The Euroflash is a variation on the Butano Perdigon distinguished by the addition of sparse legs and the fact the tungsten bead is buried in the fly’s thorax. It’s an effective, fast-sinking, technical mayfly nymph or midge pupa, whether you’re using Euro nymphing techniques, sight-nymphing, or fishing the fly under a hopper or indicator. Try it in various colors and #14-20.
Hook: 1x short 1x strong scud, #14-20 (especially #16-18).
Bead: Tungsten to match hook size and disappear somewhat in the thorax. This color is brown.
Thread: Dark brown 8/0 on this color, otherwise a dark color to match natural insects or rest of fly (black and dark brown are best).
Tail: Dark pardo coq-de-leon.
Abdomen: Holographic Flashabou, in this case olive. Other good colors are red, black, purple, and copper, but feel free to try assorted colors.
Wing Case: UTC opal tinsel, size medium or small.
Thorax: Tying thread and the bead (secure the bead with X-wraps).
Legs: A few strands of Fluoro-Fibre secured vee-style. On this color, use gray. Most other colors of the pattern are best with gray or dark brown.
Body Coating: UV-cure resin over entire fly except legs.
This is a good one to tie for the late winter midges we often see in the afternoons. Quick too!
Hook: #18-22 short shank dry fly (use #12-16 for chironomids in lakes).
Thread: 10/0 black. Change color to match the overall body color of the midges you’re imitating
Wing Post: White Widow’s Web or similar hydrophobic (poly) yarn.
Rib: Pearl Midge Krystal Flash.
Body: Fine black dubbing, or color to match your local midges.
Hackle: Grizzly, 3-4 turns on smaller sizes and 4-5 turns for chironomids.
Fish this one during afternoon midge hatches on Yellowstone area rivers, particularly in the winter and early spring. When doing this, look for slow walking-speed seams with foam. Fish this bug behind a more-buoyant and visible dry. I prefer #16 Purple Hazy Cripples or Trudes. The latter actually look like midge clusters due to the peacock body, particularly when skies are gray so the wing appears to be a buzz of movement over the fly.
You can also tie the pattern larger to serve as a dry chironomid in lakes. Fish it solo then, or even run a tiny beadhead under it on a short dropper.
Snowpack Update and Summer Streamflow & Fishing Forecast: Early March Update
Snowpack Update and Summer Streamflow & Fishing Forecast: Early March Update
Here’s an introduction. More details are below.
After a great start to winter and a very warm and dry period from the middle of December through late January, February saw southwest Montana and northwest Wyoming blessed with one of the coldest and wettest Februaries in memory. This trend continued into early March, with temperatures a few days ago bottoming out at -28 in Livingston, a record for the date by 11 degrees! Basically, we had January weather in late February and early March.
Temperatures are still cold, but temperatures are now moderating somewhat and the outlook for the remainder of March is for cooler and drier than normal temperatures transitioning to warmer and drier than normal temperatures. April and May outlooks call for an equal chance of above normal, normal, and below normal temperatures and precipitation. We hope for normal precip and below normal temperatures to preserve the snow until May.
Fishing is frankly terrible right now. Even the Paradise Valley spring creeks are tough due to the lots of snow and ice on the banks, even though the creeks themselves are in good shape. The main flow of area rivers are now mostly ice-free except where drift ice has packed up and formed dams, but there’s so much bankside shelf ice that fishing is dangerous. We hope that conditions improve over the next week or two, but it could be early April before the boat ramps are clear this year. They’d better be. We have trips scheduled for the first week of April…
Current conditions put us in good shape for near-normal water conditions for this summer. It is now very unlikely things will be either substantially above normal or below normal this year, which should make for a “normal” season, provided the water melts on time. If it melts drastically late or drastically early, things could change a great deal. Since the forecast for most of March is for dry conditions, I expect the snowpack to decline as a percentage of average for the next few weeks. This means we could still be in for below-normal flows this summer (though probably not drastically below normal flows), particularly if the snowmelt begins in late April as it did last year, rather than around May 7-10 as it does in normal years.
NOTE: Everything that follows assumes near-normal precipitation and temperatures and a near-normal timing for the start of spring runoff!
Current Snowpack Conditions and Impacts on Summer Fishing
Snowpack in our area of operations ranges from 116% to 132% of normal. The highest number is in the Madison-Gallatin Basin in Yellowstone Park, the lowest in the upper Yellowstone River Basin in NW Wyoming, including Yellowstone Park. Unlike last year, and frankly unlike January this year, this is exceptionally cold snow that will be resistant to melting early.
