Fly Tying Vid: Windshield Haze Drowned Mayfly

Fly Tying Vid: Windshield Haze Drowned Mayfly

Windshield Haze Drowned Mayfly Dun

I designed the purple Windshield Haze (formerly Purple Haze Soft Hackle or Drowned Purple Haze) to imitate a drowned BWO dun that got sucked under and is therefore easy prey for the trout. While initially intended as a fly for beginners to fish on a short (6″) dropper behind some sort of larger dry fly they could see, this fly’s effectiveness means I now have experienced anglers fish it early and late in the season, as well. I have experienced anglers fish it on a slightly longer dropper behind a small dropper, especially my Purple Hazy Cripple in #16. Since this fly is tied on a light wire emerger hook, it sinks slowly and only a few inches, so even a small dry can serve as an indicator, and you’ll often see the fish make porpoise rises to this bug, without having to wait for the dry to dive to indicate a strike. It has produced several rainbows in the high teens on guide trips this spring. I expect to try it in a wide range of colors this season, because whenever I’ve used it, this fly has rocked.

Hook: #14-20 curved shank emerger (or light wire scud) hook.

Thread: 8/0, here purple. Use thread to match or contrast the colors you choose to try the fly in.

Hackle: Hen hackle, here light dun (which is a good general mayfly color). Tie using the technique given on this video.

Wing: Light dun Darlon or similar pale gray crinkly synthetic yarn. Tie using a similar technique given in the link given just above.

Tail: Hen hackle, same color as used for hackle.

Abdomen: Spandex floss (Sexi-Floss, Wonder Wrap, Spanflex, Life Flex, etc.), here purple.

Thorax: Fine dubbing with a hint of UV flash, here Montana Fly Company UV Frog’s Hair in color “Adams.”

Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch Outlook and Tactics

Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch Outlook and Tactics

Mother’s Day Caddis Hatch Outlook and Tactics

It’s almost that special time of year when the fish can go crazy eating olive-bodied caddis for a few days on the Yellowstone before the river blows out. It’s been a couple seasons since the stars aligned, but because of recent heavy rains that should flush the low-elevation snow and a forecast for temps in the 60s (good) rather than warmer (bad) for the next week or so, we have at least a decent shot. Here’s a detailed outlook, plus tactics that will work on the Yellowstone (where the hatch can be epic or can be washed out by snowmelt) and on the Madison (where the hatch is usually decent but not epic).


I’d say we have a 50/50 shot at a fishable caddis hatch on the Yellowstone this year. It depends on how much it rains this upcoming week and where the snow line is. Late last week saw the warmest temps of the season, up to the low 70s at valley-level, and this combined with heavy rain yesterday (Saturday 4/20) and this morning has caused the Yellowstone to spike to 2900 to 3500 cubic feet per second flows, roughly twice the seasonal average.

The river is muddy right now. Provided on how much it cools off, and it is supposed to cool off sharply Monday-Wednesday, we should have a fishable window mid-late week to get us close to the end of April. I do not expect any or at least many caddis this week. Water temps will still be in the 40s and it takes consistent 50-53 degree temps to get them really popping. Streamers are likely to be the ticket instead.

The key is the period beginning next weekend, April 27 onward. Temps in the week thereafter will determine whether we get a fishable hatch. If the NOAA forecast pans out, we are in good shape. The forecast is calling for cooler than normal temps and below normal precip for this period. This would be ideal to keep runoff from starting early. We’ll see… The most likely period for the hatch will be the first week of May. After that, temps are supposed to spike and that’ll be the end of the spring fishing on the Yellowstone.

The entire river from Gardiner to the mouth of the Shields River should be clear enough if the hatch does pop while the river’s clear. Even before yesterday’s rain, the river was filthy below Biltman Creek in Livingston, but the rain should have blown out most of the remaining low snow in this creek’s drainage. Once it drops, this will open up more clear water. It is unlikely the Shields River will clear enough to make the area east/downstream of its confluence fishable again this spring. There’s too much snow in the Shields Drainage, which is south-facing and therefore melts quick.

Over on the Madison, expect the caddis to pop in mid-May. While seldom as epic as the Yellowstone hatches, the Madison hatches pretty typically offer at least decent fishing for a week or more in mid-May.

Fishing Tactics

Subsurface tactics are usually more effective during the Mother’s Day Caddis hatch than dry flies, and attractor dry flies are usually more effective than imitative ones.

