Yellowstone National Park is managed to protect cultural and natural resources andoutstanding scenery, and to provide for visitor use. Angling has been a major visitor activity for over a century. Present regulations reflect the park’s primary purposes of resource protection and visitor use. The objectives of the fishing program are to:
- Manage aquatic resources as an important part of the ecosystem.
- Preserve and restore native fishes and their habitats.
- Provide recreational fishing opportunites for the enjoyment of park visitors, consistent with the first two objectives.
In Yellowstone, bald eagles, ospreys, pelicans, otters, grizzly bears, and other wildlife take precedence over humans in utilizing fish as food. None of the fish in Yellowstone are stocked, and populations depend on sufficient number of spawning adults to maintian natural reproduction and genetic diversity. In Yellowstone National Park, we place less emphasis upon providing fishing for human consumption and put more emphasis upon the quality for recreational fishing. Anglers, in return, have the opportunity to fish for wild trout in a natural setting.
Because of the increasing number of anglers in the park, more restrictive regulations have been adopted in Yellowstone. These restrictions include: season opening/closing dates, restrictive use of bait, catch-and-release only areas, and number/size limits according to species. A few places are closed to the public to protect threatened and endangered species, sensitive nesting birds, and to provide scenic viewing areas for visitors seeking undisturbed wildlife.
Yellowstone Moves to Protect
Native Fish Species
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 to the local economy. Also, 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. In past years, a team of fishing volunteers assisted the fisheries program with several other projects. These projects included nonnative species removal, species composition, fish barrier evaluation, and injury and mortality rates of barbed and barbless hooks. 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.
Introduced Nonnative Fish Cause Loss of Native Fish
The abundance of native fish has been reduced because of impacts by introduced nonnative fish, including brook, brown, lake, and rainbow trout. These nonnative species continue to contribute to the decline in the park’s native fish population by competing for food and habitat, preying on native fish, and degrading the genetic integrity of native fish through hybridization.
Stay Safe and Legal
You are responsible for following all park regulations. Consult Yellowstone’s park newspaper, Backcountry Trip Planner, or rangers at visitor centers and backcountry offices to learn more.
- Stay on established trails in thermal areas for your safety and to protect these fragile areas.
- Do not discard fish carcasses or entrails along stream banks or the lake shore as they will attract bears.
- Do not feed any animals, including birds, squirrels, and coyotes.
Bears and other wildlife may appear in areas frequented by people—even on trails, boardwalks, and along roads. Do not approach wildlife and remain at least 100 yards (92 meters) away from bears and wolves, and 25 yards (23 meters) away from all other wildlife.
- Be alert—watch for bears and bear sign, like fresh tracks or scat.
- Make noise in areas where visibility is limited.
- Carry bear spray and know how to use it.
- Avoid hiking or fishing alone. Try to stay with a group of three or more people.
- DO NOT RUN if you encounter a bear.
Fishing Season and Hours
- The season begins the Saturday of Memorial Day weekend (usually the last weekend in May) and extends through October 31.
- 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 due to low water levels and high water temperatures to protect fish populations.
- 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: $40
- Seven-day permit: $55
- Season-long permit: $75
- Fishing permits are available to purchase online via Recreation.gov.
- 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.
Fishing permits are available at all ranger stations, visitor centers, and Yellowstone Park General Stores. Fishing permits are also available at many businesses in the Greater Yellowstone Area. No state fishing license is required in Yellowstone National Park.
Felt-soled Footgear Prohibited
To reduce the potential for introduction or spread of aquatic invasive species, footgear with absorbent felt or other fibrous material on the soles are prohibited while fishing in Yellowstone.
Tackle, Lure, and 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. A single pointed hook is the best choice for fishing in Yellowstone. Treble hooks (3 points) can severely injure fish and are often constructed with toxic lead solder.
- 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.Parkwide
- 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.
- All smallmouth bass caught in Yellowstone Park must be killed and reported—it is illegal to release them
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 and 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 and Boat Dock Restrictions
- No fishing from any road bridge, marina or boat dock*. Accessible fishing platforms and ramps are located near Madison Junction and at Grant Village boat launch.
* – Fishing is permissible from boat docks located at backcountry locations on Yellowstone Lake.
Boating—Vessel Inspections and Permits
- All vessels—including float tubes— require a boat permit.
- Transporting or introducing invasive species is prohibited: make sure you clean, drain, and dry boats and gear before arriving for your AIS inspection.
- 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.
Why are the same fish species regulated differently in different areas of the park?
Park fishing regulations are designed to protect native fish and aquatic ecosystems, provide recreational opportunities, and also preserve the tradition of angling in Yellowstone.
Cutthroat trout, Arctic grayling, mountain whitefish, and other native fishes are important to the ecology of Yellowstone. Because cutthroat trout and Arctic grayling inhabit relatively shallow waters, many animals depend on them as a food source, especially during spring when the fish spawn in small lake inlets and tributary streams.
Angling is an important part of the park’s cultural history. Nonnative trout are important to the angler experience in Yellowstone, but they contribute to the decline in the park’s native cutthroat trout and Arctic grayling by competing for food and habitat, preying on native fish, and degrading the genetic integrity of native fish by hybridizing with them.
Yellowstone is making a substantial, on-the-ground effort to conserve native fish in several areas. These actions, which are currently focused in the Lamar and Grayling Creek drainages and Yellowstone Lake, are described in the park’s native fish conservation plan. Goals are to reduce the risk of extinction, restore and maintain the ecological role, and create sustainable angling and viewing opportunities for native fish.
Handling and 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, and 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.