In a general sense, we have a strong snowpack that should provide near-optimum water levels and keep flows solid and cool through July. As always, the early part of August is a bit of a question mark and depends on NOT getting a week straight of 95-100 degree temperatures.
Here are some notes on what to expect for specific watersheds, beginning with the Madison Basin in YNP, which is always the first walk-wade water to drop out of the spring melt. I’ll cover waters inside the park first, then waters outside it.
The Yellowstone Park General Season Opens May 25 This Year!
Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison Rivers in YNP
This is the first time in quite a while that the Madison-Gallatin Basin has had snowpack numbers higher than the Yellowstone Basin. This could make for an interesting early summer on the Firehole River, “interesting” in the first week of the season because of high water and ACTUALLY interesting in the last week of June and first week of July. If and only if the snow holds off melting until a near-normal timeframe, we could have good fishing on the Firehole and certainly on the Gibbon and Madison into early July, at least in the mornings. In fact, it’s at least conceivable that both the Firehole/Gibbon/Madison AND the Yellowstone and its tributaries could offer good fishing for about a week in early July. This almost never happens. Usually there’s a week or so in there when the former waters are too low and warm and the latter are still too high, and we kind of have to scramble to find good spots in the Park.
The Firehole is likely to be the only fishable water in this basin for the first week of the park season. Even it might be “meh” for the first few days of the season, if a big warmup does not occur a couple weeks earlier in May to clear out some snow. It is likely to be best in the middle ten days of June, but at least solid from June 5 to 25. As noted above, there’s potential for fishing into July in the mornings, but that will depend on weather.
The Gibbon below Norris Geyser Basin should begin fishing between June 1 and 5 and be best in the latter half of June. It should continue to fish into the first half of July, particularly in the mornings. The canyon water downstream of Gibbon Meadows will be best for the first week or ten days, while the meadows will be best in the last week of June. The short section of the Gibbon that holds fish upstream from Norris Geyser Basin (and its couple fishable tributaries) will not be ready before June 20-25 and will be best in July and August. Reminder: Grebe Lake and the entire Gibbon watershed from Virginia Cascades upstream was poisoned beginning in fall 2017 and is now effectively fishless pending grayling and westslope cutthroat introductions.
The Madison in YNP will probably be too high for the opener but drop and clear enough to fish with subsurface flies between June 1 and June 5. The best fishing will be in the latter half of June and it should hold up into July. Water conditions will be good for decent numbers of fall-run browns and rainbows to remain in the system until late June after overwintering in the river.
Yellowstone River Mainstem in YNP, and Tributaries in YNP
As always the upper Yellowstone River from Chittenden Bridge upstream to the park boundary (not including Yellowstone Lake) opens July 15 and will be best from that point through July. Water levels will be higher than anticipated in my last update, so that though the run should be stronger than it has been since about 1995 due to lake trout suppression efforts, fishing will be harder than earlier anticipated.
The Grand Canyon of the Yellowstone from the Silver Cord Cascade confluence to the Lamar River Confluence, including the Tower Falls area, MIGHT be fishable for the first 3-5 days of the park season if May is cool, but only with big nymphs and streamers for fit anglers. More likely, it is now unlikely to be fishable for the main summer season before June 20, and will probably not drop into shape before June 25-July 1. It will be good from this point through at least early October, with the Salmonfly hatch beginning around the time the water clears and continuing in sporadic fashion for a month. Yes, the Salmonflies hatch in the Grand Canyon for a month. They begin near warm water sources (small hot springs) and end near cold tributaries.
The Black Canyon of the Yellowstone from the Lamar Confluence to the Gardner Confluence is unlikely to fall into fishable shape before June 25 and it will probably be sometime in the last few days of June or first few days of July. Expect Salmonflies to begin about that time near Gardiner or a few days later and progress upriver for a couple weeks, with the conclusion of the hatch in the upper canyon between Hellroaring Creek and the Lamar around July 20-25. This water should fish well except when rains muddy it from the time it clears until late September at the upstream end and mid-October at the lower end.
Yellowstone River tributaries in the Park will generally be best in the latter half of July and August, though most will run clear no later than July 1. Blacktail Creek will be marginally clear by June 20-25. Tributaries draining lakes might be ready by June 15. Blacktail Ponds open in early July. Cascade Lake will be a swampy mess but probably reachable and ice-free in the first week of June, but will be best in the latter half of June after it warms a bit.
Gardner River System
The Gardner River Upstream from Osprey Falls will become fishable in early July. It has fished poorly the past few years. We’re not sure why. Access to this water may be tough due to road work this year.