Start your day of fishing with streamers or by nymphing deep. Flashy streamers like the Kreelex are good choices in the spring as the water gets dirty. Run a caddis pupa like my Mother’s Day Pupa as a second chance fly behind this streamer. A lot of fish will take the dropper if the caddis hatch is imminent. If nymphing, something like a Prince or my Hula Princess on the bottom with an upper dropper of a lighter caddis pupa is a good choice. Another option is to fish a stonefly nymph with the Prince or a heavier pupa behind it.

Once you start seeing a few rises and a few caddis fluttering, switch to something like a #14 Peacock Clacka Caddis or Coachman Trude with the Mother’s Day Pupa or Prince on the dropper. Except in intense hatches, you can stick with this rig for the remainder of the hatch. Look for hatches to be heaviest from early afternoon through early evening. Early and late in the day won’t do much for you.

If the fish really start going crazy, swap the pupa for an olive Mercer’s Missing Link Caddis or Lawson’s Spent Partridge Caddis in olive. These double-dry tactics will work best in areas where bugs will cluster: foam patches, large eddies, and the like. They’re also a better bet if you’re wade-fishing than floating, since when wading you can pound areas you find rising trout and sort of encourage them to rise. From the boat, you’re flock-shooting and so better off most of the time targeting the larger numbers of fish eating pupae subsurface.

Fly Tying Vid: Zirdle Bug

Fly Tying Vid: Zirdle Bug

Zirdle Bug

The Zirdle Bug is a red-hot streamer/nymph combo “junk fly” in southwest Montana, particularly on lower-elevation rivers like the Beaverhead, lower Madison, Jefferson, and Missouri, where crayfish are present. It roughly matches crayfish, sculpins and other baitfish, and stonefly nymphs. Fish it in a variety of ways: swung or stripped like a streamer, dead-drifted under an indicator, or dragged on a tight line. This one is sort of a tan-copper-brown-orange color, but you can tie them in a wide range of natural and attractor colors. This one is merely intended to serve as an example.

Hook: #4-10 3xl nymph/streamer, here #6.

Weight: .015-.035 lead or lead-free wire, here .035.

Thread: 6/0 to match or contrast the body, here light brown.

Tail: Krystal Flash. Here, root beer.

Body: Brindle chenille, here Amberstone New Age Chenille.

Legs: Medium round rubber, here Wapsi barred rubber in olive with chartreuse and orange specks.

Wing: Standard rabbit strip, here black-barred tan with orange tips.

Four Reasons to Fish Imitations of Impaired Insects

Four Reasons to Fish Imitations of Impaired Insects

Four Reasons to Fish Imitations of Impaired Insects

While giving fly tying demonstrations over the weekend at the Wasatch Fly Tying and Fly Fishing Expo in Salt Lake City, I mentioned to several people observing me tie that I almost always fish imitations of insects that are in some way impaired. What do I mean? I am referring to flies imitating or at least suggesting aquatic insects that are emerging, crippled, spent, drowned, or waterlogged, or of any terrestrial insects that fall in the water (since land insects in the water are by their nature in trouble). Here are five reasons to fish flies meeting one of the above criteria.

Trout Prefer Them

This is the most obvious and important reason to use such flies. Various studies on trout feeding behavior find that they prefer to feed on insects during their life stages in which they’re in trouble, or on individual insects that are experiencing difficulty. For example, they’ll emerging or crippled insects in preference to adults, and they’ll eat dun mayflies that have been knocked over in preference to those riding “like little sailboats” upright, as they’re often described.

The reason trout prefer insects that are in trouble is simple. They’re less likely to get away. Each time a trout rises to eat an insect and it flies away, that’s a calorie the trout has wasted. Over evolutionary timescales, it has made more sense for fish to key on bugs that are less likely to get away and more likely to prove an easy meal. The smaller the insects, the more important this is. So trout really prefer spent, crippled, emerging, or otherwise distressed ants, PMD, BWO, midges, and tiny caddis over their healthy brethren.

Flies Will “Behave” Impaired Anyway

This is a more esoteric reason. Look at a healthy dun mayfly. It rides up on its tippy-toes, above rather than in the surface film. Many flies were nominally designed to match this behavior. The classic Catskill-style mayfly dry is a perfect example. Drop it dry on a glass of water and it’ll ride high, just like the real bug.

Yet in fishing situations, no fly pattern will ride as high as healthy naturals, at least not for long. All flies get waterlogged, ragged, chewed-on, and otherwise stop looking like they do in the fly shop display within minutes or seconds of being tied on the end of your line. In other words, they start looking and behaving more like distressed insects, no matter what you do. This partially explains the common phenomenon of a fly working better the more beat-up it gets.

If your fly is going to look and act distressed anyway, why not emphasize these attributes, rather than trying to minimize them?

