Our weather forecast for the next week or so is calling for drastically below normal temperatures. Some days will see highs in the 50s even at low elevations! Runoff is now on the downward track everywhere, so this shot of cold weather is going to temporarily pull our normal summer rivers out of runoff. The Boulder in particular should be ready to float for the season by Monday and will probably not become unfishable again. The Yellowstone will be more marginal, but for anglers who want to “swing for the fences,” these runoff breaks are great times to pound the banks with streamers and stonefly nymphs.
Here’s the graph of predicted streamflows for the Boulder. It is fishable from 3000 down to about 500cfs. 800-2000 is prime. As you can, it’s looking great for next week.
Here’s the graph for the Yellowstone at Corwin Springs. We consider the Yellowstone fishable when it’s at a bit over 10,000cfs at this gauging station, though 8,000 is better.
If the above predicted flows hold out, we expect excellent float conditions for experienced anglers from Sunday the 23rd through the last full week of June, with conditions deteriorating on the Yellowstone in particular for a week or so thereafter.
Availability for Boulder River trips is limited to June 26. Availability for Yellowstone River trips is limited to the 24th-27th and the 29th. Because the above flows are not guaranteed, we would not be willing to accept a float trip booking unless clients are staying in a location (Gardiner, Livingston, Paradise Valley, Mammoth, Bozeman) where they would be able to head over to the Lower Madison for the float if the above doesn’t pan out. Want to roll those dice? We often see some of our best big fish fishing of the year during runoff breaks like those we expect.
Flows on the Yellowstone and Boulder Rivers are currently nosediving due to drastically below normal temps. This is setting these rivers up for a brief window of clear (clear enough) water over the next week to ten days, particularly during the early to middle part of next week. These mid-snowmelt windows of fishable conditions only occur about one year in three and can produce the best fishing for large trout of the season. This is true for experienced anglers, anyway.
See for yourself.
I do not suggest booking a float trip at this time unless you are prepared to drive to the lower Madison River if things turn out to not follow the predicted flows noted above. That said, keep an eye on things. If the above forecasts do pan out and you can book a float on short notice, I strongly encourage you to consider it for Tuesday or Wednesday, the 28th or 29th.
Note that this same cooldown should make the Yellowstone in its Black and Grand Canyons, Slough Creek, the Gardner, and the Firehole/Gibbon/Madison ALL fishable for the opening weekend of the Yellowstone season, and the few days thereafter. I will post more details on this late in the week.
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.
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.
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.
Here’s a photo I posted in January:
Here’s a photo I shot today:
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 through March. 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.
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.
Here’s a still taken from the webcam near Pine Creek.
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.