The shifting islands of this river continue to move with the seasons. The cottonwoods grow to immense size before rotting away or tumbling into the current. Eagles and hawks patrol the skies and deer dot the bends, giving the river a true feeling of wilderness.
This is not to say that the Yellowstone River has escaped human manipulation. While remaining free of dams, the river supplies water to many irrigation districts. Dykes line its shores in many places, protecting roads, towns and railroad tracks. Riprap lines many banks, especially in areas sprouting luxury homes, protecting yards from flooding but changing the river's natural character. More of the river's banks are lost to rock walls each year.
But the Yellowstone still offers fantastic fishing opportunities. Introduced rainbow and brown trout populations, long maintained by a heavy stocking program, established strong wild populations in the river in the 1970s after catch and release regulations were adopted. Talk to seasoned anglers and most of them have stalked the "big browns" of the Yellowstone River. Notoriously active in the summer and fall, these bruisers attract anglers - especially fly fisherman - from around the world. Everyone wants a picture with one of these trout; browns have huge shoulders, golden skin and flame-red spots.
The native Yellowstone cutthroat, meanwhile, struggled to find its niche among the introduced trout. But because the Yellowstone maintains a relatively healthy ecosystem, and because the state stepped in and introduced catch-and-release-only-seasons, the Yellowstone cutthroat have rebounded somewhat. While they are extremely rare below Livingston, they thrive in the river above the town, especially closer to Gardiner, Montana and inside Yellowstone Park.
The Yellowstone cutthroat is one of the largest cutthroats in the west, identified by a golden color and bright spots. Native only to the Yellowstone drainage, these cutthroats are legendary for their beauty and their willingness to take a fly.
The Yellowstone is best fished from a boat, and there are many guiding outfits in Livingston that will take you down the river. However, wading anglers will find trout as well. Fish the deep runs and holes with heavy nymphs, lures or bait. Fish dry flies, streamers and lures against the shoreline, paying special attention to undercut banks and near-shore depressions. Try fishing the Yellowstone in late summer and early fall, when the fish rise hungrily to grasshoppers.