They are Fast and Easy to Tie

Look at any fly intended to represent a mayfly emerger, cripple, or spinner. Look at spent caddis patterns. Look at most traditional “fur and feather” ant imitations. They’re all dirt simple. Even many foam grasshopper imitations likewise aren’t very complicated, even if they’re large. Most utilize less than a handful of materials, and often rely on synthetic materials with hints of flash or sparkle that are easy to work with and cheap to buy. Here are some examples, none of which take me more than three minutes to tie:

caddis cripple

This caddis cripple pattern uses three materials (in addition to thread and hook): dubbing, a synthetic yarn, and hackle. When tied to match the important Nectopsyche caddis on the Firehole, it’s my #2 dry on that river. When tied in tan, it imitates both emerging and egg-laying tan Hydropsyche caddis, the most important summer caddis in the entire region. In pink, it’s a great attractor for bright summer days on the Yellowstone.

purple hazy cripple

This attractor suggestive of a mayfly cripple uses five materials: a synthetic yarn for the tail, spandex for the body, a different synthetic yarn for the wing, and two colors of hackle (Adams-style). Since both bunches of synthetic yarn or tied in as clumps and then trimmed to shape, this is a much faster fly to tie than the original Purple Haze Parachute on which it’s based. It’s also three times as effective. It has been our top dry fly period since the fall of 2009.

flying ant

This is our top-producing terrestrial pattern most seasons. It uses three materials: acrylic yarn chopped into dubbing in a coffee grinder, synthetic yarn, and a brown hackle. We use these everywhere, from little mountain creeks to the roaring Yellowstone. I can whip one out in about two minutes.

I went a little long in this point, but it’ll tie in with my next post on the subject (expect it around April 20-22), which will be about designing and tying patterns that match impaired bugs.

Most Anglers Use Something Else

Think about the dry flies that fill fly shop bins, especially those considered classics and standbys. They’re generally bushier and more complicated. This applies to everything from mayfly imitations and attractors suggestive of mayflies (Adams, Royal Wulff) to caddis (Elk Hair Caddis) to stoneflies (big foam monstrosities and Stimulators) to terrestrials (big complicated foam hoppers and most ants). These flies generally aim to suggest healthy dun or adult aquatic insects and terrestrials that haven’t started to succumb to their unplanned swim. While it doesn’t matter on lightly-pressured waters, opting to suggest something else will earn you more confident strikes and more fish.

As noted briefly above, my next post will cover tips on how to create flies that match impaired insects.

Early April Snowpack Update and Summer Streamflow Forecast

Early April Snowpack Update and Summer Streamflow Forecast

Early April Snowpack Update and Summer Streamflow Forecast

I’m stuck in a hotel in Utah with THE WORST “HIGH SPEED INTERNET” OF ALL TIME through Sunday morning, so I won’t be posting any pics of likely streamflow as I usually do in these updates. I’ll make another post in 10 days to two weeks.

Winter Summary

We’ve had a topsy-turvy winter and early spring that has left us guessing in terms of predicting summer 2019 conditions. September through early December were cold, wet, and snowy and put us off to a great start. Late December and most of January were warm and dry, and left us worried about conditions. Jan 20 or so through early March had wet spells interspersed with near-record cold. It was -28 in Livingston on March 1, a record for the date by more than 10 days and closing schools for the first time since 1988 (no snow days in these parts). Most of March were warm and dry, while early April was warm and wet until just a couple days ago, when things shifted to cold and wet. It has snowed up in the mountains each of the last three days.

Our mountain snowpack typically peaks between the middle of April and early May, depending on the specific location and elevation. We look on track for this year to follow suit, though with a transition back to warm/dry weather now forecast for late April, I expect we will run a few days early for peak snowpack, particularly for the high elevation locations that look unlikely to build snow in late April as they usually do.

Current Snowpack

Snowpack in our operations area ranges from 102% to 126% of normal. The most important basins for our “core” operations area are the Upper Yellowstone Basin in Wyoming, the Upper Yellowstone Basin in Montana, the Madison-Gallatin Basin in Yellowstone Park, and the Madison Basin outside Yellowstone Park. These basins range from 111% to 126% of normal. The highest percentage is the Madison-Gallatin, which bodes well for a long season on the Firehole, while the lowest is the Yellowstone north of the park, which bodes for a near-normal start to the summer season coupled with streamflows that should remain relatively high and cool throughout the summer.

