Soda Butte Creek is another of the famous fisheries of the Lamar Valley in the northeastern corner of Yellowstone National Park. Soda Butte rises just to the north of the park boundary near the town of Cooke City, MT and flows south for a dozen or so miles to meet the Lamar. The stream takes its name from a dormant geyser cone that overlooks the lower meadow of the creek. Soda Butte is fairly small, averaging 20-30 feet wide at most. Its headwaters lie at nearly 8,000 feet, meaning it runs ice cold through most of the year. While a few Rainbows and Cutt-Bows can be found near the mouth, Soda Butte is primarily the domain of the native Yellowstone Cutthroat. The Northeast Entrance Road parallels the stream for its entire length, crossing it twice. This is both a blessing and a curse as it provides easy access but does lead to heavy fishing pressure on the stream. Fortunately, most of the pressure is concentrated in a few locations, allowing the adventurous angler to find some space.
Soda Butte Creek changes character quite a bit in its journey to meet the Lamar, and that dictates both how you should fish and what you should expect to catch in a given location. There are two major meadows on Soda Butte Creek that resemble the famous meadows of the Lamar and Slough Creek. One is located at the stream's confluence with Pebble Creek. The other is located immediately upstream of Soda Butte’s confluence with the Lamar. These meadows contain large fish, ranging from 12” to over 20”. They also see the bulk of the fishing pressure, leading to finicky trout at times.
In between these two meadows, you will encounter several types of water. There are two very steep canyon sections that can be difficult to negotiate and hold fish mostly from 6”-10” that are quite easy to fool. In other areas, the timber comes all the way down to the water but the gradient eases a bit, though it is still pocketwater fishing. Fish run slightly larger here, up to 13”, and they are still not all that picky. There are several small sub-alpine meadows, where the timber stops short and gives way to grassy banks, gravel bars, and willows. The stream is still swift here, but there are deeper and slower runs that can hold larger trout. While not as tough as the big meadows, these fish present a significantly greater challenge than those in the canyons. Since the road runs so close to the stream, it is easy to drive around and find the type of water that you are looking for.
Fishing Soda Butte Creek- Park Boundary to Pebble Creek
Soda Butte generally clears up during the first or second week of July. The water in the swift sections will still be too cold to fish, but the meadow water fishes well in July. Even so, mornings will be slow until things warm a bit. Look for mid-day hatches of Pale Morning Duns and Green Drakes. If no bugs are coming off, terrestrials and small attractors will be your go to. I will usually start with a hopper and an ant is my second choice. Because these fish are heavily pressured, change flies liberally until you get it right. 4x tippet works fine in July, but you will want to downsize and lengthen your leader as the summer wears on.
The pocketwater sections upstream will begin to fish well in late July and are a good choice in August as well. Caddis and Yellow Sally’s hatch here, so choose attractor patterns like a PMX or Stimulator in a #12 or #14 that could be mistaken for either insect. The swift, broken water gives the angler more room for error. In the small sub-alpine meadows, terrestrials will be the best choice absent any major hatch activity.
By mid-August, the meadow water can be tough, as the combination of low water and high pressure can put the fish in a funk. While you can still catch some fish, July fishing is much better. In September, things can pick up a bit as crowds lesson somewhat and mayflies reappear. Fishing will be very technical now, but hatches of Blue Winged Olives and tan Drakes can be productive. Cloudy days are best. By the end of September, winter is already creeping into the high country and fishing shuts down.
Pebble Creek to Lamar Junction
This section fishes similar to above, but the fish are larger and the pressure heavier. Below Pebble Creek is a short canyon stretch that extends to just downstream of the trailhead to Trout Lake. This stretch will fish well in late July and August with various attractor dries like a PMX, Stimulator, or Chernobyl Ant. Below the canyon is about 4 miles of meadow water that ranks among the most famous and most fished in Yellowstone Park.
The Junction meadow will fish best for 2-3 weeks after it clears in early-mid July and then cloudy days during September. You can catch nice fish in mid-August, but it will take skill and patience. The hatch profile is the same as discussed above, with PMD’s and Green Drakes in early summer and BWO’s and tan Drakes in fall. These fish see plenty of hoppers, so think about trying different colors or sizes than you normally do. Don’t discount ants or beetles either, as the fish tend to be less suspicious of smaller offerings.
The Junction Meadow contains many high, undercut banks that provide good trout habitat. Please avoid walking along these banks, however, as the fish will see you from a mile away. Give a wide berth as you are hiking about the meadow to avoid spooking fish in water that others are fishing or may fish later. When you arrive where you wish to fish, be careful to keep a low profile and do not cast your shadow over water where trout may be holding, as it will spook them every time.