About 50,000 of the park’s four million visitors fish each year. Fishing has been a popular recreation activity for visitors here for more than 100 years, and many people come to Yellowstone just to fish. Though angling is an anomaly in a park where the primary purpose is to preserve natural environments and native species in ways that maintain natural conditions, fishing in Yellowstone can help support preservation of native species.
The hot water of Yellowstone's thermal features is dangerous, but far more people have been killed by exposure to the cold waters of the park's lakes and rivers.
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Anglers Assist with Native Species Conservation
The activities necessary to preserve and restore native fish varies by species and drainages across the park. In order to promote the preservation of native fish in Yellowstone, the park has designated the Native Trout Conservation Area for special management. Within that area, fishing regulations are structured so that recreational anglers help selectively remove nonnative species from the area without damaging the native fishery. In some areas, anglers' harvests will help to save the native fish and the natural ecosystems they support.
Anglers contribute to the fisheries database by filling out a Volunteer Angler Report card that is issued with each fishing license. This information helps monitor the status of fisheries throughout the park. Angler groups have also lent support to management actions, such as closing the Fishing Bridge to fishing in the early 1970s. Yellowstone cutthroat trout support a $36 million annual sport fishery. The money generated from fishing licenses helps fund research on aquatic systems and restoration projects.
Decisions about how best to achieve native fish preservation and recovery goals must be based in sound scientific research and be consistent with the mission of the National Park Service. Most years, a team of fly-fishing volunteers assist the Yellowstone fisheries program with several other projects, including removal of non-native species, evaluation of fish barrier efficacy and success, a study to determine injury and mortality rates when using barbed versus barbless hooks, surveys to determine species composition, and logistical support for large multi-agency projects. Their extensive help collecting data and biological samples allows park biologists to learn about many more areas than park staff would have time to access.
Volunteers interact with visitors and other fly fishers and are able to discuss important topics, such as park fishing regulations, the reasoning behind some of the more controversial restoration projects, and why native fish are an important resource in Yellowstone.
Fishing regulations in Yellowstone National Park are structured to strongly support native fish conservation goals. Fishing/angling is defined as any activity using an attended single rod or line for the purpose of attempting to attract, capture, or possess any fish from waters within Yellowstone National Park. All other methods to attract, capture, or possess fish are prohibited.
Fishing Season & Hours
The season begins the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (usually the last weekend in May) and extends through the first Sunday in November.
Exceptions are noted in each of the regional regulations.
Hours are daily from sunrise to sunset. Fishing with an artificial light is prohibited.
Some areas are closed to human entry, have trail or seasonal closures, off-trail travel and daylight hour limitations, or party size recommendations. See the Bear Management Area restrictions in the Backcountry Trip Planner for specific rules and information.
Streams may be temporarily closed to fishing on short notice to protect fish populations in mid-summer due to low water levels and high water temperatures.
Anglers 16 years of age or older must be in possession of a valid Yellowstone National Park fishing permit to fish in the park. State fishing licenses are not valid and aren't required.
Three-day permit: $18
Seven-day permit: $25
Season-long permit: $40
Park rangers may check permits and inspect tackle, fish, creels, or other containers where fish or tackle may be stored.
Anglers 15 years of age or younger have two options:
Children 15 or younger may fish without a permit if they are fishing under the direct supervision of an adult who has a valid park fishing permit.
Children 15 or younger may obtain a free permit that must be signed by a responsible adult. With this permit, a child can fish without direct adult supervision.
With either option, the accompanying adult is responsible for the child’s actions and must ensure the child complies with all fishing regulations and provisions.
Tackle, Lure & Hook Restrictions
Each angler may use only one rod which must be attended at all times and used for angling only—intentional snagging of fish is not allowed.
Only lead-free artificial lures (e.g. spoon or spinner) or flies may be used. Leaded fishing tackle such as leaded split-shot sinkers, weighted jigs (lead molded to a hook), and soft lead-weighted ribbon for nymph fishing are not allowed.
Hooks must have points that are barbless, or the barbs must be pinched down by pliers. Lures may have only one hook with a single, double, or treble configuration.
Each fly may have only one hook. Up to two flies may be used on a single leader (commonly referred to as “dropper,” “dry and dropper,” or “hopper and dropper”).
Except for feathers and other typical fly-tying materials, the hook must be bare. No organic or inorganic baits are allowed. Organic baits include fish or fish parts, minnows, salmon eggs, worms, insects, or foodstuffs such as bread and corn. Inorganic baits include rubber worms and plastic “twister” tails.
Scented attractants (liquid and solid baits) are illegal. Putting any substance in the water for the purpose of attracting fish (chumming) is illegal.
Non-toxic split-shot, sinkers, and jig heads molded with bismuth-tin, molybdenum, or tungsten are allowed. Lead core line and heavy (> 4 lb.) downrigger weights used to fish for deep-dwelling lake trout are permissible because they are too large to be ingested by wildlife.
