restore native fishes and their habitats.
  3. Provide recreational fishing opportunities for the enjoyment of park visitors, consistent with the first two objectives.

In Yellowstone, bald eagles, ospreys, pelicans, otters, grizzly bears, and other wildlife take precedence over humans in utilizing fish as food. None of the fish in Yellowstone are stocked, and populations depend on sufficient number of spawning adults to maintain natural reproduction and genetic diversity. In Yellowstone National Park, we place less emphasis upon providing fishing for human consumption and put more emphasis upon the quality for recreational fishing. Anglers, in return, have the opportunity to fish for wild trout in a natural setting.

Because of the increasing number of anglers in the park, more restrictive regulations have been adopted in Yellowstone. These restrictions include: season opening/closing dates, restrictive use of bait, catch-and-release only areas, and number/size limits according to species. A few places are closed to the public to protect threatened and endangered species, sensitive nesting birds, and to provide scenic viewing areas for visitors seeking undisturbed wildlife.

Permits and Fees
A permit is required to fish in Yellowstone. Anglers 16 years of age and older are required to purchase either a $10 ten-day or $20 season permit. Anglers 12 to 15 years of age are required to obtain a non-fee permit. Children 11 years of age or younger may fish without a permit when supervised by an adult. The adult is responsible for the child’s actions. Fishing permits are available at all ranger stations, visitor centers, and Hamilton General Stores. No state fishing license is required in Yellowstone National Park.

Fishing Season
Yellowstone’s fishing season generally begins on the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend and continues through the first Sunday of November. Major exceptions: Yellowstone Lake opens June 1; Yellowstone Lake’s tributary streams open July 15; Yellowstone River and its tributaries between Canyon and Yellowstone Lake open July 15.

Boats & Float Tubes
You also must obtain a permit in person for boats and float tubes from the following locations: South Entrance, Lewis Lake Campground, Grant Village backcountry office, Bridge Bay Marina, and Lake Ranger Station. Non-motorized boating permits only are available at the Canyon, Mammoth, and Old Faithful backcountry offices, Bechler Ranger Station, and West and Northeast Entrances. You must have a Coast Guard approved “wearable” personal flotation device for each person boating.

Non-toxic Fishing
Yellowstone National Park has implemented a non-toxic fishing program. Nationwide, over three million waterfowl die from lead poisoning through ingestion. Because lead from fishing tackle concentrates in aquatic environments, tackle such as leaded split shot sinkers, weighted jigs, and soft weighted ribbon for fly fishing are prohibited. Only non-toxic alternatives to lead are allowed.

Releasing Fish
The following suggestions will insure that a released fish has the best chance for survival:

  • Play fish as rapidly as possible, do not play to total exhaustion.
  • Keep fish in water as much as possible when handling and removing hook.
  • Remove hook gently—do not squeeze fish or put fingers in gills. The use of barbless hooks is encouraged to make release easier.
  • If deeply hooked—cut line—do not pull hook out. Most fish survive with hooks left in them.
  • Release fish only after its equilibrium is maintained. If necessary, gently hold fish upright, facing upstream.
  • Release fish in quiet water, close to area where it was hooked.
  • Never release lake trout. They are an exotic threat to the fishery. All lake trout you catch must be kept and killed.

Bears, Backcountry, and Anglers
Yellowstone is bear country, and there is no guarantee of your safety. Bears often utilize trails, streams, and lakeshores. Entry into some areas may be restricted; check with a ranger for specific bear management information. Traveling alone in bear country is not recommended. Make enough noise to make your presence known to bears. If you should encounter a bear, give it plenty of room, detour if possible, or wait for the bear to move on. If a bear should charge or attack and the situation allows, climb a tree. If you are caught by a bear, try playing dead. Do not run; this may excite the bear. Carefully read all bear country guidelines and regulations and be prepared for any situation.

Garbage Disposal and Fish Cleaning
Please pick up all trash, including items such as monofilament fishing line and six pack holders, which may cause injury to wildlife, and properly dispose in trash receptacles.

When fish cleaning and disposal areas are not provided, dispose of fish entrails by puncturing the air bladder and dropping into deep water.

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Information provided by the National Park Service.

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