Yellowstone Fly Fishing Tips: Information on How to Fly Fish Yellowstone Courtesy Walter Wiese: Clothing to Pack When Visiting the Yellowstone Area
Clothing and Accessories to Pack for Fly Fishing the Yellowstone Area
Daytime temperatures in the Yellowstone area range from 100 degrees Fahrenheit at the lowest elevations along the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers on the hottest days in late July or early August down to perhaps thirty degrees below zero in January, even in the same low-elevation locations. Conditions can change in a manner of minutes; it's not unusual for late summer cold fronts to roll in, drop the temperature 30 degrees, and spit icy rain and hail following pleasant mornings with sunshine and temperatures in the 70s. Hypothermia is almost as big a risk in the summer as in the dead of winter, simply because people don't come prepared for changes in weather. This page is designed to ensure you bring the right clothing to be prepared for all eventualities. Odds are you won't need all the layers you bring on any one trip, but you're better off bringing items you don't need than leaving behind those you do.
In general, plan to bring layers. Temperatures almost always change by 20 degrees between early morning and midafternoon, and in early autumn they might change more like 40 degrees. Even in the summer, most people from warmer climates will want jackets first thing in the morning, particularly at high elevations in Yellowstone Park. Poly and other other breathable fabrics are far superior to cotton, particularly if you'll be doing any hiking or wet-wading.
Except when traveling for dinner in the evenings, or otherwise being out and about when you won't be exposed to direct sunlight for very long, I strongly suggest wearing long sleeves at all times. All fisheries in this region are at high elevations and the sun is exceptionally bright. My clients who get the worst sunburns are invariably from regions with beaches; they have beach tans, but beach tans don't do much to protect you from mountain sun. Contemporary lightweight quick-dry longsleeve clothing is as comfortable to wear as cotton tee-shirts and shorts, and dries faster if you get rained on or wet-wade. Long sleeves also protect you from insects, brush, briars, and the like much better than short sleeves. I am almost never outside for more than an hour or so without wearing such clothing.
Notes on Wading Gear
Felt soles are now illegal in Yellowstone Park, though they are still legal in Montana. This means that sticky rubber-soled boots are now the way to go, with or without studs, cleats, or aluminum bars for additional traction. If you use studded wading shoes, note that studs must be removed if you'll be fishing from a raft or drift boat. Soft aluminum studs or bars are better than hard tungsten carbide spikes on Yellowstone-area boulders.
Wading sandals or old sneakers are recommmended only on the flattest meadow-type streams or if you will be fishing from a boat.
We commonly wet-wade most fisheries around here whenever it is warm enough to do so. Depending on the elevation, we can usually wet-wade from sometime in June through sometime in early September. The main exceptions are the highest-elevation rivers in Yellowstone Park such as the headwaters of the Yellowstone River, as well as some tailwaters. Therefore, if you come during the summer months it's a good idea to have clothing you don't mind getting wet (such as quick-dry pants as noted above), wading shoes and stockingfoot waders rather than boot-foot waders, and a pair of neoprene wet wading socks or booties so that you can wet-wade. I still suggest bringing waders if possible, but so long as you have a good raincoat if you'll be fishing afoot and a full set of raingear including rain pants if you'll be sedentary (in a boat), you'll be okay except in a few locations from about June 15 through August.
General Clothing and Accessories
You should always bring the following items.
Ball cap or wide-brimmed hat
Longsleeve lightweight breathable shirt (pullover or button-up)
Longsleeve lightweight breathable pants
Light thermal top
Light thermal bottoms
Fleece jacket, sweatshirt, or windbreaker
Breathable neck gaiter/scarf (i.e. BUFF)
Wool hiking-type socks
Sturdy street shoes or boots
Stockingfoot breathable chest waders or wading pants
Fishing vest or pack
Painkillers, allergy medicine, cough drops, etc.
Sunscreen (SPF 30+ recommended)
Basic first-aid kit
Map/Road Atlas (GPS navigation, including phone navigation, often does not work)
Hiking maps (if hiking)
Bear spray (if fishing on foot or hiking inside or within about 30 miles of Yellowstone Park
Trekking poles, wading staff, or walking stick if you are at all doubtful of your balance and will be fishing on foot.
Additional Summer Clothing and Accessories
Also bring the following from June through August.
Sandals or light shoes for before/after wet wading
Wet wading gear (see introduction above)
Insect repellant (DEET is your friend…)
Headnet if fishing/traversing marshy areas in wet years
Hiking gear. Even if you don’t plan to walk far, a day-pack is nice.
Additional Spring and Fall Clothing and Accessories
Also bring the following in April, May, early June, late August, September, and October.
Heavier fleece or down jacket and/or vest
Fleece or similar warm hat
Fleece or neoprene lightweight gloves
Flannel or similar heavier shirt
Additional Late Fall, Winter, and Early Spring Clothing and Accessories
Bring the following IN ADDITION TO Spring and Fall Items if you are coming from late September through early April. On warm days in late fall or early spring, the spring and fall items mentioned previously will suffice, but if it's cold you will want every stitch of clothing you can get.
Heavy thermals, top and bottom
Heavy fleece pants
Heavy waterproof or "puffy" winter coat
Raincoat must be a heavy-duty GORE-TEX style model
Heavy gloves or mittens
Fleece or wool scarf or face mask
Heavy, tall, hunting or winter-style boots (especially from November-March)
Extra sets of clothing except outermost layers
Winter survival kit from late November through March (blanket, food, water, kitty litter or similar traction device, shovel, etc.)
Snowshoes if planning to fish portions of the Madison or Gallatin Rivers
Richard Parks is Montana Outfitter #327 and Yellowstone Park CUA holder #13-037. Parks' Fly Shop operates under his licensure in Yellowstone National Park, the Yellowstone River Drainage upstream of Livingston, and the Custer-Gallatin National Forest. Walter J. Wiese is Montana Outfitter #22001 and Madison River SRP holder #297. The shop operates under his licensure in the Yellowstone Drainage downstream of Livingston and in the entire Missouri River Drainage.
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Website, text, and graphics by Walter J. Wiese. Photos generally by Walter J. Wiese or his clients.