Casting in Paradise

Accessibility & Fish
By Rod Walinchus & Tom Travis
  |  Gorp.com
Yellowstone River
A sweeping curve along the Yellowstone River. (Photograph courtesty of Destinations)

The stretch of the Yellowstone River from Yankee Jim Canyon to Emigrant runs approximately 12 and a half miles. It has the fewest number of access points in the valley. [See detail map.] There are only three options for floating: the entire twelve-and-a-half-mile float from Carbella to Emigrant, a four-and-a-half-mile float from Carbella to Point of Rocks, or an eight-mile float from Point of Rocks to Emigrant. During low-water years, when the water flows at two to three miles an hour, some of these options could make for a long day on the water and possibly prevent one from getting out of the boat to work fish or cover water. When the flows are moderate (three to four miles an hour) or moderately high (four to six miles an hour), floating the longer distances becomes more practical.

The Point of Rocks access is basically a spot off the highway that is clearly marked. It allows camping with a fourteen-day limit but has no rest-room facilities, nor does it have picnic tables. The ramp is a simple dirt slope cut into the bank. It's not a very pretty access point, but it serves its purpose of shortening a long float or providing for a short float. It is also an area that a walk fisherman can use to reach the river.

The next access downriver is Meditation Point. This is basically a rest stop off the highway for travelers. It has no ramp to launch or take out a boat, but one could probably put a light craft such as a canoe in here. It would entail carrying it down to the water and traversing some riprap. This access has a very large paved parking lot, a picnic pavilion, trash receptacles, handicapped-accessible rest rooms, and a phone. Camping is not allowed. The walk fisher can reach the river here and have some decent fishing along the riprap bank, or one can hike up- or downriver until suitable water is found.

The last access point in this stretch is Emigrant Bridge. If you float under the bridge, you have missed the access. This area has a dirt ramp cut into the bank, a picnic area, and rest rooms that are not handicapped-accessible. Camping is not allowed here. It is conveniently located near the town of Emigrant, and an angler could, after a day's fishing, stop at the Old Saloon and have a burger, a meal, or a few drinks. There is a gas station and convenience store nearby to replenish whatever stock is needed. Many of the folks who stay at the resort at Chico use this access to begin or end their day on the water. The walk fisherman can use this access to find areas to fish. Because the water is relatively shallow, he can safely wade to spots that look good.

The Fish

This is predominantly a brown trout fishery: at least fifty percent of the trout here are browns. There is a relatively even mix of rainbows and cutthroats at about twenty-five percent each. The percentages reflect the entire stretch, but the mix differs depending on what end of the stretch one fishes. The upper reaches hold more of an even blend of the three species because of the water type and the proximity of spawning areas. But for the most part, the slower, even current is not prime habitat for rainbows, as their numbers reflect, and there is little spawning habitat for them. The farther one travels downstream in this section the farther away one travels from any viable spawning area, so the number of rainbows decreases.

The cutthroats are native to this area and historically were the only trout species in this section, but as the years passed and the land became inhabited, their number started to fall off for a number of reasons: they were overharvested as food sources, other species were planted in the river and became competition for the same food, and finally, humans developed the land surrounding the rivers into ranches. These ranches needed water to irrigate crops, and it pulled from the tributary streams, further decreasing the cutthroat's chances for survival. Today, even though circumstances have changed, much remains the same. Although we can no longer take cutthroats to eat it is catch and release only for cutthroats there are still other species in the river as competition, and the ranchers are still taking water from the tributaries for irrigation. The depletion of the tributary streams is the main reason the cutthroats are not more populated in this stretch. When they spawn in early June there is still water in this stretch's tributaries, and the adult fish can enter them, but before the fry can get back to the main stem of the river these tributaries are dewatered, and the fry cannot reach the river. The only viable spawning streams are upstream above the Yankee Jim area. There is a correlation between how far away a spawning stream is and how many fish are in an area: The farther away the spawning stream, the less fish in a particular area. But even at only twenty-three percent of the total trout population, there are days on the river when it seems that every fish caught is a cutthroat trout. Their feeding habits make them easier to catch.

The brown trout, on the other hand, have flourished in this stretch of river. The habitat is more to their liking, and their feeding habits put them in less competition with the other species. The browns are mostly main-stem spawners, so they need not depend on the tributaries to sustain themselves. As one travels downstream, there is less and less evidence of blind-eye disease. Anglers wishing to catch decent browns would be advised to consider this stretch of river.

Oh yes, there are also good numbers of whitefish in this area.

© Article copyright Pruett Publishing.


Published: 29 Apr 2002 | Last Updated: 15 Sep 2010
Details mentioned in this article were accurate at the time of publication

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