Yellowstone Expedition Update

       Hello from the Madison River campground,


Our group has been to some of the most famous places the past week to wet a line in Yellowstone National Park! Including the upper Yellowstone River, Gibbon River, Slough Creek, and the Yellowstone River in the spectacular Grand Canyon. Upon the arrival at the LFFE headquarters in Ennis, MT, we traveled to the Gibbon River to target native Arctic Grayling and West Slope Cutthroat. The group caught over 150 fish in just a few hours of fishing. We then headed to Bridge Bay campground along Yellowstone Lake that night. The following day, we woke up early to fish the Upper Yellowstone River just a few miles away to target trophy native Yellowstone Cutthroat, of which we caught several including fish exceeding 20 inches and one close to 5 and ½ pounds. This was great to see as the fish in this section of the river have been severely impacted by the introduction of invasive Lake Trout. For the past few decades, the Lake trout have been outcompeting the Cutthroat. Thankfully, in the past few years extensive netting of the Lake trout and conservation efforts, the population of Yellowstone cutthroats has rebounded quite nicely, and the fishing has proved the conservation efforts to be extremely worthwhile.

Next, our group split up into two groups for our 3-day backcountry. One headed to the world-famous Slough Creek, and the other headed into the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone.

Grand Canyon/Slough: For the first time in Lillard history, we were able to secure backcountry sites in the Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone at the storied Seven-Mile Hole. For years we had heard rumors of Salmonfly hatches through the summer, hungry cutties, and 100 fish days. We decided the 6-mile hike from the trailhead would be more than worth the effort to investigate these rumors. Although the distance was not extensive, it was by no means an easy hike. The trail descends 1800 feet into Yellowstone’s Grand Canyon, and most of the drop occurs within the last mile or two of the trail. We completed the hike to our campsite in exactly two hours, an excellent time considering the heat and our heavy packs. On our way down, we passed several small geysers and fumaroles, a uniquely Yellowstone experience. When we arrived at our campsite, we were amazed by the steep canyon walls, with rock ranging from tan to red surrounding us on both sides everywhere we looked. From those walls, there were scattered pillars of steam shooting out from the numerous fumaroles and geysers within the canyon itself. Running through the middle, the cold blue waters of the mighty Yellowstone ripped through, broken up by large boulders and points jutting out from the canyon walls. After a quick lunch and camp setup, we eagerly went down to check out the river. It took a single cast to catch our first fish of the trip, and by dinner time at 5:30, the group had already surpassed 100 fish. The fishing was utterly absurd; every boulder held multiple cutthroats, and the air was alive with salmonflies. We had a hearty dinner of buffalo mac and cheese before another productive session in the evening. We went to sleep exhausted but excited for the next day at Seven-Mile hole.

The next morning we got up early and fished around camp, where we proceeded to put on another clinic of dry fly fishing, with everyone reaching double digits of cutthroat up to 17”. After lunch, we hiked a little further down the canyon to look for new water. We were greeted with more opportunistic cutthroat than we could count, with the day’s tally easily surpassing 150 fish. While no true monsters were landed fish up to 17” were caught, and several larger fish were lost. The group went to sleep early that night so we could hike out early before the heat of the day settled into the canyon.

 With the toughest part of the hike at the start, we hit the trail at 7:00 to keep our hiking to the coolest part of the morning. The climb was exhausting, but we made it out of the canyon in a little over an hour and a half and made it back to the van before 10:00 am. After a quick stop at the gas station in Canyon Village, we headed over to another section of the Yellowstone river to look for large lake-run cutthroat sipping dries. While the fishing was technical, we landed over a dozen fish, including several fish surpassing 20”. We headed into canyon village for ice cream to celebrate a birthday and prepared ourselves for the final night of our backcountry in Yellowstone’s famed Slough Creek.

We made it to the slough creek trailhead and started hiking by 8:00 the morning of the 31st. Slough Creek is one of the most famous backcountry streams in all of America, and with good reason: it is simply beautiful and has some of the best fishing for large, pure-strain Yellowstone cutthroats in the park. The creek meanders it way down from Montana into Wyoming, passing through three backcountry meadows and the final roadside meadow in which it dumps into the Lamar River. The further one hikes into the creek, the better the fishing gets. We met up with the other group at the second meadow to pick up both tents and intel from them. After meeting with them, we decided to fish the second meadow a bit before we continued our hike to the final campsite within the park boundary at the third meadow. Many nice fish to 20” were landed on hoppers, streamers, and small caddis nymphs. We made it to our campsite around 6:00 and quickly had dinner to fish an evening hatch in the third meadow, where we found plentiful nice trout sipping mayfly spinners as the sun descended past the mountains.

Slough 3 Night: Early on the morning of the 29th, we started our nine-mile hike to the third meadow of Slough creek. Along the way, we encountered Bison and deer grazing in the field of native grasses with the picturesque Beartooth mountains glistening in the distance. After mile 8, we crossed into Montana with only a mile to go in our hike. For most of the hike through the meadows, you are down near stream level, but our site sat on the edge of a berm overlooking the entire third meadow. After setting up camp, we fished the evening spinner fall catching some large cutthroat. We spent the next morning fishing the 3rd meadow with hopper and caddis patterns. Every predictable trout lie was home to a rising trout. It is hard to imagine a more perfect trout stream. The next day we hiked 5 miles back down the trail to the border of the first and second meadows at the top of a small canyon that separates the two. The fishing here was even better than in the third meadow and provided some different scenery with deep blue pools and rocky cliffs, and waterfalls lining the river. Most years, Slough Creek is full of day hiking fishermen until about 3-4 pm when they all make the hike back out. The extensive flooding in June impacted roads in this area of the park, and as a result, the park shut down the Lamar Valley and only allowed existing backcountry permit holders enter. The result was a level of solitude in a fly fishing mecca that was truly a once in a lifetime experience. The insane fishing was just a bonus. 

With our first backcountry concluded, we will be setting up camp at the Madison River campground to shower, do laundry and restock on supplies. Over the next several days we plan on fishing some other lakes and streams, of which we have heard some intriguing reports from other LFFE groups. We will then do a day of backcountry prep to prepare for our second round of backcountries in the southern portion of the park. More updates to come!

Tight lines, Will, Ethan, David and crew. 

Lillard Fly Fishing Expeditions was started in 2010 as a graduate thesis for my Master's Degree in Environmental Conservation Education at NYU. The operating premise was simple - by coupling amazing wilderness fly fishing camps for teens with environmental education and service learning we can help inspire future generations of fly fishing conservationists. We have been growing our unique list of trips and experiences ever since.

When it comes to choosing a summer program for your teen the options are endless. For the teen who loves to fish, be outside, and has a strong sense of adventure we have made the choice easy. We are the leader in teen fly fishing adventures and are dedicated to providing the best backcountry fly fishing experience with opportunities for teens to engage in leadership training, community service, and backcountry camping.


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Will Lillard, Founder/Director/Guide

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Lillard Fly Fishing Expeditions
2540 King Road
Pisgah Forest, NC 28768

(828) 577-8204