The Middle Gardner between Osprey Falls and Boiling River will drop into some kind of shape sometime in the latter half of June, probably after June 20. It will fish best from early July through about October 25 (late season fishing is better when it’s warm out). Salmonflies should begin here with stragglers from downstream around July 1 and continue in the remotest reaches of Sheepeater Canyon into the first few days of August, with the bulk of the hatch around July 15.
The Lower Gardner from Boiling River to the Yellowstone may be nymphable for fit anglers on a day-to-day basis from the beginning of the park season. This is especially true for the first few days of the season, when the early opening means that cooler weather might allow some fishing before the bulk of the spring melt gets going. This is physically demanding fishing suitable only to experienced tightline (Euro/high-stick) nymph anglers. The river will start dropping into better shape about the same time as the Middle Gardner. The Salmonflies will occur in the first half of July. Fishing will be best for the last week of June and July and again from mid-September through the close of the park season.
Gardner River tributaries will begin dropping into shape around June 20 and be best in July and the first half of August. Many tribs will be hard to reach due to road construction. Grizzly Lake is effectively inaccessible due to this construction. Joffee Lake and the Swan Lake Flat sloughs will be squishy but fishable from the beginning of the park season (note that Swan Lake itself is fishless).
The Lamar River System
Slough Creek might be fishable in its Lower Meadow for the park’s opening weekend, but ONLY if it has been cool and dry, and ONLY utilizing streamers. It is much more likely to come into shape in the first week of July (along with rough water portions). The upper hike-in meadows (First, Second, Third) fall into shape a few days later. As always, Slough is usually best for the first month it is fishable, and gets tougher and tougher into late summer and early fall before shutting down in late September.
Soda Butte Creek will drop into shape between July 4 and 10 and be fishable from that point until late September. The catching will be best in late July and early August. I say “catching” rather than “fishing” because in our opinion the fishing is always miserable here due to overwhelming crowds and scarred, lethargic trout. It is often difficult to find 100 yards to yourself here and you should expect other anglers to jump into your pool no matter how small it is, including fishing directly across from you from the bank you are casting towards. Crowds are most intense and approach “eastern put & take fishery at stocking time” levels in the first two weeks of September, which is always the most crowded period here.
Rugged portions of the Lamar River will fall into shape for nymph fishing and possibly the Salmonfly hatch in the first week of July. Meadow portions will fall into shape shortly thereafter. The fishing will be most consistent for the first month after it drops into shape, but the Lamar remains worthwhile until late September. Roadside portions in the upper and lower end of the Lamar Valley will rival Soda Butte for overwhelming and dispiriting crowds. The portions of the valley farther away from the road won’t be so bad, and hike-in stretches are almost always fairly uncrowded. The rough water may or may not be crowded. It depends on how many anglers fit enough to do so run screaming from the crowds further upstream to fish the rough stuff.
Other Lamar River Tributaries typically require hikes and perhaps rough footing to access and produce smaller fish than the main streams, but produce far healthier fish and far less crowds. The main exceptions are Trout Lake (always crowded) and the lower end of Pebble Creek (usually crowded, always crowded when Soda Butte is muddy). The tributary creeks that aren’t obvious or require a hike to reach will begin fishing sometime in the first week of July and be best in the latter half of July and early August.
Note on Lamar Drainage Crowds: Upwards of 90% of area retail fly shop customers from July 4 through September plan to fish roadside meadow portions of Soda Butte Creek, the Lamar River, and Slough Creek, or to hike to the First Meadow (2+ miles) of Slough Creek. The crowds are most manageable in July. They are least manageable in the first half of September. These crowds substantially detract from the overall experience of fishing these areas, result in hook-scarred and tired fish, cause erosion, and are otherwise to be avoided if you are fit enough to fish elsewhere. In 2018, I ran one guide trip on this water, and it was a single-person trip in July, which allowed me to fish some nooks and crannies not accessible to larger groups.
Yellowstone River System outside Yellowstone Park
The “Upper” Yellowstone from Gardiner to Carbella is typically good already, but ice is limiting fishing so far this March. We hope things turn on in a week or two and really hope the ice is gone by early April, when we have floats scheduled and typically get a lot of big fish. The heavy runoff will probably begin around May 1-5 this year, and there will be a lot of low-elevation runoff during warm spells in April due to the abundant snow we’ve gotten lately. The river will drop out of runoff in the last week of June or first week of July, with Salmonflies beginning at that time. The best dry fly fishing will begin about July 10-15 and continue through early October. The nymphing was great all the way until November last year. Because I (Walter) now have a raft rather than a high-side drift boat, Yankee Jim Canyon floats will begin no later than July 15, though this water is typically best from August until early October regardless of water levels.
