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.
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.
I will be doing a fly tying demo at Peak Fly Shop in Colorado Springs, from 10AM to noon on Saturday, the 2nd of February, 2019. I’ll be tying “Tourist season flies for the Yellowstone River,” with a pretty strong emphasis on dry flies. I will have some of my fly tying and essay books on sale at discounted rates. Stop by if you’re in the area!
2017 Season Fishing and Water Conditions Outlook – Posted March 8
This post is about likely summer and early fall water and fishing conditions, based on current snowpack and current predictions for late winter and early spring weather. I’ll be posting updates on about a biweekly basis until about the middle of April, then weekly updates thereafter.
Winter has generally been very cold throughout my operations area, though February was much warmer than December or January. The early part of winter saw below normal moisture in the northwestern part of my operations area but drastically above normal moisture in the southern and eastern parts. Lately weather has yo-yod from cold and snowy, particularly northwest of Yellowstone Park in the Gallatin drainage, to warm and dry. Currently we’re heading into a cold and snowy pattern that the long range weather forecasts predict will last through the 8-14 day period. Longer-range climatological models call for us to be right on the edge of cool/wet weather through March, and call for normal temperatures and above normal moisture through at least April.
Snowpack ranges from near-normal in drainages feeding the Missouri River northwest of Yellowstone Park to dramatically above normal basically everywhere else. Snowpack is currently 139% of normal in the Upper Yellowstone Basin in Wyoming and 125% of normal in Montana. It is now at 127% of normal in the Madison-Gallatin drainage in YNP and ranges from 97% to 110% of normal in all other basins that impact my business in any way. These numbers are all between 5 points and 40 points higher than we were last season (most closer to 40 points), and are likewise substantially higher than things have stood at this point in the season for any fishing season in the past 10 years with the exceptions of 2008, 2011, and 2014. The numbers are tracking closest to where they were in 2014.
Snowpack typically peaks in early April in the lowest-elevation areas besides valley floors and as late as early May in the extreme high-elevation areas. This means that we have between a month and two months to continue building overall snowpack. Current snowpack is now already near average seasonal peak depths at many high-elevation locations, and some in the Yellowstone basin inside YNP are already reporting snow depths deeper than they typically reach six weeks from now.
So what’s all of this mean for summer fishing???
Here it is in a nutshell…
We anticipate above average overall streamflow during the peak summer and early fall season on all waters in our operations area with the possible exception of the lower Gallatin River, coupled with late clearing from the spring melt on all waters that are subject to muddy water due to the melt. This basically means everything besides the Lower Madison and Missouri Rivers, the Paradise Vally spring creeks, and private lakes. Everything else will clear late and run normal to high through the summer, with cooler than normal water temperatures and less-spooky fish.
In general, the current snowpack that’s on the ground as well as what’s predicted for the remainder of late winter and early spring lead to excellent and consistent fishing ONCE THE WATER IN QUESTION DROPS OUT OF RUNOFF. This is a key distinction that visitors who have fished this area in the drought years this century (2001-2007, 2012, 2013, 2015, 2016) need to bear in mind. We have recieved many calls asking about floating the Yellowstone between June 20 and the end of the month. This period was epic the last two seasons, but it will almost certainly be completely impossible this year. A good rule of thumb is to shift your fishing dates back by two weeks if your trip falls prior to July 15 if you want comparable conditions to what we had in any of the drought years mentioned above. If you’ve fished with us from July-September in 2010 or 2014, these years are good analogs for the water conditions we expect.
Here are predicted clearing dates for the important waters in our operations area, as well as some general fishing notes.
The Yellowstone River Outside YNP: Will clear from runoff late, unless runoff starts two or more weeks early (late April). It will also clear at a higher-than-normal level. Streamflows should be excellent from July 15 or so through the remainder of the season, but float trips will be chancy at best from the onset of the runoff until AT LEAST July 4. We estimate the river will be floatable on July 4 to be at best 50/50. In 2014, the most comparable year to this one, we ran our first float trip on about July 8. We will not be accepting float trip reservations for trips between May 1 and July 14 until we have a better handle on the precise timing of runoff unless anglers are willing to float the Madison or do some other type of trip (walk, private lake, or jet boat) instead if the Yellowstone is unfishable. The onset of runoff will be a huge determining factor here. If it starts in late April, we’ll see a near-normal clearing date. If it starts as normal around May 5-10, we’ll see a slightly late opening (around July 10). If snowmelt is delayed until mid-late May (unlikely with current models) the river might not clear before July 20.
The Yellowstone Inside YNP: May be fishable as early as mid-June in the Grand Canyon, but early-mid July is a safer bet in the Black Canyon.
The Lamar Drainage: Cannot be counted on before mid-July. Good fishing should abound thereafter, with the fish seeing some relief from the extreme low flows of the past two summers.
The Firehole, Gibbon, and Madison: Should have extended seasons (into early July even for the Firehole) due to higher, cooler water. These will be our most important and best fisheries through most of June. The recent bump in snowpack in these drainages means that the Gibbon and Madison in particular may not be fishable until June 5-10, while the Firehole SHOULD be fishable when the park opens on May 27, though if there’s a lot of snow remaining in its basin on the opener and it decides to get warm and dump rain, that could be a problem even on the Firehole for a few days. On the flipside, it’s now at least possible the Madison and Gibbon will remain fishable through July.
Private Lakes: Those with natural inflow (the Story Lakes in particular) should see extended seasons. The others will depend on short-term weather. These lakes should not be impacted by runoff. The one exception is upper Story Lake which MIGHT be hard to access until about April 20 if April is cold. There’s a snow drift that can cover the road until this point if it stays cold long enough.
The Lower Madison: Since the upper Madison system in YNP has excellent snowpack, the lower Madison should run high and cool for longer than usual. This is a good thing, as this will be our float river through June this year. The upper Madison above Ennis Lake may be muddy through most of June.
The Missouri: Should see slightly above normal flows unless snowpack jumps drastically or we see a drastically early melt. The high snowpack in the upper Madison and Gallatin systems in YNP will be offset by the near-average snowpack in other drainage basins that feed the Missouri. Overall conditions will be good for Walter’s March-June power boat trips here.
Let me reiterate: we expect excellent to epic mid-late summer and early fall conditions in the Yellowstone drainage (including its tributaries like the Lamar) and early summer conditions in the Firehole, Madison, Gibbon, and Missouri systems. Early summer in the Yellowstone and Lamar drainages (before at least the beginning of July and probably a week later) will be far more limited. Since our busy season and usual better fishing is from the 4th of July through September, this is what we want to see.