Artificial lures are not allowed on the Firehole River, Madison River, and lower Gibbon River below Gibbon Falls. These streams are fly fishing only.
It is the responsibility of the angler to be able to identify fish by species. Unintentionally killed fish should be returned to the water so they can be consumed by wildlife.
All native fish must be released unharmed. Natives include cutthroat trout, mountain whitefish, and Arctic grayling.
Native Trout Conservation Area
No possession limit for nonnative fish, including brown, brook, rainbow, and lake trout. You may harvest as many nonnative fish from this area as you want.
All rainbow trout, brook trout, and identifiable cutthroat/rainbow hybrids caught in the Lamar River drainage, including portions of Slough and Soda Butte creeks, must be killed—it is illegal to release them alive.
All lake trout caught from Yellowstone Lake must be killed— it is illegal to release them alive.
Nonnative Trout Tolerance Area
All native fish must be released unharmed. Possession limits exist for nonnative fish in this area. An angler must cease fishing in the area immediately after filling the possession limit.
Firehole River, Madison River, lower Gibbon River (downstream of Gibbon Falls)—possession of up to five brook trout is allowed. Catch and release all rainbow and brown trout. Whitefish are an important native species in the Madison River and they must be released.
Lewis River system above Lewis Falls, including Lewis and Shoshone lakes and their tributaries— possession of five combined brook, brown or lake trout; only one of which may be a brown trout.
Evidence of Species in Possession
Skin must remain attached so the fish species can be visibly identified.
Gills and entrails may be removed in the field, but must be discarded only within the waters where the fish were caught.
Disposal of Fish & Entrails
Dispose of fish and/or fish entrails within the waters where the fish was caught but not within 100 feet (30.5 m) of boat ramps, docks, or backcountry campsites.
Fish can also be disposed of in park trash cans.
Bridge & Boat Dock Restrictions
No fishing from any road bridge or boat dock.
Boating—Vessel Inspections & Permits
All vessels—including float tubes— require a boat permit.
All vessels also require a life vest for each passenger, and an emergency sound device such as a whistle or air horn.
All vessels must be checked by National Park Service inspectors to ensure that they are free of aquatic invasive species before entering any park waters.
Download your copy of the Backcountry Trip Planner.
Handling & Releasing Fish
To better ensure survival of hooked fish, follow these guidelines. Please help us maintain quality fisheries within the park for future generations to enjoy!
For all native fish and any nonnative fish you intend to release, bring the fish in as quickly as possible. Do not play the fish to exhaustion.
Always make sure your hands are wet if you must handle the fish. Dry hands damage a fish’s protective mucous film.
Hold the fish with one hand around the tail section and the other beneath the belly, just behind the pectoral fins.
Never grab or hold a fish through the gills unless it is already dead.
If you want a photo of the fish, make sure the photographer is ready before you handle the fish. Make it quick.
Unhook the fish in quiet water such as an eddy or slow spot. Do not drag the fish across land.
Use forceps or small needle-nosed pliers to quickly remove the hook.
Tackle, Lures & Hooks
Hooks and lures typically have barbs when purchased. With small pliers you must pinch down the barbs. Without barbs more skill is required in landing and bringing in fish, but hook removal is easier and less traumatic to the fish.
Spinning lures typically have three hooks called treble hooks. With wire cutters you can snip off one of the hooks or snap one off with pliers; you also must pinch down all the barbs. Two hooks are still effective, easier to remove, and less traumatic.
If the fish is deeply hooked, cut the line, do not pull out the hook. Most fish can survive with hooks left in.
Never just throw a fish back into the water. If a fish becomes passive, it is probably close to exhaustion.
Gently remove the hook within calm water, then lightly cradle the fish with your hands to see what it does.
If it struggles to keep itself upright, hold the fish around its tail and beneath its belly with its head facing upstream into the current.
Move the fish gently back and forth toward and away from the current. You should notice the gills opening and closing due to the rush of water. This is like giving a fish mouth-to-mouth resuscitation.
When the fish has recovered, it should swim away on its own.
Explore the National Park Service science program for fish and aquatic species.
Know Your Fish—Has a Slash? Put it Back!
The fishing map within the fishing regulations indicates known locations of fish species within the boundaries of Yellowstone National Park. This handbook includes descriptions and identification tips for both native and nonnative sportfish. In Yellowstone, anglers are required to return all native fish back to the water immediately.
The native fish which MUST BE RELEASED UNHARMED include:
Harvest of non-native trout is allowed, and in some cases required, in many park waters. Please check the fishing regulations for details. It is the angler's responsibility to be able to distinguish one fish species from another, to ensure that cutthroat trout and other native species are not harmed!