All in all, we are looking at a somewhat above normal snowpack, which is what we prefer for the summer season even though it leads to a slightly late start for Yellowstone River floats. Remember: I also float the Madison and Jefferson this season. While these rivers are not as convenient to Livingston as the Yellowstone, they are good float options before the Yellowstone is ready.

Current Fishing Conditions

Because the warm weather in early March melted out most snow at low elevations, even if the deep freeze in February has left some ice shelves in strange places, we are now in the full swing of spring fishing. As a matter of fact, I ran two guide trips last weekend and hope to get some more in the next couple weeks.

The top fisheries through April are the Yellowstone, Paradise Valley Spring Creeks, and the lower Madison. The private lakes are just turning on (access might be tough due to snow drifts). Some “new to us” waters like the Jefferson and even the Musselshell will come on in late April. The Missouri is always good in April, on a variety of stretches, and this year is no exception.

Summer Fishing and Streamflow Predictions


We are looking at likely slightly above normal snowpack and streamflows this season. While the timing of the onset of the heavy spring melt has a lot to do with the specific streamflows later in the summer (early snowmelt = early end to snowmelt = lower flows later in summmer), we now feel pretty confident that conditions will be at least near-normal.

In a general sense, this means that we’ll be sweating for places to fish a bit after May 5-10 and until early July, with the most likely bets during this period the Firehole, Madison, and Gibbon in YNP as well as private lakes, the Missouri River, the Madison River, and perhaps the Jefferson River outside the park our best (only) options. On the other hand, once the Yellowstone System both inside and outside the park comes into shape sometime in early July, we anticipate generally consistent fishing and streamflows that are optimal for good fish activity and health as well as angling success. We do not anticipate any closures related to water temperature or flow except on the few rivers that are always too warm in mid-late summer anyway (the lower Madison and Jefferson, basically).

Here’s a suggestion: fishing is going to be generally good this year. If you’re a Firehole Junkie, come anytime in June. If you prefer the northern part of the park and the Yellowstone System outside it, come anytime after about July 4. We had great dry fly fishing through September last year and top-notch subsurface fishing through late October. I expect this year to be just as good, with the standard caveats about thunderstorms muddying the river and the few days that are 97 degrees and sunny out being the exceptions.

More detail on individual fisheries follows. The fisheries are listed within their river basins, with basins listed in the approximate order in which they drop out of the spring runoff. Yellowstone Park fisheries are given first, then Montana fisheries.

Reminder: The Yellowstone Park general season opens May 25 this year!

Madison River Drainage (YNP)

Firehole River

This is going to be a good year for the Firehole. The park opener falls early, so there’s a good chance the river will not have even reached peak runoff yet for the first few days of the season. Fishing in the last few days of May and early June will be best if it is cool, which will slow the runoff. There may be a few days of “meh” clarity here, even between Biscuit Basin and Midway. These are most likely prior to June 5. The best fishing will be June 5–20. Afternoons will get shaky after the 20th, but mornings should be good through June barring extremely hot weather. It’s pretty likely that Biscuit Basin down to but not including Midway Geyser Basin will continue fishing in the mornings until at least July 4 and maybe July 10.

Madison River

Will probably become fishable in the first week of June unless runoff is very slow, in which case it may fish at the opener, go out for a few days, and then be back no later than June 10. The best fishing will be in the latter half of June. It’s very likely that mornings will be fine through mid-July. It’s possible but unlikely that mornings will be fishable through July, meaning the Madison doesn’t have a down period this year (last time was 2011 or 2014). This depends on fairly cool summer weather and some rain.

Gibbon River

Will probably not fish on the opener unless it’s cold, in which case it will fish and then go out. Unlikely to be consistent before sometime between June 5 and June 10. The best fishing will occur in the latter half of June in the canyon or June 20 through July 4 from Norris to the canyon. Below Norris should fish at least in the mornings through July 15 and may fish all summer, though there will be better “small fish and numbers” fisheries than the canyon all over the place and better “big spooky” fish in the Lamar Drainage.

The small fish water between Virginia Cascade and Norrris will not be ready before June 20. This is in contrast to the swarms of campground folk who’ll be crawling all over Norris Meadow while it’s still a giant swamp. The water from the headwaters down to Virginia Cascades is currently not a viable fishery while fluvial grayling and westslope cutthroats are introduced above the falls; this water was poisoned in 2017 to remove non-natives.

Other Fisheries

Firehole tributary creeks will come in during the last ten days of June or so. Reminder: Grebe Lake and the upper Gibbon System are currently not viable fisheries due to the poisoning and introduction noted above.

