Outdoor Life editor Andrew McKean is embarking on the fishing trip of a lifetime, fly fishing trout across the Yellowstone Plateau. Follow along as he finds fish on one of the most scenic landscapes in the world.
The trip begins in Red Lodge, Montana, at the base of the Beartooth Plateau. McKean and his fishing buddy, photographer Troy Batzler, rendezvoused at the luxurious Pollard Hotel in historic Red Lodge.
Red Lodge is an appealing hybrid of historic Western village and bustling modern town. It’s the perfect jumping-off point for hiking, hunting and fishing on the towering Beartooth Plateau just south of town.
First stop, a sporting goods store to outfit for the trip. Maps, groceries, a one-day Wyoming fishing license and bear spray were on the shopping list.
Welcome to paradise! Just out of Red Lodge, U.S. Highway 212 turns into the Beartooth Highway, one of the most impressive engineering feats in the country, and perhaps the most scenic road in America.
We drove a new Ford Flex for this trip, and the GPS mapping display shows the switch-backed nature of the highway. The road gains about 6,000 feet of elevation in less than 10 miles.
The Flex atop the Beartooth Plateau. The road tops out at about 11,000 feet above sea level, in a wonderland of boulders, stunted wildflowers, snowfields and forever views.
McKean glasses a distant lake from the top of the Beartooth Plateau. The highway winds down toward Island Lake on the Wyoming side of the plateau.
Time to consult the map. While most of the hundreds of lakes on the Beartooth Plateau hold trout, the highest, shallowest lakes are sterile, the result of endless winter and little insect life.
Destination: Island Lake. We picked this large lake for its location just above treeline–at 9,700 feet above sea level it has some trees and woody structure to support the insect life required by alpine trout. Sources say it holds plenty of trout, but the verdict is divided on the species of fish.
For a fly fisherman, the Beartooth Plateau is an extravagance of opportunity. Hundreds of alpine lakes dot the high country, and most contain trout.
Finally, we’re about to get fishing. The four-door Ford Flex holds a lot of gear, and we have to sort through clothes, rods and flies to pack into Island Lake, even though it’s just a few short miles away.

Outdoor Life begins an epic fishing adventure.