The Paradise Valley Stretch of the Yellowstone from Carbella to Pine Creek is usually not as good pre-runoff as the sections upstream or down, except during the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch which may or may not be fishable in early May. This water drops into shape at about the same time as the upper section, but is not as good on the surface except during the Salmonfly hatch or heavy evening caddis hatches before late July. The best dry fly fishing will be in August and September this year. Some slow fishing is possible during the hottest parts of late July and early August and during bright weather in late August and early September. The latter in particular depends on how fast the water drops after runoff. Low water here equals tougher fishing. Fall fishing is typically good in deeper areas.
The bottom of Paradise Valley and the “Town Section” of the Yellowstone from Pine Creek to Mayor’s Landing typically drops into shape a few days after the sections above (due to rough, turbulent water) but fishes better on dry flies than the Paradise Valley stretch through most of July, and holds up during hot/bright weather in late July and August better. It is also good in the fall, including very late fall (big browns).
The “Lower Yellowstone” east of Livingston will drop into shape around July 10-15 and be best in late July, perhaps the first half of August provided water temps remain under 70 degrees, and after September 15. This is the big fish portion of the Yellowstone and is best for anglers who want to try for some toads rather than numbers of smaller fish on dry flies.
The Boulder River offers some pre-runoff fishing. Its main season will begin a few days before the Yellowstone. It should be floatable for about a month thereafter and makes a great changeup to the Yellowstone for those willing to drive to meet me in Livingston.
The Stillwater River will drop into shape in the last week of June or first week of July and should be strong through August at least.
The Shields River is very much a secondary option, but I am going to be developing some private wade and potentially float access here this season. I hope to begin offering trips on the lower Shields in September-October, the most interesting period.
Other Yellowstone River Tributaries Outside the Park will begin dropping into shape around July 10-15 and be best in August and the first week or so of September. The main exception from Livingston south is Dailey Lake, which will ice-out soon and will be good in early April based on last year’s heavy stockings. Note: the private lakes and Paradise Valley spring creeks are discussed below.
Madison River System Outside YNP
For our purposes, only the Lower Madison River matters much. It will become floatable in early April subject to a reasonable melt of the current bankside ice. It will be best in May and June, and is our closest float trip option during this period. As usual, in early July it will get too warm to float ethically and remain so into early September, then be good again into November.
The Upper Madison River is a long way to drive to fish in a crowd, but it should be at least marginal throughout the spring and good by June 15-20 through June.
More Distant Waters
The Jefferson River should be good in the latter half of April and perhaps early May, then again for a week or two at the end of June and perhaps the beginning of July, before getting too warm until late August or early September.
The Gallatin River is going to experience severe ice jams in late March and April this year. By late April it should be great for wade angling (ice free areas near Big Sky sooner). The floatable lower portion is always of marginal interest until late September.
The Missouri River from Three Forks to Canyon Ferry Lake offers some rainbow fishing in late April and early May, but it’s “meh.” The much more interesting multi-species (carp, big trout, walleye, and pike) fishing will begin in late July and be best in August and while warm weather holds in September. The brown trout runs from Canyon Ferry and Toston Reservoirs are best in the latter half of October and November.
The “Land of Giants” Stretch of the Missouri is typically great by now, but it has been so cold and icy and there has been so much snow in that neck of the woods that I suggest waiting a couple weeks. After that, think pink flies through early May. Note that we are not offering power boat trips here this season. I had to sell my power boat to afford the down payment on a house. Look for them to return at a very friendly rate in late March 2020.
The Missouri River Below Holter Dam (the famous stretch) is currently snowpacked and iced-over, very rare for this late in the winter. It should be good to go by early April at the absolute latest and very good from that point through June. Note that this is getting up to 3hrs from Livingston, so it requires an overnight stay in Helena, Wolf Creek, or Craig.
Fly Tying Vid: Mayer’s Mini Leech and Discussion of New Fly Design
Mayer’s Mini Leech and Discussion of New Fly Design
This one is a little different. I first tie a basic leech pattern, Mayer’s Mini Leech, then go through the steps I’ve taken to develop this basic idea into a different pattern imitating a small sculpin. This is the process I typically follow when designing new patterns, and I thought viewers might be interested in my mindset as I work out a new fly.
Here’s the basic pattern recipe:
Hook: 1x short, 1x strong scud, #12-16.
Bead (optional): Black or copper brass or tungsten to match hook size.
Thread: 6/0 or 8/0 to match overall fly color.