Yellowstone River Drainage (YNP)

Upper Yellowstone (Above the Lake and Lake to Falls)

Opens July 15, as always. The best fishing will be in the two weeks after the opener, but there’s sufficient water in the system and enough cutts in the lake rebounding from the lake trout that there’s some utility in fishing through August, particularly from the lake to Sulphur Cauldron.

Grand Canyon (Falls to Lamar)

May be fishable with nymphs and streamers on the opener if and only if May 15-25 are cool. If it’s clear then, holy biscuits… After that, will blow out and probably not reach peak runoff until June 20-25, though this water becomes fishable the instant it begins to drop (since the loose mud will have been scoured from the canyon walls by that point). Again, nymphs and streamers for a while after that. The best fishing will occur from about July 10 through September. Salmonflies here and there as soon as it clears, but heavy in the second and third weeks of July.

Black Canyon (Lamar to Gardiner)

No way it’s fishable until at least June 25, and July 4 is not 100% safe (cross fingers, daddy has floats). The Salmonflies will pop between the second week of July and the end of July, with the peak emergence near Gardiner around July 10 and the peak at the upper end of the canyon a week or so later. The best fishing will occur from the Salmonfly hatch through late September, but the portions near Gardiner are worth a shot right until the park closes in early November.

Other Fisheries

Tributary streams will generally not be fishable until at least early July, with August best. Those flowing out of lakes are the main exceptions. Blacktail (beginner brookie creek) will be fishable in spots by the 25th of June. Small lakes will be reachable around June 10 and best from June 15 to July 15. Yellowstone Lake may well still have ice on the opener, but it’ll melt within a few days. The fishing will be best prior to the middle of July.

Gardner River Drainage (YNP)

Gardner above Osprey Falls

Likely too high even if it’s clear until at least July 10. The best fishing will be July 20 through August.

Gardner between Osprey Falls and Boiling River

Nymphable anytime it’s clear (a few cool days will do it), but tough and inconsistent. It will ‘really’ become fishable around the beginning of July. From this point, it’s a good choice provided it’s not cold all the way until late October.

Gardner between Boiling River and the Yellowstone

Nymphable whenever there’s a foot of visibility so long as you like heavy #6 stoneflies. There is a very good chance for a couple days of fishing in late May, essentially the early stages of the high elevation melt. This is tough and physical fishing. Will ‘really’ become fishable between June 15 and June 25, but still be physical into early July. The best fishing will be the early physically exhausting and dangerous nymphing, the Salmonflies in the first week of July(ish), and the fall fishing from about September 20 through the end of the park season.

Other Fisheries

Joffee Lake and the Swan Lake Flat Sloughs will be cold and sloppy but fishable on the opener. Otherwise, tributary creeks will begin dropping into shape between June 20 and the end of the month, and be good in July and August.

Lamar River Drainage (YNP)

Lamar Mainstem

Almost no way it’s fishable before July 4, and it might easily be the 10th. The latter half of July through the middle of September will be best.

Soda Butte Creek

Same as the Lamar, but more crowded.

Slough Creek

Slough might be fishable with streamers on the opener. This happens about one year in five, and the early opener is good for that. If so, go there and swing meat. More likely, it becomes fishable in the first week of July and is best from the 10th through the month, getting tougher and tougher but still producing for skilled anglers until the middle of September or a bit later.

Other Fisheries

Other Lamar System tribs are likely to become fishable sometime in the first ten days of July. All are best before the end of August, since the larger fish tend to live in one of the bigger rivers. Trout Lake should be ice-free and be as good as it ever gets on the opener.

Missouri River (MT)

Headwaters to Canyon Ferry

While technically open for rainbows now, and can turn out some huge ones on streamers when it’s clear, we think of this as summer carp and fall brown trout water. As such, skip it until late July.

Canyon Ferry Tailwater and Hauser Tailwater (“Land of the Giants”)

Fishing now, and unlikely to get quite so high as last year. Think pink. Peak inflow and therefore highest water levels are likely in May, probably mid-month. I will be running power boat trips here again beginning in spring 2020. I would love to get a bunch of early deposits…

Holter Tailwater

There’s a reason this is the busiest water in Montana in May and the first half of June. It’ll get high, but stay clear, and should fish well all spring. The dry fly bite will probably be so-so at best in May due to fairly high water.

Madison River (MT)

“Between the Lakes”

Fishing now, though requires post-holing through snow to reach. Think pink, midges, and eggs. Any warm weather will bring mud in from tributaries, but the top portion of this short chunk of river, the stretch right below Holter Dam, always remains clear.

