Located in the far South-Western portion of Yellowstone Park, the Bechler River is probably the least well known major river in the park. It is located in the small portion of Yellowstone that falls in Idaho, and is not accessible from any interior park road. Instead, one must travel north from the town of Ashton, Idaho to gain access to the Bechler country. The road dead-ends just inside the park boundary, so fishing the Bechler requires a hike. While this region of Yellowstone is known to backpackers and hikers for its abundance of waterfalls and hot springs, it is far off the radar of the average visitor and most fisherman.
The headwaters of the Bechler are located in steep canyon country, containing some of the most stunning waterfalls imaginable. The river contains small trout, but fishing is not the main attraction here, especially since a multi-day backpacking trip is required. For serious hikers, it may be worth it to pack a fly rod, but this is not a fishing trip. Similarly, the very lower section of the Bechler is not much of a fishing destination as well. The river here is extremely broad and shallow, with little structure or holding water available for trout. In between, the Bechler Meadows hold arguably the largest and most difficult to fool trout in the entire park. Though most fish are in the 10-14” range, Rainbows approaching 10lbs have been taken here. The meadows stretch for about 4 miles between the confluences of Boundary Creek on the lower end to Ousel Creek at the upper end. It is a minimum of 3.5 miles of hiking to reach the meadow, though the trail is extremely flat.
The river here becomes fishable during early-mid July, when you will find prolific hatches and rising trout along with man-eating mosquitoes and a meadow that could be more aptly described as swamp. All of this dissipates as summer moves along, so you have to strike the right balance between comfort and rising fish. If visiting any time before late August, long sleeves, pants, and bug spray will be mandatory.
Fishing the Bechler Meadows
Given the nature of the river (slow, clear, 50-60ft wide), sight fishing is the name of the game on the Bechler. This is easiest when rising fish give away their positions, but can also be achieved by slowly stalking the banks with a low profile and looking into the water carefully. This is more like hunting than fishing. Unlike most American trout streams, here you are not fishing the water, but fishing to individual fish that you have spotted. Long, light leaders and precise presentations are a must.
In July, come prepared to fish Green and Brown Drakes, as well as Pale Morning Dun’s. The drakes really get the bigger fish motivated to feed on the surface, but as described above, conditions can be brutal. In August, terrestrials will be the go to flies. Choose small, realistic looking hoppers instead of larger, more suggestive patterns. Ants and Beetles are often more productive, as fish tend to see a number of hopper patterns thrown at them over the course of a season. In September, terrestrials continue to be important, but look for hatches of Grey Drakes or Blue Winged Olives. This will be most likely on cloudy days. Fishing will become iffy in October, as the weather starts to turn and the terrestrial insects have disappeared.
Access: The Bechler is remote country, and proper maps should be secured before making the trip. The hike into the meadows begins at the Bechler Ranger Station, found on a spur off of Cave Falls Road north of Ashton, Idaho. From the ranger station, it is about 3.5 miles to a footbridge over Boundary Creek, a tributary of the Bechler that marks the approximate lower end of the meadows. Boundary Creek can be difficult to ford at higher water, so resist dropping off the trail to fish until you have crossed the bridge. From here, the trail roughly follows the Bechler for the entire length of the meadow. This is a doable day trip for fit parties, but a stay in the backcountry will greatly increase your fishing time. Permits are required, so be sure to consult with park authorities well in advance of your trip to make arrangements.