Parks' Fly Shop: Required Tackle for Fly Fishing in the Yellowstone Area

Required Tackle for Your Yellowstone Area Fly Fishing Trip

Yellowstone National Park and the area in general offer a very wide range of fishable waters and situations you may be forced to meet.  Every piece of gear you own, from your six foot cane midge rod with a double-taper silk line to your 14' eight weight spey rod with a Hi-D sink tip might prove useful at one time and place or another.  Most situations, however, can be met by a much smaller set of gear.  We can provide everything mentioned on this page, if you don't have it or don't want to bring it on the plane, and rent both rods and wading gear, but if you do want to bring your own gear, the following recommendations will ensure you've got the right stuff.  Required tools and accessories are also covered here. Click the appropriate link below for fly pattern and hatch information, which is discussed on a different set of pages.


Rods & Reels

In general, rods for the Yellowstone region should range from eight to ten feet in length, with nine-footers strongly emphasized, and should run from the medium to the heavy end of trout rods. You can do most of what you need to do in the Yellowstone area with a nine-foot six weight, but it's much better to bring at least two rods. While a nine-foot four weight is ideal for fishing PMDs on the spring creeks, swinging soft hackles on the Firehole, or delicately presenting a beetle on Slough Creek, this rod won't do you any good if it turns out the best fishing is to be had by chucking size-2 streamers on the Yellowstone or heavily weighted size-4 stonefly nymphs on the Gardner.

All rods should be paired with reels of the appropriate size and weight. Reels should have smooth drags and exposed rims for palming. High-dollar reels are not necessary, but the palming rims and smooth drags will make landing larger fish much easier. Generally, spending $50-150 on a trout reel is plenty for our region.

If you do decide to bring just one rod, it should be a nine-foot six weight from March through the end of July, a nine-foot five weight from the beginning of August until Labor Day, and a nine-foot six again thereafter. A two-rod quiver should include a four and a six or a five and a seven. Otherwise, the following table includes the uses you'll find for rods of various lengths and line weights.

Rod Weight Rod Length Description of Use
1-2 6-8 feet Ultralight rods like these are useful only on the smallest, flattest streams in the area. Most small streams are actually too steep and rugged for such short rods to work well. Such rods are really only useful in mid-late summer on brook trout streams in the Gardner and Madison drainages, as well as a couple cutthroat and rainbow streams that are also in the park.
3-5 7.5-8.5 feet This is the primary "crick" rod for most of us. These rods are long enough to fish pocket water creeks effectively and have enough backbone to turn the larger fish that sometimes turn up in these creeks. Rods in this class can also be useful on the Firehole, on the spring creeks, and in the Lamar drainage if it's not windy.
3-5 8.5-9 This class of rods makes a good "light all around" rod if you have a heavier rod as well. Most useful on meadow streams and on the spring creeks.
5 8.5-9 Getting close to true multi-purpose here. Best all around rod for the Lamar drainage and spring creeks, and also useful on smaller lakes and on the Yellowstone in the fall.
6 9 This is as close to you can get for a true multi-purpose rod. We use 9' six-weights for almost all fishing on the Yellowstone in the Park, most lake fishing, most Gardner River fishing, and drift boat fishing from early May through August.
6 9.5-10 Longer six-weights are most useful for fishing out of a belly boat or if you want to sit while fishing in a drift boat. Also a good choice for nymph fishing for fall-run browns.
7 9 9' 7 weights are our rod of choice for most streamer fishing, especially out of the boat, and some nymphing for fall-run browns. This is also the rod most of us use for hunting carp.
8 9-9.5 Another streamer rod choice, also good for carp.
7-9 spey 12-15 feet Spey rods can be useful when fishing the Madison drainage for fall-run browns or swinging wet flies or streamers on the Yellowstone.

Lines & Leaders

Floating lines are by far the most important type for fly fishing the Yellowstone area. Floating lines will cover all dry fly fishing and the vast majority of nymph fishing in rivers, and the contemporary mini-tip sinking leaders are usually all that is needed for occasional streamer fishing. If you plan to streamer fish a great deal, a 10-20 foot fast-sink sinktip is a good second line. If you plan to fish lakes, a medium-speed sinking line and an intermediate sinking line are good choices. Except for streamer rods, double taper (DT) or weight forward (WF) lines will work fine. On streamer rods, the better distance performance of WF lines is superior.

General purpose leaders for fishing in the Yellowstone region should range from 7.5 to 9 feet in length, and from 1X to 5X. Stretching to a 12-foot leader is sometimes required on flat water, but unless you are fishing the spring creeks this can be done by adding tippet. Standard nylon tippet should be carried in sizes from 0X to 6X, with 7X for the spring creeks. We do not generally use fluorocarbon tippet, but if you prefer to do so it is most useful in 0X-2X for streamer fishing and from 5X-7X for technical dry fly and nymph fishing. In general, leaders and tippets lengthen and decrease in diameter the farther away from July we are, as fall, winter, and early spring have much lower, clearer water than summer, when we often fish even size-12 dry flies on 3X. One of the most common mistakes in Yellowstone country is using a tippet that's too light. We never go below 4X on the Yellowstone until at least August, and only go to 6X in late October when the midges are hatching.


In addition to your rod, reel, line, leaders, and tippets, you'll want to have or be ready to buy the following accessories:

polarized sunglasses sunscreen bugspray
headnet (late June, July) camera(s) aspirin or similar
barb smasher and forceps hat allergy pills
non-toxic split shot strike indicators (large and small) dry fly floatant
"cheaters" or flip-focal, if needed nippers or fingernail clippers knot tying tool (if needed)


phone 406 848 7314, address 202 Second Street South PO Box 196 Gardiner, MT 59030 E-mail Walter Wiese E-mail Richard Parks link to PFS Youtube Channel link to PFS Facebook

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