Quake Lake to Ennis Lake

Fishing now and relatively snow-free as of Tuesday. A good bet with stonefly nymphs, midges, eggs, and maybe some BWO. Will get high enough that bank fishing will be tough to nonexistent, and probably won’t be “good,” from late May until the middle of June, but seldom becomes truly unfishable.

Ennis Lake to Three Forks

Will probably get fairly high, but that doesn’t really hurt this water. The bigger issue is mud out of Cherry Creek, which may be enough to dirty the river in early May. Otherwise, this water is a good choice. We’re running trips here for the first time this year, and this is where we’ll be floating the most from May 10 until the Yellowstone clears. There should be enough snow up high that this water will fish at least in the morning through July 15, though watch out for the bikini hatch once July rolls around.

Other Fisheries

The lakes should ice-out in early May and be good out of the gate.

Jefferson River (MT)

Has a short runoff that should be done by June 25. The fishing is best in late April and early May before the mud and for a week or two after the mud but before it gets hot. It can be a narrow window, alas.

Yellowstone River Drainage (MT)

Gardiner to Point of Rocks

Fishing well now (two guide trips out over the weekend) and should continue to stay strong until early May except when early surgest of low-elevation melt hit the river. Hopefully the heavy runoff holds off until May 10 or so. If it does, we’ll have a good Mother’s Day Caddis hatch. If it doesn’t, we’ll have chocolate stew from the time it blows until at least the last week of June, and I’m now thinking the first week of July is a better bet. The fishing will be good from then until early November. Salmonflies should take place July 4-10 or so.

Point of Rocks to Carter’s Bridge

It’s always a question mark if this water clears before, during, or after the Salmonfly hatch. It should clear near the end of June or in the first week of July, with Salmonflies at about the same time. We should have enough water this year that this stretch stays good all summer, with the best big brown streamer action in the latter half of July (with numbers of fish on caddis) and the best attractor/terrestrial fishing for both numbers and bigger fish in the latter half of August and first week of September.

Carter’s Bridge to Laurel

The Shields River has been pumping mud in already, so it’s a good question of how most of this water will fish pre-runoff. It might now. This water is “burly” enough it needs more time to drop into shape than the water above. Look to fish here beginning July 10-15, with the best fishing for the first month on caddis and streamers and on streamers and BWO after Labor Day. There may be some days this stretch gets too warm, generally the last week of July and first week of August. This depends on temps and precip. If summer is cool/damp, no problem. A week of 90+ daytime highs and you should go further upstream, even if this is the “lunker hunter” water on the Yellowstone.

Boulder River

We will be running floats here for the first time this year. Runoff will recede around July 1 and flows will remain high enough to float for about a month thereafter. This whole period will offer good attractor dry-dropper fishing, though every guide in Livingston with a raft likes to fish here at that time (including yours truly).

Stillwater River

Similar to the Boulder, but further away (2hr from Gardiner, at minimum), bigger, and less-crowded. It’ll stay high enough to float until around Labor Day.

Private Lakes

Usually good already, but the snowdrifts at low elevations make them something of a question mark. I’d hold off until April 20 or 25. After that, good fishing until late June for Story and late July for Burns, with warm water a question mark for good fishing from those points until about Labor Day. Merrell had another fish kill last year and so is off the table for 2019.

Paradise Valley Spring Creeks

Good bets for a few more weeks and then again after June 15-20, when the PMD start. Runoff does not impact them.

Other Fisheries

Dailey Lake is a reasonable bet for a few huge mutant holdover stocked fish and maybe some smaller recent stockers. Tributary creeks won’t be ready until July 10 or so and will be best July 20 through about September 10. We are playing with some access on the Shields River, which will have good streamflows for the third year in a row, a rarity. Stay tuned…

Gallatin River Drainage (MT)

Park Boundary to Gallatin Gateway

Fishing now, particularly between Big Sky and Gallatin Gatewaay. Expect runoff to hit sometime in the first half of May, though this water can have a short window of fishability here and there during this period, especially between the boundary and the Taylor Fork confluence. Will drop from runoff in early July.

Gallatin Gateway to Gallatin Forks

Good now, particularly at the upper end. Will blow out in early May and generally be too warm once it drops from runoff in July. There’s a reason the water upstream gets more pressure.

Gallatin Forks to Three Forks

Really only a fall float fishery. We’ll run a trip or two here after Labor Day for diehards who want to see a new river and are okay with tough fishing for very small numbers of big guys in exchange for low crowds.

East Gallatin

A good choice now when it’s clear. I may run some trips here this year now that I’m in Livingston. Will experience pulses of runoff whenever it’s warm, especially if it’s warm and rainy. The heaviest runoff will be in May and early June. Will drop out of runoff in late June.