Underbody/Flash: One strand of Flashabou doubled back on itself at tie in, then wrapped forward. Good colors can match the wing or contrast it: olive, red, brown, etc.
Wing: Pine squirrel strip in leech, baitfish, or flesh colors. Good colors include: olive, black, rust, chocolate, wine, purple, tan, and gray.
Head: Single strand of ostrich herl to match wing.
I am still working out the sculpin derived from this fly (and don’t know if it will work), so no recipe for that one just yet.
In lakes, fish the fly either twitched or drifted under an indicator, or with a slow retrieve on a sink-tip line. In rivers, it can work dead-drifted under a large dry fly like a foam hopper, or as part of a nymph rig. Don’t hesitate to fish the pattern behind a larger streamer as your “second chance fly.”
Top March Fisheries Near Livingston: “Land of the Giants” on the Missouri River in Early March
This is first in a series of three posts I’ll make about top March fisheries. I’ll profile one each in the first ten, middle ten, and last ten days of the month. Note that all three fisheries are actually quite good throughout March, and on into the middle of April at least.
I’ll be honest here. This year, there are few March fisheries near Livingston, at least not until the weather moderates. We had a drastically warm and dry December and January that had us fearful for summer water levels. Lately we have been blessed and cursed with a bitter cold and snowy February. We had about three feet of snow here in Livingston in the past ten days! March is coming in with temperatures reaching -20 Fahrenheit at night and below zero in the afternoon. Averages are in the 40s for daytime highs! While this cold and snowy weather is doing wonders for our snowpack, it means you are better off fishing somewhere else right now. Instead, use the information below for future reference on March fisheries near Livingston, and plan trips for “normal winters.”
This first post is about the Missouri River at “Land of the Giants,” downstream of Hauser Dam near Helena. Later in the month I’ll cover Depuy Spring Creek and the Yellowstone River. Remember that they’re all good throughout the month, though I have planned the blog posts to cover which I think is best at each time.
Fishing “Land of the Giants” on the Missouri River
This short section of the Missouri River runs about three miles from Hauser Dam to Holter Reservoir, the lake upstream of the famous portion of the Missouri. This is mostly fast, deep water, with steep canyon walls. The holding water is mostly composed of long, bouldery pools. Access is only on foot or via jet boat. This is certainly the top early March fishery near Livingston for BIG FISH! While there are some dinks, the HONEST average is sixteen to twenty-two inches, and there are fish caught here every March in the 25 to 28-inch range. These big fish are lake-run rainbows coming up from Holter Reservoir to spawn, as well as the resident trout that eat their eggs. As the weather moderates later in the spring, the crowds get very heavy here, and you’ll never be alone even in early March, but since cold weather keeps almost all boaters and most wade anglers away, early March is prime time here.
On this top early March fishery near Livingston, you want to look for the deep, walking-pace runs and seams. Except for active spawners you want to avoid, there will be few, if any fish in shallow water, and since water temperatures will still be in the 30s or low 40s, there won’t be any fish in fast water.
Trout Spey Tactics
You have two basic tactics to choose from if you’re fishing on foot. If you’re okay with fewer fish but more exciting fishing, utilize trout spey techniques. This is the top early March fishery near Livingston for this technique. It’s also good on the Missouri below Holter Dam, the Yellowstone, and the lower Madison. Fish a twelve to thirteen-foot 4-6wt spey rod with a moderately fast sink-tip and a short leader tapered to 1X or 2X. Choose your tip based on current speed and water depth. Use Woolly Buggers, sculpins, or trout spey streamers like the Skiddish Smolt or Montana Intruder. You can also fish egg-sucking leeches, since on every top early March fishery near Livingston have “egg on the brain” at this time.
Long-Range Nymphing Tactics
A better tactic for most anglers is long-range nymphing. Using stack-mending techniques to achieve long downstream drifts that give your flies plenty of time in the strike zone. That is to say on the bottom. If you don’t know how to stack-mend, I’ll describe the process below, but I suggest you also check out this excellent video. Except on the Paradise Valley spring creeks, stack-mending is an important skill on ever top early March fishery near Livingston. In fact, it’s a good skill whenever you’re nymphing on foot on larger waters, especially when the fish are holding well away from the banks.
This is somewhat specialized nymphing compared to other March fisheries near Livingston, and your normal rod and line probably aren’t ideal. Opt for a six-weight or seven-weight single-handed rod. The longer the rod, the better. I suggest a 10-footer. Rig this rod with a long-belly WF floating line, such as a line marketed as a floating steelhead line. Another option is to use an 11′ five-weight switch rod rigged with a floating general-purpose switch line. These long rods help with mending at long range, as well as setting the hook at poor angles that often result when stack-mending.
