Yellowstone's Native Fish Recovery


TU supports the efforts of the National Park Service to control lake trout populations in Yellowstone National Park and to recovery important native trout fisheries throughout the park's prized waters. 


Restoring a Storied Lake 

Sometime in the mid-1980s, lake trout were illegally planted in Yellowstone Lake, the natal home of the West's signature fish--the Yellowstone cutthroat trout. The introduced lakers, originally from the Great Lakes, started eating. By 2011, the National Park Service determined, Yellowstone Lake had lost more than 95 percent of its spawning Yellowstone cutthroat trout. The population had officially crashed, and these prized native fish--dwindling throughout their native range--were on the ropes. 

Certainly, other factors contributed to the collapse of the lake's native trout--the inasive char, while perhaps the biggest culprit, were likely helped by the impacts of a nasty whirling disease infection and the effects of a persistant drought in the early and mid-2000s. But they were the most obvious culprit--the one variable that could be approached head-on.

To that end, Trout Unlimited volunteers all over America contributed hundreds of thousands of dollars in recent years to purchase telemetry equipment that today is used by National Park Service biologists to monitor the lake trout population in Yellowstone Lake. Scientists are using the data collected by this equipment to determine where lake trout spawn in the blue-green waters of Yellowstone Lake, and how they move through the lake over the course of a year. And, they're sharing this data with NPS gillnetting crews, who spend their summers stretching nets across lake trout "highways in hopes of snaring the non-native predators and removing as many as possible from the lake. Additionally, commercial netting crews under contract with Park Service are using the data to net and kill thousand of invasive lakers every summer in hopes of giving the native cutthroats a fighting chance to rebound. Early indications are positive. The effort to remove lakers is starting pay dividends, with more native fish returning to Yellowstone Lake's tributaries to spawn in the spring.

But this is an ongoing battle. More equipment is needed, and more must be learned about the non-native lake trout so the Park Service and its netting crews can continue to remove and kill the predators in Yellowstone Lake and help the cutthroats return to stability. Donate to the project and help TU and Yellowstone National Park restore Yellowstone Lake's native trout, both for the benefit of the park's complex ecosystem, and for the benefit of today's anglers, and for generations of sportsmen and women to come. 

Recovering Native Fish

While Yellowstone Lake is the premiere conservation effort under way in the world's first national park, there are other important efforts afoot to help restore some balance to Yellowstone's fisheries. Early in the 1900s, non-native brown, rainbow, brook and lake trout were stocked throughout the waters of the park. In the years since, important native populations of Yellowstone and west slope cutthroat trout, as well as grayling, have dwindled drastically or winked out altogether. 

In recent years, the National Park Service has put a premium on restoring native fish populations within the park. For instance, a restored population of west slope cutthroat  trout is now viable in the  park's northwest corner, and efforts directed by the Park Service's Native Fish Conservation Plan, include plans to restore grayling to the upper reaches of the Gibbon River and native cutthroats to strategic streams within their native range.

Yellowstone will always be home to trophy angling opportunities for browns, rainbows and lakers--the Madison and the Firehole, as well as the Gardiner and the Lower Yellowstone will always be quality angling destinations. But by restoring some of Yellowstone's natural history and native trout and grayling populations, the Park Service is improving angling opportunity within the park, as well as important food sources for native predators like grizzly bears, eagles, ospreys and pelicans, among others. TU supports the NPS plan to recover native fish populations, both for the ecological benefits, and for the benefit of the fishing public. 



TU has raised hundreds of thousands of dollars for lake trout monitoring in Yellowstone Lake. 

TU volunteers donate both time and money to support the Nationa Park Service's Native Fish Conservation Plan.

Staff Contact

Chris Hunt, Director of National Communications

Author of this Page

Chris Hunt, Director of National Communications


Westslope Cutthroat Trout

Yellowstone Cutthroat Trout

Lake Trout

Lake Trout

Invasive Species
Risks to Fishing 

Add Content