Monday, September 27, 2010

Free Flowing

The Yellowstone River has been a huge part of Montana's history, and still is today. On any given day, you will find people out recreating all along the hundreds of miles of river. From Gardiner down through Yankee Jim Canyon, you can find many enjoying a day of whitewater thrills. From there all the way down to Big Timber, you will primarily see drift boats and rafts full of guides and fisherman. Further downstream, you will begin to see jetboats plying the river maybe looking for a large Smallmouth Bass or a huge Channel Catfish. There are also countless oppurtunites for overnight camping. Many of the fishing access sites offer more developed campsites, while there is camping allowed on the countless islands and below the high water mark. The Yellowstone River, at 692 miles, is the longest free flowing river in the lower 48 states. Here are some statistics for just the portion in Montana.

555 - River Miles in Montana
200 - River Miles of Blue Ribbon Trout Water
47 - Fishing Access Sites
12 - Wildlife Management Areas
2 - State Parks

This mighty river has the ability to produce some amazing peak flows. This year the river (near the mouth) peaked at close to 60,000 cfs. In 2004, after years of drought, that number was only 25,000 cfs. In 1978, in was ripping through at 111,000 cfs. The all-time recorded peak appears to be back in 1952 when it crested at 138,000 cfs. This type of flow could happen any year, since the river has no flood control reservoirs. Something to think about before building that expensive riverside home.

The river is home to almost all fish species native east of the continental divide. Of the species on my list, 22 or 66% occur in this waterway. With the hope of catching another native species on my list, I recently set out for a two-day trip on the river. The stretch I wanted to do had some sections of slower water, so I decided to take the canoe...although I knew there were some sections of fairly rough water. At this time of year, the river is at very low flows and I was hoping to capitalize on this to help me catch a couple of my target species. The first day, the wind was howling and our main focus was controlling the boat. We did stop and fish at some prime looking spots and managed a few trout and whitefish. That evening the wind died and the weather cleared into an amazing evening. I set out some lines hoping to catch the elusive burbot at night. Erica made a great fire of driftwood and we grilled up some venison burgers for dinner. I sat up late that night, drinking some beer and hoping for some nighttime action, but I caught nothing. The next morning as we paddled on, I landed a nice brown trout and some more whitefish...but no new species for my quest. The trip can only be called succesful though. We covered 25 miles of amazing country on this trip. The cottonwoods were turning into their golden fall colors, and the wildlife was abundant. The weather was warm and sunny as we took advantage of these last drops of summer.


  1. good stuff! I love the canoe, camp, fish combo - probably my favorite way to fish.

    Cool Yellowstone stats, by the way. I didn't know it could push that much water. Though I was surprised when I learned that the Colorado River could top 400,000 CFS (before the dams) - now I think it rarely tops 40,000 CFS.

  2. I've been wanting to do an overnight float on the Yellowstone for years! Nice work.

    Who's the hottie?