Other Fisheries

The various lakes will be hard to hike into before late June, but should be good then. Tributary creeks besides the East Gallatin will be roaring until about July 10 and best July 20 through Labor Day.

Fly Tying Vid: Cinnamon Flying Ant

Fly Tying Vid: Cinnamon Flying Ant

Cinnamon Flying Ant

This is an excellent bug on the Yellowstone in August and early September and does double duty as a caddis or even (due to its rusty appearance) a mayfly emerger.

Hook: Standard dry, #14-18.

Thread: 8/0 rusty brown.

Head and Abdomen: Rusty brown acrylic dubbing. Here, it’s just craft yarn chopped up in a blender, but use whatever you like.

Wing: Light tan Widow’s Web or similar hydrophobic synthetic, tied in vee-style. You can also use white.

Hackle: Badger, 4-6 turns. You can also use brown, grizzly-brown, etc.

Reminder: Walter at the Wasatch Fly Fishing Show

I’ll be tying three sessions at the Wasatch Fly Fishing Show this upcoming weekend. Come say hi Friday morning, Friday afternoon, or Saturday afternoon. I’ll be tying spring, summer, and fall flies for the Yellowstone River and Yellowstone area.

Walter at the Wasatch Intermountain Fly Tying and Fly Fishing Expo

Walter at the Wasatch Intermountain Fly Tying and Fly Fishing Expo

I will be tying flies at the Wasatch Fly Tying and Fly Fishing Expo in Sandy, UT on April 12 and 13. I will be demonstrating six flies during three of the show’s sessions, eighteen overall. Here’s my schedule:

Friday Morning: Spring Flies for the Livingston, Montana Area

I’ll be covering the dries, nymphs, and streamers I’m using right now and will be using through mid-June on the Yellowstone, Paradise Valley Spring Creeks, and area private lakes. Flies will include the Extended Body Girdle Bug, Kreelex, Floss Worm, Peacock Clacka Caddis, Black Scleech, and Olive BLM Nymph.

Friday Afternoon: Attractor and Terrestrial Dry Flies for the Yellowstone River, Boulder River, and Yellowstone Park

From early July through August, between 50% and 90% of the fish my clients catch come on dry flies, with the precise percentage depending on where we’re fishing and whether we’re trying for a bunch of average-sized trout or a couple of big ones. The flies I’ll be tying in this session are: Synth Double Wing, Olive Synth Stimmy, Pink Bob Hopper, Centered Parachute Bicolor Ant, and Pink Caddis Cripple

Saturday Afternoon: Top Fall Flies for the Yellowstone River and Yellowstone Park

Dries and nymphs for targeting numbers of trout in September and early October on the Yellowstone River will be covered, as well as nymphs for targeting pre-spawn brown trout in Yellowstone Park and the rainbows that follow them in October and early November. The flies I plan to tie are the Purple Hazy Cripple, Brindle Cripple, Peach Big Bob Hopper, Bead Hare & Copper, Y2K Egg, and Red Gussied Lightning Bug.

Sales and Discounts

In addition to tying flies, I’ll be selling discounted copies of two of my books and offering discounted guided trips. Note: The trip discounts will be available to anyone who confirms a full-day booking from April 11 to April 14, 2019, for trips during the core season. I’m not going to divulge the precise discounts online. I will note that only one discounted trip will be available per day, since I can’t afford to pay a competitive wage to contractor guides for the discounted rate I’ll be offering. Curious, give me a call or send me an e-mail.

Fly Tying Vid: Extended Body Girdle Bug

Fly Tying Vid: Extended Body Girdle Bug

The Extended Body Girdle Bug (Rubberlegs, Pat’s Rubberlegs, there are many names) is a twist on probably the most popular nymph in the northern Rockies these days. With a tungsten bead and simple extended body, it sinks like a brick and has more movement than most Girdle Bugs. Here I tie it in a copper/tan/brown color, but the basic pattern is a good “changeup” for any color of Pat’s Rubberlegs.

Hook: 1x short 1x strong scud hook, #6 (can go smaller with smaller beads and a smaller diameter of lead wire).

Bead: 3/16″ black nickel tungsten.

Thread: 6/0 dark brown.

Horns: Short section of copper-brown barred Sexi Floss or similar spandex rubberleg material, tied in pinch-style.

Weight: .035 lead or non-toxic wire.

Tails: Long section of copper-brown barred Sexi Floss or similar spandex rubberleg material, tied in pinch-style.

Body: “Henry’s Lake” New Age Chenille. Other variegated chenilles are also good.