Leaders should range from nine to twelve feet depending on water level. The higher the flows, the longer the leader. I often use a standard nine-foot leader tapered to 3X, to which I attach a small swivel and a foot to eighteen inches of 4X tippet. Add split shot above the swivel (you will need two to three #B or BB lead shot), and a strike indicator.
The Basic Tactic, in Steps:
The basic tactic is as follows. Again see, the video above :
Cast slightly upstream out towards the seam, starting close and gradually working farther out into deeper water. Make sure to have extra slack line ready, hanging in the water in front of you.
Keep the rod pointed directly at your indicator at all times, at least to start. As you learn how the currents in the particular run you’re fishing interfere with the drift, you may find your drifts get better by slightly leading the indicator in its drift, or even lagging even more slightly behind it, but these are special cases.
Give an immediate upstream mend all the way to the strike indicator, even if you jerk it slightly. This is your initial “set-up” mend.
As the line comes straight in front of you, mend again. If you need to, feed line into the mend to avoid dragging the flies.
Continue mending as needed as the indicator drifts below you, taking care to avoid dragging the flies. You can extend the drift as long as you like, certainly longer than you can cast.
Assuming you don’t get a strike… At maximum fishing range, which will range from fifty to eighty feet of line out of the guides for most anglers, strip in line to get back to easy casting range and start the process again.
When you get a strike… Set the hook HARD at a 45-degree angle above the water on your DOWNSTREAM side. Never set the hook upstream when using this technique. Doing so just pulls the fly upstream in the trout’s mouth and either results in poor hook placement at the tip of the fish’s mouth or missing the fish entirely. You also shouldn’t set with your rod just above the water on your downstream side. Because of water pressure, you usually don’t get enough power in the hookset when doing so.
Playing fish using this technique is hard. Use an aggressive downstream angle with your rod to pull the fish away from the fast current and into shallow water. Often your rod should be almost parallel to the water. Once the fish is in shallow water, you can bring the rod straight up to pull the fish upstream towards you. Don’t be afraid to follow the fish downstream, however! A good tactic sometimes is to get to shore and hustle downstream until you’re even with the fish. That way, when you apply downstream pressure, the fish feels the pull from downstream, and so feels prompted to run upstream. This turns the current into your ally rather than your enemy. Even so, you’ll lose a lot of fish.
Flies for Nymphing, and How to Rig Them
All nymphs used at this time should at least suggest eggs. They should be about the same size as eggs and usually contain pink or orange elements suggestive of eggs, even if they have the profiles of more-traditional nymphs. Fly size should range from #12 to #18. Except when flows are up and somewhat dirty, expect the smaller flies to work better. Nonetheless, it’s good to have a larger fly in your rig. Always fish two flies. The larger one often serves as weight and an attractor, even if the smaller one produces 75% of the fish.
I’ll reiterate the right leader here. Start with a standard 9′ nylon monofilament leader, usually 3X though if flows are up and clarity is less than about five feet you can get away with 2X. Add a tiny swivel or tippet ring. Add about eighteen inches of tippet. I suggest fluorocarbon. 4X is usually necessary, but you can get away with 3X if the water is a bit off-color. You will need two or three size B or BB shot, depending on water depth and current speed. If using tin shot, use BB or AB, which are larger in size than equivalent lead shot.
Tie your larger fly to your main leader. This fly should be heavier, bulkier, and be tied with more weight that your smaller fly: some combination of lead wire, lead-free wire, and brass or tungsten beads. I typically use flies suggestive of sowbugs or scuds. See the lists below for my top five fly choices. You can also try a large pink or red San Juan Worm, marabou jig, a small and heavily-weighted Woolly Bugger, or even a big egg pattern tied with a tungsten beadhead. This top fly need not be overly suggestive of an egg, but I’ll usually include “egg-like” components. The Rainbow Czech Nymph pictured is a good example: the “hot spot” is suggestive of an egg, even if the rest of the fly is not.
Tie an 18-inch tag of lighter tippet (usually 5X, though you can occasionally get away with 4X) to the top fly’s hook. Tie your smaller, dropper fly (usually #16 or #18) to this tag. This fly should be smaller and/or sparser than your top fly, and should almost always be pink or another egg-like color. Tiny egg patterns are probably the most popular choices, but other flies work too. I like small, pink sowbugs and scuds, often tied with an orange “fire bead.” I also like small pink or pale orange mayfly nymphs and midge pupae. See the second list below for my favorite dropper flies.
