Although June is the height of run-off here in the Northern Rockies, fishing options in Yellowstone National Park abound. In fact, fishing the park during June is one of the premier ways to beat run-off. The fishing season in YNP opens Memorial Day weekend so the fish will not have faced much pressure yet. Additionally, many of Yellowstone’s waters are thermally heated, meaning hatches can occur weeks earlier than you would typically encounter them elsewhere. While conditions will vary from year to year based on snowpack and weather, I will cover the important June fisheries in the park and what you should expect when you are on the water.
The Firehole River is the most consistent, and thus most popular, June fishery in YNP. The Firehole will fish well each day of the month most years. The river is heavily influenced by runoff from hot springs and geysers, meaning hatches start early here but the river becomes too warm for fishing around the end of the month. Early in the month, look for Blue Winged Olives and Midges, with Pale Morning Duns and Caddis taking over as the weather warms. Be prepared for all 4 on any given day. Of special importance is the Nectopsyche Caddis, commonly known as the White Miller. This large (#10) bug really gets the fish going and hatches throughout June. The Firehole Canyon, just above the river's’ confluence with the Gibbon, hosts YNP’s first Salmonfly hatch, usually during the first 10 days of the month. Swinging soft hackles in the riffles will produce every day of the month with a soft hackle Pheasant Tail or Copper John being my top picks. Because of the Firehole’s consistency, fame, and easy access it can be busy but the sheer number of fish is astounding and if you are willing to poke around a bit you can always find some good, unoccupied water to try your luck.
The real draw of the Gibbon River is that it is the first place in the park, and really the entire region, where you can fish attractor dry flies successfully. The river is sometimes fishable with nymphs on opening day but good, reliable dry fly fishing usually starts during the second week of June. You will want to concentrate on the section of river extending 4-5 miles both upstream and downstream of Gibbon Falls. In this section the river flows through a mini canyon and contains perfect pocket water for tossing your favorite size 12 or 14 attractor pattern. The river sees various hatches but they are sporadic and the broken character of the water doesn’t give the fish enough time to inspect your offering too closely. Choose a fly that floats well and you have confidence in. Afternoon fishing is often your best bet early in the month as the trout tend to look up more as the water warms. I will often spend the morning fishing the Firehole and then move over to the Gibbon as the water temps rise. The trout in the Gibbon tend to run on the small side but after a spring of staring at a strike indicator or size 20 midge pattern it is great to get out and throw some nice big dry flies.
While the Madison is famous for its fall run of fish from Hebgen Lake, it offers some fishing for resident fish in the spring as well (Yes, June is still springtime around here). Contrary to what you will experience when you float the Madison below Quake Lake, the YNP section is essentially a big spring creek. This is major league fishing, where you come to test your skills against some finicky fish in one of the most famous trout rivers in the world. The section of river from its headwaters at Madison Junction down to Riverside Drive holds the most fish but even here they aren’t exactly abundant. The river acts as a nursery for Hebgen Lake and many adult fish move down into the lake. Consequently, the best way to fish this section is to wait for a hatch so you can pinpoint where the fish are holding. You can certainly blind-fish the good looking water with an indicator nymph rig but for me the draw here is dry fly fishing. Hatches are in full swing by the 10th or so with Pale Morning Duns from mid morning through early afternoon and caddis in the evening. The river runs very close to road in this section so it is easy to jump from run to run looking for rising fish. While this type of fishing is not for everyone, the chess match between you and the fish makes every trout landed that much more satisfying.
The Gardner River is an interesting proposition for fishing during June. The conditions from day to day are highly variable due to the short, steep nature of the Gardners’ drainage basin. A day or two of warm weather will blow the river out while a cool snap will pull the river back into shape quickly. The two constants are this: the river is gonna be high and the section below the Boiling River ( a major tourist attraction) will fish best. Be prepared to scramble along the rocks and through the willows to target the softer water along the banks and behind boulders. The Gardner in June will primarily be a nymph fishery until the very end of the month. Stoneflies and Caddis are the predominant bugs so you will want to choose your nymphs accordingly. Salmonflies and Golden Stones usually begin to hatch during the last few days of June so dry fly fishing can be had if the water is right. The Gardner is a turbulent, swift freestone river so you will want to employ a high stick technique with both nymphs and dries. Make short casts and keep as much line off the water as possible. A unique and appealing aspect of the Gardner is the variety of fish that call it home. I have taken 6 species in a single day on the river: Rainbow, Brown, Cutthroat, Brook, Cutt-Bow, Whitefish. While you should not plan a June trip to Yellowstone around the Gardner it offers a great change of pace from the Madison Drainage when conditions are right.
Yellowstone Park offers an enormous variety of stillwater fisheries, everything from small ponds to the largest high altitude lake in North America, Yellowstone Lake. June is a premier month for lake fishing at this elevation as the ice is just coming off and the fish can be ravenous. The difficulty can be reaching the lake you intend to fish as most lakes are located in the backcountry and it can be well into July before the snow melts off off the trails. Grebe Lake has historically been a good early season fishery, although the Park Service is in the process of eradicating non-native species to pave the way for the introduction of west slope cutthroat trout, we recommend avoiding Grebe Lake until the fishery stabilizes. For roadside fishing, Trout Lake and Yellowstone Lake are probably the best bets, but note that each are governed by special regulations, check them closely. Joffre Lake near Mammoth is another good roadside option that is popular with beginners and kids with its abundant population of small brook trout. Fly wise, it’s hard to beat a small, black leech pattern trailing a damselfly or scud. On larger lakes a baitfish pattern like a Zonker or Clouser is always a good bet. You can get by with a floating line on the smaller lakes but a sink tip is very helpful on your larger lakes.
June is a dynamic time for fly fishing in Yellowstone Park, come prepared for anything and everything. It is entirely possible to experience all 4 seasons in the same day. I have witnessed snow falling on the 4th of July more than once and seen 100 degree heat by mid June. Fishing wise, it could be a rainbow sipping a #20 midge or a lake trout chasing a 2/0 streamer. You never know what you will encounter on any given day in the park and that’s what makes it such a special place.