What Kind of Fish Are In The Yellowstone River Stillwater Anglers

What Kind Of Fish Are In The Yellowstone River?

You already know how we feel about the Yellowstone River. It’s one of our favorite local rivers to fish, pretty much all year long. Especially when you’re fishing with the experts at Stillwater Anglers in Columbus, MT, you don’t have to travel very far. The Yellowstone is just a quick drive away from our Fly Shop. If you’re a fly fishing fanatic like we are, then you don’t want to miss the opportunity to fish this trout-filled river. Besides trout, maybe you’re wondering what kind of fish are in the Yellowstone River. 

Read on as we discuss all the different kinds of fish that are in the Yellowstone that you can fish in the Spring, Summer, and Fall. 

Your Guide To What Kind Of Fish Are In The Yellowstone River

Whether it’s dry fly action in the spring or streamer fishing for spawning brown trout in the fall, we love the Yellowstone because it has it all for anglers, no matter their age or experience level. Below we give you a brief guide to what kind of fish are in the Yellowstone River.

Rainbow Trout

Obviously we had to discuss rainbow trout first. The rainbow trout might be Montana’s most popular fish. They grow to be very large and can be found all over the state. They feed aggressively, which means anglers love them because they are usually always biting. You’ll have a much better chance of catching a rainbow than some of the other trout species.

Did you know that rainbow trout are not native to Montana? They were brought into the state in the late 1800s. They come from west-coast states like California, Washington, and Oregon. There is one subspecies of the rainbow trout that is native. The RedBand Rainbow was originally found in the northwest corner of Montana. 

Brown Trout

Another fish on our list of what kind of fish are in the Yellowstone River is brown trout. Commonly known as browns, these too are not native to Montana. They originate from Europe and were first stocked in the Madison River in 1889. 

Brown trout are members of both the trout and salmon family and have proven to be pretty popular with anglers. Trout are considered “cold-water” fish, and they survive best in colder water. They prefer places in streams and rivers where the water moves a little slower. They also do well in lakes and reservoirs.


In the state of Montana, there are three different species or kinds of whitefish, the Mountain Whitefish, the Pygmy Whitefish, and the Lake Whitefish. Just like the trout we mentioned above, whitefish prefer to live in colder water. In the Yellowstone River, you’ll see Mountain Whitefish. Though they belong in the same family as trout and salmon, they don’t have quite the same bright colors that rainbows and salmon have. Instead, they are usually silver or gray, with much larger scales.

Channel Catfish

The native Channel Catfish can be found in the Yellowstone and Missouri River drainages. They typically prefer warm and muddy rivers and they eat just about anything. Like all catfish, the Channel Catfish spawn in spring or early summer. Though 2-4 pound fish are more common, biologists have captured channel catfish over 30 pounds!

Smallmouth Bass

Smallmouth Bass are native to eastern central North American, but they were transplanted from hatcheries into Horseshoe Lake near Bigfork in 1914 and are still being introduced in certain locations. Though they are primarily a stream and river fish, they do well in reservoirs as well. 

Smallmouth Bass are nest-building spawners that typically emerge in the spring. They eat insects, frogs, crayfish, and other smaller fish. 


Walleyes are another spring spawner fish family. They like to deposit their eggs along gravelly and rocky shorelines once the ice melts. Their eggs then filter down into the rock where their babies hatch in the oxygen-rich water.

Walleyes can grow over 14 inches long, and they are coveted by anglers all across the state. The state record for the largest Walleye weighed over 16 pounds and was almost 3 feet long. They seem to be growing larger each year, so your chances of catching a decent sized one are pretty good. Your odds get much better if you’re fishing on a boat. They like to travel in groups, and they are constantly on the move. 

Shovelnose Sturgeon

The Sturgeon fish family history can be traced back over 200 million years. They have a shark-like tail, which is unique for freshwater fish. They have a skeleton made of cartilage, not bone. Instead, they have a row of bony plates down their sides called “scutes” that are like hard armor plates. 

The best places to find the Shovelnose Sturgeon in Montana is in the Yellowstone or Missouri Rivers. They enjoy the strong current and they have the shape to hold their position in any river. Though there are several kinds of sturgeon in Montana, and the Shovelnose is the smallest. Sturgeons are interesting because they live to be more than 20 years old. 

Blue Sucker

The Blue Sucker is found pretty exclusively in Eastern Montana. They inhabit primarily larger streams like the Missouri and Yellowstone Rivers. You’ll recognize them from their slate-blue color and their long dorsal fin. Though the species population seems to be stable, they may be susceptible to population declines due to its unique biological characteristics, so the state works hard to maintain the species.


Saugers are closely related to perch and walleyes. You can identify them by their long body, with a sharp, spiny fin on their back. They are usually darkly colored and have a blotchy or patchy pattern on their skin. The sauger fish is a native species to Montana. They prefer to live in moving cloudy water and are found in both the Missouri River and the Yellowstone River. 

Ready To Book Your Trip?

Heard enough about the fish in our local rivers and anxious to feel the tug on your line? Book a trip with the expert guides at Stillwater Anglers today. We’d be happy to give you the total outdoor trout experience for you and your family. 

Give us a call or book your trip on our website today!