One thing to note: tie or buy a lot of flies for this water. You will lose a ton. You’ll bust off quite a few, but you’ll also break off a lot of fish, mangle a lot of flies getting them out of fish, and simply have a lot of flies beat up by fish teeth. Because you’ll break off a lot of fish, it’s vital to squeeze the barbs on your hooks. The big trout will thank you.
The following are my favorite large nymphs:
Rainbow Czech Nymph (Regular and Firebead), #12-14
Amex Czech, #12-14
Pink Caviar Scud, #12
Ninch’s Bubble Yum Scud, #12-14
Pink Squirrel, #12-14
The following are my favorite smaller nymphs:
Metallic Pink Lightning Bug, #18 (Here is a link to the Lakestream page posting the image linked above, including a tying video)
Pale Pink Rainbow Warrior, #18 (note: just a standard Rainbow Warrior tied with pink thread, transparent pink Flashabou, and pink thorax)
The entire region, but particularly the Yellowstone River basins in Yellowstone Park and north of it and the Madison-Gallatin basins in Yellowstone Park, have been absolutely pulverized by snow of late. This latest storm, which has put down probably two feet and counting in Livingston, was enough to close schools across the region –which ain’t easy in the Rockies. Livingston schools were closed for the first time since 1989.
All this snow, along with biting cold temperatures that have made February colder than January for the first time in decades at least, means that area snowpack is now running way above average. Depending on the basin, as of this morning snowpack was running 111% on up to 127% of normal. This is a drastic change from even a week ago, when the Yellowstone basin in the park (now at 111%) was actually below-normal.
Once the snow actually winds down I will be posting my full outlook on summer water conditions for early March. Suffice it to say that things have changed. In short, we are now looking at normal to above normal snowpack and streamflows. Above normal snowpack now seems likely considering the long range outlooks throughMarch. We aren’t quite to where we were last season, and we don’t necessarily want to be since only an early melt kept us from a very late start to the high summer season, but the snowpack is now WAAAAAAY up there. At the very least, I feel safe in saying we should be out of the woods for temperature and streamflow-related closures in Yellowstone Park and on the Yellowstone River and its tributaries.
Willy’s Pip Midge Pupa: Easy Extended Body Midge Pupa
This simple midge is one of my (Walter’s) favorite flies when I go back to fish the Ozarks tailwaters and spring creeks between November and April. The extended furled body creates a profile similar to the classic Brassie, but with a great deal of movement and a different “look.” The first two-foot trout I ever caught came on one of these, on upper Lake Taneycomo in Missouri (it’s really a river there).
In addition to working well for midge pupae, the technique used to create the abdomen is also good for caddis pupae, extended body stonefly dries like my Prom Queen, and even leech tails. Any relatively straight, limp fiber, yarn, or braid can work with this technique.
Hook: Scud, #18-22
Bead: Tiny brass or tungsten, if desired. I usually do not include one.
Thread: 8/0 or smaller black or to match abdomen.
Abdomen: Red Uni-Thread, furled. Other good colors include cream, olive, tan, black, or one of the various flashy “midge threads.”
Thorax/Head: Peacock herl or Ice Dub.
Yellowstone River Fishing Report, or (Icy) Lack Thereof
Yikes. This has probably been the coldest February since I started spending the winters in Montana back in 2006-2007. It’s certainly the first time I remember February being both colder and snowier than January.
See that shelf on the right side of the image? Ice. See the white haze down the middle of the river? Ice. See the island at mid-screen? Mostly ice. See the channels upstream? Almost all ice.
Most of the river is in this sort of shape right now. With air temperatures of late ranging from the single digits below zero up to about 20 degrees, and more of the same in the future, don’t expect much change until at least March 10.
If you want to fish the Yellowstone, your only options for the foreseeable future are the mouths of the Gardner River or Depuy Spring Creek. Otherwise, stick to the spring creeks themselves.
This is actually a very unusual state of affairs. While floating is still out in late February almost every year, we’ve frequently got mostly open river except for ice jams along many banks. The fishing is often very good in the long, deep, midriver runs now, with some midge activity on calm, warm afternoons, but good nymphing any day temps are above freezing. Not right now. I’ll update the overall fishing report (click above) when things change.
This cold is doing wonders for the snowpack. We’re at about 98-104% of normal in all our important drainages. Expect these numbers to jump 5-10% over the upcoming week, with heavy snow in the forecast. I’ll be posting a full update on the snowpack around March 10, but suffice it to say that it is looking more and more likely we’ll have normal snowpack (or so) for 2019.