Legs: Three short sections of copper-brown barred Sexi Floss or similar spandex rubberleg material, tied in with X-wraps and reinforced with head cement. Can cut back to two legs if desired, particularly on smaller sizes.


Fly Tying Vid: Synth Stimmy

Fly Tying Vid: Synth Stimmy

Synth Stimmy

This is a good small to medium rough water attractor dry. With the abundant hackle clipped underneath, tight synthetic body materials that don’t absorb water, and synthetic wing, it is buoyant but floats low in the film. These features, along with the alternate hook used compared to the standard Stimulator, also make it float correctly every time and give it good hooking properties. To top it off, it’s even quick to tie.

Tie the Synth Stimmy in colors to match your favorite Stimulator (except yellow, alas, because the body material is not available in this color) or in other “attractor” or “imitator” colors.

Hook: 2xl curved shank nymph/hopper (Here MFC #7231), #10-16. Do not use standard Stimulator hooks.

Thread #1: MFC Midge Body thread OR Veevus Iridescent thread. Here, MFC Midge Body in golden olive.

Abdomen: One to several layers of thread #1, depending on hook size and material used. Note that the tying method varies depending on which material is used, particularly in small hook sizes. See the video for details on how to create the body using both materials.

Thread #2: 8/0, here light olive.

Body Hackle: Dry fly saddle secured at front of abdomen and palmered back to rear of abdomen. Here, grizzly dyed March Brown

Rib: Thread #1. See video for method.

Wing: MFC Widow’s Web or EP Trigger Point fibers. Here, cinnamon caddis EP.

Front Hackle: Dry fly saddle. Here, grizzly dyed March Brown.

Adhesive #1: Super glue over thread wraps securing wing butts and front hackle.

Head: Ice Dub. Here, olive.

Adhesive #2: Head cement or superglue.


Yellowstone River Conditions

Yellowstone River Conditions

Current Conditions

Though it has been sunny with weather between the 40s and around 50 degrees for the past week, the Yellowstone River remains hazardous with bank shelf ice and is difficult to fish in many spots, with only a few boat ramps clear of ice.

In addition, stripes of low-elevation snowmelt have run through the river each day. It has always been possible to find clear stretches to fish, however. At 3:00 Thursday, the 26-Mile access in Paradise Valley was puke yellow/green in color, while the stretch near the Cinnabar access was emerald green with at least 4 feet of visibility (plenty).

This is DEFINITELY the latest into the late winter/early spring period that the Yellowstone has remained so inaccessible since I began living full-time in Montana back in 2006. Most years, the bankside ice is minimal by this point, with most boat ramps clear and almost all wade-access fisheries perfectly reasonable options.

Here are a couple examples of how this year differs:

East of Livingston, I have floated the Springdale to Grey Bear stretch as early as the first week of March without trouble. As of this writing, there are still river-wide ice jams on this section, and none of the boat ramps are clear of snow and ice.

Near Gardiner, my favorite stretch to wade-fish besides the mouth of the Gardner River right in Gardiner (which is always accessible through the heart of winter and is a good choice now) is usually easily accessible by late February, and frequently can be accessed without danger through most of the winter. It remains inaccessible both due to deep ice shelves completely covering the stream that must be waded to reach the main river and due to 4-6 foot ice shelves reaching out from the bank into the main river in the best spot, making the river itself dangerous to wade-fish. I thought hard about fishing it Thursday, but chose not to due to the danger of falling through the ice shelves. I usually get on this stretch for the first time without any danger besides the usual risk of a pratfall no later than mid-March.

The Long and The Short of It

For right now, choose the stretches of the Yellowstone you fish very carefully. Knee-deep snow or ice along the banks is negotiable, but it’s best to avoid any ice deeper than that, or walking on any that extends out into the river.

Floating is a bad idea except perhaps on the Brogan’s Landing to Yankee Jim stretch. Both of these ramps are ice-free, though there are high ice shelves along the banks for much of the float itself, making a pee stop a challenging endeavor.

Changes Coming Up

The weather forecast suggests the ice shelves will continue to melt at least slowly through mid-week, and will probably continue melting in a general sense moving forward. The melt may happen VERY slowly, however, since snow and temps peaking in the high-30s are forecast even at valley levels from the middle of next week through the weekend and the 6-10 and 8-14 day NOAA outlooks are calling for colder/wetter than normal conditions through at least April 5.

I have float trips scheduled the 6th-7th of April, and it’s possible I won’t feel safe running anything but the Brogan’s to Yankee Jim stretch noted above, though I’m almost certain that stretch will be at least safe to float. Mud might be a problem, though.