The Scleech is my favorite double-hook streamer. The title is a bit of a lie. It’s not actually a true articulated pattern, rather a single-hook streamer with a stinger hook and the fly’s body on the connection between the main hook and the stinger. If I wasn’t yacking, I can tie these in about ten minutes, much less than most similar-sized streamers.
This is a great fly in early spring (late March through early June) on the Yellowstone, but it can work all summer and fall too. Usually I fish the fly on a seven-weight rod, with a type-IV sink tip line and about 10lb Maxima for tippet. Strip and rip, but don’t hesitate to high-stick nymph it through the turbulent, foamie, bankside pockets, particularly in midsummer when the big browns sit in those spots and don’t like it when other fish invade their territory.
The fly is also good in all standard sculpin colors: gold, tan, black, and “Bighorn,” or yellow and dark brown. I also tie it in white, though why it works in that color, I have no idea.
While primarily a sculpin imitation these days, I also use the fly as a big leech in small private ranch lakes, especially in early April right after ice-out, when the big fish are lethargic and often prefer one big meal to a lot of smaller ones. In those situations, fish it on a slower-sinking line with long, slow strips.
Front Hook: Clouser-style, #2-4 (here, an old Mustad #3366 in size-4).
Thread: 3/0 olive (or to match fly’s overall color).
Wing: Black-barred olive variant rabbit strip, or standard olive variant rabbit strip.
Rear Hook: #6 scud or similar short-shank wide-gape hook (egg, octopus, etc.).
Articulation/Body: 40lb Power Pro braided fishing line strung with eight 6mm golden olive acrylic craft store beads.
Eyes: Medium gold I-Balz.
Body #2: Other end of rabbit strip used for wing, secured and wrapped forward as in a bunny leech, 3-4 turns.
Throat: Red flash, here an odd formulation of red Kreinik Flash, but any material will work.
Collar/Dorsal Fin: Olive Montana Fly Company Widow’s Web.
Head: Olive Widow’s Web, spun in a dubbing loop, wrapped forward, and trimmed to shape.
Markings: Color top side of head and all of collar/dorsal fin with a brown permanent marker, then bar with a black permanent marker.
When I was a kid fly fishing in the Missouri Ozarks, jigs like the one above were considered flies. Things have probably changed with the Internet, but I bet there are still probably a few old-timers fishing with fly rods, who would say they are fly fishing, who primarily use small marabou jigs almost exclusively.
I tied the jig above for a reason: I think jigs in baitfish colorations will work great on summer floats on the Yellowstone River, and I’m going to have clients try them this summer.
The question arises. Is it a fly or a lure? I say it’s a fly. Why?
I tied it like a fly.
My clients will be fishing it on a fly rod.
It contains no scents or similar attractants (which would make it bait).
Those are my criteria. The first two are the real keys. If you tie it like a fly and fish it like a fly, in my book it’s a fly.
Some might argue that the molded lead head makes it a lure. To me, there’s too fine a distinction between tying a “marabou streamer” with a tungsten bead and a jig with a lead head. The latter aren’t legal in Yellowstone Park, but neither are lead barbell eyes, articulated flies with more than one intact hook point, or flies using soft rubber materials like the Squirmie Wormie, so legality isn’t a clear marker of “fly or not,” either.
On the other hand, this definition definitely leaves out some popular “fly rod artificials.” Chief among these are beads. These aren’t flies, in my book. I think that’s the main reason I disliked fishing them when I was up in Alaska. That and I found they tore the fish up far worse than the egg flies I brought and used against the guides’ wishes (the traditional egg flies worked as well as the beads, in my experience, and every fish that one came in hooked right in the corner of the jaw). Though perhaps that’s due to the enormous Gamakatsu egg hooks the guides insisted on using with beads.
There are also borderline cases. The biggest I can think of was the Gummy Minnow a rep trying to sell us on the… invention… constructed in front of us when I was working in Parks’ Fly Shop. He used the soft plastic “Chewy Skin” of which these things are made and superglue, but nothing else. He didn’t like it when I said it was cool but not a fly. Yet I have seen some of these things tied with at least a few turns of thread. Is that enough to make them flies? Another case: pom-pom eggs. I tie (make?) these with little pink pom-poms from the craft store, orange thread, and super glue (my favorite fly tying adhesive). Yet the poms aren’t actually tied down by the thread. The thread’s just there to provide something for the glue and pom to stick to. I make a thread base, coat it with glue, and then slid the pom over top. So these aren’t “tied” at all. Yet I happily fish them even though I dislike beads, and they resemble normal eggs made from McFlyFoam or Glo Bug Yarn in all respects.
Does any of it matter? Probably not. It just the sort of thing you think about on a cold winter day…